White House Weddings – Part One

In this two part series on White House Weddings I will focus on eleven of the eighteen weddings that have been documented as taking place at the White House located in Washington, D.C., the Capitol of the United States.  The eleven weddings on the list include one President and the ten children of eight Presidents.  In Part One, I will discuss the weddings from 1820 to 1886 starting with Maria Monroe, John Adams II, Elizabeth Tyler, Nellie Grant and President Grover Cleveland, the only President to be married in the White House (more information on that later).   In Part Two, I will discuss the weddings from 1906 to 1971 that include Alice Roosevelt, the three daughters of President Woodrow Wilson, Lynda Johnson and Tricia Nixon.  (Special Note: The other seven weddings which have been recorded to take place in the White House included relatives or working associates of the President and will not be covered in this series)

March 9, 1820 – Maria Monroe and Samuel Gouverneur

The wedding of Maria Monroe and Samuel Gouverneur took place on March 9, 1820 but it would be overshadowed by controversy and an untimely death.  Maria was the seventeen year old daughter of President James Monroe (the fifth President) and Samuel was her twenty-one year old first cousin and also one of President Monroe’s White House secretaries.

At the time of the engagement the First Lady, Elizabeth Kortright Monroe, was unable to help with the wedding arrangements due to illness (the Monroe family rarely entertained during their time in Washington) and the job was taken over by Eliza Hays, the older sister of Maria.  According to White House records, the candlelight wedding ceremony for Maria and Samuel took place in the Elliptical Saloon, today the room is known as the Blue Room.  After the wedding ceremony there was a reception in the State Dining Room.  This small and intimate wedding outraged numerous political and diplomatic members of Washington D.C. society which had not been invited.  Perhaps to compensate for the error in judgement, several gala events were planned after the wedding day to honor the newlyweds.  But once again, unfortunate circumstances prevailed when the ball at the home of Commodore Stephen Decatur was marred by tragedy when days before the event he was killed in a duel.

Maria Monroe Gouverneur

Samuel and Maria Gouverneur eventually left Washington D.C. to live in New York where Samuel served as a member of the New York State Assembly in 1825 and then Postmaster of New York City from 1828 to 1836.  The couple had three children; James, Elizabeth and Samuel.  After the death of President James Monroe’s wife in 1830, the former President came to live at the Gouverneur’s home until his death in 1831.  In 1840, the Gouverneurs moved back to Washington D.C. and Samuel worked in the consular bureau of the US Department of State from 1844 to 1849.  Maria died on June 20, 1850, and a year later Samuel married Mary Digges Lee.  There is conflicting information as to when Samuel died, some obituaries state he died on September 29, 1865 while other sources say he lived until 1867.

February 25, 1828 – John Adams II and Mary Hellen

The wedding of John Adams II and Mary Hellen took place in the Blue Room of the White House on February 25, 1828.  John was the twenty-five year old son of President John Quincy Adams (the sixth President) and grandson of President John Adams (the second President) and Mary was the twenty-two year old niece of Louisa Adams, the wife of President John Quincy.  This lineage meant that John and Mary were first cousins.

Mary had come to live with John Quincy and Louisa Adams after the death of her parents.  Throughout her years living within the household, she became an outrageous flirt and tormented the three sons of Mr. and Mrs. Adams.  She first became romantically involved with Charles, the youngest brother, but when she quickly tired of him she turned her attention to George, the eldest brother.  But it was decided that George, a known alcoholic and womanizer, needed to focus on his studies at Harvard.  Ultimately with Charles away at college John, the middle brother, decided he would pursue Mary.  When they too became romantically involved Mrs. Adams, although she greatly disapproved of the match, decided that enough was enough and she quickly arranged their marriage.  Needless to say, Charles and George declined to attend the wedding.

John and Mary went on to have two daughters, Mary and Georgiana.  John attempted a career in business operating a Washington area flour mill which was owned by his father.  Eventually the business failure and John’s alcoholism lead to his death on October 23, 1834.  Mary lived with John Quincy and Louisa Adams and cared for them until their deaths in 1848 and 1852.  Mary died in Bethlehem, New Hampshire on August 31, 1870

January 31, 1842 – Elizabeth Tyler and William Waller

The wedding of Elizabeth Tyler and William Waller took place on January 31, 1842 in the East Room of the White House.  Elizabeth was the eighteen year old daughter of President John Tyler (the 10th President) and William was a young attorney and a family friend from Williamsburg, Virginia.

Elizabeth Tyler Waller

This White House wedding was a much larger occasion then the previous two weddings and necessitated the bigger East Room instead of the smaller Blue Room.  Since President Tyler had just recently been sworn in after the death of President William Harrison and because he was less than popular due to his political decisions Congress refused to appropriated funds to upkeep the White House and the event was more subdued.  The wedding of her daughter would mark the only public appearance by the ill First Lady Letitia Tyler and sadly she died later that same year.  Later, when President Tyler started courting the widow Julia Gardiner after a relatively short mourning period it caused a scandal in Washington.  In June 1844, the couple was married in New York.  (Special Note: As previously noted at the beginning of this post, President Grover Cleveland was the only President that was married in the White House.  This statement holds true because, although President Tyler married for a second time during his term in office, the wedding took place in New York)

Elizabeth and William later moved to Williamsburg, Virginia and they had four children.  Sadly Elizabeth died in childbirth in 1850 and William went on to marry twice more, he died in 1894.

