Sunday, April 16, 2017

Nellie Taft: The Pros and Cons of Ambition


Nellie Heron Taft was never content to just sit around and wait for life to happen. She had ambition for herself and especially for her husband, William Howard Taft.

Ambition, like many other character traits, has its pros and cons.

Ambitious for Work

When young Nellie’s schooling was complete, she was expected to live leisurely and wait for a husband. But sports (like tennis which was popular at the time) and needlework did not satisfy her. She was bored and restless.

So she decided to work for pay. She was a teacher at several different schools.

This certainly raised eyebrows in town. What was Nellie Heron doing working? Certainly her family didn’t need the money. But Nellie’s ambitious spirit needed to be constantly active.

Ambitious for Intellectual Stimulation

Nellie was ambitious to keep her mind sharp. She started and hosted a salon which is like a highly educated book club.

This is when she began spending a lot of time with William Howard Taft called Will.

Will had his own ambitions. Namely, he wanted to marry Nellie. He proposed to her many times and would not give up even after receiving a negative answer time and time again.



Nellie had already purposed in her heart long before meeting Will that she would only marry someone who would be President of the United States. This might seem like a far-fetched goal, but her family was dear friends of President and Lucy Hayes. Nellie had visited at the White House with the Hayes and there her dream was born.

The problem was Will did not want to be president. He wanted to be on the Supreme Court.

Will and Nellie’s ambitions did not seem to meld together. But eventually, Nellie must have decided that Will was president material and she agreed to marry him.

Ambitious for Music

Nellie was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio and continued to live in Cincinnati once Will and she married.

Carl Anthony pointed out in Nellie Taft: The Unconventional First Lady of the Ragtime Era that Nellie had the ambition to make Cincinnati as culturally prominent as New York City was. Nellie was also a musician and had a desire to see Cincinnati have its own orchestra. From 1893-1900 she was the president of the Cincinnati Orchestra Association. She was not just president in name. She worked hard! She took care of contracts for the musicians, ran the stockholder and board meetings, and chased down the conductor that she wanted and insisted that he take the job.

Ambitious for Embracing Philippino Culture

After the Spanish-American War, Will Taft was appointed Governor-General of the Philippines. He really shined in this role as he created laws and brought the people together to warm up to the Americans which was no easy task especially after the military presence of MacArthur.

Nellie shined in her role of governor’s wife. She was willing to respectfully go out of her way to embrace the Philippino people which was not the popular view at the time. She shook hands with them. She welcomed the natives into the governor’s home.

She even made an amazing trek without Will to a remote people group to get to know them and represent America to them.

Ambitious for the Presidency

Her highest ambition was to see her husband ruling in the White House. After their time in the Philippines, Will was appointed to be Secretary of War under Roosevelt. Will accepted and the Tafts moved to Washington, D.C. This was not the family’s first time living in Washington, but this return gave Nellie the chance to further work out her ambition to get Will into the presidency. She played politics more so than any other First Lady before her advising her husband what to do and say and planning with other political leaders including TR.

After Will was elected, Nellie remained ambitious once she was in the first lady role. But Nellie didn’t work within ladies only organizations like other First Ladies had done. Because of her work with the orchestra, she was used to working with educated men.  She wasn’t afraid to do new things like:
·         Get rid of the horses and buggies in the White House stables and bring in the automobiles. It was not unusual to see Nellie herself cruising around D.C. in her car.
·         Create a place for outdoor concerts. Potomac Park was her brainchild including the thousands of Japanese cherry trees.
·         Work through the National Civic Foundation to improve working conditions for children and women especially in government work.
·         She was the first and only First Lady to attend the Presidential Nominating Convention of the opposing party. (This was after her husband’s presidency.)

She did many other ambitious things in her first lady role despite the fact that she had a stroke two months into her husband’s presidency and had to relearn how to speak.

But what stood out the most is that she was deeply involved in playing politics more than any First Lady I’ve read for a long time. Maybe since Abigail Adams. A lot of her politics came to play when it came to the Roosevelts.

