|First Lady of the United States|
March 4, 1893 – March 4, 1897
|Preceded by||Mary Harrison McKee (acting)|
|Succeeded by||Ida Saxton McKinley|
June 2, 1886 – March 4, 1889
|Preceded by||Rose Cleveland (acting)|
|Succeeded by||Caroline Harrison|
Frances Clara Folsom
July 21, 1864
Buffalo, New York, U.S.
|Died||October 29, 1947 (aged 83)|
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
|Resting place||Princeton Cemetery|
|Education||Wells College (BA)|
Frances Clara Cleveland Preston (née Folsom, christened Frank Clara; July 21, 1864 – October 29, 1947) was the First Lady of the United States from 1886 to 1889 and again from 1893 until 1897, as the wife of President Grover Cleveland. She is the sole first lady in U.S. history to have served in the role during two non-consecutive terms.
Folsom met Grover Cleveland while she was an infant, as he was a friend of her father, Oscar Folsom. When her father died in 1875, Grover became the executor of her father's estate. He took care of Oscar's outstanding financial debts and provided for the well-being of Frances and her mother Emma. She was educated at Wells College, and after graduating she married Grover while he was the incumbent president. When her husband lost reelection in 1888, they went into private life for four years and began having children. They returned to the White House when her husband was elected again in 1892, but much of her time in the second term was dedicated to her children.
The Clevelands had five children, four of whom survived to adulthood. Cleveland became involved in education advocacy, serving on the Wells College board, supporting women's education, and organizing the construction of kindergartens. She was widowed in 1908, and she married Thomas J. Preston Jr. in 1913. Cleveland-Preston continued to work in education activism after leaving the White House, becoming involved with Princeton University. During World War I, she advocated military preparedness. She died in 1947 and was buried alongside her first husband in Princeton Cemetery.
Born in Buffalo, New York, on July 21, 1864,: 140 Frances Clara Folsom: 13 was the first child of Emma (née Harmon) and Oscar Folsom. Her only sibling, Nellie Augusta, died in infancy in 1872. Folsom's father Oscar was a lawyer, who had a law partnership with Grover Cleveland.: 243 Because of this, Folsom and Cleveland first met when she was still an infant.: 268 : 106 He was a regular presence in her childhood, and he bought her her first baby carriage.: 15 Although the Folsoms were financially secure when she was born,: 144 her father's gambling habits and his penchant for helping others with his money caused them financial trouble as she grew.: 13
Folsom attended school at Madame Brecker's French Kindergarten and Miss Bissell's School for Young Ladies,: 245 both of which were among Buffalo's best-regarded schools and guaranteed her an education above that of most women in her time.: 145  When not in school, she regularly spent time with Cleveland,: 230 known to her as "Uncle Cleve".: 140 As a child, she went by the name Frank, and she was christened under this name as a teenager. The name sometimes caused her problems when she was assigned to boys' activities in school.: 243
Folsom's father died in a carriage accident on July 23, 1875.: 13 Cleveland was given charge of his estate: 15 and became Folsom's unofficial guardian.: 140 : 268 Folsom and her mother moved to live with relatives, first with Folsom's aunt in Saint Paul, Minnesota and then with her grandmother in Medina, New York. They eventually returned to Buffalo and lived in different boarding houses until they found a home.: 16
When Folsom was 14, she joined the Presbyterian Church, to which she remained devoted throughout her life.: 17 She attended Central High School in Buffalo,: 16 where she was briefly engaged to a seminary student, but the engagement was broken when they decided to remain friends.: 246 Folsom left Central High School in October 1881, before her schooling was finished.: 17
Although Folsom had not finished school, Cleveland used his authority as the mayor of Buffalo to obtain for her a certificate of completion and entry into Wells College in Aurora, New York as a sophomore.: 17 Here she learned etiquette and manners from Helen Fairchild Smith, and she quickly became a prominent student at the school, taking her place at the center of its social life.: 19 At Wells, she became interested in photography and political science, and she participated in the Phoenix Society, a campus debate club. Folsom received two more marriage proposals at Wells, both on the same day. She accepted one of them, but this engagement was also ended by a decision to remain friends.: 246
