General Ike and Mrs. Preston

This could be considered a “Truman” story – since he provided the setting.

The Truman Part

President Truman

In 1947, Harry S Truman was a generally unpopular President. He had assumed the office upon the death of very popular Franklin D. Roosevelt, and was considered by most-who-mattered, a light-weight. Truman himself, had no illusions, although he also knew he was beset by huge problems and challenges after World War II.

Truman and his wife Bess Wallace had much in common: they were the same age, went all through school together and had compatible dispositions. They also lost their fathers while they were still young. Harry’s mother, Martha (nee Young) had the limited means of a farming family. Madge Wallace (nee Gates) was financially comfortable but lacked the personal skills to live on her own. The Trumans lived with her, until the point where she lived with them. Both mothers, however, had longevity in their genes.

Thus when Harry became President, he was happy to share his new surroundings with family whenever it was feasibly possible.

Truman was also assiduously courting General Eisenhower, whose support and friendship he deemed valuable, if not essential, to any political aspirations he might have, albeit flimsy at best.

The Ike Part

General Ike

In 1947, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, formerly the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, was arguably the most famous (and probably popular) person in the country, if not the world. Having led a successful massive military invasion to rid the world of Nazi and fascistic terror, Ike, as everyone called him, could have his choice of occupation. He was still in his mid-50s.

When General George Marshall was named Secretary of State for Truman, Ike assumed his old job as Chief of Staff of the Army. Ike was also being assiduously wooed by various political factions who were feeling him out for Truman’s job. Ike always shunned political activism, and was assiduously ducking everything and everybody.

But when Truman invited Ike to a small luncheon at the White House during the summer of  ’47, Ike saw no reason to decline.

Mrs. Preston

Charming Mrs. Preston

It is always customary at White House gatherings of mixed company, for a gentleman to escort a lady to the table and serve as a dining companion, i.e. making pleasant conversation.

Ike was resplendent in his dress uniform, and looked every inch the Great Man that history perceived  him to be. But he was a bit non-plussed when he was assigned to escort an elderly Mrs. Preston to the table. It was common knowledge that Truman’s 80-something year old mother-in-law was a permanent White House resident, and other older women were guests that afternoon. Ike likely assumed that his table-mate was a Truman relative, and he had been invited to help “honor” the ladies. He was gracious and gave Mrs. Preston his arm.

She was 83 years old, but in fine health and faculties. At 5’6”, she stood straight and strong without a cane. Her face was bright, and she listened and conversed with intelligence. She did not seem to be the least bit overwhelmed in the presence of either President Truman or General Eisenhower.

The marriage of the Clevelands.

In fact, she seemed delighted with her surroundings, taking everything in. She remarked to Ike, that she was so happy to be back in the Old House again. Ike pleasantly queried if she had been there before. “Oh yes, General,” she told him. “I was married in the White House and lived here for nearly eight years. I was married to President Grover Cleveland.”

Mrs. Preston had been First Lady before Ike was even born.

Mrs. Cleveland and Mrs. Preston

FLOTUS Frances Cleveland

Frances Folsom (1864-1847) was only 21 when she became First Lady. Sitting POTUS Grover Cleveland was 28 years her senior, and had been the law partner and best friend of her father. When Oscar Folsom died in an accident when Frances was 11, Cleveland, as executor of the estate, became her legal guardian, and, in an avuncular sense, loved her dearly. By the time she was in her late teens, studying at Wells College in Aurora, NY, he was Governor – and his interest in her began to change, once her hair was put up and her hems were let down.

Grover Cleveland in his later years.

Their marriage lasted more than twenty years, until Cleveland’s death in 1908 at age 71. Frances was only 44. It had been a happy marriage, producing five children and Frances always claimed she loved her husband dearly. Grover Cleveland, overweight, sedentary and with heart trouble looked a decade older.

Five years later, she married Thomas Jex Preston, Jr., a man only two years her senior. Well born and well educated, both in the US and abroad, he had made a substantial fortune in business, and thus decided to pursue his passion: archeology. He became a professor at Wells College, where he had the opportunity to meet its most famous alumna, Frances Cleveland, who served on its Board of Trustees. She encouraged him to apply for a position at Princeton University, where the retired POTUS conducted occasional classes.

Thomas Jex Preston, Jr.

Preston was offered the position, and came to know both Clevelands. After the former President died, Preston discretely courted Mrs. C., and they finally married in a small, intimate ceremony in 1913.

Mrs. Preston dies….

From all accounts, theirs was also a happy and perhaps a more companionable union. They seemed to enjoy the same things: travel (GC disliked it), the arts (GC knew little about it), and congenial company (GC preferred his own set).

Only a few months after being Truman’s guest, and Ike’s dining mate, Frances Cleveland Preston died peacefully in her sleep during a visit to her son in Baltimore. Her second husband outlived her, dying in 1955, at age 94. They had been married for 32 years.

Nevertheless, Mrs. Frances Preston is buried in the Cleveland family plot, in Princeton, NJ.

…and is buried in the Cleveland plot.


Boller, Paul Jr. – Presidential Anecdotes, Oxford University Press, 1981

Dunlap, Annette – Frank: (Frances Folsom Cleveland) – SUNY/Excelsior, 2009


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U.S. Grant and George Meade: A Partnership

Generals Grant and Meade: (photo via Wikipedia Commons)

Both George Meade and Ulysses Grant were West Pointers, and share a singular coincidental date in history.

Meade and Grant: Common Bonds

George Meade (1815-72), Pennsylvanian, came from a military family. His father was a naval officer, but died when his son was thirteen, leaving the family nearly impoverished. Young Meade entered West Point (for the free education) at sixteen, graduated mid-class and fulfilled his military obligations for a brief time. Never truly enjoying a military life, he resigned to pursue a career in civil engineering. But in 1842, he re-enlisted in the army, served as a junior officer in the War with Mexico, and spent the next decade in the Army Corps of Topographical Engineers, where he earned distinction.

Then came the Civil War, and Meade was named Brigadier General of a Pennsylvania Volunteer unit, with a glowing recommendation from Governor Andrew Curtin. He served under General George McClellan, saw action (and wounds) on the Peninsula.

Ulysses S. Grant (1822-85), Ohioan, came from a non-military middle-class family. When he entered West Point, it was because his father insisted. Like Meade, Grant never wanted a military life. He also graduated mid-class, remained in the army for about ten years, never especially happy, and finally resigned when his drinking bouts became too noticeable. He spent another ten years floundering badly, with very little to show for his efforts.

Then came the Civil War, and Grant re-enlisted, being named Colonel in an Illinois Volunteer Militia, via Congressman Elihu Washburne. Reinstatement and promotion to Brigadier General followed swiftly. All Grant’s action prior to 1864 was in the “western” theater.

