Later White House Hostesses
( Originally Published 1908 )
One biographer writes the following of Mrs. Lincoln, the time referred to being the first year of President Lincoln's first administration :
"Mrs. Edwards, a sister of Mrs. Lincoln, and Miss Mary Wallace, a beautiful miss of eighteen, her niece, will accompany Mr. Lincoln's family and assist Mrs. Lincoln in doing the honors of the President's levees. Mrs. Edwards is an accomplished Kentucky lady. Mrs. Abraham Lincoln has two married sisters now on a visit to Montgomery, Ala. One is from Kentucky, the other from Selma, Ala. They are both secessionists and opposed to the government of their brother-in-law, Abraham Lincoln. They attract considerable attention and are the toast of Southerners. The husband of one has offered his services to Governor Moore, of Alabama, to further the cause of succession."
Regarding Mrs. Lincoln's life after leaving the White House in deep mourning for the martyred President, it is related in Pendel's Thirty-Six Years in the White House:
"Some years after (referring to the death of Lincoln), during the Hayes administration, a Mrs. Rathbone called on the President and his family. I met her as she was leaving and found that she was the Miss Harris who was in the box with Mr. Lincoln the night he was assassinated. She had just returned from Ohio, and said that Mrs. Lincoln was living there, in a town called Poe. She stated that Mrs. Lincoln requested her to inquire how many of the old employees were still in the White House. It touched me much to think that Mrs. Lincoln did not forget her old employees."
Mrs. U. S. Grant Loved Official Life
Mrs. U. S. Grant was a Miss Julia Dent, sister of one of General Grant's West Point classmates. That she loved her life at the White House is apparent in reading her own story of her life, in which she says :
"When my General became his country's President I was as proud of him as his country was. My life at the White House was like a bright and beautiful dream, and we were immeasurably happy. It was quite the happiest period of my life. I am very honest about it. I suppose I might say with touching effect that the quiet tranquillity of the farm and its home associations were sweeter to me than the gayety and excitement of the Executive Mansion, but it wouldn't be true. I don't know what the General would select as the happiest era of his life, if he were here ; probably it would be the field of battle, for he was a soldier first and all things else came after that. But I am a woman and the life at the White House was a garden spot of orchids, and I wish it might have continued forever, except that it would have deterred others from enjoying the same privilege. It was a constant feast of cleverness and with a comingling with men who were the brainiest their Stags and countries could send to represent them, and women unrivalled anywhere for beauty, talent and tact. When Congress and society get in session, Washington is a Mecca for brains and beauty."
White House Doorkeeper Pendel throws some side lights on Mrs. Grant's life at the Executive Mansion when he writes in his book before menti0ned, that the day of President Grant's second inauguration was "one of the coldest days I have ever felt here." The West Point cadets had been ordered to Washington to take part in the inauguration parade. They had marched up to Washington Circle, past the Executive Mansion, and in so doing it was intensely cold and they had no overcoats one of them was freezing t0 death while in the ranks. Word of this fact came to the White House and Mrs. Grant heard of it. She had the young man brought over to the White House immediately, and I put him to bed and covered him up nice and warm. Then Mrs. Grant said to me: `Now Pendleton, I want you to look out for this young man and take good care of him'. Late in the afternoon, after the procession was all over, the cadet came around all right so that he was able to get out of bed, and I went down to the hotel with him. Mrs. Grant was very kind-hearted. She had as good care taken of this young man as if he had been her own son.
"Mrs. Grant, in holding her drawing-room receptions, would always have me stand in the Blue Parlor, ready, in case she should want to give me an order of any kind when she came down. Sometimes she would come downstairs and forget her handkerchief. `Pendleton, go upstairs and bring me down a clean handkerchief', she would say. She seemed to be quite forgetful of the little articles that go to complete a toilet for receiving. Sometimes she would forget her white kid gloves, and, `Pendleton, go up and get me a pair of gloves', would be the order. Then I would have to hunt up the dressing maid, who was usually, about this time, down in the basement taking her dinner; and so it would go. The maid would not want to stop eating her dinner to go up and get the gloves called for, so she would say to me, `You go upstairs and look in such and such a drawer, in the dresser in Mrs. Grant's room, and there you'll find the gloves'."
