by Meryl Ann Butler
November 20, 2007 at 09:34:44
Presidential Patterns in Citizenship, Courtship and Age
There’s been a flurry of misinformation tossed about in the media lately, which attempts to position Dennis and Elizabeth Kucinich outside the parameters of “presidentiality.” These comments have ranged from mentions of the fact that Elizabeth is a British citizen, to their short courtship, to the age difference between her and Dennis. And, recently, when Hannah Storm interviewed Dennis and Elizabeth on NBC’s The Early Show, she erroneously said to Elizabeth, “You would be the first, First Lady at such a young age.” This is quite simply, not true.
So here are some actual facts that show how “in step” Dennis and Elizabeth are with other presidential couples.
Youthful First Ladies
Elizabeth Kucinich, at the time of the January, 2009, inauguration, will be just 31 years old, but this would certainly not make her the youngest First Lady. This is exactly the same age that Jacqueline Kennedy (b. July 28, 1929) was at her husband’s inauguration on January 20, 1961.
But two other First Ladies were younger than Elizabeth and Jacqueline.
Julia Gardiner Tyler (b. May 4, 1820) became First Lady at age 24. She married President John Tyler (b. March 29, 1790) on June 26, 1844. He was the first president to marry in office. (His first wife died earlier in his term.)
The Tylers had a 30-year difference in their ages, just slightly less than Dennis and Elizabeth’s 31-year age difference.
According to http://www.firstladies.org/, “between 1841 and 1844, Julia received (marriage) proposals from no less than two Congressmen, one Supreme Court Justice, and one from President Tyler.” Former First Lady Dolley Madison (b. May 20, 1768) took credit for the matchmaking that resulted in their marriage. The site goes on to describe Julia as ”flirtatious … and very daring for her day …” Renowned for her beauty, she was dubbed, “The Rose of Long Island.” She introduced the polka to Washington society and had the Marine Band play “Hail to the Chief” when the President entered the room for special occasions.
Frances Folsom Cleveland (b. July 21, 1864) was even younger. She became First Lady at age 21, when she married President Grover Cleveland on June 2, 1886. There was a 27-year difference in their ages. Theirs was the first and only wedding of an American president to take place in the executive mansion. The birth of their first child, Ruth (born during the four years between their two terms of office) created a national sensation. But Ruth was a sickly child, who only lived to the age of 12. According to her obituary, “She was known to the nation as ‘Baby Ruth’ during her White House years.” Many products were named after her, and it has been popularly believed that Curtis Candy Company’s Baby Ruth candy bar was named for her as well, although there has been speculation to the contrary.
Some First Ladies were not the wives of the presidents. They were relatives or close friends, who served as hostesses for widowed or unmarried presidents, or in cases where the First Lady’s health prevented her from assuming that role. For instance, Harriet Lane was First Lady for her beloved, bachelor uncle, President James Buchanan, whom she called, “Nunc” and who raised her after she was orphaned. She was only 26, but according to firstladies.org, she “nonetheless fill(ed) the difficult position of First Lady with a grace, elegance, and aplomb of a woman much older and much more experienced … In her will, she donated her invaluable art collection to the Smithsonian, which eventually became the nucleus of the National Gallery of Art.”
American Citizens or Not?
All of our First Ladies born before 1776 were British citizens, of course. These include Martha Washington (b. June 2, 1731), Abigail Adams (b. Nov. 11, 1744), Dolley Madison (b. May 20, 1768), Elizabeth Monroe (b. June 30, 1768), Louisa Adams (b. Feb. 12, 1775), and Anna Harrison (b. July 25, 1775) who was a First Lady, but never actually served, as her husband died after only 31 days in office, before she was able to move to Washington.
First Lady Louisa Johnson Adams was born in London, although she spent most of her childhood in France. She was four when she met 12-year-old John Quincy Adams in 1779, while he and his father were guests at the Johnson home. When she was 22, she and John Quincy, who was in Europe as a diplomat, were married in London on July 26, 1797. “The wedding of the President’s son to a British-born subject attracted national press back in the United States,” the Boston Independent Chronicle’s September 14, 1797, edition stated, noting that, “Young John Adams’ Negotiations have terminated in a Marriage Treaty with an English lady…” (firstladies.org). Louisa saw America for the first time in 1800, when she was 25 years old.
According to firstladies.org, “Hannah Hoes Van Buren (was) the first President’s wife to be born an American citizen, in 1783. All First Ladies before her were British Subjects.” However, since Hannah died 18 years before her husband became President, she never served as First Lady. Her husband, born in 1782, was the first President to be born an American citizen. President Van Buren designated his daughter-in-law, Angelica Singleton Van Buren, to serve as hostess for the White House, and she is included in firstladies.org’s list of First Ladies.
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