A Stunning Coincidence

Practically no one expected a four-year war to ensue. Absolutely no one foresaw the humongous casualties.

To everyone’s surprise, and perhaps even his own, Grant was a brilliant strategist, and planned and executed hard-won victories in the West. His were practically the only victories the Union could claim for nearly two years, while the list of losses and lost opportunities were many.

George McClellan

Elderly Winfield Scott

Lincoln, a non-military man, despaired at ever finding the right General for the Army of the Potomac. Despite huge forces, and despite supplies and armaments and the stuff armies need, there was little, if anything to show for it.

Lincoln went through eight generals. He had inherited an elderly General Winfield Scott (who subsequently retired). He had appointed Generals Irvin McDowell (Bull Run), George McClellan (Peninsula), John Pope (Second Bull Run), George McClellan again (Antietam), Ambrose Burnside (Fredericksburg), and Joseph Hooker (Chancellorsville). All were disappointments – and that included Henry Halleck, who was named General-in-Chief for about a year and a half. Lincoln considered him little more than a clerk.

Henry Halleck

By the time he finally appointed George Meade as General of the Army of the Potomac in 1863, it was practically in desperation. Several other generals had seniority. Lincoln himself was iffy about him. But after the debacle at Chancellorsville, where “Fighting Joe” Hooker was badly out-generaled by Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, Lincoln had to do something, so Meade it was.

George Meade

Meade was stunned. He had been an able corps commander, but had not attracted particular attention.

Meanwhile, Ulysses S. Grant had attracted plenty of attention, but he was mired (literally) in an unenviable and seemingly impossible position, trying to take the last remaining Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River: Vicksburg.

The Singular Date, The Dual Victories

U.S. Grant

The ongoing slog and siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi was well known by July, 1863. It had been going on for months.

The battle in Gettysburg PA was a complete surprise to everyone, including all participants. Neither Union nor Confederate armies planned it, and they actually bumped into each other by accident. Meade, now General of the Army of the Potomac, had been in that position for all of three days.

But in another three days, between July 1-3, and with unbearable battlefield casualties, the Union Army could finally claim a victory.

And on July 4, two thousand miles away, Confederate forces in Vicksburg finally surrendered – to preclude the casualties that were sure to follow.

In Washington, Independence Day was wildly celebrated: bands played, churches prayed, banners waved and hosannas were sung. Finally.


Robert E. Lee was a tough opponent.

George Meade had done the very best he could do at Gettysburg. His exhausted army slogged its way back to Virginia. Lincoln was furious! He had expected Meade to give chase to Lee’s exhausted army, also slogging its way back to Virginia. It could have ended the war.

He thought to replace Meade, but he had no one, so Meade remained.

Grant, of course, was now a serious hero! He was dispatched to Tennessee, where Chattanooga and places surrounding were in need of a serious hero! Actually, what they needed was someone who could clearly see and direct what was needed: where, when and how – and in what order. Grant was very good at that. By March 1864, Lincoln sent for him and made him General of the Army. Everybody. Period.

Grant’s Plan

Lincoln had finally found the right General; one he could rely upon to do what was needed – without “political” oversight. Grant had never been to Washington before, but his good friend William T. Sherman had, and very strongly advised USG not to make DC his HQ. It did not take Grant long to concur. Assigning command of the Western Armies to Sherman, he told Lincoln that he planned to make his headquarters with the Army of the Potomac.

Some days later, General George Meade was advised that General Grant was coming to see him. The two men had never met, but Meade was not surprised. He expected to be relieved of his command, and was prepared.

But to Meade’s astonishment, Grant wished him to remain as General of the Army of the Potomac. Grant traveled and camped with him, and the two co-operated satisfactorily. Meade retained his own command and title for the rest of the war.

They made it work.


Grant, Ulysses S. – Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant – World Publishing (reprinted) 1952

McFeely, William S. – Grant: A Biography – W.W. Norton, 1981


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Abraham Lincoln and Mary Owens

Abraham Lincoln was 22 when he moved to New Salem, Illinois

New Salem

A recreated village of New Salem is located on its original site less than an hour’s drive from Springfield, IL – and well worth the ride!

The recreated New Salem Village

Lincoln lived there for about five years. It was small but in many ways it changed his life. He had recently left the family farm to make his own way. Fortune, and a job tending a general store, led him to the little village on the Sangamon River. He liked it, and the town liked him as well.

It was there that he matured, made friends – even with the fellows on the rough side of town – and began his political career in the state legislature. It was there that he joined the local militia to fight in the Black Hawk War. They “elected” him their captain, and he said that no election gave him more personal pleasure. It was also there that he began to study law – on his own.

And it was also there that he had his first introductions to romance. Sort of. Previous experience had been (and would continue to be), professional.

Whatever emotional relationship he had with Ann Rutledge, the daughter of the local tavern keeper, is still subject to iffiness – from some of the finest Lincoln historians in the country. But the relationship with Mary Owens, is well documented by Lincoln and the lady herself.

Miss Owens: The First Time Around

Mary Owens, no Venus

Mrs. Elizabeth Abells, nee Owens, lived in New Salem and knew Lincoln. Perhaps believing that he was in need of a wife, she tried to matchmake the tall young fellow with her unmarried sister in Kentucky. When her sister came to visit, introductions were made.

Mary Owens was close in age to Lincoln, and of course the Kentucky birthright held some sway. She was nice looking enough, albeit tending toward stout. But she had some qualities that drew attention. She was well educated – always a plus to Lincoln. She came from a prosperous family. Her dresses were silk, not calico. The few encounters between the two were pleasant, but hardly romantic. He made a lukewarm comment to a friend that he could do worse then go plodding through life hand in hand with Mary Owens. He was obviously not madly in love.

Perhaps to be polite, after Mary Owens returned home, Lincoln mentioned to Mrs. Abells that “if Miss Owens ever came back to New Salem, he might marry her.”

Mary Owens: The Second Time Around

Young Lincoln, no Adonis

Three years later and still unmarried, Mary Owens visited her sister again. Both Lincoln and Mary Owens were now around 27. Lincoln had matured, and whatever passed (or did not pass) between him and Ann Rutledge had permanently ended with her untimely death, which appears to have caused him deep sorrow.

He was also in debt, dirt poor, with financial prospects slim at best.

Not so slim, however, was Mary Owens. She now (according to Lincoln) appeared a fair match for Falstaff.” She also lacked teeth. In a phrase, he was turned off. But poor Abe, for reasons best known to himself, felt obligated, even to the point of marriage. They attended some gatherings in town, but he proved negligent in the “chivalry” department, like helping her into a carriage, or taking her arm. If there was a courtship per se, it was very, very lukewarm.

