It can feel like the media is constantly telling us everything we need to know (and even more) about the first family. Here’s a look back on some interesting first family facts, including the rumored, the scandalous, the tragic, the sweet, and the creepy!
Thomas Jefferson’s wife died in childbirth so there was no First Lady during his term as president. Jefferson famously operated multiple plantations where he owned hundreds of slaves, and used them to work the land. The majority of historians believe that after the death of his wife, Jefferson likely had a relationship with one of his slaves. Who was this woman?
She was a woman by the name of Sally Hemings and Jefferson was the father to at least one of her children. The man was seemingly a bit hypocritical as he had very liberal political ideas, which included anti-slavery ideals, yet he continued to own slaves and even had a child with one. Regardless, historians still frequently view Jefferson as of the United States’ greatest presidents.
Sadly, the President’s son George lived a tortured existence caused primarily by his struggle with alcoholism. George was born in Berlin while his father served as a diplomatic representative of the United States. He was also a known womanizer and suffered greatly from depression. Ultimately, he died of an apparent suicide during the President’s final year in office in 1829.
Was Andrew Jackson a bigamist?
Andrew Jackson, Bigamist?
Andrew Jackson first met his future wife Rachel Donelson Robards when she was still in an unhappy marriage with Captain Lewis Robards. They separated in 1790, but never officially divorced. Jackson apparently thought that they had divorced, because he married Rachel — thereby making their marriage bigamous and invalid. The divorce had to be carried through and then Jackson and his missus were able to officially marry in 1794.
I’m Sorry, Miss Jackson
This fun fact was used against Jackson during his candidacy for the presidency. Allegedly, Rachel lived with Andrew Jackson and called herself “Mrs. Jackson” before the divorce petition had ever been officially made. Scandalous! Obviously it didn’t matter much, as we are still studying about him as a President of the United States.
Sterile George Washington
Our first president married the wealthy widow Martha Custis in 1759. Martha had two children from her previous marriage, and George Washington helped her to raise them. Washington also later helped raise his wife’s two oldest grandchildren. He never had any children of his own, which many attribute to his bout with smallpox. This could have made him sterile.
John Tyler Had Two First Ladies
During President John Tyler’s term in office he had two First Ladies. His first wife Letitia had a paralytic stroke in 1839, which left her an invalid. For the rest of her life she remained upstairs in the White House, only coming downstairs once for the wedding of her daughter. She passed away in September of 1842. John Tyler married his second First Lady Julia in 1844. She was only 24 when she married the 54-year-old President. The couple went on to have seven children together.
Walter Francis White
In a biography of the noted African American civil rights activist and one-time president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Walter Francis White, a historian named Kenneth Robert Janken noted that White’s mother Madeline traced some of her mixed-race white ancestry to President William Harrison.
It is believed that a female slave named Dilsia, and belonging to William Henry Harrison, had six children by him — all of whom he allowed to be born into slavery. Allegedly, four of these children were sold to a planter located in Georgia including a daughter named Marie Harrison. Marie was Madeline’s mother, and Walter Francis White’s grandmother.
James Buchanan Had No Family
James Buchanan never ever married or had children. He met a woman named Anne Caroline Coleman at a ball, and the two began courting. Buchanan visited another woman, who was simply his friend’s wife, but Coleman broke off the engagement. She died suddenly afterward, with a doctor attributing her death to hysteria and an overdose of laudanum.
Buchanan asked to attend the funeral, and wrote that “I feel happiness has fled from me forever.” He never courted another woman or showed any romantic interest in one. Biographers argue whether he was asexual, celibate, homosexual or bisexual. Many cite his close relationship with William Rufus King as evidence of something further.
The two men lived together in a Washington boardinghouse for 10 years. The two men often attended social functions together and King even referred to the relationship as a “communion.” President Andrew Jackson referred to them as “Miss Nancy” and “Aunt Fancy,” the former being an old euphemism used towards effeminate men.
The Adams Family – The Original Bush Dynasty
When John Adams’ son Quincy was elected to the presidency, it marked the first time a father and son had served as president in our young nation. Another interesting fact is that Quincy Adams’ wife Louisa was the only foreign-born First Lady in the history of the United States. She was originally born in London.
Creepy John Adams Family Fact
John Adams’ family was the first to ever live in the White House. Adams was a cousin to revolutionary and beer namesake Samuel Adams. Ironically, the President and First Lady’s second oldest son Charles died because of complications of alcoholism. Another creepy tidbit about Adams is the last phrase he ever spoke, which we’ll learn about next.
