Who was Frances Cleveland?
Frances Cleveland, born as Frances Clara Folsom, became the 27th First Lady of the U.S. when she married the US president Grover Cleveland in 1886. She was just 21 at the time of her marriage and became the youngest ever first lady in American history. The president was 49 at that time - old enough to be her father. The president’s marriage with Frances was held in the Blue room of the White House - the first presidential marriage to be conducted in the mansion. On becoming the First Lady, Frances found herself in midst of intense media interest. Young, beautiful and charming, she soon became popular with the general public. She took over the housekeeping duties from her sister-in-law Rose Cleveland who had been taking care of her bachelor brother’s household so far. When Grover Cleveland left the White House with Frances at the end of his first term, she told the staff to take proper care of the building as they would be returning in four years. Her prediction proved correct and the family moved back into the White House in 1893 when her husband won the presidential elections again. She was the only First Lady to serve two non-consecutive terms.
Childhood & Early Life
Frances Folsom was born in New York to Oscar Folsom, a lawyer, and Emma Harmon. She was the couple’s only child to survive infancy.
Grover Cleveland, who would eventually become her husband, was an associate of her father’s who doted on the baby as she grew up.
Her father died in 1875 when she was only 11 years old. He did not leave any will and the court appointed his friend and associate Grover Cleveland as the administrator of his estate which brought him in close contact with the widow Folsom and Frances.
She went to Central High School and Medina High School. Later on, she attended Wells College in New York.
She undertook a long tour of Europe with her mother, and maintained correspondence with Grover Cleveland who had become the president.
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She visited the White House in 1885 with her mother and received a marriage proposal by letter. The news of their engagement was kept a secret and announced just a few days before the wedding.
Grover Cleveland and Frances were married in the Blue Room of the White House on June 2, 1886, the first time a presidential wedding was held in that building.
She was just 21 when she became the First Lady of the U.S., the youngest ever woman to be so. Her youth, beauty and charms attracted enormous attention from the media and the public.
In spite of her young age, she effortlessly fit into the role of the First Lady, taking over the duties of housekeeping from her sister-in-law, Rose Cleveland who had been managing the responsibilities so far.
She found herself in high demand as marketers sought her for endorsing their products and many companies used her image in their advertisements without even taking her permission. The popularity of the name ‘Frances’ soared and numerous baby girls were named after her.
The Clevelands had to leave the White House after the president lost the 1888 elections. Upon leaving, she told the staff to maintain the building properly as they would be returning in four years.
Grover Cleveland won the presidential elections in 1892 and began his second non-consecutive stint as the president in 1893. The Clevelands returned to the White House with a baby; they would have more children during his presidential stint.
In 1893, the president was diagnosed with oral cancer and a secret surgery was scheduled. The First Lady managed to successfully deflect the journalists and helped keep the surgery a top secret.
When the president’s second term ended in 1897, the family left the White House and moved to Princeton, New Jersey.
Frances Cleveland was famous for being the youngest ever First Lady to have graced the White House. She was beautiful, charming and also tactful in gracefully managing all the attention she got being the president’s wife. She was a pillar of support to her husband, and a gracious hostess who was adored by the public and media alike.
Personal Life & Legacy
She was married to Grover Cleveland from 1886 till his death in 1908. The couple had five children.
In 1913, she married Thomas Preston, a professor of archeology at Wells College, becoming the first presidential widow to remarry.
She died in 1947, at the age of 83. She was buried next to her first husband, Grover Cleveland, in Princeton.
It was initially rumored that President Cleveland’s proposal was for Frances’s mother.
She was affectionately called ‘Frankie’ by the press, a nickname she hated.
She was married to her second husband for a longer duration than her marriage to the president Cleveland.