Tuesday, October 6, 2015

9 Facts About Frank

The story of America's youngest First Lady was well told in Frank: The Story of Frances Folsom Cleveland by Annette B. Dunlap. When you read it, you will have to decide for yourself if you think she really loved her much older husband. 

Here are 9 facts about Frank:
  • Frances Folsom lost her father at the age of 10 and Cleveland was the administrator of her father’s estate. Cleveland and Folsom had been law partners and close friends. Cleveland even gave Frances her first baby carriage.

  • Frances was well-educated at private schools and was fluent in several languages. She graduated from Wells College. She later became a board member and held the position for 50 years.

  • At twenty-one she was married in a White House wedding to forty-eight year old Cleveland.

  • Cleveland worked a lot and fished and hunted and often left his young bride by her lonesome. Through both terms of office she insisted they have a carriage ride together each afternoon although she had to pry him away from his desk to do so.

  • The first term in office she was a young bride. The second term of office she was a mature woman and mother.

  • Ever have a Baby Ruth bar? It’s named after the Cleveland’s first child. They had five children together. Sadly, Ruth died as a child from diphtheria.

  • Frances was very active in the New York Kindergarten Association and brought the first kindergarten to the White House. Cleveland missed his chance to use this to his advantage politically. Frances also helped begin the organization that is now known as the Parent Teacher Association.

  • After the second term in the White House, the Cleveland family moved to Princeton, NJ. Frank loved entertaining “the boys,” especially those whose home was far from the school.

  • Grover Cleveland passed away in 1908.  Frank married again to Thomas Preston, Jr, a man closer to her own age. This marriage was full of mutual companionship. What a joy since she did not have that the first time around. Thomas even liked to knit and crochet with her! He also was intellectual like she was. He was an archaeology professor at Princeton. 

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Friday, July 17, 2015

Ellen Arthur: " A Woman Jane Austen Would Have Understood"

Having recently finished reading Dear Mr. Knightley in which the main character compares everyone she meets to characters from classic literature, mostly Jane Austen's work, it was fun to see this comparison brought out in a First Lady biography.

Ellen Arthur, who doesn't have her own biography, is described in Gentleman Boss: The Life of Chester Alan Arthur by Thomas Reeves, as "a woman Jane Austen would have understood." Why? Because her world revolved around her family and she was cheery and proper.

Ellen was the only child of a southern aristocrat, haughty and domineering mother and a father who was a sea Captain who had explored the entire Amazon river. When her father died at sea, Chester, who was an attorney and a close friend of Ellen's cousin, took care of the family's financial and legal affairs.

Ellen and Chester were married October 25, 1859 in New York City. Both Chester and Ellen had expensive tastes and Ellen was described as an elegant hostess. She must have been a charming guest too since an acquaintance remembered during her once a year visits how she smiled sweetly, talked kindly, and even remembered the servants names. She was socially aware of her obligations. If only she had lived to become First Lady she would have really thrived in this role!

During the Civil War, Chester had a brief military career for the North while Ellen "quietly but firmly" supported the south. 

Chester's routine was to stay up late with the guys smoking, drinking, talking politics, until 2:00-3:00 am, come home and go to bed, get up at 1:00 pm to go to work and begin this routine again.

All while Ellen is home tending the children.

Needless to say, there was tension in their marriage.

In 1880, after 20 years of marriage she caught pneumonia either from the exhaustion of having just returned from France to bring home her mother's remains, or from waiting out in the cold in January waiting for a carriage ride.

In Gentleman Boss, it says that Chester stayed at her bedside until she died. However, Carl Anthony says in Susan Swain's new book that he was away in Albany in business when she died. He was governor of New York at the time.

In either case, Ellen's death, at age 42, deeply grieved Chester. He regretted his treatment of her.  He never married again. 

When he was president, he donated a window to St. John's Episcopal Church in her memory and required that it be placed on the south side of the church which he could see from his private quarters at the White House.

This is the window, "to the glory of God and in memory of Ellen Lewis Herndon Arthur: Entrance into life January 12, 1880

Daily he had fresh flowers brought to the White House to be placed beside her photo.

It would have been fascinating to have Ellen as a first lady. She seemed born and bred for the role. 

And we can see from Chester's life to treasure our spouse while they are here. We may not always have them.

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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Lucretia Garfield: Patience Pays Off

It is horrible to be a man. But the grinding misery of being a woman between the upper and nether millstone of household cares and training children is almost as bad. To be half civilized with some aspirations for enlightenment, and obliged to spend the largest part of the time the victim of young barbarians keeps one in a perpetual ferment.
– Lucretia Garfield to James Garfield, June 5, 1877

The above quote was the only thing I knew of Lucretia Garfield before I read Crete and James: Personal Letters of Lucretia and James Garfield edited by JohnShaw. I expected a bitter and complaining woman, but she really was not. She must have written this quote on a bad day!  She had plenty of opportunity in her life to be a bitter and complaining woman, but she choose patience and forgiveness which paid off to giving her a long happy life.

Lucretia Garfield was well educated in the classics and had been a college teacher of French, algebra, and Latin among other things before she married James. But after she married James and began to have children her time was spent in taking care of them and her household including James’ mother and some boarders from time to time. In their letters James and Lucretia reference a lot of classical literature that went way over my head.

The source of most of her need for patience and forgiveness was James himself. He had begun a correspondence with her and her letters were very affectionate and flowery. James and Lucretia talked of marriage, but in person Lucretia must not have been as affectionate. James ended up marrying her out of a sense of duty. What a way to start out! In their first 5 years of marriage, they only lived together for 20 weeks. Part of that time he fought in the Union army and part of that time he was campaigning but there was a lot of that time he was on trips for pleasure or to scope out some land for a friend. Or to visit a mistress. There were two affairs which Lucretia knew about that were mentioned in this book. In addition, there was a mutual friend with whom James spent a lot of time with on a particular visit home. Oh, at that mutual friend happened to be a boarder. Cormac O’Brien in Secret Lives of First Ladies alludes to more affairs. But Lucretia remains a steadfast spouse despite her lack of trust. A painful part of the correspondence to read was where Lucretia finally for the first time referred to herself as a trusting wife. This was after one affair had been discovered and broken off and just after the couple and been bonded together by experiencing the death of their 3 year old firstborn.  But what does James do right after this trusting comment?  While in Washington he begins another affair!

Lucretia finds out, James breaks it off, and Lucretia works again and forgiving and trusting.

At this point in the correspondence I am disgusted by James. How could he do that to his wife?

But the rest of their life is all uphill and by the end, I am amazed at their genuine love and respect for each other. The next jump start in their relationship is from a 4 month trip to Europe the two of them take together. Then James builds a home in Washington for the whole family and from then on they aren’t separated as much.

It’s interesting to read letters between a couple. It’s like being a fly on a wall eavesdropping in on a conversation. Although James makes a comment at one point wondering if anyone in the future would read their words to each other.

James Garfield is shot shortly after he is inaugurated as president in 1881 and suffers for a few months with Lucretia by his side before he dies.

Lucretia lives many more years until she passes away in 1918. Since this was a book of letters between them, the book ends in 1881, but according to firstladies.org Lucretia remains very active in her intellectual pursuits like literary circles and even designing and engineering things for her home in Ohio and her home in Pasadena, CA.

It would have been very easy for Lucretia to emotionally check out of her marriage. But she didn’t. She patiently stayed committed and chose to forgive and move forward. This paid off as she spent many years in a genuinely warm and loving marriage which was both emotionally fulfilling and intellectually stimulating.

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