White House Weddings – Part Two

In Part One of the two part series on White House Weddings I discussed the weddings that took place 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.  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.

February 17, 1906 – Alice Roosevelt and Nicholas Longworth

The wedding of Alice Roosevelt and Nicholas Longworth III took place on February 17, 1906 in the East Room of the White House and it was the grandest social event of the Washington D.C. season.  Alice was the twenty-two year old daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt (the 26th President) and Nicholas was a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Cincinnati, Ohio.  Alice had gained fame and was the darling of Washington during her father’s term in office.  She was strong-willed and, like President Roosevelt, she had a zest for adventure.  Nicholas was 14 years older than Alice and a romantic relationship had developed during a diplomatic trip aboard and the two became engaged in 1905.

Shown above is a special commemorative postcard
for the wedding of Alice Roosevelt and Nicholas Longworth

Since Alice was the eldest daughter of President Roosevelt, there was enormous international interest in her wedding and more than a thousand guests were invited to the White House ceremony and reception.  On the day of the wedding there was so much excitement and anticipation in Washington that a large crowd had gathered outside to catch a glimpse of the bride.  Inside the White House the East Room had been lavishly decorated with the window draped with gold trimmed curtains and decorated with bunches of smilax and lilies.  A large platform was specially built so that the guests in the overcrowded room would be able to see the bridal couple and it was covered with an Oriental rug.  Behind the makeshift altar were palm trees and floral arrangements while on either side of the platform were several porcelain vases and urns filled with lilies.  After the ceremony and during the wedding reception, Alice seemed to be dissatisfied with the ordinary knife set on the table.  So, in a moment of spontaneity, she called to borrow the military sword of a nearby officer and that is what was used to cut the cake.

The East Room wedding decorations for Alice Roosevelt and Nicholas Longworth

On her wedding day, Alice wore a lovely blue wedding dress with an 18 foot long train made of silver brocade.  Always a person that wanted to be the center of attention she choose not to have any bridesmaids but she did agree to have her father walk her down the aisle.


Alice Roosevelt Longworth

The newlyweds had a brief honeymoon in Cuba before embarking on a more lengthy journey to Europe where they were entertained by King Edward in England and Kaiser Wilhelm in Germany.  Afterwards, the couple settled into a house in Washington D.C.  Although he lost the election of 1912 Longworth returned to Congress in 1914 and later became the Majority Leader of the House in 1923.  He died in 1931 from pneumonia and is buried in Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati, Ohio (It has been reported that Alice burned her husband with his prized Stradivarius violin)

For a marriage that started out with such hope and promise, Alice and Longworth grew distant when the two found themselves having opposing political views but the couple stayed together for twenty-five years until Longworth’s death. Meanwhile, Alice continued to be active in politics and she relished the Washington social life.  She claimed that she had known personally every president, both Republican and Democratic, from the late 1890s to 1980.  At the age of 96, Alice died in 1980 from emphysema and pneumonia; she is buried at Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington D.C.

The weddings of the daughters of President Wilson

During his two terms in office President Woodrow Wilson (the 28th President) has the distinction of hosting two weddings of his children, daughters Jessie and Eleanor.  The oldest sister, Margaret, choose to remain single for the rest of her life and in 1940 she moved to India where she became a Hindu nun, she died there in 1944.

November 25, 1913 – Jessie Wilson to Francis Sayre

Jessie Wilson married Francis Sayre in the East Room of the White House on November 25, 1913.  Instead of having a large and very public wedding like Alice Roosevelt did seven years earlier, the couple decided to have a small but still grand ceremony.  Jessie was the second daughter of President Wilson and Ellen Axson Wilson and Francis was a recent graduate of Harvard Law School.

In preparation for the wedding ceremony, a platform was set-up in the far end of the East Room in front of the window which was draped with curtains.  An altar was set in the center of the platform, covered with cloth and decorated with lilies, several palm trees, ferns an floral arrangements were also used as decorations.

The East Room wedding decorations for Jessie Wilson and Francis Sayre

For the wedding reception a New York bakery made a 185 pound wedding cake, it was two large layers and covered with white frosting and decorated with piping.  For display at the reception a large cut-glass vase with flowers was placed on top and the table was decorated with greenery.