But when he left for the legislative session, the two agreed to correspond. Meanwhile, Lincoln, a veteran state legislator, had passed the Illinois bar, and had been invited to join John Todd Stuart’s law firm in Springfield. He was twenty-eight.

Getting Out of a Tight Fix

No question about it, Mary Owens was no Venus, but Abraham Lincoln was no Adonis. Still, he very much wanted to dissolve whatever perceived “liaison” might obligate him as diplomatically as possible, hoping she would decide to break it off. This way he could avoid hurting her feelings.

Copy of Lincoln’s letter to Mary Owens

He wrote her that she would likely never be happy as his wife, and would have to live in poverty while others lived luxuriously. “…My opinion is that you had better not [marry me]. You have not been accustomed to hardship, and it may be more severe than you now imagine.”

He later wrote her: “What I do wish is, that our further acquaintance shall depend upon yourself. If such further acquaintance would contribute nothing to your happiness, I am sure it would not to mine …. on the other hand, I am willing, and even anxious to bind you faster, if I can be convinced that it will, in any considerable degree add to your happiness.”

And, very much in his character, he added, “Nothing would make me more miserable than to believe you miserable – nothing more happy, than to know you are.” Then he  concluded, “If it suits you best to not answer this farewell – a long life and a merry one attend you.” 

Mary Owens finally ended the association, and Lincoln appeared much relieved.

Mary Owens Has The Last Word

Another Mary.

After Lincoln’s death, his law partner William H. Herndon determined to write Lincoln’s biography, and contacted Mary Owens (now Mrs. Jesse Vineyard,) who confessed that “Mr. Lincoln was deficient in those little links which make up the great chain of a woman’s happiness,” adding, “at least it was so in my case.”

Lincoln the Courtier, obviously lacked courtier skills. He improved somewhat but not entirely, when he courted another Kentucky Mary-with-pedigree a few years later.


Herndon, William H. and Weik, Jesse W. – Herndon’s Life of Lincoln – DeCapo Press (reprint) 1958

McClure, J.B. (Ed.) – Anecdotes of Abraham Lincoln – Rhodes & McClure Publishing Co., 1885

Steers, Edward Jr. – Lincoln Legends: Myths, Hoaxes, and Confabulations…. – MJF Books 2007

Winkler, H. Donald – The Women in Lincoln’s Life – Rutledge Hill Pres, 2001

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Andrew Johnson: Military Governor of Tennessee

So few nifty stories come up about Andrew Johnson that when they do, they are worth passing along!

Legislator Andrew Johnson of Tennessee

No President (and that includes Lincoln!) had more hardships in his impoverished childhood than Andy Johnson. His laborer father died when Andy was only two, his mother remarried a man even more impoverished, and by ten, Andy and his brother were apprenticed out to a local tailor in Raleigh, NC. Learning a trade was considered a kindness to the children – and it spared the parents the extra mouths to feed.

At seventeen, Andy fled both his apprenticeship and North Carolina and arrived in Tennessee with a price on his head – but apprenticeship laws did not apply in TN. He worked hard, learned to read, write and do sums, and became involved in local politics – all before he was 25.

Then he served Tennessee in local, state and national office for the next thirty years.

By 1861, southern states began to secede from the Union, and congressmen resigned their seats. Only Senator Andrew Johnson (1808-75) of Tennessee remained. He was a steadfast supporter of the Union. But Tennessee, divided in allegiance, became a major battleground.

In March, 1862, when that state appeared likely to re-enter the Union (maybe), Abraham Lincoln appointed Andrew Johnson as its Military Governor. It was a tough job, but Johnson was a bulldog, and as tough as they came. It is said he even began carrying a brace of pistols for his personal protection.

Colonel Granville Moody:

Born in Portland, ME, Granville Moody (1812-87) moved to Ohio as a young man. Although raised Presbyterian, he began attending Methodist services, and joined its ministry.

At the beginning of the Civil War, President Lincoln, needing an army, had authorized State Governors to raise troops and commission officers. Thus with no previous military experience, Moody was duly commissioned Colonel and commander of the 74th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He was one of several military ministers and chaplains given the sobriquet of “The Fightin’ Parson.”

The War in Tennessee

Tennessee was caught in a vise between Union and Rebel forces. There were strongholds on both sides, and next to Virginia, Tennessee saw more fighting – and devastation – than any other state. It lasted throughout the war. It was a mess.

Civil War image of Nashville State House (courtesy of Dickinson College)

Gen. Buell wanted to evacuate the city.

In late 1862, Col. Moody, now stationed in Nashville, happened to run into General Don Carlos Buell, who advised him that reinforced Confederate forces were only a two-day march away. Believing his army to be outnumbered, he was in the midst of planning an evacuation.

Gov. Johnson said no.

“Fighting” Parson Moody, well known to Gov. Johnson, hurried to the Governor’s office, where he found Andrew Johnson, flanked by two friends, pacing the floor in obvious distress. When the preacher entered, Johnson’s companions left the room, but the Governor continued to pace up and down, railing and moaning about his traitorous General who wanted to evacuate the city.

According to Moody’s Autobiography, written at the end of his life,” Johnson was beside himself. “Moody, we are sold. Buell has resolved to evacuate the city, and called upon me this morning, requesting me to leave also. He has given me three hours in which to decide… I still believe we can hold the city against the enemy. What do you think, Moody? Will you stay with your command?” I replied: “I will stay with you, and I have faith in God that he will deliver us from falling into the hands of the enemy.”

Johnson was across the room from Moody, when he suddenly turned and asked, “Moody, do you know how to pray?”

The Fightin’ Parson, Col. Granville Moody

“I do,” said the Parson. “I have been preaching the Gospel for nearly thirty years. I believe I know how to pray.”

“Will you pray with me?” exhorted Governor Johnson.

The preacher was delighted, and the two men, standing across the room from each other both fell to their knees, and Moody began a rip-roaring exhortation, and actually swept Johnson into the mood of it. On his knees, the Governor worked his way across the floor, and wound up next to the preacher with his hand on his shoulder, adding heartfelt “amens” where he saw fit. By the final amen, the two men were emotionally exhausted.

Then Johnson admitted that he felt much better for the prayerful experience. “Stand by me,” he urged the minister, as they rose. The parson enthusiastically agreed to cooperate. Then the Governor made a personal confession. “Moody,” he said, “I don’t want to mislead anyone or give them the wrong idea. I am not a religious man. Never was, and never will be. But I do believe in the Almighty. And I do believe in the Bible.”

