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First Ladies and Family

"First Family" and the origin of this expression

First Ladies and Mothers-in-law

President-elect children at inaugurations

Presidential children and descendants

Saxton Family Papers <

"First Family" and the origin of this expression

The earliest known reference I could find to the use of the expression "First Son," was actually a letter received by the second child of President Calvin Coolidge, in 1924. He received a letter from another young man who referred to him as the "First Boy." Calvin Coolidge, Jr. responded in writing that he was not really the "First Boy of the Land" - that was a title that should be reserved for the young man in the country who had shown bravery by an act of his own, or by becoming a leader by example of exemplar behavior.

The terms "First Family" was in circulation most likely in reference to the Theodore Roosevelt family - the first large family that also included young children, as well as one with a celebrity status that was unprecedented - the President's Daughter Alice Roosevelt. However, it was not until the Kennedy Administration and the marketing of an extremely popular comedy album about the large and colorful Kennedy family with many highly individualistic members - "The First Family" that the expression finally reached a permanent usage in the popular American culture.

First Ladies and Mothers-in-law

welch.jpgWe've had quite a few mothers-in-law of Presidents in recent years: Laura Bush's mother Jenna Welch, Hillary Clinton's mother Dorothy Rodham, Nancy Reagan's mother Edith Davis, Rosalynn Carter's mother Allie Smith, Jackie Kennedy's mother Janet Auchincloss - all lived to see their daughters in the White House

Mrs. Auchincloss, who had remarried after divorcing Jack Bouvier, often substituted as a hostess at small afternoon events for older women while her daughter looked after her own small children - or sometimes just avoided events and people she didn't enjoy. Mrs. Auchincloss could be a bit "motherly" at times, once criticizing her daughter's bouffant hairstyle, complaining that "not everyone liked it. I received a lot of mail from people saying, 'Can't you get her to groom her hair.

Two mothers-in-law lived at the White House - Bess Truman's mother Madge Gates Wallace. She never accepted the fact that her daughter married someone from a lower social class and wealth than their own family. She frequently carped to her daughter about Truman's decisions - but when she asked why "Harry" fired "that nice man," Mrs. Truman gave it back - "My husband happens to be President and General MacArthur was insubordinate!" Also, Mamie Eisenhower's mother Elvira "Minnie" Carlson Doud, daughter of Swedish immigrants, spent the winters at the White House, living at her home in Denver the rest of the year.

One mother-in-law - Gertrude Carow, who's daughter Edith was married to Teddy Roosevelt, lived in England and never visited the White House. Edith Wilson, on the other hand, made her elderly mother Sally Bolling, who lived in a run-down residential hotel in Washington, a frequent dinner guest at the White House. Grace Coolidge's mother Lemira Barrett Goodhue, also disliked her son-in-law Calvin Coolidge, and made only one visit - to the March 1925 Inauguration. When rumors began that bachelor President Grover Cleveland was engaged to be married, it was assumed he was about to wed Emma Folsom, the widow of his former law partner Oscar Folsom, because she often visited. He shocked the nation by instead marrying her 21-year recent college graduate daughter Frances.

The first woman to see her daughter become First Lady and come stay in the White House was the Scottish heiress Juliana Gardiner, the mother-in-law of John Tyler. She so disliked the shabby condition of the White House that she not only paid for the redecoration of the private family rooms - but the state rooms as well.

President-elect children at inaugurations

The presence of presidents-elect's children at their inaugurations is not recorded in the early days. We know that the two young children of George Washington's Administration - the adopted children who were actually the grandchildren of Martha Washington, were not at his first inauguration in 1789 and there is no record they attended his second ceremony, in Philadelphia, although they were in the city then, residing with him. it is also possible that Thomas Adams, one of the three adult sons of John Adams might have been in attendance at his inaugural in 1797. Neither of Jefferson's married daughters, Martha and Maria, were at his ceremony in 1801.

It is almost certain that the stepson of James Madison and the daughters of James Monroe were in attendance at their fathers' swearing-in ceremonies in 1809 and 1817, respectively, since they lived with their parents. The first presidential child who played any significant role at their father's Inauguration was Betty Taylor Bliss, the daughter of Zachary Taylor. Although her mother Peggy Taylor would serve in a limited capacity as First Lady, it was "Miss Betty" who was the primary hostess of White House events and her appearance at the Whig Inaugural Ball in 1849 made a great impression on many officials. Wearing a single white flower in her hair, she was a fresh and natural personality and contrasted with the many women in head-dresses of multiple flowers as she promenaded on the arm of her father. The absence of one child of a president-elect at his inauguration actually made more of an impact than had he attended.

Just weeks before his father was sworn-in as President in 1853, Benjamin Pierce, 11-years old, was killed in a freak accident, his skull smashed in a train accident as his horrified parents watched - unable to reach him as the train tumbled over the precipice. As a result, Pierce asked that the Inaugural Ball and all other pomp and show be stricken. His wife was also too deeply in grief to attend and got as far as Baltimore, deciding not to go on to Washington.

The first time a presidential child had a public role was in 1869, when Nellie Grant, the young daughter of Ulysses S. Grant ran to grasp his hand just as he took the oath of office. It caught everyone by surprise and a newspaper sketch artist who witnessed this tender act, quickly drew an illustration which appeared in a weekly newspaper's coverage of the event. In 1881, the young daughters of outgoing and incoming presidents - Fanny Hayes and Molly Garfield - sat together throughout the latter's father's swearing-in ceremony and were also sketched together as they watched right behind the new President as he took the oath.

