Frances Folsom Cleveland Preston

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Frances Cleveland
Frances Folsom Cleveland.jpg
First Lady of the United States
In role
March 4, 1893 – March 4, 1897
President Grover Cleveland
Preceded by Mary McKee (Acting)
Succeeded by Ida McKinley
In role
June 2, 1886 – March 4, 1889
President Grover Cleveland
Preceded by Rose Cleveland (Acting)
Succeeded by Caroline Harrison
Personal details
Born Frances Clara Folsom
(1864-07-21)July 21, 1864
Buffalo, New York, U.S.
Died October 29, 1947(1947-10-29) (aged 83)
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
Resting place Princeton Cemetery
Grover Cleveland
(m. 1886; d. 1908)

Thomas Preston (m. 1913)
Children 5, including Baby, Esther, Richard
Education Wells College (BA)

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

Early life[edit]

Frances Clara Folsom was born in Buffalo, New York, the daughter of Oscar Folsom, who was a lawyer and descendant of the earliest European settlers of Exeter, New Hampshire,[1] and Emma Harmon.

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 their only child to survive infancy (a sister, Nellie Augusta, died before her first birthday). 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, at age 27, met his future wife shortly after she was born. He took an avuncular interest in the child, buying her a baby carriage and otherwise doting on her as she grew up. When her father, Oscar Folsom, 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 and went on to attend Wells College in Aurora, New York. Sometime 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; however, their engagement was not announced until five days before their wedding.

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.[4]


Frances Folsom married Grover Cleveland on June 2, 1886, becoming the First Lady of the United States.

Frances Folsom, who was 21 years old, married President Grover Cleveland, age 49, on June 2, 1886, at the White House. This was the only time a president married in the Executive Mansion, and Frances was the only First Lady to marry in the White House.[5][6] Their age difference of 28 years is the second largest of any presidential marriage (behind that of President John Tyler, whose second wife, Julia Gardiner Tyler, was thirty years his junior when they wed in New York City in 1844).

The ceremony, a small affair attended by relatives, close friends, and the cabinet and their wives, was performed at 7 p.m. in the Blue Room of the White House by the Reverend Byron Sutherland, assisted by the Reverend William Cleveland, the groom's brother. The words "honor, love, and keep" were substituted for "honor, love and obey". John Philip Sousa and the Marine Band provided the music. The couple spent a five-day honeymoon at Deer Park in the Cumberland Mountains of Western Maryland.[citation needed]

The new First Lady was the object of intense media interest. She took over the duties of being White House hostess, and her charm let her win popularity. She held two receptions a week—one on Saturday afternoons, when women with jobs were free to come. Cleveland's sister Rose Cleveland had been her bachelor brother's hostess in the first 15 months of his first term of office. After her brother's marriage, Rose happily gave up the duties of hostess for her own work in education.[citation needed]

After Grover Cleveland was defeated in the 1888 presidential election, the Clevelands lived in New York City. Upon leaving the White House at the end of her husband's first term, Cleveland is reported to have told the staff to take care of the building since the Clevelands would be returning in four years. She proved correct, becoming the only First Lady to preside at two non-consecutive administrations.[citation needed]


Anders Zorn, Frances Cleveland, 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, 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.[7] 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 erupted in August 1914. They returned to the United States via Genoa on October 1, 1914.[8] Soon afterwards, she became a member of the pro-war National Security League, becoming it's director of Director of the Speaker's Bureau and The "Committee on Patriotism through Education" in November of 1918. Her "proto-fascist" inclinations alarmed many in the organization and she was forced to resign on December 8, 1919. She also, surprisingly, campaigned against women's suffrage, contending that "women were yet intelligent enough to vote." In May of 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.[9]

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, she led the Needlework Guild of America in its clothing drive for the poor.[10]

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.[11] She was buried in Princeton Cemetery next to President Cleveland, her first husband.[12][13]


  1. ^ The Folsoms of Exeter, The Exeter Historical Society, Exeter, New Hampshire Archived 2016-03-04 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. ^ "First Ladies — Video". Archived from the original on 2015-07-09. Retrieved 2015-07-08.
  6. ^ "Cleveland-Folsom Wedding Invitation and Marriage Announcement". Shapell Manuscript Foundation. SMF.
  7. ^ Charles Lachman, A Secret Life: The Sex, Lies and Scandals of Grover Cleveland, p. 420 (2011)
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^
  10. ^ "Needlework Guild for America - About Us". Needlework Guild for America. Archived from the original on 26 January 2016. Retrieved 27 January 2016.
  11. ^ "President Cleveland's Widow Dies". Retrieved 25 May 2017.
  12. ^ "Grover Cleveland Gravesite, Princeton Cemetery". Presidents USA. Retrieved April 8, 2017.
  13. ^ 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