The wedding cake for Jessica Wilson and Francis Sayre

Jessica Wilson Sayre

After returning from their honeymoon in Europe, the couple settled in Williamstown, Massachusetts where Francis worked at Williams College as an assistant to the president of school.  Francis and Jessica went onto have three children; Francis Jr., Eleanor and Woodrow.

After World War I, the Sayre family moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts where Francis became a professor at the Harvard Law School, later he served as a Foreign Affairs Adviser and High Commissioner of the Philippines.  Jessie became a political activist involved in social issues and women’s right to vote, she was also active in the League of Nations and the Democratic Party.  Jessie died in 1933 age the age of 45; she is buried in Nisky Hill Cemetery in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.  Francis died in 1972 and he is buried at the Washington National Cathedral.  (Special Note: After President Woodrow Wilson’s death in 1924, he was interred in a sarcophagus in the Washington National Cathedral.  He is the only president whose final resting place is within Washington D.C.)

May 7, 1914 – Eleanor Wilson and William McAdoo

Eleanor Wilson married William McAdoo in the Blue Room of the White House less than a year after her sister.  Eleanor was twenty-three years old and the youngest daughter of President Wilson and William was the fifty-six year old Secretary of Treasury in the Wilson administration.  William was a widower with children and the couple had begun a romance which was kept a secret from President Wilson until their engagement was announced.  Special Note:  Since President Wilson’s wife, Ellen was in declining health the wedding of Eleanor and William was a much more subdued ceremony and reception than her sister’s wedding a few months earlier.


Eleanor Wilson McAdoo

After returning home from their honeymoon, Eleanor and McAdoo remained in Washington D.C. where McAdoo continued to work as the Secretary of Treasury in the Wilson administration.  The couple had two daughters, Ellen and Mary, but sadly the marriage proved to be an unhappy one and Eleanor divorced McAdoo in 1934.  Eventually, Eleanor had moved to Montecito, California and in 1965 she suffered a cerebral hemorrhage.  In April 1967 she died at her home and she is buried at the Santa Barbara Cemetery, at the time of her death she was the last surviving child of President Wilson.

Special Note:  When First Lady Ellen Axson Wilson died in August 1914, it was the third time that a wife of a sitting President had died during their term in the White House.  (Letitia Tyler died in 1842 and Caroline Harrison died in 1892)  President Wilson was devastated by the death of his wife but only a few short months later he met Edith Bolling Galt and quickly fell in love with her and proposed.  Although he was advised by his political associates to wait to remarry until after the upcoming election the couple decided to proceed with their plans to wed.  So, in December 1915 President Wilson married Edith at her home in Washington, D.C.  Then, in October 1919, President Wilson suffered a severe stroke and for all intent and purposes Edith assumed and performed many of the presidential functions.

December 9, 1967 – Lynda Johnson and Charles Robb

Lynda Johnson married Charles Robb on December 9, 1967 in a private ceremony in the East Room of the White House. Lynda was the eldest daughter of President Lyndon Johnson (the 36th President) and his wife Claudia Taylor Johnson (known as “Lady Bird”) and Charles Robb was a U.S. Marine Corps Captain and was set to leave on a tour of duty in Vietnam.

Since the wedding was held during the holiday season, the East Room was decorated with Christmas trees while evergreen boughs were draped across mantels and down staircase banisters.  Lynda wore a white silk wedding gown made by Geoffrey Beene which featured long-sleeves, a high neck and a train that gathered at the middle of her back.  To complete her wedding ensemble, Lynda wore a long white veil and carried a small bouquet of white flowers.  The seven bridesmaids wore red velvet long-sleeved dress and matching velvet bows in their hair.

Lynda Johnson Robb

Lynda Johnson and Charles Robb

After the brief ceremony the couple, the bridal party and family moved into the Yellow Room to take photographs while their 650 guests were served cocktails in another room in the White House.  In the meantime the East Room was reset for the wedding reception with a splendid buffet and a band was brought in for entertainment.

