Main Content

"I detest him so much that I don't even think his wife is beautiful," said one of President Grover Cleveland's political foes - the only person, it seems, to deny the loveliness of this notable first lady, first bride of a president to be married in the White House.

Frances Folsom was born in Buffalo, New York, in 1864, an only child. Her father was a law partner of Clevelands. As a devoted family friend, Cleveland bought little "Frank" her first baby carriage. As administrator of the Folsom estate after her father's death, he guided her education with sound advice. When she entered Wells College, he asked Mrs. Folsom's permission to correspond with her, and he kept her room bright with flowers.

Though Frances and her mother missed his presidential inauguration in 1885, they visited Grover Cleveland at the White House that spring. Affection turned into romance, and despite a 27-year age difference, the wedding took place there on June 2, 1886.

Cleveland's sister Rose gladly gave up the hostess duties she had been fulfilling for her own career in education; and with a bride as first lady, state entertainments took on a new interest. Frances' charm won her immediate popularity. She held two weekly receptions - one on Saturday afternoons when women with jobs were free to come.

After Cleveland's defeat in 1888, the couple lived in New York City, where baby Ruth was born. With his unprecedented re-election, Frances returned to the White House as if she had been gone but a day. Through the political storms of this term, she always kept her place in public favor. People took keen interest in the birth of Esther at the mansion in 1893, and of Marion in 1895. Mrs. Cleveland had become one of the most popular women ever to serve as hostess for the nation.

The family moved out of the White House in 1897, and Frances bore two sons while they lived in Princeton, New Jersey. She was at her husband's side when he died there at their home, "Westland," in 1908.

In 1913 she married Thomas J. Preston, Jr., a professor of archeology, and remained a figure of note in the Princeton community until she died. She had reached her 84th year - nearly the age at which the venerable Mrs. Sarah Polk had welcomed the Clevelands on a presidential visit to the South, and chatted of changes in White House life from bygone days.

You Might Also Like