Cleveland, who became governor of New York at this time, maintained correspondence with Folsom while she attended Wells.: 140 He visited her, sent her flowers, and brought her on tours of New York when her schedule permitted.: 21 Folsom was unable to attend Cleveland's presidential inauguration as it conflicted with her final exams, but she visited him at the White House during spring break some weeks later.: 247 Washington, D.C., left a positive impression on her, and she accompanied the new president on his nightly walks in the East Room while she stayed at the White House.: 23 Folsom was also permitted to ascend the Washington Monument before its opening, where she met former first lady Harriet Lane.: 247
Folsom graduated from Wells on June 20, 1885,: 3 and she spent the summer at her grandfather's home in Wyoming County, New York. Cleveland proposed marriage by letter in August 1885, while Folsom was visiting a friend in Scranton, Pennsylvania.: 140 : 248 After accepting, Folsom accompanied her mother and her cousin on a year-long tour of Europe.: 248 Despite Folsom's eagerness to wed, her mother and her future groom both insisted that she take the opportunity to travel and contemplate her future before marriage.: 248 : 146 Everyone involved agreed to keep the planned wedding a secret,: 269 and the president's sister Rose Cleveland served as White House hostess in the meantime.: 266 Rumors of their engagement were initially dismissed as gossip, as speculation of the president's love life was common. Popular gossip considered Frances' mother to be a more likely partner.: 146 : 106 : 167 Rumors grew after reporters caught up with the Folsoms and found them shopping for a wedding gown.: 249 : 269
By the time of the Folsoms' return voyage, reporters were tracking their whereabouts, and they were forced to board their ship home in secret.: 249 They were greeted by the press upon returning to the United States, and rumors of Cleveland's interest were seemingly confirmed when representatives of the president took the Folsoms away. It was only the next night that the White House officially announced that the president intended to marry Frances Folsom.: 250 Cleveland visited Folsom in New York while he was in the city attending a Decoration Day parade on May 30, 1886,: 250 and the Folsom women took a train to Washington, D.C., on June 1.: 141 Media attention quickly turned Folsom into a celebrity.: 253
First Lady of the United States
The wedding of Grover Cleveland and Frances Folsom took place in the Blue Room of the White House on June 2, 1886.: 253 The president wished for a quiet wedding, so only 31 guests were invited,: 141 and the press was explicitly denied entry.: 253 Hundreds of well-wishers gathered outside of the White House to celebrate.: 9 Frances Cleveland was the first presidential spouse to marry in the White House,: 141 and she was the youngest presidential spouse in American history.: 250 She was 21 years old, and her groom was 49.: 269 After their wedding, the Clevelands went on honeymoon for a week in Deer Park, Maryland,: 141 where they were closely followed by reporters who intruded on their privacy.: 25 After returning to the White House, they held two wedding receptions, one of which was open to the public.: 251
Frances Cleveland was immediately popular as first lady, attracting unprecedented publicity. They drew enough attention that the Clevelands chose not to use the living quarters of the White House. Instead, they moved to their private residence, the "Red Top", to escape from the public and the media.: 142 : 106 Each evening, the couple drove to their private home to oversee improvements.: 251 Cleveland worked with socialite Flora Payne to better prepare for a role in high society.: 29 She also became close friends with poet Richard Watson Gilder and his wife Helena, and Cleveland accompanied them in meeting prominent writers of the time.: 40–44 She stayed involved with Wells College as well, taking a seat on its board of trustees in 1887.: 143
Cleveland maintained an openness with the public that was not shared by her husband or by her predecessor Rose Cleveland.: 270 : 31 To accommodate all who wished to visit the White House, she hosted many social events on Saturdays to ensure that they did not conflict with the schedules of working women.: 107 Cleveland received countless letters from the American people, many of them asking her to influence the president's granting of patronage jobs. She read all of the mail that she received, but she sought assistance from the president's secretaries in replying,: 39 eventually hiring her friend Minnie Alexander as a personal secretary.: 142 Her openness extended to the White House staff as well, with whom she maintained close relationships.