May 21, 1874 – Nellie Grant and Algernon Sartoris

Nellie Grant and Algernon Sartoris married on May 21, 1874 in the East Room of the White House.  Nellie was the eightteen year-old daughter of President Ulysses S. Grant (the 18th President) and she was noted as being both beautiful and well educated.  She met the much older Algernon while onboard a ship in which she was returning from a grand tour of Europe.  She had fallen in love with the Englishman and despite objections her parents would eventually consented to the marriage.

Algernon Sartoris and Nellie Grant

At the time the White House was draped in black crepe on the doors, windows, mirrors and chandeliers in mourning for the death of President Millard Fillmore.  So, to prepare for the wedding these decorations were quickly removed.  In anticipated for the most grand event of the social season in Washington D.C, the East Room was redecorated with three new French chandeliers and freshly painted in white and gold leaf accents.  A special platform was built in front of the window; the four columns of the structure were decorated with patriotic red, white and blue.  A special bell-shaped floral arrangement of pink roses was suspended above the platform.  The curtains were closed and the room glowed with soft lighting and to complete the festive decorations palm trees and more floral arrangements were placed throughout the room.

The wedding ceremony of Algernon Sartoris and Nellie Grant

In other areas of the White House, the State Dining Room was set for a breakfast with specially invited guests and the room was decorated with pink and white roses and azaleas.  Since President Grant was a great Civil War general and admired by many people in the country, many expensive gifts had been sent to the White House in the weeks before the wedding, it was considered a custom to display these in one of the rooms of the White House.

The wedding gifts for Algernon Sartoris and Nellie Grant on display in the White House

Nellie wore a wedding dress of white satin with a six-foot train, she also wore a rose-point rose lace wedding veil attached to her head with a crown of white orchid and orange blossoms which were grown in the White House conservatory.  Nellie carried a bouquet of roses with a pearl fan attached; it was a gift from her parents.

Nellie and Algernon went on to have four children but it was not a happy marriage due to the fact that he was an alcoholic and a womanizer.  Algernon died in 1893 and Nellie remarried in 1912.  In 1914 she suffered a stroke which left her paralyzed, she died in 1922.

June 2, 1886 – President Grover Cleveland and Frances Folsom

President Grover Cleveland served two separate terms; he was both the twenty–second (1885 to 1889) and the twenty-four (1893 to1897) President of the United States.  It was during his first term that President Cleveland married his ward, Frances Folsom, he was 49 and she was 21 years-old.  The wedding took place on June 2, 1886 in the Blue Room of the White House; he was the only President to be married within the executive mansion.

President Grover Cleveland and Frances Folsom

Frances was the daughter of Grover’s law partner and friend, Oscar Folsom.  Grover had known Frances since her birth and when her father died in 1875 (she was eleven years-old at the time) Grover became executor of the Folsom estate and as a result Frances became his ward.  In the following years Grover supervised expenses and arrange her education and by the time Frances was a student at Wells College in New York she had grown into a beautiful young girl.  Then in 1885 things started to happen rather quickly and in March when he started his first term in office President Grover was still a bachelor.  He had fallen in love with Frances and with her mother’s permission Grover began to seriously court her.  In August, after her graduation from college, Grover proposed to Frances and the engagement was kept a secret until a few days before the wedding.

The White House was beautifully decorated for the summertime wedding.  In the East Room the fireplace and mantel were covered with flowers from the White House conservatory and large palm trees were set in porcelain vases throughout the room. The columns in the Cross Hall were draped with garlands and large patriotic shields were created from red and white roses and blue carnations.  The Red and Green Rooms were also decorated with floral arrangements.  The Blue Room fireplace was filled with red begonias to represent a fire, while on the mantel numerous pansies had been arranged to form the initials “C” and “F”, the chandelier was decorated with roses and palm trees were also placed throughout the room.  In the State Dining Room the large table was covered with a white damask tablecloth with the long Monroe plateau arranged with an abundance of flowers set with a special floral ship representing the bridal couple sailing toward blissful matrimony.

The wedding ceremony of President Grover Cleveland and Frances Folsom

Frances wore a wedding dress of ivory satin trimmed with orange blossoms, later she had the dress altered to be worn at White House receptions and she also wore the dress in a formal portrait.  The President wore a classic tuxedo with a white bow tie on their wedding day.


Frances Folsom Cleveland on her wedding day

Despite this seemingly scandalous situation of a much older man marrying a young girl (keep in mind that Grover was 27 years older than Frances and she was previously his ward) the nation openly accepted the President and the new First Lady.  When he lost his re-election, Frances is quoted as telling the White House staff that they would soon be back.  Indeed four years later in 1893 when President Cleveland won a second nonconsecutive term they did return!

President Cleveland and Frances have a very happy marriage and had five children – Ruth, Esther, Marion, Richard and Francis.  After retirement the family had moved to the Cleveland estate, Westland Mansion, in Princeton, New Jersey.  President Cleveland died in 1908 and is buried in Princeton, New Jersey.  Five years after his death Frances married Thomas Preston and when she died in 1947 she choose to be buried alongside her first husband, President Cleveland.

Next, in Part Two of White House Weddings, I will discuss the weddings from 1906 to 1971 that include Alice Roosevelt, the three daughters of President Woodrow Wilson, Lynda Johnson and Tricia Nixon.