Same Death Day
On July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, John Adams died. Oddly, Adams’ last words spoke of his longtime friend and rival. He reportedly said “Thomas Jefferson survives” although unbeknownst to Adams, Thomas Jefferson had died earlier that same exact day, several hours earlier. Spooky!
Lincoln’s Children Tragedy
Abraham Lincoln was the father of four children. Robert Lincoln was born in 1843 and Edward Lincoln in 1846. Edward died at age four, most likely of tuberculosis. William Lincoln was born 1850, and died of a fever in 1862. The Lincolns’ fourth son, Thomas Lincoln, was born in 1853, and died of heart failure at the age of 18 in 1871. Robert was the only child to live to adulthood and produce children. Lincoln apparently loved children and he and his wife were not considered to be strict with their own brood.
Losing their sons affected both Lincoln and his wife profoundly. Mary was tortured by the deaths of her sons (and later her husband) and was ultimately committed to a mental asylum briefly by her son Robert Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln was also known to suffer from “melancholy,” a condition which is now known as depression.
Lincoln’s Male Lover?
Lincoln led such an interesting life that he deserves several spots on this list. It was often rumored that Lincoln may have been either homosexual, or possibly bisexual, and carried on relationships with men. A poem he wrote was uncovered that contained the following lines: “For Reuben and Charles have married two girls, But Billy has married a boy. The girls he had tried on every side, But none he could get to agree; All was in vain, he went home again, And since that he’s married to Natty.”
The First Birther Movement: Chester Arthur
Because Chester Arthurs’ family regularly moved throughout his childhood, people accused him of being a non-natural born citizen. When Arthur was nominated for vice president in 1880, a political opponent named Arthur P. Hinman, speculated Arthur was born in Ireland and didn’t come to the United States until he was 14 years old.
History Repeats Itself
When Hinman’s original try at starting a rumor failed he tried again and spread a new story that Arthur was actually born in Canada. This rumor also failed to gain steam. Clearly, this was just another political ploy in attempting to diminish someone’s capacity to fulfill presidential and vice presidential duties. Sound familiar?
Hayes Family Bans Alcohol
Rutherford B. Hayes is known for an epic beard and also for overseeing the end of Reconstruction. He married a woman named Lucy Webb. Historians often refer to her as “Lemonade Lucy” due to her extreme support of the temperance movement. The truth is that she never actually went by this nickname while living, and it was actually her husband who banned alcohol from the White House.
“Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa?”
When Grover Cleveland ran for the presidency in 1884, a woman came forward stating that she had previously had an affair with him and given birth to their son. The woman, a widow, named Maria C. Halpin, named the boy Oscar Folsom Cleveland. Grover agreed to pay child support.
“Gone to the White House, Ha, Ha, Ha!”
He also paid for the child to be placed in an orphanage when Halpin was no longer fit to raise him. During the 1884 election the opposing side used a chant “Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa? Gone to the White House, ha, ha, ha!” Cruel. Grover stayed honest about the entire predicament, which obviously did not hurt him as he ended up winning the presidency.
Theodore Roosevelt’s Lady Loss
Theodore Roosevelt was married to the beautiful socialite Alice Hathaway Lee. She was known for her stunning looks and her happy demeanor, being nicknamed “Sunny.” She and Roosevelt had a daughter and named her Alice Lee Roosevelt, born on February 12, 1884. Theodore’s wife died two days after giving birth. Apparently, she was suffering from an undiagnosed case of kidney failure, which was often referred to as Bright’s disease at the time.
Sadly, his mother had died of typhoid fever only hours before in the same house. Roosevelt wrote a large X in his diary and the following sentence, “The light has gone out of my life.” Theodore left baby Alice in the care of his sister in New York City and retrieved custody of his daughter when she was three years old. So sad.
You would never know it by looking at his stoic photographs, but apparently President Warren G. Harding was quite the ladies’ man. Harding had multiple extramarital affairs throughout his presidency and marriage. One was with Carrie Fulton Phillips, which lasted about 15 years before ending in 1920. This information wasn’t known until letters from Harding were uncovered by a biographer.
Another mistress named Nan Britton wrote a book in 1927 alleging him to be the father of her child Elizabeth Ann Blaesing. The Harding family claimed that the President was infertile and could not have sired a child because of a bout with mumps as a child. In 2015, ancestry.com held DNA comparisons between members of the Harding and Blaesing families and concluded that Harding was, in fact, Elizabeth’s father.