Ambitious to Defeat the Roosevelts

The nation loved dear Teddy Roosevelt. Before TR left office he promised not to run for another term. But Nellie didn’t believe him. She was convinced even before there seemed to be actual proof that TR wanted to run again. She was irked that no one could see TR for the scheming man he was and especially irked that Will couldn’t see it. Will certainly trusted him until the Bull Moose Party was formed and TR announced his presidential run. It broke my heart to read how when Will Taft had to publically contradict something TR had said while campaigning against him, he went back into the train car and wept and said, “he was my best friend.”

In Nellie Taft by Carl Anthony, it was fascinating to see TR through Nellie’s eyes. Since I read the First Lady biographies in order, I had just read the biography of Edith Roosevelt in which nothing but good was mentioned about TR. That biography painted the Tafts in a poor light especially Nellie who was described as rude and curt. (This is one of the many reasons that Mr. Anthony’s biographies have been among the best I’ve read during this journey. He presents each person honestly, flaws and all, which makes the subject seem like a real person.)


Nellie’s dislike or jealousy of the Roosevelts seems to begin with or be enhanced by the cold relationship between Nellie and Edith once Will accepted the position of Secretary of War.

Carl Anthony entertains the question: how different would America be today if Edith and Nellie had been warm and welcoming to each other? What would have happened in the Republican Party had they been kinder to each other? A great question! 

Blinded by Selfish Ambition

Carl Anthony also dealt with the differences between Edith Roosevelt and Nellie Taft. They were very different women with different backgrounds and different approaches to the role of First Lady. But most of all, they differed in their approaches to their husband’s ambitions.

Edith respected her husband’s choice to guide his own destiny. Not just politically, but with his ranching in the West and safari adventures in Africa and in South America. Edith supported him through many wild ambitions.

But Nellie refused to even acknowledge her husband’s dream. Will’s dream from the beginning was to be on the Supreme Court. But Nellie worked against that dream and paved his way to the White House, a place he never really wanted to go which he didn’t really like.

After the White House, Nellie’s ambition having been realized, Will was able to fulfill his ambition. In 1921, he became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. By that time Will and Nellie’s marriage had grown to the point that Will did not check his decisions with his wife anymore. He said yes to the appointment, then informed his wife about it rather than checking with her first like he had previously in his political life.

My Ambitions

For myself, Nellie Taft reminds me to make sure that I have ambitions. As my kids grow, there is time for me to pursue ambitions in addition to being a mom which is the only ambition I had previously ever dreamed about. Reading through the First Lady biographies is one of the ambitions I have. I eventually want to read through the Newbery Award winners, too. I also don’t just want to consume books, but I have ambitions for writing as well.
The First Lady biographies that I read so far and own.
There are others I have read that I borrowed from our library.
I'm thankful for our library since some books have
been out of print, hard to find, or just too expensive to buy.


Nellie Taft’s life also encourages me to take initiative to support my husband’s ambitions as well. What will I do if our ambitions clash? I believe then submission comes into play like Ephesians 5 says.


Ambitions drove Nellie Taft to accomplish so much in her life. Her courage and bravery to accomplish her ambitions are admirable. Although her ambitions caused her husband to live through four years of stress in the White House in a position he never desired, thankfully, there was a happy ending for him as he lived the last nine years of his life as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. 





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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A Visit to Sagamore Hill


For my birthday this year, my mother and I spent a day on Long Island, NY to visit Sagamore Hill, the home of Teddy and Edith Roosevelt. We were also able to see several other spots of interest.

We got up early in the morning since we read that if you do not get there early enough, the tickets for the house tours for the day will be sold out. Thankfully, we didn't have any traffic, so we were able to get there quickly. It's about a two hour drive from my home near Allentown, PA.

We had to drive through the city to get there on the express way. 

Long Island felt so much like Pennsylvania! It was hilly with beautiful trees sporting bright yellow and red leaves. 

Sagamore Hill


We got to Sagamore Hill before it opened. We drove through the long drive up to the house. The drive was at the bottom of the hill and you looked up to see the home. You couldn't see any other homes from the drive. We were there in time to see a Boy Scout Troop raise the flag. Hearing their busy voices chatting added to the excitement.

