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 (Acting)
Succeeded byIda McKinley
In role
June 2, 1886 – March 4, 1889
PresidentGrover Cleveland
Preceded byRose Cleveland (Acting)
Succeeded byCaroline Harrison
Personal details
Frank 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
Political partyDemocratic
(m. 1886; died 1908)

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

Frances Clara Cleveland Preston (born Frank Clara 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]

First given the name Frank Clara Folsom, she was born in Buffalo, New York, on July 21, 1864, 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 the older of two children. Her sister, Nellie Augusta, died in infancy (1872). 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 was originally given the first name Frank, in honor of an uncle, but later decided to adopt the feminine variant Frances.[3] A long-time close friend of Oscar Folsom, Grover Cleveland met his future wife when she was an infant and he was twenty-seven years old. He was fond of her, buying her a baby carriage and 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]

She attended Central High School in Buffalo and Medina High School in Medina, New York, then Wells College in Aurora, New York.[4] Cleveland proposed marriage to Frances in the spring of 1885 when she visited Washington D.C. with her mother. They were married on June 2, 1886, in the Blue Room of the White House. Cleveland was aged forty-nine, Frances, twenty-one.[4]

Mrs. Cleveland in "the studio" at Marion, 1887


Frances Cleveland by Anders Zorn, 1899

The Clevelands had five children: Ruth (1891–1904), Esther (1893–1980), Marion (1895–1977), Richard (1897–1974), and Francis (1903–1995). British philosopher Philippa Foot was their granddaughter through Esther.[5]

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 forty-eight, she married Thomas J. Preston Jr., a professor of archaeology at her alma mater, Wells College.[6] 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.[7] 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.[4]

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.[4]

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

Mrs. Frances Cleveland with trowel at building foundation ceremony

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]

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.[12]


  1. ^ The Folsoms of Exeter, The Exeter Historical Society, Exeter, New Hampshire Archived March 4, 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. ISBN 9780805069235.
  4. ^ a b c d First Ladies
  5. ^ William Grimes, "Philippa Foot, Renowned Philosopher, Dies at 90" NY Times October 9, 2010
  6. ^ Charles Lachman, A Secret Life: The Sex, Lies and Scandals of Grover Cleveland, p. 420 (2011)
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ "Needlework Guild for America-About Us". Needlework Guild for America. Archived from the original on January 26, 2016. Retrieved January 27, 2016.
  9. ^ "Cleveland's Widow Dies At Age Of 83". The Hartford Courant. Associated Press. October 30, 1947. p. 4. Retrieved June 1, 2020 – via
  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.
  12. ^ "Cleveland Hall of Languages". Wells College. March 7, 2003. Archived from the original on June 14, 2011. Retrieved May 23, 2011.

External links[edit]

Honorary titles
Preceded by First Lady of the United States
Succeeded by
Preceded by First Lady of the United States
Succeeded by