Cleveland, Frances Folsom (1864–1947)

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Cleveland, Frances Folsom (1864–1947)

The youngest of America's first ladies, and one of the most popular women ever to serve in this capacity. Name variations: Frances F. Preston. Born on July 21, 1864, in Buffalo, New York; died on October 29, 1947, in Baltimore, Maryland; only child of Oscar (an attorney) and Emma Cornelia (Harmon) Folsom; graduated from Wells College in Aurora, New York, June 1885; married (Stephen) Grover Cleveland (U.S. president), on June 2, 1886, at the first wedding ceremony to take place in the White House (died 1908); married Thomas Jex Preston, Jr. (an archeology professor), on February 10, 1913; children: (first marriage) Ruth Cleveland (1891–1904, died of diphtheria at age 12); Esther Cleveland (1893–1980, only presidential child ever born in the White House); Marion Cleveland (b. 1895); Richard Cleveland (1897–1974); Francis Cleveland (b. 1903).

Frances ("Frank") Folsom Cleveland was the youngest first lady and the first to be married in the White House. The 21-year-old exchanged vows with President Grover Cleveland, 28 years her senior, on June 2, 1886, in a small ceremony in the Blue Room. The celebration included a 21-gun salute and music by The Marine Band, under the direction of John Philip Sousa. It is reported that the word "obey" was eliminated from the wedding vows, and that the groom was so nervous he forgot to kiss the bride.

Frances was born in Buffalo, New York, the only child of Oscar and Emma Folsom . Her early schooling included Madame Brecker 's Kindergarten, the Medina (New York) Academy, and Central High School in Buffalo. When she was 11, her father was killed in a carriage accident. With no will on file, Grover Cleveland (known to her family as "Uncle Cleve"), law partner and close family friend, took over administration of the sizable estate, caring for Frances and her mother as though they were his own family. It is not clear when fatherly con cern took a romantic turn, but, when Frances left to attend Wells College in New York, Uncle Cleve wrote to her dutifully. At the time of her graduation in June 1885, and a subsequent yearlong European tour with her mother, rumors of their engagement abounded. Upon her return, the newly inaugurated president announced his intentions, and wedding plans went forward.

Cleveland, Rose Elizabeth (b. 1846)

American writer. Born in Fayetteville, New York, in 1846; daughter of Richard Falley (a Presbyterian minister) and Anne (Neal) Cleveland; sister of Grover Cleveland.

After the presidential inauguration of her brother Grover Cleveland in 1885, Rose Elizabeth Cleveland became the "mistress of the White House," remaining there until 1886. "Miss Cleveland carries an atmosphere of female college about her, thicker than the snow storm outside my window," wrote Henry Adams to his wife Clover Adams . "She listens seriously and asks serious questions…. We talked chiefly of George Eliot's biography, which she takes in an earnest spirit." Rose Cleveland published a book of essays and lectures entitled George Eliot's Poetry, and Other Studies (1885); and a novel, The Long Run (1886).

Frances took over the duties of first lady from Cleveland's sister, Rose Elizabeth Cleveland , who had acted as her brother's hostess for 15 months of his first term. In spite of her youth, Frances possessed such tact, charm and beauty that she quickly won popularity. She graciously presided over an increased social calendar and held several weekly receptions, including one on Saturday afternoons, so women with jobs could attend. The stylish first lady was widely emulated and started a fashion trend when she refused to wear a bustle.

Grover Cleveland's 1888 bid for reelection was difficult. Rumors of improprieties involving an illegitimate child, which had marked the 1884 campaign, resurfaced. When trumped-up charges about drunken wife-beating also found their way into the press, Frances made a public statement that she was happily married. Cleveland lost the election, however, and the couple moved to New York City, where they lived quietly and began a family that would come to include five children over the next 12 years.

The Clevelands returned to the White House in 1893 for an unprecedented second term. The couple faced a nation in the throes of economic depression and labor turmoil, which resulted in a more restrained social climate. Frances supported her husband through the political storms of this term, and there is evidence that she also saw him through an unpublicized bout with cancer and an operation in which a portion of his jaw was removed.

At the end of the second term, the family retired to "Westland," a home near Princeton University, where Grover became a law professor. Frances was offered the presidency of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution but declined, not wanting to involve herself in the politics of the post. Grover Cleveland died in 1908. In 1913, Frances married Thomas Jex Preston, Jr., an archeology professor. She remained a prominent figure in the Princeton community and served as trustee of various national charities and women's organizations. During World War I, she headed the National Security League's speaker's bureau and was secretary of its Bureau of Patriotism through Education. She also led the Needlework Guild of America in a clothing drive for the poor during the Depression. Frances Cleveland died on October 29, 1947, at age 83. She is buried in Princeton, New Jersey, beside her first husband.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971, pp. 350–351.

Klapthor, Margaret Brown. The First Ladies. Washington, D.C.: The White House Historical Association, 1979.

Paletta, LuAnn. The World Almanac of First Ladies. NY: World Almanac, 1990.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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Cleveland, Frances Folsom (1864–1947)

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Cleveland, Frances Folsom (1864–1947)