This picture does not do the magnificence of the place justice. It has a stately air and you could tell those who lived here loved nature. The property had many trees and when it was built you could see Oyster Bay from the front porch. Now there are too many trees that have overgrown the view.

We were able to buy our tickets for the first tour. While we were waiting for the tour to begin, we looked around at the chicken coop and read a couple of signs that explained the Roosevelts and different aspects of their lives. One interesting piece pointed out that at times TR would join his farm hands in the fields when he just had the urge to be outside working for the day. He insisted to be paid for his labor, too!

We also noticed that there was a windmill which operated the water pump along with an ice house. There is a story that TR had climbed up the windmill to repair a part and the windmill sliced a part of his scalp. He was bleeding pretty badly. When he went into the house Edith said something like, "If you are going to bleed, please don't do it on my floors! Go into the bathroom!"

When we went up to the front porch, we noticed that there was a large wrap around porch. There was a section of the porch that did not have any rail at all. That is where the rocking chairs were and they faced the bay. What a peaceful view that must have been! 

The front room with the awning was TR's office. He purposefully put his office in the front of the house by the front door so that he could beat the maids to the door when visitors came. 


The front door was wide and heavy. It had the presidential seal on it. Inside this door was the hall with TR's office to the right, Edith's sitting room to the left, and at the end of the hall was the dining room (which I thought was quite small), and a large room they used for receptions and dancing and general entertaining.



Another door on the porch had a Latin phrase above it. We looked it up when we got home. It means "he who has planted will preserve." This is the TR family motto.


Unfortunately, there were no pictures allowed to be taken inside. It was very Victorian: dark wood panels, lots of pattern, and lots of texture. There were also lots of animal skins and heads and even a trash can made out of an elephant foot!

There was not much said about Edith on the tour. But it was so special to be feet away from where she rested in her sitting room and where she wrote letters at her desk. In the dining room, she sat at the foot of the table and behind her was a folding screen through which she gave instructions to the kitchen help. We even got to see the bed where she died.

The house transported you to the time period more so than other house tours I've been on. I think this is due to the fact that when Edith died in 1948 the house was given to the Teddy Roosevelt Association and then later it was turned over to the National Park Service. So there was no need for curators to hunt down original furniture or belongings. It was already there just how it was when they actually lived there. Amazing!

Old Orchard

After we toured Sagamore Hill, we walked down a small foot path to Old Orchard, the house built for Ted, Jr.

Orchard House
Old Orchard was turned into a museum for TR. We took a quick look through.

These clever steps were set up on the picket fence between Old Orchard and Sagamore Hill. So, of course, we tried them out!


TR Grave Site

Our next stop was the TR grave site at Young's Memorial Cemetery. It was only a couple miles from Sagamore Hill. The Young family were friends of the Roosevelts and were one of the early settlers in the area. 


 The cemetery was on a wooded hill near a home. There was a paved path that went up the hill with the tombstones all on one side of the path. 

After a short walk up the path, there was a note to go up the 26 steps to see TR's grave. There were 26 steps since he was the 26th president.


At the top of the 26 steps there was a concrete slab with a stone bench and then a gated area that housed the grave site of both TR and Edith. There was one headstone and one foot stone for the two of them. 




This stone with a plaque was next to the stone bench by TR's grave. It quotes TR saying "keep your eyes on the stars and keep your feet on the ground."
Next we explored the rest of the cemetery to see who else was buried there. We looked for TR's children. Their tombstones were not right next to TR's, but they were several rows away and they were not all right next to each other. We found stones for all the kids except Quentin which we were surprised about. Quentin had died during WWI and died before TR did. Quentin was actually buried overseas. But we thought he would at least have a marker in this cemetery especially when we saw a marker for Ted Jr., who is buried in France. He died there shortly after D-Day in which he had fought. Although, now that I'm thinking about it, maybe it's because Ted, Jr.'s wife had him mentioned on her stone since she is buried there, too, and Quentin was not married when he died so no wife would have marked his death on a stone.








