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Letitia Tyler had been confined to an invalid's chair for two years when her husband unexpectedly became president. After taking the oath of office as vice president in 1841, John had planned to fill his duties from his home in Williamsburg where Letitia was most comfortable, her Bible, prayer book, and knitting at her side.

Born on a Tidewater Virginia plantation in 1790, Letitia received no formal education, but she learned all the skills of managing a plantation, rearing a family, and presiding over a home that would be John Tyler's refuge during an active political life. They were married on March 29, 1813. Thereafter, whether he served in Congress or as governor of Virginia, she attended to domestic duties. Only once did she join him for the winter social season in Washington. Of the eight children she bore, seven survived; but after 1839 she was a cripple, though "still beautiful now in her declining years."

Her daughter-in-law, Pricilla, described her as, "the most entirely unselfish person you can imagine.... Notwithstanding her very delicate health, mother attends to and regulates all the household affairs and all so quietly that you can't tell when she does it."

In a second-floor room at the White House, Letitia Tyler kept her quiet but pivotal role in family activities. She did not take part in the social affairs of the administration. Priscilla, at age 24, assumed the position of White House hostess. She met its demands with spirit and success, and enjoyed it. Daughter of a well-known tragedian, Priscilla Cooper had won the interest of Robert Tyler, whom she married in 1839. Intelligent and beautiful, with dark brown hair, she charmed the president's guests. Pricilla enjoyed the expert advice of Dolley Madison, and the companionship of her young sister-in-law Elizabeth.

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