First Ladies - Fun Facts to Know and Tell


This article is not a listing of every First Lady in American History. It is a listing of information I did not know about some of those women. What has surprised me in doing this research is how many of them have really interesting unknown facts about their lives. Some of the ones I’ve left out are the most well-known, which translates into there not being much left to learn.

Martha Washington by all accounts did not enjoy her time (George Washington 1789-1797) as First Lady, a term that was not used at the time. She had not supported his candidacy for the presidency and refused to attend his inauguration. She apparently had better things to do, such as managing the estate of her first husband, Daniel Parke Custis, Mount Vernon. In a historic twist of fate, the Custis Lee Mansion, former home of Robert E. Lee that became the site of Arlington Cemetery, was built by her grandson.

America's only foreign-born First Lady, Louisa Adams, was the wife of president John Quincy Adams (1825-1829). She did not move to America until four years prior to marrying Adams. She wrote two unpublished books about her own life, with details about life as she observed it in Europe and Washington: Record of My Life in 1825, and (I love this title) The Adventures of a Nobody in 1840.

Rachel Donelson Jackson died before her husband Andrew could take office (1829 - 1837). She was buried on Christmas Eve 1828 in the white dress she had purchased for her husband's inaugural ceremonies to be held the following March. She had married Andrew Jackson in 1791, thinking that her first husband had divorced her, but he had not. The Jacksons had to remarry in 1794, giving rise to adultery and bigamy charges raised against Jackson when he ran for president.

Hannah Hoes Van Buren died of tuberculosis in 1819, almost two decades before her husband, Martin Van Buren, became president (1837 - 1841). They had four sons who survived to adulthood, and Van Buren never remarried.

Julia Gardiner married the widowed president, John Tyler (1841 – 1845), in 1844, which was the first time a president married while in office. He was also the first vice president to become president upon his predecessor’s death. During the Civil War, she lived in New York and worked to support the Confederacy. After her husband’s death she successfully persuaded Congress to grant her a pension, Congress then passed a law giving pensions to other presidential widows.

Jane Means Appleton Pierce married her husband, Franklin Pierce (president 1853 - 1857), despite her opposition to his already-fruitful political career. She blamed the death of their three children on his political ambitions. The third, Benjamin, died in a train wreck right before her eyes a matter of months before Franklin's inauguration. The inauguration was held without the usual celebration of an inaugural ball as the nation grieved along with the parents.

Mary Todd wife of Abraham Lincoln (president 1861 - 1865) saw three of her four sons die before reaching adulthood. After watching her husband being shot in the head while sitting next to her in their theater box, her surviving son had her committed briefly. America's first woman lawyer, Myra Bradwell, helped get her released.


Lucy Ware Webb Hayes was the first wife of an American president to have a college education. She's also known for instituting the annual Easter egg roll on the lawn of the White House.

Lucretia Randolph Garfield was a shy, devout, serious woman. The social life of Washington held no interest for her. In spite of what was widely considered a happy marriage, her husband James Garfield (president March - September 1881) was the first president to be publicly known for having extramarital affairs. He was shot in a train station in Washington by a disgruntled would-be White House employee, dying two months later.

Ellen Lewis Herndon Arthur, Chester Alan Arthur's (1881 – 1885) beloved "Nell" died of pneumonia at the age of 42 the year before he was elected Vice President. He was still mourning her bitterly when he became President after the assassination of James Garfield. At the White House, Arthur would not give anyone the place that would have been his wife's. He presented a stained-glass window to St. John's Church in her memory, and had it was placed on the church’s south side so he could see the lights shining through it every night from the White House.


Caroline Lavinia Scott Harrison (Carrie), wife of Benjamin Harrison (president 1885 - 1889), helped to found the Daughters of the American Revolution and also helped open Johns Hopkins University to women students. But she is best remembered for establishing the custom of having special White House dinnerware, a different pattern selected by each First Lady ever since.

Edith Kermit Carow Roosevelt was a childhood friend of Theodore Roosevelt (president 1901 -1909), who grew up to see him marry someone else. When he was a widower with a young daughter they met again and were married in 1886. She was the first First Lady to hire a social secretary, probably to help plan the 1,000-guest White House wedding of Roosevelt’s daughter, Alice.