Cleveland was credited with an increase in the president's sociability after their marriage. The president set aside time in his busy schedule to be with his wife, attending the theater and going on carriage rides.: 30 While Cleveland had considerable influence in their home life, she had little involvement in the political aspects of her husband's administration.: 170 Her popularity nonetheless served her husband's administration well. Many of the president's political opponents acknowledged the difficulty of attacking the administration when the first lady had such support, and critics were careful not to attack her directly lest they provoke backlash. She was once even sent as the president's representative during the Great Tariff Debate of 1888 to quietly observe from the visitors' gallery.: 262–263
In 1887, the Clevelands toured the United States. Frances endured a severe insect bite and a black eye, and she spent so much time shaking hands that she needed to use an ice pack each night.: 142 Crowds of people became a constant on their trip, often preventing their carriage from moving.: 253 Their visit to Chicago was attended by about 100,000 people, with the crowd becoming so large that Cleveland had to be taken away by aides for her own safety while police and soldiers attempted to control the crowd.: 252 Cleveland avoided such publicized appearances for the rest of her time as first lady.: 253
Toward the end of the president's first term, opponents began crafting rumors to diminish her reputation.: 265 One rumor suggested that Grover was abusive toward Frances. In response, Frances praised her husband and harshly condemned the rumor as a political smear.: 270 For the first lady to speak so openly about such a topic was unprecedented.: 107 Another rumor suggested that she was unfaithful to her husband, having an affair with newspaper editor Henry Watterson. She remained a prominent figure when her husband sought reelection in the 1888 presidential election. The 1888 Democratic National Convention was the first such convention in which a first lady was recognized during a speech.: 267
Cleveland's tenure as first lady ended after her husband lost his reelection campaign, but she correctly predicted to the staff that they would return the following term. The Clevelands left the White House, sold the Red Top house, and moved to Madison Avenue in New York.: 143 Cleveland struggled with the transition from public to private life, having never run a private household of her own.: 62 She underwent a period of depression over the following months, and she retreated to the Gilders' cottage in Marion, New York.: 66 The Clevelands found a cottage to rent in the area,: 255 and they eventually purchased the Gray Gables summer home in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, where the couple developed their own private home life. Here they often hosted close friends, including the Gilders and actor Joseph Jefferson. Cleveland found comfort in this house, where she and her husband could lead a relatively normal life.: 72
Despite no longer being the first lady, Cleveland remained in the public spotlight.: 273 In between her tenures as first lady, Cleveland took on charity work and grew more involved in New York social life through her charitable projects.: 72 Although they occasionally worked together on these projects, Frances and Grover for the most part led separate social lives after leaving the White House.: 66 Among her charitable endeavors was the promotion of kindergartens in New York, serving as the vice president of Gilder's New York Kindergarten Association.: 70 Frances received further attention when she became a mother with the birth of Ruth Cleveland in 1891.: 273 She dedicated herself to the child, taking on many of the roles that a woman of her status would have typically given to a nurse, such as bathing the child.: 74
Grover ran for president again in the 1892 presidential election. Although he never approved of it, Frances' image was often used prominently in campaign material.: 144 Her social connections and press coverage were valuable for the Cleveland campaign in New York. Her charity work in the state and her friendship with the Gilders enabled the Clevelands to build connections with New York's Four Hundred society and helped win over disaffected Republicans. These factors contributed to Grover winning in his home state, which he had failed to do in 1888. Nonetheless, he disapproved of any involvement his wife had in the political aspects of his career.: 77–78 After Grover was reelected president, the Clevelands left their home on Madison Avenue, spending the period before the inauguration living on 51st Street next door to their friend Elias Cornelius Benedict and then in Lakewood, New Jersey.: 255
The Clevelands returned to the White House on March 4, 1893.: 80 Just as her husband was the only man to ever hold the presidency for two non-consecutive terms, Frances became the only first lady to serve non-consecutively.: 274 She was more apprehensive about taking the role for a second time, now being aware of all that it entailed.: 83 : 275 Her routine largely resembled that of her first tenure, including her evening drives with the president: 82 and her Saturday receptions.: 275 She received the familiar crowds that she had encountered during her previous time as first lady as well as heads of state, including one instance in which she disregarded precedent by meeting with Infanta Eulalia of Spain at her hotel.: 144 She also continued her work in the establishment of kindergartens: 82 and became involved with the Home for Friendless Colored Girls, visiting the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church with the group in 1896.: 271