The preacher nodded. He had come across men like Governor Johnson many times. So he waited a few moments.

Then Johnson added, “…and I will be damned if Nashville is to be surrendered to the enemy!”

The Story and its Source:

Lincoln always loved a good story!

The story of Governor Andrew Johnson and the Fightin’ Parson Moody actually winds up being a “Lincoln” story that appears from time to time – if you seek out some old long-out-of-print Lincoln books.

Not long after the particular incident, Parson Moody had opportunity to visit Washington, and visit another old acquaintance, President Lincoln, who was always accessible to people who had first-hand information and observations of events, people and areas of interest. Like Johnson, the President was not a religious man in the conventional sense, but also believed in the Almighty and the Bible.

Moody told him the story. Lincoln liked it so much that he repeated it to others. A few times.

By the way, Nashville was never surrendered. 


McClure, J.B. (Ed) – Abe Lincoln Stories – Rhodes & McClure Publishing Co. – 1885

Moody, Rev. Granville – A Life’s Retrospect: The Autobiography of Granville Moody, D.D.  – Cranston and Stowe, 1890


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Lucy Hayes and the WCTU Portrait

First Lady Lucy Hayes was considered the embodiment of the “New Woman.” But was she?

Lucy Hayes: The Old Fashioned Girl

Young Lucy Webb

Lucy Ware Webb (1831-79) was Ohio born, and half-orphaned by the time she was two. Her mother, Maria Webb, was left in reasonably comfortable means; Lucy and her brothers had the necessities – plus educations. Mrs. Webb was a strong advocate of education, which included (rare for her time) higher learning for women.

Lucy was a bright, compliant child-to-woman, by and large the example of conventional womanhood. While she attended the Cincinnati Wesleyan Female College, which focused on academics, earning the distinction of being the first FLOTUS with a college education, she married at twenty, and bore eight children. Only five lived to maturity.

If you examine photographic evidence of girl-to-woman Lucy, you will see little change. Her style never wavered from parted in the center and pulled back into a low bun. With her oval face, it was very becoming. Her clothing style seldom changed. High-necked, long sleeved, decorously modest. No plunging necklines, despite its fashionability in the 1860s.

In essence, she was a prime example of the Methodist woman, a faith which she devoutly adhered to all her life. And that included lifelong abstinence of spirits.

Lucy and Rud Hayes – early on.

She married Rutherford B. Hayes, ten years her senior. His father had died a few months before Rud’s birth, and he was also raised by a single mother.

As a college student (Kenyon University and Harvard Law School), Hayes was known to bend an occasional convivial elbow with his fellows, but once he married Lucy, he took (and honored) “the pledge.”

Fast Forward 25 Years

In the quarter century following their marriage in 1852, Rutherford Hayes was a successful attorney, a Civil War General (with several promotions), Republican Congressman and three-times Governor of Ohio. A viable candidate for President in 1876!

It was a fractious election but Hayes personally rose above the fray. He won. Perhaps to ameliorate the taint, “spirits” were banned in the White House.

Mrs. Hayes, now a matron of 45, was hailed as the “new woman” by Mary Clemmer Ames, a female journalist who praised the new “educated” FLOTUS to the skies. She was also praised to the skies by the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union ladies, touting the moral issue of the day. Lucy-the-abstainer was lauded in nearly every one of their articles and newsletters.

The WCTU “hijacked” Lucy!

They begged her to join their organization, but she steadfastly declined. By her own admission, Lucy was shy and shunned the public eye as much as possible.

The Lucy Portrait

But the reward for all this “new woman” and “temperance queen” bleating, was an heroic-length portrait of First Lady Lucy Hayes by Daniel Huntington, a highly regarded portrait artist of that period.

The story goes that the Women’s Christian Temperance Union wished to honor their vaunted heroine, so they specifically asked her to choose a gift she would appreciate and find suitable. Lucy was a sincere art lover, and it was she who suggested a portrait for the White House. It was duly commissioned and paid for by the WCTU, which she still declined to join, even after her term as First Lady. Lucy Hayes’ portrait was the first formal First Lady likeness to be created especially for the White House.

The Insightful Artist

Portrait artist Daniel Huntington

Daniel Huntington (1816-1906) was delighted to accept the commission. He was already renowned for his portraits, not only by the public (and his long list of satisfied patrons), but also by his own peers. He knew this portrait would be well publicized, and permanently and prominently hung in the White House.  He did not disappoint.

He produced exactly what was desired: an elegant depiction of the “old fashioned girl” as the “new woman.” It is heroic in proportion – over seven feet high. Lucy was only 5’3”.  She was fifty when the portrait was painted, and had had eight pregnancies. The intuitive Huntington managed to detract a few years and a few pounds, which no doubt pleased her. Her hair style is as it always had been: plain, and on her, attractive. Her gorgeous burgundy velvet gown is high-necked with simple lines and decorous lace trim. It is also long-sleeved, giving away nothing of the woman behind the gown. Except for the face.

The portrait has graced the cover of a White House book

Huntington captured Lucy’s inherent warmth and intelligence as well as the modest charm with which she conveniently ducked commenting on current issues. Notwithstanding, the portrait depicts an imposing figure of integrity and decorum. Lucy was a public figure and she knew it. Despite the efforts made to exalt her image, she had every intention of demonstrating any moral influence the only way she knew: by a good example. The artist got that part perfectly.

The WCTU happily paid for the portrait, presented it to incoming President James Garfield shortly after his inauguration, and it was duly hung in the White House. It has been copied many times. It also created a tradition. After the brief Garfield term, and that of the widowed President Chester Alan Arthur (whose formal presidential portrait was also painted by Huntington), all First Ladies have been painted for posterity, courtesy of the American people. The gallery of First Ladies that began with Lucy Hayes’ portrait wearing her exquisite burgundy gown has become a graceful and popular addition to the White House. But it is a copy.

The original is now housed in the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Collection at Spiegel Grove, their home in Ohio.


Anthony, Carl Sferrazza –First Ladies 1789-1961, William Morrow,1990

Caroli, Betty Boyd – First Ladies: An Intimate Look at How 38 Women Handled what may be the most Demanding, Unpaid, Unelected Job in America – Oxford University Press, 1995

Foster, Feather Schwartz – The First Ladies from Martha Washington to Mamie Eisenhower – Sourcebooks, 2011

Foster, Feather Schwartz – Mary Lincoln’s Flannel Pajamas and Other Stories from the First Ladies’ Closet – Koehler Books, 2014



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George Clinton: VP 4 and Maybe 5

Everyone knows John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, VPs 1 and 2. Some know Aaron Burr, VP 3. But George Clinton?