The law partner of Helen Herron Taft’s father was future president Rutherford B. Hayes (president 1877–1881). So from a young age, Helen was enamored of the idea of marrying a president. She urged her husband, William Howard Taft (president 1909 - 1913), to that end, and her dream eventually came true. Soon after the inauguration, however, she suffered a stroke. But after a year of recovery, she worked tirelessly for causes such as industrial safety and women's education. It is interesting to note, based on her early ambitions, that she was the first First Lady to give interviews to the press. She is also credited with the arrival of cherry trees in the nation’s capital. The mayor of Tokyo sent the First Lady 3,000 saplings that resulted in the beauties on display to this day. She is one of two First Ladies buried at Arlington Cemetery.

Ellen Louise Axson Wilson, wife of Woodrow Wilson (president 1913 - 1921), was a painter of some reknown in her own right. She had a studio with a skylight installed at the White House in 1913. She has the distinction of coordinating White House weddings for, not one, but two daughters within six months of each other - an accomplishment for any mother. A native of Rome, Georgia, and a descendant of slave owners, Ellen used her position as First Lady to improve housing in Washington D.C.'s slums. Those areas were primarily occupied by Blacks or Negroes as they were called at the time.


Florence Kling DeWolfe Harding had a child when she was 20 and the question of whether or not she was legally married was never fully settled. After struggling to support the son by teaching music, she gave him over to his father to raise. She married the successful Warren G. Harding when she was 31 and working on his newspaper with him. During Prohibition she served as White House bartender for her husband’s poker parties. His presidency (1921 - 1923) was riddled with corruption charges, so after his death she destroyed most of his papers trying to preserve a semblance of reputation for posterity.

Mamie Geneva Doud Eisenhower met her husband Dwight (president 1953 - 1961) when he was an army officer stationed in Texas. She moved from post to post with him as his career advanced. During the war years of WWII, she managed the family without him. She was suspicious of his relationship during World War II with his military driver and aide Kay Summersby, but accepted his assurances that there was nothing between them. The affair has been well documented in the ensuing years.


Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, became First Lady at the age of 31, the wife of John F. Kennedy (1961-1963). She is the second First Lady buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Claudia Alta Taylor Johnson (Lady Bird) financed her husband Lyndon's first campaign for Congress, using her own inheritance. She took a public speaking course in 1959 to prepare her to be active in the 1960 presidential campaign. She supported highway beautification resulting in miles of green space between the lanes of U.S. interstate highways being planted with wildflowers. She also supported the creation of Head Start, an educational program for at-risk preschoolers.

Thelma Catherine Patricia Ryan, Pat Nixon, was the first First Lady to declare herself pro-choice regarding abortion, and she urged appointment of a woman to the Supreme Court. Richard Milhous Nixon (president 1969 - 1974) survived several public scandals before being the first president to be forced to resign.

Eleanor Rosalynn Smith Carter, wife of Jimmy Carter (president 1977 – 1981) broke precedent by attending cabinet meetings. She lobbied for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) for women.

Like Abigail Adams, Barbara Pierce Bush was wife of a Vice President, First Lady (George H. W. Bush 1989- 1993), and then mother of a President. In 1984 and 1990, she wrote books attributed to family dogs, and the proceeds were given to her literacy foundation.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, was First Lady during her husband Bill Clinton's presidency (1993 - 2001). It is common knowledge that she was the first and only First Lady to be elected to the Senate (2001). What is not so commonly known is she is also the only First Lady to win a Grammy Award for the recording of her 1996 best-selling book, “It Takes a Village and Other Lessons Children Teach Us.”

She was elected to two terms in the senate, representing the state of New York before resigning to be a contender for the presidency (2007). She served as Secretary of State in the Obama Administration.

In 2016 she was elected President of the United States - the first lady in every regard to achieve this goal.

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Comments 44 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

I am ashamed to say I didn't know all of these facts. Great hub, very interesting, and this old history teacher thanks you!

Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

billybuc: If you knew all this, I'd have nothing to make a hub of! While you were reading, I added more pictures, if you'd like to take another look.

Thanks for your faithful following!

phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

Very, very interesting. Lots of this that I didn't know. And some great pictures. Sharing.

tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York

Great information...after all, behind every great man stands a woman...hopefully his wife! Many of these women had hard lives and hard times in Washington.

This was a really interesting hub with lots and lots of interesting information!

Voted up, useful, and interesting.

Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

phdast7: You must have caught up to me - I just posted this. Glad you enjoyed it. I've gotten a lot of traffic on my hub about presidents, so I thought this was a logical companion. It's pretty much pure research, so I can really only take credit for cherry picking what I found interesting.

tillsontitan: Thanks for the comments. You made some accurate points. It's amazing how many of them, even in their priviledged positions, still suffered the loss of so many of their children, not to mention dying themselves so young.

Natashalh profile image

Natashalh 4 years ago from Hawaii

I can't wait to share these tidbits with others! I knew very little of this information and I'm really excited to know it now! (yes, I'm a nerd. Oh well) Thanks for putting this all together.

Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Well, hello from another nerd! Love this kind of stuff - glad you do too. Like I wrote, some of these women we know so much about there is hardly anything new to learn. But so many of them are barely names in a book to us.

Tom Koecke profile image

Tom Koecke 4 years ago from Tacoma, Washington

Another fun article, Kathleen!

Wilson's first wife died while he was in office. He then married Edith Galt. There are some who contend she acted in his stead after he suffered a stroke. Even if she didn't act for him, she guarded him even from cabinet members, at the very least only taking to him matters that were of the utmost importance.

Dolley Madison, James Madison's wife, became First Lady with some experience. She would often act as hostess for the widowed Thomas Jefferson. She also was known for many years after her husband's term in office for providing information to the general public about proper hosting, in sort of a Miss Manners fashion.

Lucy Hayes never allowed alcohol in the White House. She was one of the most dominant figures in the temperance movement, and earned the nickname "Lemonade Lucy." Despite her no alcohol policy, and her husband's appointment in the most controversial election in American history, many dignataries would visit with President Hayes because Lucy Hayes was that charming!

jellygator profile image

jellygator 4 years ago from USA

Can't say I ever thought about this kind of information even though history's always interesting to me. So glad to have found it in your hub.

shalini sharan profile image

shalini sharan 4 years ago from Delhi

this hub is reall unique and interesting

voted up

Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Tom: Thanks for your contributions. I was surprised how many of the ladies refused to serve alcohol in the White House - then there was the bartender. Several Presidents needed a relative to stand in as hostess and many wives did not relish that role - or even want to be in politics at all! I really found many of the modern FLs fascinating. We just alreadky know almost every detail of their lives these days.

jellygator and shalini: Thanks for the comments. I appreciate you taking the time to read this hub and leave your thoughts.

Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Thanks to the generousity of a fellow hubber (who shall remain nameless, but followers of history hubs can probably guess who it is) some corrections have been made to this hub. I ALWAYS appreciate corrections. Never hesitate to send them via comments or emails. I'm indebted for the help.

teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 years ago

This is an interesting read on the first ladies of our nation. It should be part of a history book!

Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

teaches: It is part of a history book - that's how I did my research. But thanks for your faithful following of my work and for your comments. I thought this subject was terribly interesting. Wish there were more resources on these women.

Green Lotus profile image

Green Lotus 4 years ago from Atlanta, GA

Very cool. Seems like those first ladies are getting more powerful as time goes by :)

Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Insightful observation. I think it is impressive how these women pushed the envelope even back in the day when their roles were expected to be purely traditional. It speaks to "You've come a long way baby" that today's First Ladies are able to run for the office their husband held. Hadn't thought of that.

Welcome to my hubs Green Lotus!

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Sueswan 4 years ago

Hi Kathleen,

A very interesting and educational read.

Voted up and awesome

Take care :)

Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Sueswan: Welcome to my hubs. Thanks for the read and taking the time to comment. This kind of research is too much fun. Glad you found it interesting.

KCap profile image

KCap 4 years ago

Voted up!

Loved this hub! I find American history so intriguing, especially the first ladies. My favorite part of the American History Museum in DC was getting to see all the first ladies' dresses and white house china.

Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

KCap: I love history and research so this one was fun to do. Love the first ladies' dresses and china too - what's wrong with us? Glad you enjoyed and thanks for commenting.

AMFredenburg profile image

AMFredenburg 4 years ago from Southwestern New Hampshire

A lot of fascinating info on the First Ladies; sometimes I think they're more interesting than their husbands, and probably have to deal with more than their husbands do in a way in terms of public opinion. Thank you for an enjoyable article.

