Frances Cleveland Biography

U.S. First Lady (1864–1947)
When Frances Cleveland married Grover Cleveland, she became the youngest first lady ever, and the first to be married in the White House.


Frances Cleveland was born on July 21, 1864, in Buffalo, New York. She married President Grover Cleveland on June 2, 1886. The couple had four daughters and two sons. Grover Cleveland died in 1908, and Frances remarried in 1913. She became active in the Needlework Guild during World War I, later serving as its national president, from 1925 to 1940. She died on October 29, 1947, in Baltimore, Maryland.

Early Years

Frances Cleveland was born Frances Clara Folsom on July 21, 1864, in Buffalo, New York. Her father, an attorney named Oscar, died in a carriage accident two days after Frances' ninth birthday. Her mother, Emma Harmon, would eventually remarry. Frances had one sibling, a sister named Nellie.

Frances received her early education at Miss Bissell's School for Young Ladies, followed by the Medina Academy for Boys and Girls. She left Central [High] School in Buffalo in her senior year, but completed the necessary coursework to earn her diploma. In 1882 she enrolled at Wells College in Aurora, New York. After graduating in 1885, Frances and her mother spent nine months traveling throughout Europe.

First Lady

In the spring of 1885, while visiting Washington, D.C., with her mother, Frances received a marriage proposal from Grover Cleveland, the president of the United States. Upon returning from her trip to Europe, at 21 years old, Frances married the president in the White House's Blue Room on June 2, 1886. By doing so, Frances became the youngest-ever American first lady. She was also the only first lady ever to have been married at the White House.

After the newlyweds came home from their honeymoon in Maryland, Frances took over the title of first lady, which Grover's younger sister, Libbie, had assumed for the previous 14 months.

A statuesque beauty, Frances quickly became America's sweetheart. Before long, companies were asking her to endorse their products, somewhat to the chagrin of her husband, who feared for her safety as she was increasingly surrounded by throngs of admirers. When she accompanied the president on his tour of the southern and western United States in 1887, it only served to further her celebrity. After appearing on the covers of Harper's and Leslie's that year, "Frankie" became a fashion trendsetter for women all over the country.

Frances supported projects in Washington, including the Women's Christian Temperance Movement's "Hope and Help Project," and helped establish the Washington Home for Friendless Colored Girls.

Grover Cleveland's first term ended in 1889, and he would not take office for his second (noncontinuous) term until March 1893. In the interim, Frances gave birth to a daughter, Ruth (1891). She was pregnant again by the time her husband started his second term and gave birth to another daughter, Ester, in September 1893. During Cleveland's second term, the family welcomed a third daughter, Marion (1895), to the world.

After the White House

When Cleveland's second term ended in January 1897, the family moved to Princeton, New Jersey, and later that year Frances gave birth to the couple's first son, Richard. Francis, the couple's second son, was born in 1903, but, tragically, a year later, her 12-year-old daughter, Ruth, died of diphtheria.

Grover Cleveland died on June 24, 1908. Frances remarried, to art history professor Thomas Jex Preston Jr., in February of 1913. In 1915, after moving to London, the couple became involved in the National Security League. During World War I, Frances became active in the Needlework Guild. She later served as national president of the organization from 1925 to 1940.

Frances Cleveland died on October 29, 1947, in Baltimore, Maryland. She lived longer than any other first lady had after leaving the White House.

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