The other interesting part of the Young Cemetery was that the Young family erected wooden crosses to mark the graves of their slaves. We had never seen anything like that before.


Many of the Young family were buried there obviously. I loved the font used for the stones. It's different than in PA. Stones in our area of PA from this time period are in German.

Oh, but the best part of the cemetery was my mother brought Pop-Tarts!! When we were kids we spent a lot of time in cemeteries while my mother was doing genealogical or historical research. To sweeten the deal for us kids, we were given Pop-Tarts at the cemetery. It was the ONLY time we got Pop-Tarts. We also loved when the cemetery was connected to a church with a playground or had huge pine trees which we could play under with our Cabbage Patch dolls. I also liked to peek into the windows of the old Mennonite meetinghouses. Some even had outhouses still. 


Raynham Hall

After the cemetery we went into the small town of Oyster Bay and visited Raynham Hall which was the home of Benjamin Tallmadge who was the lead spy for George Washington on the Culper Spy Ring. The Revolutionary War history in this home was fascinating. Benjamin Tallmadge was so secretive that when Washington came to town, Tallmadge didn't go to see Washington or let on that he was Culper. That takes humility!



The docent was so knowledgeable and had done a fabulous job sewing her own costume. She was knowledgeable not only about the Revolutionary War era but the house itself. There had been many additions over time. The house is much bigger than it looks!  


After Raynham Hall, it was time to head home. We couldn't have asked for a better day. Thanks, Mom!







Tuesday, October 4, 2016

How To Raise Boys: 6 Tips From Edith Roosevelt

How does a mom of boys parent her sons? This is not a new question. Edith Roosevelt, TR’s wife and the First Lady who brought us to the 20th century, had four curious, adventurous boys.



How did Edith manage her boys? Here are 6 tips from Edith’s life:



 Let Dad play rough.


 Edith knew to let Dad play with the boys. Gifford Pinchot, the Chief Forester of the USA, came to visit when Teddy was Governor of New York State. When he arrived the mansion was “under ferocious attack from a band of invisible Indians, and the Governor was helping a houseful of children to escape by lowering them out of a second-story window on a rope.” After everyone was safe, Gifford and TR had a friendly boxing match, then they got down to discussing their business.


Theodore Roosevelt and his sons Ted Jr, Archie, Quentin, Kermit

 Give them space.


Edith was privileged to live in large places that provided outdoor space for her boys to play. But she also recognized that her husband needed space, too, which was hard to find at their home, Sagamore Hill, and at the White House when both were constantly swarming with things and people demanding his attention. So Edith purchased a wooded lot in Virginia far off the beaten path complete with a rustic cabin called Pine Knot. Unfinished inside and no road access, this cabin was little more than a roof over your head with a fireplace. And when the pressures of life were too much, the Roosevelts could retreat to the cabin with just their family. Of course, Edith secretly had Secret Service men hiding in the woods for protection, but Teddy didn’t know. He would have just said he didn’t need it. Edith knew not to tell him so he could keep sense of adventure.


Pine Knot, Roosevelt's rustic get away

 Major on the majors.


 Edith had lots of opportunities to choose her battles when it came to her son, Quentin, who was an elementary schooler while in the White House. Apparently in school, Quentin was doing things like dancing when coming into the classroom and drawing instead of doing math problems. The teacher had enough and asked the parents to come in for a conference. Teddy and Edith wrote to the teacher: “If you find him defying your authority or committing any serious misdeeds let me know and I will whip him…” but “I should not be called in merely for such offenses.” Edith had another chance to pick her battles when Kermit was five. During church, he pulled out a baby tooth. He was so excited, he held it up so everyone could see. Edith just pretended to be deep in prayer.