George Clinton’s Qualifications

George Clinton (1739-1812) was a New Yorker from upstate, considered among our Founding Fathers (perhaps minor, but still worthy) who performed excellent service to both his country and to New York.

Gov. Clinton hosted GW’s first dinner as President.

Having served in the French and Indian War, he returned to Ulster County, read law, and began a career in public service. By his mid-thirties, he was elected to represent New York at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, where he met George Washington and formed a lifelong friendship.

No hat – but different uniform!

By 1777, he was elected Governor of New York – one of seven terms, still a NY record. Despite serving in his gubernatorial capacity, he had another hat, as a Brigadier General in the Continental Army, and remained on active service throughout the Revolutionary War.

It was/is not easy being Governor of New York. In 1777, the state was extremely vulnerable, not merely because of its strategic importance as a major port, but because there was a large Tory faction which was always dangerous and needed to be taken into account. But George Clinton was an ardent advocate of independence, solidly anti-Tory, although by the mid-1790s, was a leader of the emerging Democratic-Republican party.

He was definitely considered a viable Presidential (or at least Vice Presidential) candidate in 1792, 1796 and 1800. He had chops, and he had a solid following. And New York was/is an important state.


#1 VP Adams

#2 VP Jefferson

So the Constitution originally declared that in a Presidential election, the winner of the most electoral votes (vitally important in those days) became President, and the first runner-up became VP. Both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, as Vice Presidents, had mega-political talents and character qualities sufficient for them to assume the Presidency when their “time” came. But the newly-designed Constitution assigned the VP solely to the task of presiding over the Senate, with no participation in debate, and a vote only in case of a tie. It was an honorable position, but toothless. As Vice Presidents, both Adams and Jefferson bemoaned the insignificance of the office, and their Presidents seldom sought their counsel.

#3 VP Burr

The election of 1800 (Adams-Jefferson) was acrimonious, and predicated a serious Constitutional crisis because NY’s Aaron Burr, presumed a candidate for Vice President, polled the same number of electoral votes as Thomas Jefferson. Adams was a distant third. So Burr decided to switch gears, declare for the Presidency, throwing the decision into a tizzy in the House of Representatives.

After days of wrangling, the House voted for Jefferson. As might be expected, Aaron Burr, first runner-up, became Vice President, and very non-grata to Jefferson. And, as a result of this runner-up-being-VP situation, the 12th Amendment was quickly passed to avoid a repeat of the debacle.

And, no surprise, when Jefferson ran for re-election in 1804, Burr was summarily dropped from the ticket.

Enter George Clinton

#4… and #5 VP George Clinton

Now it gets a little fuzzy. George Clinton was sixty-five in 1804, and there is some indication that those who knew him well, believed he was showing some signs of dementia. He himself, had expressed his wish to retire. But then again, he was still a big name – especially in New York, where factions always ran high. Clinton was popular. Seven terms as Governor is not to be sneezed at!

Jefferson turned to Clinton as his VP candidate. They were generally like-minded, although the differences between Virginia political philosophy and New York political philosophy are also not to be sneezed at. But Jefferson believed that Clinton was “old” and would therefore be no threat to TJ’s good pal, James Madison, who he was grooming for the next election. Clinton was amenable.

Alas, all his experience and skills were in the executive branch. He knew nothing about Legislatures, let alone how to preside, his one Constitutional function. It wasn’t personal, but many of the Senators considered Clinton “a fish out of water.”

John Quincy Adams was a Massachusetts senator at the time. In his usual vitriolic way, he confided to his diary his dislike for VP George Clinton, criticizing his poor judgment and ignorance of basic Senate procedure. He especially lambasted him for asking senators to warn him when they planned to make a long speech so he could turn over his presiding duties to another and “take the opportunity to warm himself by the fire.”

As expected, President Jefferson had little use for Clinton, and never consulted him. The position itself had become practically superfluous, and would remain so for about 150 years.


… by 1808, Clinton (perhaps in his dotage) believed he should be President himself. After all, both Adams and Jefferson were Vice Presidents who moved up. By 1808, the old Federalist Party was nearly moribund.

James Madison got the POTUS nod in 1808.

But there were many who were not Jefferson enthusiasts, and it was Secretary of State James Madison, a longtime friend of Jefferson, who was poised for the position. He was ably supported by his socially talented wife, and they wined and dined and “politicked” everyone. Poor George Clinton. He still had a small following, but his wife had died several years earlier, and, when he was in Washington, he lived alone in a boarding house. No parties.

But James Madison was in need of a Vice President. George Clinton was available, and there was no reason not to allow him to continue in the generally empty position. If his health was failing, sobeit. It did not matter. They never even asked him if he was amenable.

They just nominated him and placed him on Madison’s ticket. Clinton, perhaps with few friends in Washington, and flagging energies, acquiesced.

He served for three years under Madison, the first VP to serve under two presidents, thus accounting for #4 and maybe #5. Then he died in office (another first). He was 72. He was not replaced.

But New York still holds him in high regard!


Barzman, Sol – Madmen & Geniuses: The Vice-Presidents of the United States – Follett Publishing, 1974

Witcover, Jules – The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power – Smithsonian Books – 2014


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Benjamin Franklin and The Free Public Library

Arguably the most famous portrait of Benjamin Franklin.  

Our Founding Grandfather

Benjamin Franklin (1706-90) was old enough to be father to George Washington and John Adams. He was also old enough (perhaps) to be grandfather to James Madison and Alexander Hamilton. He was the oldest signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

One of the earliest images of Benjamin Franklin – when he was around 40.

Benjamin Franklin today is considered a “polymath.” Or a Renaissance Man of the Age of Enlightenment. Call him what you will, he was a towering figure of imagination, determination, wisdom, wit, and dare we say, genius. Happily for posterity, all those qualities were dedicated to the betterment of mankind.

Born in Massachusetts, he left for the opportunities of Philadelphia when he was seventeen, and began a lifelong mutual love affair with the city.

Having apprenticed as a printer, he hoped to start his own printing establishment, and went to London to purchase equipment. It was the first of many trips to the great city. His expected funds did not materialize, so he returned sans equipment, but with a wealth of experiences and knowledge that would change his life, and even the lives of those around him.

He had made frequent visits to the various coffee houses in London, where men of prominence, education, talents and/or perhaps just the desire to be in august company met to discuss philosophical issues.

Franklin was deeply impressed with these informal congregations, returned to Philadelphia, hired on with another printing establishment, and promptly formed a Philosophical Society – a group of like-minded individuals wishing to engage in serious and philosophical conversation. He was only twenty-five.

The Society: Mission and Problems

Franklin and his early Junto colleagues.

