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June 2, 2015

June 2, 1886: Frances Folsom becomes First Lady

Note: the original post listed the First Lady’s first name as Francis, not Frances. I’d like to offer my sincere apologies for the error.

On this day in 1886, President Grover Cleveland married 21-year-old Frances Folsom at the White House, the only executive thus far to do so. (Franklin Pierce and Woodrow Wilson both remarried in office, but elsewhere.)

Folsom was an undergraduate at Wells College in upstate New York. Her late father, Oscar, had been a good friend of the president; in fact, Cleveland had been the executor of his will. After Folsom visited Cleveland in 1885, he was smitten, and requested permission to court her from her mother.

Although Cleveland was yet unwed, it wasn’t his first time dabbling in the fairer sex. In the 1884 campaign, supporters of Republican James G. Blaine often lobbed an accusatory chant at Cleveland:

Ma, ma, where’s my pa?

Cleveland was known for his morality; in fact, a conservative faction of the Republican party, known as Mugwumps, switched sides and helped Cleveland carry the election.

However, he couldn’t escape the discovery of a private affair: his (possible) fathering of a child with a woman named Maria Crofts Halpin in 1874. The child’s name was Oscar Folsom Cleveland, so named because Halpin was unable to determine which of the men – Cleveland or Cleveland’s good friend and future father-in-law – was responsible.

As for the chant, Cleveland’s eventual victory led to one of the great rejoinders in political history:

Gone to the White House! Ha, ha, ha!

For more on the Halpin Affair, visit The Daily Beast.

Image: Thure de Thulstrup in Harper’s Weekly (1886), via Library of Congress

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