First Ladies: Jane Means Appleton Pierce

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Jane Pierce, with her son, Benjamin

Jane is described as a “delicate” child and adult.

Her brother-in-law was an instructor at Bowdoin College to a young man named Franklin Pierce. How Jane and Franklin met is not known for sure, all though this connection seems the most obvious. They were married on November 19, 1834. The couple is described as having a “genuine deep affection for one another”.

With their marriage, she became a political wife but this was a role she never wanted. She is said to often encourage him to leave politics.

Jane is described as “a slender girl, estimated to be 5’4″ and only around 100 pounds. She was always quiet and prone to deep depressions, relying heavily on the help of others, specifically her aunt through marriage Abigail Kent Means and most importantly her older sister, Mary Appleton Aiken.” She is also said to have a great love for literature. ” Jane was a deeply religious, serious minded, sensitive, and nervous, — almost the complete opposite of the man she chose to marry.”

In 1836, their first son, Franklin Jr, died at three days of age.

In 1839, she had their second son, Franklin Robert Pierce. In 1841, their third son, Benjamin was born.

Franklin Pierce was away in 1841-1842 serving in the Mexican-American army. He returned to a hero’s welcome.

In 1843, son Franklin Robert Pierce died from typhus.


The couple is said to fight often over her husband’s desire for political office and her desire for a quiet life. In time they began to drift apart.

In 1852, Jane is said to have fainted at the news her husband was a candidate for president. “Eleven-year-old Benny wrote to her: “I hope he won’t be elected for I should not like to be at Washington and I know you would not either.” But the President-elect convinced his wife that his office would be an asset for Benny’s success in life.”

On January 6, 1853, the Pierce’s were traveling together when Benny was killed in a train accident. She saw her son’s decapitated body and never got over the loss. “Jane believed that God was displeased with her husband’s political ambitions.”

Jane never recovered from the tragedy and was not present at her husband’s presidential inauguration. She distanced herself and became deeply depressed. For the first two years, she remained in the second floor living quarters of the white house, writing letters to her son.

Her aunt, Abby Kent-Means was left to handle the social and hostessing duties in the White House. She was a childless, wealthy widow and it was easy for her to get away for long period’s of time. When Aunt Abby was away, the wife of Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, Varina Davis, or other cabinet wives would set in for the hostessing duties.

Jane Piece made her first official appearance as First Lady on January 1, 1855 at a reception.

Upon her husband leaving the White House Jane was already sick with tuberculosis. ” When the Pierces left the White House, Jane was so weakened by tuberculosis that she had to be carried out.”

The couple did travel though over the next few years. This was often to warmer climates, such as the Caribbean, to seek relief from the tuberculosis.

Jane Pierce died from tuberculosis on December 2, 1863 in Andover, Massachusetts at the age of 57. She was buried in the Old North Cemetery in Concord, New Hampshire.

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