Cleveland became increasingly protective of her husband during his second term—a reversal of their relationship in his first term. The president's work grew more difficult as the Panic of 1893 set in, and Cleveland found herself tending to her husband.: 276 The president's health was in decline during his second term, and his wife became increasingly responsible for his well-being, encouraging him to exert himself less.: 149 When it became apparent that the president had cancer, she took responsibility for keeping his condition a secret and tending to his health, despite her pregnancy with her second child, which at this time was in its seventh month. She provided excuses for his absences and wrote letters on his behalf, insisting that he was merely suffering from rheumatism.: 276
Cleveland had two more daughters as first lady: Esther Cleveland in 1893 and Marion Cleveland in 1895.: 144 She gave birth to Esther in the White House, making her the only first lady to give birth in the presidential residence.: 94 Much of her time was dedicated to raising her three children,: 144 and she would even play on the floor with her children, to the shock of the servants who had never before seen a first lady act in such a manner.: 277 Cleveland also took an interest in German culture during her husband's second term, learning to speak the language and hiring a German nurse so her children would learn it as well.: 104 Cleveland's time was split between her responsibilities as first lady and those as a mother. Her second term was not as socially active as her first, and she hosted only one reception in the 1894 social season.: 99
The Clevelands were upset at the extent of press and public attention focused on their children, and they controversially had the White House closed to the public while they were present.: 96 They purchased another private residence, Woodley, where they could live away from the White House.: 144 Harassment from the public continued at their new residence, and Cleveland was particularly frightened by an incident in 1894 when three men were stalking their home. Fearing for her children's safety, she had the local police station post a guard at their home, choosing not to worry her husband with the news.: 278
Three thousand people attended the first lady's final Saturday reception to shake her hand.: 281 Cleveland wept as she left the White House,: 149 personally saying goodbye to each member of the White House staff.: 107 This organized farewell would be replicated by future first ladies, becoming a tradition. Despite her emotional departure, she later expressed relief that she was no longer first lady, remembering the rumors and falsehoods that had surrounded her.: 300
Widowhood and remarriage
After leaving the White House for the second time, the Clevelands bought Westland, a house in Princeton, New Jersey. They had two more children over the following years: Richard F. Cleveland and Francis Cleveland. Their firstborn daughter, Ruth, died of diphtheria in 1904 at their Gray Gables vacation home. Wishing to avoid memories of their child's illness and death, they sold the home and purchased Intermont, a summer home in Tamworth, New Hampshire.: 145 : 257 The Clevelands involved themselves with Princeton University and provided financial support for many Princeton students.: 110 Grover died in 1908, and Frances was left to raise their four remaining children alone.: 108 She refused the pension to which she was legally entitled as a widowed first lady,: 145 but she did accept the franking privilege that was offered to presidential widows in 1909.: 336
In March 1909, she held a memorial service for her husband at Carnegie Hall.: 122–123 After her husband's death, Cleveland became involved in a legal battle against writer Broughton Brandenburg, who had been paid by The New York Times for an article supposedly written by Grover Cleveland before his death, but which was found to be a forgery created by Brandenburg. She was unable to prevent its publication after she discovered that it was fraudulent. She testified against Brandenburg in court, and he was found guilty of grand larceny. The ordeal made national headlines.: 120–121 Still grieving for her husband, Cleveland spent time away on a vacation to Europe with her family from September 1909 to May 1910.: 122–127
On October 29, 1912, Wells College announced that Cleveland intended to remarry. She was engaged to Thomas J. Preston Jr., professor of archaeology and acting president at Wells College, where she served as a trustee.: 128–129 She was invited to return to the White House for a dinner to celebrate her engagement in January 1913, much to the excitement of the staff who had known her previously.: 130–131 : 336–337 As with her previous engagement decades before, she was secretive about the process to limit media attention. Both Wells College and Princeton University congratulated them with the expectation that the couple would be active at their respective campuses.: 130 Frances Cleveland and Thomas Preston were wed on February 10, 1913.: 258 She was the first presidential widow to remarry.: 108 After their marriage, the Prestons went on honeymoon in Florida.: 134 Her second husband went on to teach at Princeton University, where she continued to be a prominent figure in campus social life.: 149
The Prestons moved to London in April 1914. Frances Cleveland-Preston was vacationing with her children and her mother in St. Moritz, Switzerland, when World War I began in August 1914. They returned to the United States via Genoa, arriving on October 1.: 139–141 Cleveland-Preston and her husband worked with activists Solomon Stanwood Menken and Robert McNutt McElroy throughout the war to promote military preparedness.: 142–143 She was appointed head of the speakers' bureau of the National Security League (NSL), where she was responsible for organizing rallies and other events to support the war effort.: 258 She caused controversy by accusing some Americans of being unassimilated, and she resigned from her position on December 8, 1919, after backlash to what some in the NSL saw as overzealous views around patriotic education.