"Sometimes Mrs. Grant would forget her fan ; sometimes it would be her ear-rings, and almost invariably, when she would come downstairs ready for her receptions, I would have to skirmish upstairs and try to find what she required in case I could not induce the maid to go."
Mrs. Hayes and Ms. Garfield
The most noteworthy feature of the official life of Mrs. Rutherford B. Hayes, namely, her insistence upon total abstinence at the Presidential table, is detailed in the chapter on "Entertaining at the White House." She was a great favorite with the people all during the days of the administration of President Hayes, and it is related that very often Mr. Hayes made her his confident in important questions of State. It is said of her that she was "one of the strongest of women as well as one of the sweetest." She had most decided opinions about public affairs, and could express them in vigorous fashion. Mr. Hayes thought her "even wiser than she was, and with his great love for her was ever eager to gain her sanction before adopting a new plan or policy."
Mrs. Hayes died before her husband.
Mrs. James A. Garfield, still living in Pasadena, Cal., is given her share of space in this work in the chapters telling of "first Ladies" and Presidential Widows. When Mr. McKinley was inaugurated, Mrs. Garfield was among the very first to call on Mrs. McKinley and they thereafter remained the best of friends. It is said that General Garfield "leaned much on his wife." She gave him much assistance while he was in Congress, and even after his election to the Presidency she maintained her position as helpmeet.
The First Mrs. Benjamin Harrison
"We are here for four years I do not look beyond that, as many things may occur in that time, but I am very anxious to see the family of the President provided for properly, and while I am here I hope to be able to get the present building put into good condition. Very few people understand to what straits the President's family has been put at times for lack of accommodations. Really there are only five sleeping apartments and there is no feeling of privacy."
So said Mrs. Benjamin Harrison when first she came to the White House. Her own words show that she was a lady of simple habits and tastes. Her biographers record the facts, too, that she was the best of housekeepers and the most devoted of grandmothers. Up to the time of her death in the White House, General Harrison; it is said, "often talked State matters over with her. He did not always do so, but, as a rule, when time and opportunity permitted, would discuss with her the principal plans of his administration. General Harrison, "like all men of keen perceptions and good executive tact, saw that a woman's intuition was often more valuable in matters of statecraft than a man's logic." He did not hesitate to talk over with Mrs. Harrison a great many affairs of state and her advice was frequently found of value.
Mrs. Grover Cleveland a Second Dolly Madison
The wife of Grover Cleveland, during her reign at the White House, gained for herself a degree of popularity among the American people second only to that attained by Dolly Madison.
"The American people," says one report, "regardless of place or party, accepted Mrs. Cleveland as the ideal `First Lady' of the land, who, like Dolly Madison of old, was a law unto her successors."
The marriage of President Cleveland and Frances Folsom is described in a separate chapter.
By that marriage Mrs. Cleveland gained the distinction of being the first lady to marry a President of the United States within the White House walls. She was, also, one of the youngest mistresses of the mansion, the only President's wife who was younger than Mrs. Cleveland being the second Mrs. Tyler. Mrs. Cleveland was twenty-two when she came to the White House, while Mrs. Tyler was only twenty. Mrs. Cleveland was also the first and only wife of a President t0 become a mother in the Executive Mansion.
Mrs. Cleveland showed, from the beginning, her love for domestic duties. She was fond of sewing, as, a contemporaneous report of her daily life says, many of the daintiest garments fashioned for her little ones bear ample evidence. "Among her friends," says the same report, "it is an open secret that most of the daintiest gowns and slips worn by Ruth (their first born), as an infant were the work of Mrs. Cleveland's own hands. The President's wife is fond of fancy work in the line of embroidery and drawn work, but, of course, in the pressure of more important things she finds comparatively little time for this. This fondness of hers for needle work is not generally known. Mrs. Cleveland never mentions it."
Mrs. Cleveland, it is asserted, made an ideal "First Lady" of the land. She did what no other wife of a President attempted. For it is asserted that at receptions "she would take a step forward and shake hands with the caller, returning to her position before saluting the next in line." This task is referred to as one which only a woman of tremendous physical endurance could carry out successfully. At one New Year's reception, for example, nine thousand persons greeted the President and his wife. So that Mrs. Cleveland took nine thousand steps and shook hands nine thousand times on each of these occasions.
