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Frances Folsom Cleveland

the youngest First Lady ever to occupy the White House

Frances Cleveland

Frances Folsom was born in Buffalo, New York, on July 21, 1864, the only child of Oscar and Emma Harmon Folsom. Her father was killed in a carriage accident when she was eleven, and his estate came under the administration of his law partner, Grover Cleveland. Cleveland was already a close family friend, but his handling of the Folsom estate brought him into even closer contact with Frances. Although his intentions were always honorable, as Frances grew into womanhood he came to have genuine affection for her. When Frances entered Wells College (as a sophomore), Cleveland asked her mother's permission to maintain a correspondence. By the time Frances graduated with her Bachelor's in 1884, Cleveland was in love.

There were, however, two major obstacles to Cleveland's love for Frances -- he was 27 years older than her, and he had just been elected President of the United States. Cleveland pursued the relationship with great delicacy and secrecy until, in May 1886, he stunned the nation by announcing that he and Frances would be married in the White House within the week. On June 2, 1886, Grover Cleveland and Frances Folsom participated in the only presidential nuptials to take place in the White House.

At 21 years of age, Frances Cleveland was the youngest First Lady ever to occupy the White House, but she quickly earned nationwide respect as a charming hostess and loyal wife. The nation was captivated by her youth, her beauty, and the obvious affection President Cleveland had for her. She was seen as a fashion trendsetter and role model. Photos and drawings of her likeness were used to sell perfume, playing cards, liver pills, ladies' underwear, and a variety of other products, all without her permission. When the Queen of Spain visited Washington, D.C., she became the first U.S. First Lady to meet with a foreign head of state without her husband being present.

When the Clevelands left the White House in 1889, Frances was reported to have told the staff to "...take care of the place, we'll be back." While they waited out Benjamin Harrison's term, the couple lived in New York City, where their first child, Ruth, was born. With Grover Cleveland's unprecedented re-election in 1892, the First Lady returned to the White House as if she had been gone but a day.

Frances Cleveland was at her husband's side when he died at their home, "Westland," in 1908. In 1913 she married Thomas J. Preston, Jr., a professor of classical studies and archaeology at Princeton University, who survived her.

Frances Folsom Cleveland died in Baltimore, Maryland, on October 29, 1947, and was interred at the Princeton (NJ) Cemetery, next to Grover.

The Children of Grover and Frances Cleveland

Ruth Cleveland -- October 3, 1891-January 7, 1904 -- died of diphtheria

Esther Cleveland Bosanquet -- September 9, 1893-June 26, 1980 -- the only child of a President to be born in the White House

Marion Cleveland Dell Amen -- July 7, 1895-June 18, 1977

Richard Folsom Cleveland -- October 28, 1897-January 10, 1974 -- became a prominent attorney

Francis Grover Cleveland -- July 18, 1903-November 8, 1996-- had a career as a stage actor of limited renown

See Also

Grover Cleveland
Benjamin Harrison
New York City

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The Robinson Library >> Grover Cleveland's Administration, 1885-1889

This page was last updated on August 30, 2018.