Today in First Ladies’ History
Today, DC Insider Tours celebrates two events in history. Well… we celebrate one, and cringe over the other.
First, today is Martha Custis Washington’s birthday! She was born June 2, 1731 (O.S.) in New Kent County, Virginia. Her marriage to George Washington (her second husband) led to her eventual status as the United States’ first-ever First Lady. And, if you take one of our tours, you’ll learn why we George Washington’s marriage to her arguably made his political career possible in the first place.
Second is the cringe-worthy event. On June 2, 1886, Frances Folsom (pictured above) married President Grover Cleveland in the Blue Room of the White House. This was unique and super gross for several reasons. At 21 years old, Frances Folsom Cleveland was the youngest First Lady ever. How old was President Cleveland when he married her? 49. He was 28 years older than her. Further, he had been best friends with her father,
Oscar Folsom, who died when Frances was a child. Grover Cleveland met Frances shortly after her birth, and was the executor of her father’s will. Frances grew up calling him “Uncle Cleve”. Her mother, along with the rest of the world, is said to have been shocked when she learned Grover Cleveland was intending to marry her daughter instead of her.
Creepy, right? It gets worse. Apparently, in 1874, Grover Cleveland raped (or, if you believe his side of the story, had consensual sex with) a 38-year-old widow named Maria Halpin. This resulted in the birth of his son, named Oscar Folsom Cleveland. Yes, Cleveland named him after his best bud, Oscar Folsom, years before he married Folsom’s young daughter. To make things even WORSE, poor Maria Halpin was admitted to an insane asylum under what Smithsonian Magazine calls “murky circumstances”, and her baby was removed from her custody and adopted by another family.
So to recap, Grover Cleveland may or may not have been a rapist, produced an illegitimate child, named it after his best buddy, had the mother committed to insane asylum, and removed the baby from her custody. Then, 12 years later, he married his buddy’s daughter whom he helped raise, and who was 28 years younger than him. Not only was he creepy, but he wasn’t exactly a great president. He served two non-consecutive terms with a four-year gap between them, and during those terms, his policies were unpopular. His party ended up deserting him in 1896.