Cleveland-Preston became more outspoken in her political beliefs as she grew older, taking a prominent position as an opponent of women's suffrage and serving as the vice president of the New Jersey Association Opposed to Woman's Suffrage from 1913 to 1920.: 134 In the 1928 presidential election, she gave her only formal political endorsement to someone other than her first husband, endorsing Al Smith for president. She had met the Smiths and grew upset with the anti-Catholic attacks against them.: 429 She was especially sympathetic to his wife Catherine, and Cleveland-Preston made a point of sitting with her at events as a show of support.: 258
Cleveland-Preston supported Franklin D. Roosevelt as president in 1932,: 451 and she admired his wife Eleanor Roosevelt,: 473 but she declined to vote for Roosevelt in 1940 due to her first husband's opposition to a third term.: 506 She subsequently supported Harry S. Truman.: 526 During the Truman presidency, she was invited to a luncheon at the White House where she met General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower is quoted as not recognizing her and asking where in the city she used to live, prompting her to respond that she had lived in the White House.: 145 : 150
Later in life, Cleveland-Preston was afflicted by cataracts, and she learned Braille to use a braille typewriter.: 145 She continued to use it after her cataracts were removed, translating books into braille for blind children.: 161 She was involved with the theater community in her old age, sometimes traveling with the theater troupe founded by her son.: 527 Cleveland-Preston attended the Princeton University bicentennial celebration in June 1946, which proved to be her final public appearance. While staying at her son Richard's home for his 50th birthday in Baltimore, she died in her sleep at the age of 83 on October 29, 1947. She was buried in Princeton Cemetery next to President Cleveland, her first husband.
Cleveland was much-loved as first lady, drawing an unprecedented level of media and public attention.: 142 : 106 Her travels and activities were meticulously documented by reporters, to the president's ire.: 33–34 The furor at times even became dangerous, with large crowds pushing to see her, threatening to topple into her and one another.: 257 Her presence in the White House mitigated her husband's surly reputation and fostered an image of the president as a loving husband, and later as a loving father.
Cleveland's reputation influenced the role of first lady for generations after her tenure.: 106 The form letters used by Cleveland as first lady remained in use, eventually being redrafted by Eleanor Roosevelt.: 459 In honor of Frances Cleveland, Cleveland Hall was constructed in 1911 on the Wells College campus. Contemporaries ranked her among the greatest of first ladies.: 59 In 1982, the Siena College Research Institute polled historians on the performances of first ladies; Cleveland was placed 13th out of 42, but the 2008 edition of the poll placed her 20th of 38.
Fashion and image
Much of Cleveland's fame and media coverage focused on her appearance and her fashion,: 258 and her fashion choices were widely imitated by women throughout the United States.: 142 : 106 These included her hairstyle, a low knot over a shaved nape, which became known as the á la Cleveland.: 253 Her fashion choices and purchases influenced the behavior of consumers, and products she reportedly used enjoyed an increase in popularity. An article published by the Atlanta Constitution falsely stated that she no longer purchased bustles, causing a decline in their popularity.: 173–174 : 270 The Woman's Christian Temperance Union wrote to her requesting that she dress more modestly, fearing that she was setting a poor example. She declined to do so.: 143
Cleveland's immense popularity led to the extensive use of her image in advertising, and many products falsely claimed to have her endorsement. It became such a problem that a bill was introduced to Congress that would establish personality rights for women and criminalize the unauthorized use of a person's image, but the bill did not pass.: 263–264 Cleveland updated her fashion choices during her husband's second term. Reflecting the trends of the Gay Nineties, she wore tight gowns, feather boas, and picture hats.: 275 News articles on her activities continued to reference her sense of fashion in her old age.: 162
Although she was personally interested in politics, Cleveland did not publicly support political causes while serving as first lady.: 107 : 148 One exception to her avoidance of politics was her interest in the political situation of the Republic of Hawaii, where she endorsed the restoration of monarchy with Princess Ka'iulani's claim to the throne as the heir apparent. She also supported the temperance movement, personally abstaining from alcohol and donating to the Woman's Christian Temperance Union,: 142 but she was unwilling to impose these beliefs on others and continued to serve wine at White House receptions.: 107
Instead of political activism, she worked with charity groups, including the Needlework Guild, which made clothes for the poor,: 142 and the Christmas Club and the Colored Christmas Club, which gave gifts to children during the holiday season.: 271 Cleveland's activism focused heavily on the arts, and she was a supporter of international copyright protections, attending a convention on the subject while first lady in 1888.: 50–51 She also provided charitable support, sponsoring many aspiring musicians.: 259
Cleveland supported women's education and believed it to be an important step in gender equality.: 143 : 260 She did not support women's suffrage, and she avoided commenting on the controversial issue during her tenure as first lady.: 271 : 260 Like many female anti-suffragists of her generation, she felt that involvement in politics was an unfortunate duty to be avoided and that it risked women's control of the domestic sphere.: 134–135 Despite this, she chose to vote in elections after the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment.: 135–136
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