The challenge of attracting a group of like-minded men was not difficult. What was somewhat of a problem, was finding sufficient resource material to supplement their discussions, which ranged on subjects from theology to science, literature, economics and political government.

Books were a rarity in 1730’s America. They were also hugely expensive. Other than the universities, only the wealthy, and perhaps the clergy, had access to a personal library, and that included Franklin himself.

Some members of means donated books from their personal collections, but most were theological, and insufficient for their needs. They were also mostly written in Latin, and the Junto was especially eager to have books available in English, their native tongue. They quickly realized that if they combined their resources, books could be purchased and made available to each other – and perhaps even to others. According to Ben himself, in his autobiography, “…by thus clubbing our books to a common library, we should, while we lik’d to keep them together, have each of us the advantage of using the books of all the other members, which would be nearly as beneficial as if each owned the whole.”

Franklin donated several of his own books.

Fifty members of the Philadelphia Junto, or Philosophical Society, subscribed to contribute 40 shillings each with which to purchase books for a library they would collectively share. They also agreed to invest an additional 10 shillings a year to keep their library current.

In 1732, their first order for books was sent to London, and they were off and running. The books were entrusted to the Librarian, a position that changed fairly frequently in the early days. The  books were housed wherever the Librarian lived.

As an aside, Ben Franklin served as a librarian and also as secretary to the association for a time. But other than meticulous documentation of his scientific experiments, he was never a good record keeper.

As expected, by the mid-1740s, record-keeping became a problem. An even greater problem was where to house those books! For a while, the Society maintained its collection on the second floor of the Pennsylvania State House, better known today as Independence Hall.

Notwithstanding the inconveniences, the lending concept was a huge success. Members of the Society could borrow-and-return books free of charge. Even non-members could avail themselves of the privilege, although they were required to pay some collateral, returnable along with the book.

The library is still around!

The concept and the practice was such a huge success, that other towns and cities copied the idea, which included forming another library in Philadelphia. The Philosophical Society merged with it by 1770, and its catalog listed more than 20,000 entries.

More Than Books

It came to pass (as one might expect) that by the 1760s and 70s, more than just books were being added to the Library’s catalog.

The collection now included plans and specifications for an orrery (an early device displaying the rotation of the planets around the sun), various coins (some from antiquity), fossils, geological specimens, flora and fauna, as well as scientific instruments, such as an early air pump and microscope and various telescopes. Then there were rare Eskimo parkas and tools from a Northwest Passage expedition. Plus an Egyptian mummy.

Carpenters Hall housed the library for about 6 years.

Even before the Continental Congress used that second floor of the State House for its meetings, the Society’s Library once again had to find new quarters. They were simply running out of room. Carpenter’s Hall had recently been completed nearby, and the second floor of that building was made available. For a brief time the Library shared space with the First Continental Congress, who were delighted to avail themselves of that body of knowledge. John Adams recorded that the site selection committee had a taken “a View of the Room, and of the Chamber where is an excellent Library.”

Take a Bow, Dr. F.

Benjamin Franklin was duly proud of his free lending library concept. When he wrote his autobiography many years later, he listed it as one of his true accomplishments, saying  “these Libraries have improved the general Conversation of Americans, made the common Tradesmen and Farmers as intelligent as most Gentlemen from other Countries, and perhaps have contributed in some Degree to the Stand so generally made throughout the Colonies in Defence [sic] of their Priviledges [sic].”


Franklin, Benjamin – The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin – Signet Classics (reprint) 2014

Lending Library






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Florence Harding: The Lost Decade

Florence Harding was a woman with deep secrets.

Florence Kling: Lonely, Angry Girl

Florence Kling (1860-1924) was born to Amos Kling, a middle-class businessman in Marion, Ohio, just as the Civil War was getting underway. She was eldest, with two younger brothers, Clifford and Vetallis. By the time she was ten, her father had begun to prosper, becoming proprietor of other businesses and even a bank. Some considered him the wealthiest man in town. Most considered him the nastiest.

Amos Kling

That included his family. Louisa Bolton, Florence’s mother, always remained a shadowy figure. Perhaps in response to her domineering husband, she found whatever relief she could by taking to her bed with the vague illnesses that plagued many unhappy wives of that time. She seems to have been supportive to her daughter, but played little role in her upbringing.

Amos Kling’s house – after he made his money!

Florence was a bright enough student, with the usual female opportunities, which included piano lessons, something she always enjoyed. She also helped out as a clerk in one of her father’s business after school. But Amos Kling was a harsh man, and ruled the roost with an iron hand. One of the rare stories of her teens involves his determined edict that Flossie be home by ten o’clock. That’s when the door was locked. She was late a couple of times, and forced to spend the night with a friend.

By the mid 1870s, roller skating had become a popular pastime for the younger set, and roller rinks were established in most towns. As with most popular pastimes, they were considered scandalous by the older generation – which included Amos Kling. Flossie like the roller rinks.

She also liked the roller rink manager.

Henry Atherton DeWolfe

A year her senior, Henry “Pete” DeWolfe had a local bad-boy reputation as a heavy drinker by the time he was twenty. But he was also handsome and possessed of a rakish personality, which attracted the local girls. Including Flossie. She began frequenting the skating rink.

When she discovered she was a few months pregnant, they eloped – out of town. A legal record of a marriage license has never been found, so it is generally surmised that the marriage was common law. When their son was born, however, he was given the DeWolfe name, and there is a birth record indicating a marriage of some kind.

Henry DeWolfe’s grave.

Pete had a hard time finding work, although he did hold a warehouse job for a short while in Gallion, Ohio, where they lived as man and wife. But his drinking became excessive, and his employment was terminated. Florence, perhaps more like her father than she cared to admit, had her own domineering ways, and those who knew her attested to her unpleasant, whining voice. The marriage suffered.

Two years later, Pete DeWolfe deserted Florence, leaving her with a toddler – and no money. Somehow she managed to get back to Marion, with her little boy, Marshall Eugene DeWolfe.

Barely Managing

Refusing to seek any help from her father who had predicted doom and gloom for her marriage, she found a cheap room in a cheap boarding house, and began giving piano lessons for 25-cents an hour. She had a few students, and somehow eked out a bare existence, trying to care for a baby and trying to redeem her sullied reputation.

Marshall DeWolfe’s grave.

Things were not improving despite her mother’s surreptitious financial help. But after a few years of struggling, she had a surprise visitor. Her father. Amos King knew all about Flossie’s struggles, and perhaps had some grudging admiration for a young woman who was determined to make her own way, no matter how difficult. Her made her a devil’s bargain: he would take the boy off her hands, raise him as his own, but Florence had to relinquish all parental rights. If she had any misgivings or angst about it, it is undocumented. Her maternal instincts were never that strong.