FDR Cheated on Eleanor and She Cheated Back
Although it is well known that Roosevelt had extra-marital affairs, including one with Eleanor’s social secretary Lucy Mercer. This caused Eleanor to become enraged, after she discovered letters in Franklin’s luggage. He contemplated divorcing Eleanor but Lucy refused to marry a divorced man with five children. The Roosevelts remained married, and FDR promised never to see Lucy again.
Her Side Of The Story
Eleanor never truly forgave him. Instead, she embarked on her own lesbian affair decades later with a woman named Lorena Hickok. Allegedly, during the 1932 presidential campaign, Eleanor fell for the reporter. They spent many hours together and often wrote each other long love letters when they were apart. Eleanor wrote, “I can’t kiss you, ‘Hick,’ so I kiss your picture good night and good morning!” Scandalous!
According to many historians, J. Edgar Hoover was extremely sexually repressed and lived with his mother until he was 40. Some think he repressed his sexual desires because of his homosexuality, and speculate that he was in a relationship with Clyde Tolson (Associate Director of the FBI under Hoover). Hoover is known for vehemently protesting homosexuals and keeping confidential files on the sex lives of other politicians yet he apparently had his own secrets.
JFK’s Hidden Sister
While the Kennedy family is often thought to be “cursed” with scandals, affairs, and untimely deaths, one of the most interesting aspects of the family is JFK’s oldest sister Rosemary Kennedy. Her father arranged one of the first prefrontal lobotomies for her, without consulting his wife and her mother. At the age of 23, Rosemary had a failed lobotomy and was left incapacitated. She spent the rest of her life in an institution.
Ford Married a Dancer
Gerald Ford married Elizabeth Bloomer Warren in 1948. Elizabeth was a department store fashion consultant and previously worked as a John Robert Powers fashion model and a dancer in the auxiliary troupe of the Martha Graham Dance Company. She was also a divorcee. A bit of a problem arose when he was first engaged to her.
Divorce, What A Scandal!
Ford was campaigning for his first term as a member of the United States House of Representatives. His people thought it was best to delay the wedding as Ford was unsure how voters would react to him marrying a divorced ex-dancer. How the times have changed! Now we have a presidential candidate whose wife has posed half-naked in a variety of publications.
Reagan’s Communist Mix-Up
Ronald Reagan is known for what he touted as Christian values while in the presidency. This is also notable because he was the first American president to have been divorced. Before his presidential days and while he was still active in Hollywood he met the woman who would become his second wife, and famous in her own right.
Ronald And Nancy
In 1949, Nancy Davis contacted Ronald Reagan because her name appeared on the communist blacklist in Hollywood. Strange how that is a thing that actually existed at some point in history. Apparently, she had been mistaken for another actress with the same name. Ultimately, Ronald and Nancy married in 1952 and had two children.
Ronald Reagan’s First Family
As mentioned, Ronald Reagan was the first U.S. president to have been divorced. Reagan met his first wife, Jane Wyman on the set of Brother Rat, a film that began shooting in 1938. Wyman was his co-star, and going through her second divorce at the time they worked together, although she was only 21 years old (Reagan was 27 at the time.) The couple quickly fell in love and married two years later. They had a child together, Maureen, and adopted another child, Michael a few years later. Wyman proved to be a successful actress, but as her career gained steam, she was heartbroken over the loss of their third child, a prematurely born daughter. Wyman became depressed and lost interest in Reagan. The couple divorced in 1948.
Before There Was Bill There Was George
Having an affair almost seems like a prerequisite to hold office these days. Many members of the general public don’t realize that George Bush Sr. also had his own scandalous affair. Bush met a woman named Jennifer Fitzgerald in 1974, when she worked as his personal assistant while he served as special envoy to China.
Bush Family Drama
Fitzgerald continued to work with Bush through his time with the C.I.A. and when he was Ronald Reagan’s vice president. While Barbara was out promoting her book about the Bush family dog, her husband and Fitzgerald allegedly shared a private cottage in Switzerland. Bill wasn’t the only one with a Lewinsky. For shame George!
Laura Bush Killed Someone
In 1963 Laura Bush (then Laura Welch) was involved in a fatal accident in Midland, Texas. She was 17 years old at the time. Apparently, she had run a stop sign and caused the death of the occupant of the other vehicle. The future First Lady and her friend Judy had been on their way to a local drive-in when she went through an intersection without stopping at the stop sign. Another 17-year-old named Michael Douglas was the victim killed. All around, it’s a really sad story.