Edith and Quentin

 Let them have adventure


Quentin led a group of young boys in Washington who were called “The White House Gang.” They would climb on the White House roof and roll a snowball down onto a guard. They fired spitballs at Andrew Jackson’s portrait. They climbed magnolia trees on the White House grounds. They attacked TR with pillows during a sleepover. When Edith was hosting an Italian statesman for tea, Quentin and his gang hid in the skylight to spy on them. They began to mimic Italian while pretending to have a monocle. Edith heard them, looked up, and called “Quentin!” The Italian looked up in surprise and dropped his eyeglass into his tea. When her boys were older, she encouraged and allowed adventure on a grander scale. Teddy of course, had always been adventurer at his ranch out west. The boys were able to go along with dad various times for weeks at a time. After the White House years, Teddy and Kermit went on a National Geographic sponsored safari to Africa. As they pulled away for their year-long adventure, Kermit noted that Mom looked perfectly calm and self-possessed although he was sure that her heart was almost broken. Teddy and Kermit also went on a Brazilian expedition into parts that had not yet been explored along the Paraguay River. Kermit, who was working for the Brazilian railroad at the time was given 6 months off to join Dad on this adventure. Later they also went on a hunting expedition in Central Asia.
Roosevelt boys falling in line with the White House guards

Keep the lines of communication open


When her boys were away at school and later when they were around the world working and fighting in the military, she visits them and writes to them. Other first ladies have written to their children. But many look like lectures on paper. Edith writes with love and respect and gives advice gently as suggestion not as a demand. She speaks well of her husband to her children and he speaks well of her.  


"You cannot bring up boys to be eagles and expect them to turn out as sparrows"


Grandchildren later noted that Edith often said this phrase, possibly to soothe her soul when the boys were in their military service. All four of her boys fought in World War I.  Perhaps this phrase also comforted her when she found out about the death of Quentin. He had been shot down behind enemy lines. Unfortunately, Edith went on to see two more of her boys die. Kermit struggled to be useful in the military throughout his adult life. He tried to self-medicate through alcohol. He finally ended the struggle by committing suicide in June of 1943.To protect her heart, Edith was told Kermit died of heart failure. Ted, Jr. was the oldest man at 56 to be in the first invasion wave on D Day. He died of heart failure in July 1944 as he was working from a mobile station planning the next attack on the Germans. He was buried with full military honors with General Patton as one of the pallbearers. Lieutenant Colonel Archibald Roosevelt fought well in World War I and II. He also actively tried to rid the U.S of socialism throughout the fifties and sixties. He died in 1979 at 85 years old.




Edith Roosevelt also raised her step-daughter Alice and her own daughter Ethel. She extended the same opportunities for adventure and independence to her girls, too. Balancing love and limits works for raising both boys and girls.

Edith lived almost thirty years after TR died in 1919. She died in 1948. Her widowhood years showed her own sense of adventure as she traveled the world both to visit her family and for vacations. She also procured Mortlake Manor for herself while keeping a tight rein on her investments and household expenses. She came through the Depression relatively unscathed although towards the end she had to tighten her purse strings and was not able to travel every single time the thought presented itself. She was wise in her household both towards the people in her care and towards the wealth with which she was entrusted.



Information from this blog is from Sylvia Jukes Morris’ biography Edith Kermit Roosevelt, Portrait of A First Lady. (Note: the following link is an affiliate link. Read the disclosure policy here.)

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Ida McKinley: Part 1

I would have loved to go on a hike with young Ida McKinley. She could go for miles through rugged terrain.

After she returned from a school in Media, PA, she went back to Ohio to work in her father's bank. This was 1868! She was a teller and worked her way up to essentially being the branch manager. Her father technically was the manager, but he had full confidence in Ida and let her do the work!

young Ida Saxton
After she married the Major, as she called her husband, William McKinley, she had two beautiful daughters. Then tragedy struck this brave and ambitious young lady. Within a short time, her grand-mom, mom, baby, and preschooler all died. Then she fell and injured herself which resulted in periodic leg or spine trouble and epileptic seizures.

Through all this tragedy she became so dependent on the Major and in turn he became dependent on her and the work of caring for her himself.

Her personal tragedies continued. In 1901, McKinley was shot when he was President of the US and he was visiting at a fair. He died months later and Ida was devastated. For the first several years she stayed at home and pouted and begged people to come visit her.

Something seemed to shake her up after she was in an accident with a horseless carriage. After that time she began to come out of her home again and visit with family and friends, especially her great nieces.

