Today in history marks one of the first "celebrity weddings" in US history (in 1886), that between President Grover Cleveland (the first president to marry in the White House while in office) and Frances Folsom (still the youngest First Lady in history), who proved to be a style icon and object of fascination to the American public. There was a lovely display about Frances in the First Ladies exhibit at the Smithsonian, which I got to see last summer, so I thought we'd take a closer look at her life!
Frances Clara Folsom was born in Buffalo, New York on July 21, 1864, the daughter of the well-to-do lawyer Oscar Folsom and his wife Emma, descendants of some of the earliest English settlers in the area. She was their only child to survive infancy, and her future husband (27 at the time of her birth) was friends with her parents and bought her a baby carriage. When her parents died when she was a child, Cleveland became the estate administrator. Frances attended Central High School in Buffalo and then Wells College in Aurora, New York. Soon after her graduation in summer 1885, Cleveland proposed to her by letter, though they did not announce the engagement until 5 days before the wedding.
The wedding took place at the White House on June 2, 1886. Cleveland was the only president to marry in the White House, and their age difference is still the greatest of any presidential marriage. The ceremony was a small one attended by family, close friends, and the Cabinet and their wives, at 7:00 pm in the Blue Room. The officiants were the Rev. Byron Sutherland and the groom's brother Rev. William Cleveland. John Philip Sousa and his band provided the music. The couple then had their honeymoon in the Cumberland Mountains of Maryland.
Frances Cleveland then became a celebrity of the first order. She was a famously gracious White House hostess who held 2 receptions a week. The births of her children (Ruth, supposedly the inspiration for the name of the "Baby Ruth" candy bar, though she sadly died young; Esther; Marion; Richard; and Francis), her clothes, her parties were all the objects of intense interest in the media. (She also became the only First Lady to preside at 2 non-consecutive administrations, since her husband was defeated in 1888 and returned 4 years later!). After he left office for good they retired to Princeton, New Jersey.
After Cleveland's death in 1908, she went on living at Princeton. In 1913 she married Thomas Preston, a professor of archaeology (the first presidential widow to remarry). She died in Baltimore in 1947 and was buried next to her first husband.