Monday, June 11, 2012

Hannah Van Buren

A simple Google search turned up no biography for poor Hannah Van Buren. Of course since she died long before her husband, Martin, became president this does not surprise me. I was hoping there would be a little booklet or something at the Van Buren’s home in New York, but an email to the park ranger at their home simply said there was nothing. I even asked about a biography of Martin that would tell me about Hannah. But there really isn’t any. He doesn’t even mention her in his autobiography. Ouch. That hurts!

So I decided to invest in a new anthology of First Ladies. This time I choose the reprint of an older one by Laura Holloway written in 1881 entitled The Ladies of the White House; or In the Home of the Presidents. Being a Complete History of the Social and Domestic Lives of the Presidents from Washington to the Present Time--1789-1881. The section on Hannah was very short, only a couple of pages. Basically, Hannah and Martin grew up together in the same tight knit Dutch community near Kinderhook New York. They got married when she was 25. She had 5 children but one died in infancy. Then she passed away after being married for only 10 years. That was it for detailed information on her! But there was a reprint of her obituary and also a couple pages describing the perfect gentility and graciousness of her character. One story sticks out in my mind. (Actually, I think it was the only story.) Hannah was sick a long time before she passed away and during that time she asked her niece to make sure that when she died that the tradition of the family spending money on grieving scarves would be replaced by the family spending the same amount of money on the poor.

Then I flipped through some other write ups in the book and noticed that most of them left out information like dates of birth, marriage, children being born, whereabouts of where they lived, how they met their spouse, etc. Instead all the write ups focused on the ladies’ character and painted their qualities in extreme terms like they never had a bad day in their lives, but they were ALWAYS patient and ALWAYS hospitable. Was this just the style of the author? Or the style of writing in the late 1800’s?

Although this writing did not satisfy my curiosity to know about Hannah Van Buren, it reminded me that who I am is more important and lasts longer that what I do.