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The wife of 14th U.S. President Franklin Pierce, Jane Pierce served as first lady of the United States from 1853 to 1857.
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Jane Pierce was born on March 12, 1806, in Hampton, New Hampshire. She married Franklin Pierce in 1834 and became first lady of the United States in 1853, when Pierce was sworn in as president. Her 11-year-old son, Benjamin, died in a train accident two months before her husband took office, following the early deaths of the couple's other two sons. During her husband's presidency,
Jane Pierce started the tradition of having a Christmas tree at the White House. She died in Massachusetts on December 2, 1863, at age 57.
Born Jane Means Appleton in Hampton, New Hampshire, on March 12, 1806, Jane Pierce was the third of six children. She showed an early interest in literature (though her precise educational background is unclear) and spent some time at a boarding school in Keene, New Hampshire. Her father served as a congregational minister and president of Bowdoin College in Maine, and her sister, Frances, married one of Franklin Pierce's tutors at the college. It is assumed that Jane and Franklin met through this Bowdoin association, soon after Franklin graduated and began his law practice.
Jane and Franklin Pierce were immediately devoted to one another, but her family objected to the union because of Pierce's unabashed political ambitions. In 1934, however, when Jane was 28, the couple married.
Franklin Pierce held a seat in the New Hampshire state legislature from 1829 to 1833 before moving on to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1833. Three years later, the Pierces welcomed their first child, Franklin Jr., but in what would only be the first tragedy of several to strike the family, he died just three days after being born.
Despite Jane's disapproval and discouragement of his life in politics, Franklin moved from the House to the Senate in 1837, forcing Jane to continue to be the political wife she never wanted to be. Soured on the entire D.C. experience, Jane blamed her husband's political life and associates for everything that went wrong with the family, including Franklin's excessive drinking and the death of their son.
In 1842, at Jane's urging, Franklin resigned from his Senate seat, and the pair moved to New Hampshire with the two sons they had following Franklin Jr.'s death, Frank and Benjamin. Unfortunately, the move was not accompanied by happy times for the Pierces. Frank died a year later of typhus, putting the couple under tremendous stress and leading to health issues for Jane. President James Polk offered Franklin the U.S. attorney general post, but he turned it down because Jane was so adamantly against it. He later refused an open Senate seat and nomination as governor of New Hampshire, citing not wanting to be away from his family.
After serving in the Mexican-American War, Franklin Pierce returned home a hero, and he, Jane and Benjamin lived in Concord, New Hampshire. Disrupting the peace they had found in Concord, in 1852, the Democratic Party nominated Franklin Pierce as their candidate for president—news that caused Jane to faint.
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When the 19th Amendment was ratified, women were finally given the right to vote, and over the years many courageous women have stepped onto the national political stage as well. In 1916, Jeannette Rankin became the first woman elected to Congress and almost a century later Sonia Sotomayor became the first Latina woman to serve on the Supreme Court. And within the last two decades, the esteemable Hillary Clinton has served as First Lady, a New York senator and Secretary of State. These women, and many more, are setting the stage for the future of female leaders in Washington.
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