White House Weddings: A Brief History

By Kaleena Fraga

Happy Valentine’s Day from History First! Is the presidency romantic? Well, couples throughout history have thought so—multiple people have gotten married at the White House since the beginning of the 19th-century. Curiously, only one president has ever been married there.

Join us on a walk down the aisle. Here are some stories about weddings at the White House:

Grover Cleveland: The Only President to Get Married at the White House

Grover Cleveland is the only president to have married at the White House | Library of Congress

History First has had a lot of love for Grover Cleveland, lately. We’ve written about his health scares and how he was the only non-consecutive president in American history. For a president most Americans don’t remember, Cleveland had a lot of “firsts” and “onlys”. One of these is his wedding. Grover Cleveland is the only president to have gotten married at the White House.

White House bachelors are a rare breed. Most were widowers or lost their wives during their administrations. Only three presidents married during their time in office: John Tyler, Woodrow Wilson, and Cleveland. For Tyler and Wilson, it was a second marriage. Tyler married his bride, Julia, in New York. Wilson married his, Edith, at her home in Washington D.C.

Grover Cleveland’s status as a bachelor had been a cause for concern during his campaign. A sex scandal emerged during his 1884 run in which a woman named Maria Halpin claimed that she had had Cleveland’s baby out of wedlock. This was embarrassing for Cleveland, but ultimately his supporters shrugged it off as “boys being boys.” Halpin was sent to an insane asylum; the baby was put up for adoption. #MeToo, this wasn’t.

And this is where it gets weird. Maria Halpin’s baby was named Oscar Folsom Cleveland—a combination of Cleveland’s name, and the name of his best friend, Oscar. Oscar had a daughter named Frances. (Do you see where this is going? If not, spoiler alert: Cleveland marries her.) Frances was younger than Cleveland—much younger. They first met when Frances was a baby, and Cleveland was 27 years old. In fact, Cleveland bought his future bride her first baby carriage.

When Oscar died, Cleveland became the executor of his estate. As such, his ties to the Folsom family remained deep even after Oscar’s death. When Frances went to college, Cleveland asked her mother for permission to write her letters.

Frances Folsom Cleveland | Library of Congress

They began to correspond—and Cleveland made sure her dorm room at Wells College was filled with flowers. When Frances and her mother visited the White House, their correspondence bloomed into romance. They were married on June 2, 1886. Cleveland was 49; Frances was 21.

So let’s talk about that.

The Clevelands’ White House Wedding

Grover Cleveland and Frances Folsom wed at the White House | Library of Congress

On May 28, 1886, the president had a surprise announcement for the country — in five days, he would marry Frances Folsom at the White House.

The invitation was short, to the point, and signed by the president:

“On Wednesday next at seven o’clock in the evening I shall be married to Miss Folsom at the White House.

We shall have a very quiet wedding, but I earnestly desire that [you] will be present on the occasion.”

Cleveland meant it when he said it would be a quiet wedding. Only 28 guests gathered on June 2nd, in the Blue Room at the White House, to witness the event.

“Accustomed as were the ladies gathered in the to the dazzle of rich costumes, they could barely restrain expressions of wonder and admiration at the beautiful picture presented by the bride,” the New York Times noted the next day. Frances wore a wedding dress with a six-foot long veil, decorated with orange blossoms, as popularized by Queen Victoria. During the ceremony, she promised to “honor, love, and keep” her new husband, as opposed to the traditional “honor, love, and obey.”

Frances Folsom Cleveland in her wedding dress | Library of Congress

By all accounts, Frances Folsom and Grover Cleveland had a happy marriage. They had five children together. And, here, we find another first: their daughter, Esther, was the first—and only—president’s baby to be born at the White House.

How Many Other People Have Gotten Married at the White House?

The Clevelands may be the only presidential couple to wed at the White House, but they’re far from the only couple. There have been eighteen weddings at the White House since Dolley Madison’s sister got married there in 1812.

Mostly, White House weddings have featured presidential relatives—sons, daughters, nieces, etc.

Richard Nixon and his daughter, Tricia, at her White House wedding in 1971 | Library of Congress

Only twice has a non-relative married at the White House. In 1942, Harry Hopkins—an assistant to Franklin Roosevelt—married at the White House. In 2013—the most recent White House wedding—Barack Obama’s photographer, Pete Souza, married in the Rose Garden.

Of course, there are some downsides to getting married at the White House. The attention is intense, your ceremony might be drowned out by protests—depending on what the president has done, lately—and the White House is, of course, a public place. When Jenna Bush got married in 2008, she opted to hold the ceremony at her parents’ ranch in Texas.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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