Frances Cleveland

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Frances Cleveland
Frances Folsom Cleveland.jpg
First Lady of the United States
In role
March 4, 1893 – March 4, 1897
PresidentGrover Cleveland
Preceded byMary McKee
Succeeded byIda McKinley
In role
June 2, 1886 – March 4, 1889
PresidentGrover Cleveland
Preceded byRose Cleveland
Succeeded byCaroline Harrison
Personal details
Frances Clara Folsom

(1864-07-21)July 21, 1864
Buffalo, New York, U.S.
DiedOctober 29, 1947(1947-10-29) (aged 83)
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
Resting placePrinceton Cemetery
Grover Cleveland
(m. 1886; died 1908)

Thomas Preston (m. 1913)
Children5, including Ruth, Esther, Richard
EducationWells College (BA)

Frances Clara Cleveland Preston (née Folsom; July 21, 1864 – October 29, 1947) was First Lady of the United States from 1886 to 1889 and again from 1893 to 1897 as the wife of President Grover Cleveland. Becoming first lady at age 21, she remains the youngest wife of a sitting president.

Early life[edit]

Frank [Frances] Clara Folsom was born in Buffalo, New York, to Emma (née Harmon) and her husband Oscar Folsom, a lawyer who was a descendant of the earliest European settlers of Exeter, New Hampshire.[1] She was their only child to survive infancy (a sister, Nellie Augusta, died before her first birthday). All of Frances Cleveland's ancestors were from England and settled in what would become Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire, eventually migrating to western New York.[2]

She originally had the first name Frank (named for an uncle), but later decided to adopt the feminine variant Frances.[3] A longtime close friend of Oscar Folsom, Grover Cleveland, met his future wife shortly after she was born and he was 27 years old. He took an avuncular interest in her, buying her a baby carriage and otherwise doting on her as she grew up. When her father died in a carriage accident on July 23, 1875, without having written a will, the court appointed Cleveland administrator of his estate.[2] This brought Cleveland into still more contact with Frances, then age 11.

She attended Central High School in Buffalo and Medina High School in Medina, New York, then Wells College in Aurora, New York. While she was in college, Cleveland's feelings for her took a romantic turn. He proposed by letter in August 1885, soon after her graduation, but they didn't announce their engagement until five days before their wedding on June 2, 1886. On their wedding day, she was 21 and he was 49.

In honor of Frances Cleveland, Cleveland Hall was constructed in 1911 on the Wells College campus. Originally a library, the building currently holds foreign language classes, as well as classes in women's studies, and a food pantry[4]; it is set to close in 2020.


              Frances Cleveland                         by Anders Zorn, 1899

Frances was the first first lady to give birth to a child while her husband was president. The Clevelands had three daughters and two sons:

Later life[edit]

After her husband's death in 1908, Frances Cleveland remained in Princeton, New Jersey. On February 10, 1913, at the age of 48, she married Thomas J. Preston, Jr., a professor of archaeology at her alma mater, Wells College.[5] She was the first presidential widow to remarry. She was vacationing at St. Moritz, Switzerland, with her daughters Marion and Esther and her son Francis when World War I started in August 1914. They returned to the United States via Genoa on October 1, 1914.[6] Soon afterwards, she became a member of the pro-war National Security League, becoming its director of the Speaker's Bureau and the "Committee on Patriotism through Education" in November 1918.[7]

She stirred up controversy within the National Security League with claims that large sections of the population were unassimilated and in a sense prevented the country from working together properly. After causing outrage among the rank and file of the organization by wanting to psychologically indoctrinate school children to be in favor of war, she resigned on December 8, 1919. She also campaigned against women's suffrage, contending that "women weren't yet intelligent enough to vote". In May 1913 she was elected as vice president of the "New Jersey Association Opposed to Woman's Suffrage" and served as the president for the Princeton chapter.[7]

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, she led the Needlework Guild of America in its clothing drive for the poor.[8]

While staying at her son Richard's home for his 50th birthday in Baltimore, Cleveland died in her sleep at the age of 83 on October 29, 1947.[9] She was buried in Princeton Cemetery next to President Cleveland, her first husband.[10][11]


  1. ^ The Folsoms of Exeter, The Exeter Historical Society, Exeter, New Hampshire Archived 4 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ a b "Frances Cleveland Biography". National First Ladies' Library. Retrieved May 23, 2011.
  3. ^ Graff, Henry F. (2002). Grover Cleveland. New York: Times Books. p. 78.
  4. ^ "Cleveland Hall of Languages". Wells College. March 7, 2003. Archived from the original on June 14, 2011. Retrieved May 23, 2011.
  5. ^ Charles Lachman, A Secret Life: The Sex, Lies and Scandals of Grover Cleveland, p. 420 (2011)
  6. ^ 1914; Arrival; Microfilm Serial: T715; Microfilm Roll: 2374; Line: 17; Page Number: 11; Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897; (National Archives Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls); Records of the U.S. Customs Service, Record Group 36; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
  7. ^ a b First Ladies
  8. ^ "Needlework Guild for America-About Us". Needlework Guild for America. Archived from the original on 26 January 2016. Retrieved 27 January 2016.
  9. ^ "President Cleveland's Widow Dies". Retrieved 25 May 2017.
  10. ^ "Grover Cleveland Gravesite, Princeton Cemetery". Presidents USA. Retrieved April 8, 2017.
  11. ^ Robert Strauss (September 17, 2013). "Where Princeton Buries Its Departed VIPs". NJ Monthly. Retrieved May 7, 2017.

External links[edit]

Honorary titles
Preceded by
Rose Cleveland
De facto
First Lady of the United States
Succeeded by
Caroline Harrison
Preceded by
Mary McKee
De facto
First Lady of the United States
Succeeded by
Ida McKinley