Ida passed away May 26, 1907 eleven days before her sixtieth birthday. She had been sick with a cough which led to bronchitis which lead to influenza which led to a stroke.

Her life had been tragic and in moments when she felt well, she was participatory in the Major's political career. What could have been her impact if she had always been in good health emotionally and physically?

There was so much more to Ida's life explored in the excellent book by Carl Anthony. As all of his books are, this book was so well-researched and thorough both about Ida herself and also placing her in the context of her community and country. And it read like a cliff-hanger, the way he phrases each part of the story of her life.




I am looking forward this fall to visit the McKinley home in Canton, Ohio which houses the National First Ladies Library! I will post more about Ida when I return from the trip!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

For the Love of Home and Country: Caroline Harrison



I couldn't help thinking while reading Caroline Lavinia Scott Harrison by  Anne Chieko Moore that Joanna Gaines from Fixer Upper would have just loved her. I can picture them hanging out together busily motioning to this wall and that wall while their remodeling ideas tumbled out of their mouths quicker than they could scratch it onto the parchment plans.



Caroline Harrison, First Lady

 By the time Caroline reached the White House in 1889 she had already run a successful home with servants in the center of Indianapolis social life. She also had spent 1881-1887 as a Senator’s wife hosting others in Washington D.C.

The White House was badly in need of expansion. The Harrisons’ brought her father, their two grown children and their spouses, their grandkids, Caroline’s sister and niece with them to the White House. This large family shared five bedrooms and one bathroom which was part of a hallway containing offices! Caroline worked on an expansion plan to present to the Congress. The plans passed the Senate, but not the House since the speaker was not a big fan of Harrison. Instead they gave an appropriation of $52,000 to remodel and redecorate. So Caroline remodeled Chip and Joanna Gaines style!

She arranged for contractors to come and fix up the rotting wooden floors and put in a new kitchen. She also had a master bath put in. The rat population was so bad that she had to call in a man with ferrets to get rid of them all. In addition, Ben and Caroline Harrison were the ones who put the first electricity in the White House which cost $13,450 and was installed by the Edison Company.

Caroline also was the first First Lady to take charge of decluttering and inventory. Before it was the steward’s role to decide what stayed or went. She started with the eight room attic and found some amazing treasures like a thirteen and a half foot mirror-lake which was a gift from Paris to James Monroe. She also found a desk that was given to President Hayes which she had restored for Ben Harrison to use. Later, JFK used the desk.  She also began an inventory of what was actually in the White House so the house was kept in proper order.

When she reached the basement she found lots of presidential china from years past. She began to take inventory and came up with the idea to display the china.  This china collection remains on display today.

In the midst of all this cleaning out and remodeling, Caroline also kept up with the day to day household chores of the White House. Her daily schedule:

6:00 AM Marketing with Baby McKee, her grandson, in tow

8:00 AM Breakfast with the family followed by Bible Reading and prayer lead by Ben Harrison

10:00-2:00 Caroline and the other ladies of the house would give tours to visitors and also entertain those who called

1:30 PM Lunch

6:30 PM Dinner which often included unexpected guests

A reporter commented on the fact that Caroline did her own marketing. Her reply: “Why certainly; always. How else could I expect to have things done to please me?”

She also applied her love of home to her home nation beginning several patriotic traditions such as The Pledge of Alliance, flying the flag on all government and public buildings, and standing during the National Anthem. In addition, Caroline was the first President General of the Daughters of American Revolution and presided over meetings held in the White House.

She was criticized in the press for being too domestic and having nothing better to do. But in reality she thrived and excelled domestically at the same time as paving the way for other women to succeed in other roles. For example, she was part of a group of women asked to fund raise for John Hopkins University’s new medical school. But the women said they would not fund-raise unless the school promised to admit women on equal footing as men to the new medical school.

She also read the newspapers and talked with Ben on political matters. She was well informed and involved.

Caroline’s confidence and competency in her homemaking role from her home in Indianapolis to the White House is inspiring to women today who desire to be available to those around her and make her home and country her first love.



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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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