There's a story in my family of how my great-grandmother, Effie Lane Aikey, who was a dressmaker, hand-stitched the wedding dress of Grace Goodhue when she married Calvin Coolidge. I've never been able to find any info on that, but it's possible, since Effie was born and grew up in Vermont.

Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

What a great caveate to have in your family history. I agree with you about First Ladies. I think it would be fascinating to watch Hilary Clinton serve as president (whether I agree with all her politics or not) just to see one woman fill both roles. I think she would bring unique experience to the Oval Office.

Glad you liked the hub and welcome AMFredenburg.

AMFredenburg profile image

AMFredenburg 4 years ago from Southwestern New Hampshire

Thank you for the welcome; yes, I'd like to see Hilary Clinton as president, as well, and I think the climate may be kinder to her in 2016 if she does get in than it would be right now. It was interesting to see Jackie Kennedy and her growth and change as a human being after her years in the White House; in some ways she came into her own (in a bumpy way at times) in the decades after the sixties.

I look forward to reading more of your posts;

Best wishes,

AMFredenburg (Aldene)

rebeccamealey profile image

rebeccamealey 4 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

Really interesting facts, and a cool idea for a Hub here after the Inauguration.

Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

rebeccamealey: Glad you enjoyed this one. I love all the little-known tidbits of history you can find if you do a little bit of research. There are folks on hubpages who are really good at this. I'm just having some fun!

Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas

An interesting read. Glad to see that more and more is coming out about the contributions women have made to our country's history.

Kathleen Odenthal profile image

Kathleen Odenthal 2 years ago from Bayonne, New Jersey

great hub putting focus on the important women behind the scenes! loved this piece.

Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Thanks other-Kathleen! They are fascinating stories, aren't they?

Kathleen Odenthal profile image

Kathleen Odenthal 2 years ago from Bayonne, New Jersey

Very! I was actually contemplating a hub about the most inspirational women throughout history, and Im sure we will have some overlaps!

Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Looking forward to it!

pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 22 months ago from sunny Florida

Very interesting. I have read extensively of Mary Todd Lincoln. She was quite the character. A tragic figure too I might add.

Volumes have been written about her and they bring her to life before our very eyes as we read of her life before Lincoln and after.

I am currently on a quest to get to know these wives of Presidents and am happy to have come upon this piece that gives little snibbets about many of these First Ladies.

Angels are on the way to you this morning .

Voted Up+++ and Shared ps

Anne Harrison profile image

Anne Harrison 22 months ago from Australia

The Advenures Of A Nobody - what a great title! Thanks for sharing all these facts

poetryman6969 profile image

poetryman6969 22 months ago

There were a lot things here I did not know. Certainly more tragedy than I knew about.

Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 22 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Thanks y'all. Glad you enjoyed this one. The "Fun Facts" series of hubs were fun to do.

aesta1 profile image

aesta1 12 months ago from Ontario, Canada

I enjoyed reading your hub. I never knew Hillary had a Grammy. I admire the way they handled the position without losing their own uniqueness.

Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 12 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Thanks aestai! I have several Fun Facts hubs. Hope you find them.

CatherineGiordano profile image

CatherineGiordano 10 months ago from Orlando Florida

You said you enjoy rereading your old hubs, so I went looking for one to provide you with a touch of nostalgia. This caught my eye because I wrote a hub about first ladies also, only I choose some of the most well known. You mentioned that we have only had one foreign-born first lady. Could that be about to change? Melania Trump, anybody? (P.S. I hope not.)

Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 10 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Catherine: Interesting question. Who knows? She'd also be the first to pose for nude photos - that we know about!!!! I'll look up your hub - I'd be interested.

I did this series: fun facts to know and tell, so I was looking for some of the lesser known features. Thanks for your comments.

Jodah profile image

Jodah 7 months ago from Queensland Australia

Wowm this was inresring. Packed with stuff I didn't know.

Jodah profile image

Jodah 7 months ago from Queensland Australia

Sorry about the typos in my previous comment. Don't know what happened.

Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 7 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

It happens. Glad you liked this one!

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 7 months ago from Oakley, CA

Most interesting and informative. I did not know any of this. Trivia is fun!

Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 7 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

It was certainly fun to research and write! Thanks

Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 5 weeks ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

In honor of the end of an era this week in history, I'm going to be recycling some of these Fun Facts to Know and Tell hubs. Enjoy! (or ignore!)

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