First Ladies: Frances Folsom Cleveland

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Frances Folsom Cleveland was the country’s youngest First Lady.

Frances Folsom Cleveland

Frances Clara Folsom was born on July 21, 1864 to Oscar and Emma Harmon Folsom.

Her father had a close friend named Grover Cleveland, who was 27 when she was born. Upon Frances birth, Grover Cleveland met his best friends daughters. He took an avuncular interest in the child, buying her a baby carriage and otherwise doting on her as she grew up.

On July 23, 1875, Oscar Folsom was killed in a carriage accident. Grover Cleveland was appointed administrator of his estate, which put him in more contact with eleven year old Frances.

After finishing school, she attended Wells College in Aurora, New York.

In the Spring of 1885, Frances and her mother visited Cleveland in the White House. Cleveland asked for permission to correspond with Frances.

Sometime while she was at college, the letters she exchanged with Grover Cleveland took a romantic turn. Cleveland, who was President by this time, proposed in one of their letters.

Their engagement was not announced until five days

before the wedding. On June 2, 1886, a 21 year old Frances, married the 49 year old president in the White House. Only close friends and family attended the ceremony and John Philip Sousa and the Marine Band provided the music. The Cleveland’s are the only Presidential couple to marry in the White House.

Frances Folsom Cleveland

“The new First Lady was the object of intense media interest. She took over the duties of being White House hostess, and her charm let her win popularity.”

When Grover Cleveland was defeated by Benjamin Harrison in the 1888 election, Frances was sure they would return. “As Frances Cleveland left the White House, she told a staff member, “Now, Jerry, I want you to take good care of all the furniture and ornaments in the house, for I want to find everything just as it is now, when we come back again.” When asked when she would return, she responded, “We are coming back four years from today.”

In 1891, she had their first child, Ruth. Her father returned to the White House the following year as President and she was referred to as Baby Ruth. It is from her that the candy bar, Baby Ruth was named.

In 1893, she had their daughter, Esther, who became the first child born in the White House. Their son Marion was born in 1895 and Richard in 1897.

On March 4, 1897 the family left the White House and returned to private life. Their youngest child, a son, Francis, was born in 1903.

Francis Folsom Cleveland

In 1904, their oldest child, Ruth, died at the age of 12 from diphtheria.

President Grover Cleveland died in 1908.

On February 10, 1913, Frances married a professor of archeology at Wells College, Thomas J. Preston, Jr. She became the first presidential widow to remarry.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, she led the Needlework Guild of America in its clothing drive for the poor.

She died on October 29, 1947 in Baltimore, Maryland. She was buried in Princeton Cemetery beside President Cleveland.

Frances Cleveland holds the distinctive title of being the only First Lady to serve two non-consecutive terms. As well, she is the only one to marry in the White House and had the first child in the White House.


Tomorrow: The sister of Grover Cleveland, Rose Cleveland





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