Marshall Eugene DeWolfe, Florence Harding’s son.

So Marshall went to live with his paternal grandfather “in the big house.” Florence filed and was granted a divorce on charges of desertion, and reclaimed her “Kling” name. Over the years, she maintained a pleasant and affectionate relationship with her son – but never close. Meanwhile, Henry DeWolfe died a few years later, from alcohol-related disease.

Mrs. Harding

Young Warren Harding – a good looking guy!

When Flossie was in her late twenties, she met Warren Harding, a young man come-to-town to drum up business for a nascent weekly newspaper in which he had a partnership. His kid sister Carolyn was one of Miss Kling’s piano students. It was only a matter of time before the piano teacher met the newspaper fellow. He was handsome, with a rakishness not unlike Henry DeWolfe.

She was immediately attracted; he, perhaps, not so much. Nevertheless, after some time, they married. She was 30, he 25. From that time on, she was entirely Mrs. Harding. Miss Kling, disappeared. And Mrs. DeWolfe was never mentioned.

The Harding House in Marion, OH

Warren Harding certainly knew about Marshall, who at the time, was around 10. For the rest of their married life, he was a friendly step-father-ish to the young man, and periodically tried to help guide his future.

Unfortunately, Marshall carried many of his father’s genes, including a thirst for whiskey, and died at 35. He had married, however, and had two daughters. Florence genuinely like her daughter-in-law and the children, and stayed in pleasant sporadic touch.


As Warren Harding’s political stars rose high, there was mild interest in Mrs. Harding, especially since she was perceived to be very politically savvy and important in her husband’s career. She never denied that she had been married before – but always added that her first husband had died before she met Harding. The never-said implication was that she had been a widow. And she always admitted being a grandmother, if and when it suited the occasion.

But while she may have been a FLOTUS of the “twenties,” it was always as if Florence Harding’s personal “twenties” never existed.








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Gideon Welles and the Naval Battle

Gideon Welles was Secretary of the Navy during the Civil War.

March 9, 1862

It was a Sunday. Navy Secretary Gideon Welles rushed over to Lincoln’s office, where he found the President and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton in a frenzy over the terrible news of the previous day.

The USS frigate Merrimack was a beautiful ship.

The old US wooden frigate Merrimack (with a “k” then) had been sunk in Portsmouth, VA months earlier to prevent it from falling into Southern hands. The minuscule Confederate navy needed ships, believed the Merrimack’s hull to be worthy, raised it and refitted it with iron plate and 14 guns, and renamed it the Virginia. It was peculiar-looking, but deemed mighty. On March 8, it steamed into Hampton Roads (a vital Union-held naval area in the Chesapeake), and within hours rammed, sunk and burned the Congress, had driven the Cumberland aground, and was poised to destroy the Minnesota. By then it was dusk, and the Virginia withdrew to finish off the Minnesota the following day.

The CSS Virginia was not as good looking.

What was to prevent it from steaming up the Potomac and shelling Washington?


The Hon. Mr. Stanton

Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton (1814-1869) joined Lincoln’s cabinet on January 20, 1862, amidst a growing dissatisfaction with the “McClellan Slows,” and a plethora of media ranting “on to Richmond.”

Secretary of war Edwin M. Stanton

He was an irascible fellow with no experience in the military. Nevertheless he had served in a similar capacity for the last few months of President Buchanan’s cabinet, and was recruited by Lincoln to assume responsibilities when Secretary of War Simon Cameron proved inadequate. Stanton was a fine lawyer of unflinching integrity, which included a virtual crusade against treason and corruption. But he was given to panic, testy nervousness and pessimism. He was also a lifelong Democrat with little regard for Abraham Lincoln.

While the Secretary of War and the Secretary of the Navy were co-equals in the cabinet, the two branches of the service seldom worked together in a unified structure. That would change during the Civil War. But not in the early months of 1862. The Hon. Mr. Stanton had little regard for the Hon. Mr. Welles. And it was no secret.

In time, he would change him mind about Republicans, Lincoln, and Mr. Welles.

The Hon. Mr. Welles

Gideon Welles (1802-1878) was never a naval or military man. He had read law early on, but was primarily a journalist in Connecticut, and held some middling state offices. He was recruited for Lincoln’s cabinet because a) New England had to be represented, and b) Welles, a strong abolitionist, had done fine service for the Republicans in the months preceding the election/inauguration.

Gideon Welles also performed vital service to historians by taking the measure of the men of consequence, and reporting it in an insightful and chatty diary of the Lincoln Administration. Lincoln, and indeed the other members of the president’s oft-rancorous cabinet, grew to respect and like him.

Mr. Welles: Keeping the Faith

President Lincoln

The news was indeed horrible in Mr. Lincoln’s office that Sunday, where Welles and Stanton were quickly joined by Secretaries Seward and Chase, General McClellan, and various other officers.

Stanton was near hysterics, pacing back and forth, predicting doom, and visualizing the Virginia sailing up the Potomac to assault Washington. In Stanton’s eyes, everything was a complete fiasco, including McClellan’s nascent plans for his Peninsula Campaign. There would be no ships available, and all would be lost. Mr. Lincoln was none too happy, either, looking out the window periodically expecting to sight the Virginia taking aim at the White House.

It was a miserable day for Secretary Welles, who nevertheless remained calm, even though he took the brunt of all the mishaps and confusion. He continually advised his companions of a ray of hope. The previous day, a strange-looking vessel, which some

The Monitor, as odd-looking as the Virginia.

said looked like a cheesebox on a raft, had steamed out of New York harbor and arrived in Hampton Roads in the wee hours. It was the Monitor, come to save the day.

The vessel was a collaborative effort, but it was mostly eccentric Swedish inventor John Ericsson’s design: smaller, much lighter, faster, more maneuverable – and, very importantly, drawing a much shallower draft than the Virginia. Stanton, as usual, was frantic and pessimistic. It was untried. Untested. Barely finished. Meanwhile the Virginia had 14 guns, and the Monitor – what??? only 2???

Secretary Welles dryly countered that those two guns rotated on a revolving turret, making them very difficult to hit. He also insisted that the Virginia, with its deep draft, was slow, clumsy and could never navigate the Potomac.

He was alone in his opinions. Practically everyone in Lincoln’s office disregarded him. He had no backers. Gideon Welles had indeed taken a huge risk giving the eccentric Ericsson the commission, and he knew it.

Meanwhile Stanton frenetically “…ran from room to room, sat down and jumped up after writing a few words, swung his arms, scolded and raved.”