President Cleveland, it was reported, was the first President since Grant who was not in the habit of confiding his secrets to his wife. Mrs. Cleveland cared very little about politics, and the President did not encourage her to think of such matters. He took the old-fashioned view that "a woman should not bother her head about political parties and public questions, and that she should be content to rule in the domain of the home."
General Adam Badeau wrote the following tribute to Mrs. Cleveland:
"The new President has introduced one custom never inaugurated by his predecessors. He married a young wife in the Blue Room. This is a new story for the Story-tellers, a new memory to mingle with the political ones. All future chroniclers will tell of it, and they will have no more graceful heroine or popular figure in all their annals than the young and attractive wife who has made herself and her husband so many personal friends, and subdued, by her winning qualities, to her own mild sway even the bitterest political opponents."
Another admirer wrote that "it is instructive to make comparison between Dolly Madison and Mrs. Cleveland. They were the two most popular women of the White House. It is a rare combination of gift and graces that produces a pre-eminent social queen, and Mrs. Madison had them all. Mrs. Cleveland had the same characteristics, but was not so fond of the purely social as her rival. She won by her modesty and good sense."
Mrs. McKinley an Invalid "First Lady."
Owing to the fact that Mrs. McKinley was ever in poor health, life at the White House during her regime was made as simple and as quiet as it possibly could be. Mrs. McKinley received her intimate friends, including the widow of President Garfield, in the library in homelike fashion, while she left most of the official duties to her relatives and to nieces of the President.
Her life with Mr. McKinley has been alluded to as being of the "Darby and Joan sort." "They were seen together indoors and out, and when the martyred President lay on his death bed it was to his beloved comrade that he spoke his last words : "Good-by all. It is God's way. His will be done, not ours."
"President McKinley was very kind and gentle to Mrs. McKinley at all times," says Doorkeeper Pendel. "Often I would go in with cards after she had recovered from spells of sickness after dinner. They would be sitting in the grand corridor near the entrance to the dining-room. She would have her knitting, which she was very fond of, and the President would be reading his paper or looking over some documents that required his attention. He seemed to do everything in his power to please her. They were a very happy man and wife."
Of Mr. McKinley's devotion to his wife, one magazinist said, while McKinley still lived, that "he has stood between an invalid wife and everything that might worry her or annoy. To her he has always presented a smiling face no matter what heavy responsibilities were resting on him and no matter what public difficulties he had to solve. Devotion so constant has schooled him in a habit of self-command on all occasions."
Mrs. John A. Logan, widow of General Logan, paid this tribute to Mrs. McKinley at the time the latter was "First Lady":
"Her devotion as mother and wife amounts to idolatry. The pictures of her angel babies are ever before her. She never wearies of speaking of them and of their cherished beauty and winsomeness. When listening to her as she talks of them with so much motherly tenderness, one can scarcely believe that a score of years have come and gone since they joined the cherubs in Heaven.
"Her adoration of her husband is well known. No one can be in her presence long without feeling conviced that `out of the fulness of the heart the mouth speaketh.' She idealizes him in a way that is perfectly beautiful ; to her he is far more than a perfect man ; he is divine. She descants upon him with all the fervor of a maiden in her teens. She deeply appreciates the thoughtfulness that prompts him to leave Cabinet meetings or other important councils, if they are at all protracted, to seek her and see that she is happy and has the companionship of some agreeable person.
"No matters of State could ever engross the President so as to make him forget his delicate wife for an hour. She enjoys everything the President does, traveling, driving, music, flowers, and the sight of people. She can never be induced to be separated from her husband even for a day, unless it is impossible for her to accompany him.
"The writer heard her rebuke a wife one day who announced her intention of going to Europe, leaving her husband and children at home; and I am not sure, after Mrs. McKinley's remarks, that the lady had the heart to carry out her plans. If she did, I am sure that her conscience must have reminded her of what `The First Lady' of the land thought of wives who put the sea between themselves and their families. Verily the domestic felicity of the President and Mrs. McKinley demonstrate that there exists in this world of infelicity at least `two souls that are as one'."