Interestingly, much like Malia and Sasha Obama are attending SidwellFriendsSchool where Chelsea Clinton and Amy Carter also went, four successive presidential daughters - Nellie Grant, Fanny Hayes, Mollie Garfield, and Nell Arthur all attended the private Miss Burr's School for Girls in Washington. When the celebrated teenage Alice Roosevelt, daughter of Theodore Roosevelt, was cheered by crowds below as she sat in the reviewing box at his 1905 Inaugural Ball, she rose and regally wave to acknowledge the fans of "Princess Alice" (as the press dubbed her). That is, until the man of the hour thought it a bit much and signaled her to sit. As she said of him, "Father liked to be the baby at every christening, the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral."

Eleven-year old Charlie Taft, who had already lived in the Philippines, Japan and China and crossed Russia and Europe on the trans-Siberian railroad, was not at all impressed as his father took the oath of office in 1909 - forced inside to the Senate Chamber by frigid temperatures. He was entirely engrossed in reading Robert Louis Steven's novel, Treasure Island. Among his four sons, daughter, and numerous grandchildren, nieces and nephews in attendance at his four Inaugurations in 1933, 1937, 1941 and 1945, Franklin Roosevelt relied on his eldest son James to take his arm and help guide, support and slightly lift him so FDR, disabled by polio, could swing his legs in their iron braces in a way that disguised his disability from the public at the Inaugural podium. Eisenhower felt it might embarrass him, being viewed as pulling rank and giving his son privileges other soldiers didn't have.

Despite all the media coverage of the incoming Kennedy children at the time of JFK's 1961 Inauguration, neither were in attendance at his ceremony. Caroline Kennedy, three years old, and John Kennedy Jr., an infant, less than two months old, were being cared for by their British nanny at the family's Palm Beach, Florida estate. Although his three sons Jack, Jeff and Chip Carter walked behind Jimmy Carter when he made his unprecedented decision to get out of his limousine as it drove from the Capitol to the White House and walk the length of Pennsylvania Avenue, underlining the theme of his 1977's "People's Inaugural. His daughter Amy, however, just 9 years old, was allowed to walk up front with the President and Mrs. Carter, leading the way.

In 1997, at his second Inaugural, Bill Clinton not only had his wife Hillary hold the Bible as he repeated the presidential oath, but also arranged to have his daughter Chelsea stand there with them - setting a new precedent followed in 2001 and 2005 when George W. Bush did likewise, having his twin daughters Jenna and Barbara join him and his wife Laura at the moment of the swearing-in. In all likelihood, it will be a custom followed by Malia and Sasha Obama.

Presidential children and descendants

In looking at the lives of not only children but siblings and other relatives of Presidents, I have come to the conclusion that their experiences as a result of their connection to a President are so individual, and so diverse and a matter varying circumstances that is is impossible and generally unfair to make a blanket statement or reach a definitive conclusion about them all. Take, for example, the life of a presidential grandchild. If they were like FDR's Sistie and Buzzie Dall - who lived in the White House at the beginning of the Administration when there is always so much press and public fascination with the new family, and who were both under the age of ten, they passively assumed public profiles as sort of child celebrities, That is a very different experience from the Carter grandchildren Jason and Sarah, who were under five years old and only made extended visits to the White House: there was little to no media and public interest in them and their lives were very different from the FDR grandchildren.

In general, I would say that most of their lives after the presidency are simply dictated by the usual circumstances of anyone's life - socioecnomic status, work and professional life, family committments, health conditions, regional location.

I would add that those presidential children who lived in the White House or were recognizable by sight or by name will always have a degree of visibility, even if they don't seek it. I would also say that the ability of those children to balance their loyalty to their fathers' memories and caring for his legacy (although not all assume such a responsibility) with forging their own identity has generally proven to be the healthiest route to a fulfilling life.

As for Elizabeth Blaesing, once I completed my biography of Florence Harding I did no further research on her life.

Ronald Reagan's brother Neil died some years ago, although I don't have a specific date. Richard Nixon's youngest brother Ed is still alive and actually he has recently completed a book about his family; I believe it is scheduled for publication this month and he will be speaking about it at the Nixon Presidential Library. You might check the website there for further information.

Saxton Family Papers

Regarding my research on the Saxton family, I unfortunately found nothing at all regarding George Saxton and Annie George. My accounts are all from the newspapers of the time, the small publication put out anonymously by someone in Canton at the time and secondary sources.

It seems that while George Saxton lived at the Saxton House with his father, sister Mary and her family, and the McKinleys when they were in Canton during the Congressional and gubernatorial years, there was little engagement between him and the future President and his wife. His murder of course did shock Mary and Ida - but beyond the shock, there was not even any wide discussion of him in later years. He seems to have somehow emotionally cut out of any genuine engagement with his family. Even in the early letters from Europe that Ida and Mary wrote to him there is a sense of his disconnected quality. In one letter from around the time of George's late teenage years, Mr. Saxton seems to make sarcastic reference to the fact that George did nothing worthwhile except pick apples and tap maple trees on their farm property in Minerva. I found it really extraordinary too that the wealthy Saxton family which so highly prized education and who insisted that Ida and Mary receive superior educations as young women, apparently never insisted or pushed or urged George to seek a higher education. As far as I discovered, he never went to high school or college.