One of many images of the famous naval battle.

But by evening that Sunday, the telegraph clicked a message. The two funny-looking vessels spent hours assaulting each other, but neither did severe damage. It was basically a draw, and they both withdrew. But by the end of the day, every Navy in the world had become obsolete.

Shortly afterwards, the Confederate Navy deliberately destroyed the Virginia, lest it fall into Union hands. The Monitor went on to do service for a few more months before it was lost in a gale off Cape Hatteras.

The Monitor is lovingly being cared for.

Secretary Welles was practically handing out cigars. He had kept the faith. He believed in the ornery Mr. Ericsson. Even the short-tempered Secretary Stanton looked at Mr. Welles with new respect, and it wasn’t grudging, either.

PS – The Monitor was raised in 2002,  and now lives happily ever after in a desalinization tank at the Mariners Museum in Newport News. There is a marvelous exhibit about it. Go.


Catton, Bruce – The Civil War – The Fairfax Press, 1971

Leech, Margaret – Reveille in Washington: 1860-65 – Harper and Brothers, 1941



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Edith Wilson and the Lalique Brooch

Edith Bolling Galt was the widow of a prestigious Washington jeweler.

The Jeweler’s Wife

Edith Bolling was born in 1872. Her father was a well respected Virginia judge, somewhat down on his fortunes following the Civil War. Edith was also low in the birth order (seventh of nine), ergo her education was somewhat spotty.

Young Edith Bolling.

She was a fine looking albeit “statuesque” woman, about 5’9” at maturity. The practical advice was for her to marry well to assure her future – and maybe even help the family. At twenty, she met Normal Galt, several years her senior. He was a partner in Galt’s Jewelry, long established in Washington DC. Thomas Jefferson had made purchases; Mary Lincoln had been a customer.

They courted for four years, but more in friendship than romance. Finally, at twenty-four, with no other prospects in sight, Edith agreed to marry Norman Galt. The marriage was basically a happy one; Edith considered Norman to be her best friend. The fact that he was very financially comfortable helped, and one can safely assume that anything Edith fancied in the way of jewelry was happily gratified.

Twelve years later, Norman died. He had been sole owner of Galt’s for some time. Edith was his heir. She had developed a good business head, took an interest in the store, but finally agreed to sell it to a few of the Galt employees.

Between Norman Galt’s estate and the sale of the jewelry establishment, Edith was well fixed for life. She had a small, congenial social set; dined out occasionally, attended the theater and concerts and traveled. There is no record of her being romantically linked to anyone.

The Second Mrs. Wilson

Edith Galt, when Wilson first met her.

Six years after Norman Galt died, Edith met President Woodrow Wilson, who had been widowed eight months earlier. His first marriage had lasted for thirty years, and he was devastated by his beloved’s death. Perhaps (as many historians and psychologists claim) he was a man who needed a woman’s nurturing and loving care.

Within weeks of meeting The Widow Galt, Wilson fell deeply in love with her. He was ardent and persistent in his romantic overtures, and Edith, who had never been truly wooed before, was overwhelmed by the attention from the President of the United States.

The happy WIlsons.

Nine months after they met, they married.

For two years, they were on a perpetual honeymoon of happy times – golfing, attending dinners, and shows and enjoying each other’s company. President Wilson had been one of the foremost professors in the country of what today would be called political science, and she began an ongoing education in government, politics, philosophy, etc.

The Great War…and Peace

The First World War was called The Great War (in its own time) to encompass its size, its armies, its scope, its breadth, its material cost, and most of all, its casualty list. It had begun three year earlier in 1914, but Wilson had assiduously tried to avoid any commitment. Finally, repeated hostile events and circumstances forced the US entry into the war. Once America was committed and soldiers deployed, hostilities ended within the year.

It was 1918. Europe-in-ashes, was exhausted. Four empires were toppled (the German Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the imploding Russian Empire). The British Empire was hanging on by threads. The world was a mess.

The serious Wilson.

President Wilson, whose life’s work revolved around international governments, decided to personally lead the US delegation at the peace talks in Paris, aimed to restructure a new world order and a new map of Europe. He brought Mrs. Wilson with him.

Rene Lalique, Artist and Designer Extraordinaire

Rene Lalique.

Rene Lalique (1860-1945) was a French designer of decorative art nouveau jewelry, glass and related objects. He was a contemporary of Louis Comfort Tiffany, in age, in artistry, creativity, his A-listed customer base and price tag. By the end of the Great War, his name and reputation was known worldwide.

Some years before the War, Lalique had crafted a large brooch. It featured eight pale gray-green pigeons artistically perched on a gold tree branch. It was a particularly large piece – some six inches across. This made it too imposing for most women to wear at the usual places for adornment: the neck, the shoulder or the breast. Whether it was because of its size, or its steep price tag, the pin was never sold, nor was it refashioned for reproduction. It just sat among Lalique’s personal collection in his safe.

The Lady and the Brooch

When President Wilson arrived in Paris, he was hailed as a European savior. The American First Couple was lavishly feted and entertained – and gifted. They were paraded and photographed and honored at every turn. The French were extravagant in their hospitality, and designed a magnificent Medal of Honor for the American President.

The Peace Brooch.

In a stroke of marketing and advertising genius, Rene Lalique now re-discovered the six-inch brooch that had been tucked away for several years. Perhaps he surmised that Mrs. Wilson’s statuesque figure was perfect for the large piece of jewelry.

He renamed the pigeons as doves, and the tree limb was rechristened an olive branch, and pin itself now became the Peace Brooch.

When Wilson was awarded his Medal of Honor, Lalique presented the Peace Brooch as a surprise gift to Mrs. Wilson. No doubt the jeweler’s widow appreciated its craftsmanship and value.

The Brooch. Later.

Within months of Wilson’s trips to Paris, he was stricken by a massive stroke. Formal entertaining at the White House ceased.

But in 1920, 48-year-old First Lady Edith Wilson commissioned Seymour M. Stone, a Russian-born artist, to paint her portrait. She was seated, wearing an elegant black and white gown, draped in fashionable folds.

Affixed to her right hip, was the Lalique Peace Brooch, perfectly placed, and doing honor to the lady, the brooch and Rene Lalique.

The painting may be seen at the Woodrow Wilson house in Washington, DC.


Anthony, Carl Sferrazza –First Ladies 1789-1961, William Morrow,1990

Foster, Feather Schwartz – Mary Lincoln’s Flannel Pajamas and Other Stories From the First Ladies Closet – Koehler Publishing, 2014

Smith, Gene – When the Cheering Stopped – William Morrow, 1964

Wilson, Edith Bolling – My Memoir – Bobbs Merrill, 1939


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