Lynda Johnson and Charles Robb cutting their wedding cake

After returning from Vietnam, Robb became a lawyer.  The couple had three daughters; Lucinda, Catherine and Jennifer.  Robb was later elected as Lieutenant Governor of Virginia in 1977, served as Governor of Virginia from 1982 to 1986 and then he was a U.S. Senator for two terms from 1989 until 2001.  Robb and Lynda currently live in McLean, VA and Lynda supports the children’s literacy programs

Special Note: Technically, the wedding of President Johnson’s other daughter does not count as a White House wedding because the ceremony did not take place there.  Since she had converted to Catholicism, the wedding of Luci Johnson and Patrick Nugent took place on August 6, 1966 at Shrine of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Washington, D.C. although their wedding reception was held in the East Room of the White House.  Luci was the youngest daughter of President Johnson and Lady Bird and despite the controversy of the ongoing Vietnam War there was great interest in the wedding.  So, it was decided that it would be the first wedding of a child of a president to be broadcast on television and it was watched by 55 million viewers.  Luci and Patrick were married for over ten years and had four children; Patrick, Nicole, Rebekah and Claudia.  Later the couple divorced and the marriage was annulled in August 1979, Luci married Ian Turpin in 1984.

Luci Johnson and Patrick Nugent
cutting their eight-foot tall wedding cake in the East Room of the White House

June 12, 1971 – Tricia Nixon and Edward Cox

The wedding of Tricia Nixon and Edward Cox took place on June 12, 1971 in the Rose Garden of the White House.  Tricia (Patricia) Nixon was twenty-five years old and the eldest daughter of President Richard Nixon (the 37th President) and Thelma Ryan Nixon (given the nickname “Pat” by her Irish-American father when she was a child).  Edward was a Princeton graduate and had known Tricia since the 1960s.

Mrs. Nixon had suggested that the ceremony should take place in the White House Rose Garden since it would be in full bloom in the summer.  This was a risky choice given that the weather in Washington D.C. often forecast rainstorms at that time of year so a contingency plan was set to move the ceremony into the East Room.  But despite earlier rain showers on the day of the wedding the skies briefly cleared and the sun came out! The Rose Garden looked absolutely lovely that day with additional rose plants added in preparation for the wedding .  The ceremony took place under a lovely gazebo at the end of an aisle decorated with even more roses.  Special Note:  Twenty-five years later family and friends gathered at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda where Tricia and Edward Cox renewed their wedding vows under the same gazebo used at their White House Rose Garden wedding.

On display at the wedding reception was the massive three hundred and fifty pound wedding cake created by the White House pastry chef Heinz Bender.

Tricia Nixon and Edward Cox cutting their wedding cake

It has been said that perhaps Tricia was one of the most beautiful of all the White House brides; she was petite with golden hair and blue eyes.  The famous bridal fashion designer Priscilla of Boston made Tricia’s wedding dress; she had also designed the bridesmaids dress for Grace Kelly’s wedding to the Prince of Monaco and the wedding dresses for Luci Johnson and Julie Nixon.  Tricia’s silk organdy gown with a v-neckline and cap sleeves was accented with Alenson lace roses and pearl.  When First Lady Pat Nixon first saw the gown she was shocked at the low neckline but the bride insisted that it was what she wanted!  (Compared to today’s often strapless versions chosen by the modern brides, Tricia Nixon’s wedding dress in contrast seems to have been a very classic and elegant design)

Tricia Nixon Cox on the cover of the June 18, 1971 issue of Life Magazine

After returning from their honeymoon, Tricia and Edward lived in New York, they had one son named Christopher.  Edward is a corporate attorney and also headed the New York Republican State Committee, Tricia is involved with several medical research institutions and she also sits on the board of the Richard Nixon Foundation.

Special Note:  President Nixon’s younger daughter, Julie, was married after his election in November 1968 but before his inauguration in January 1969, for this reason it is not considered an official White House wedding.  When Nixon had been the Vice President to President Eisenhower and the two families spent time together.  It is possible that Mamie Eisenhower, the wife of President Eisenhower, encouraged the romance between Julie and David, the Eisenhower’s grandson.  Julie and David were married on December 22, 1968 at the Marble Collegiate Church in New York City.  The couple had three children; Jennie, Alexander and Melanie.  Today, Julie and David live in Berwyn, Pennsylvania and Julie sits on the board of the Richard Nixon Foundation.

For more information, please check out Part One of the two part series on White House Weddings which discusses the weddings that took place 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.