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|First Lady of the United States|
March 4, 1853 – March 4, 1857
|Preceded by||Abigail Fillmore|
|Succeeded by||Harriet Lane (Acting)|
Jane Means Appleton
March 12, 1806
Hampton, New Hampshire, U.S.
|Died||December 2, 1863 (aged 57)|
Andover, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Resting place||Old North Cemetery|
Franklin Pierce (m. 1834)
Jane Pierce was born in Hampton, New Hampshire, to Reverend Jesse Appleton, a Congregationalist minister, and Elizabeth Means-Appleton. She was a petite, frail, shy, melancholy figure and the third of their six children. After the death of her father, who had served as president of Bowdoin College not long before Franklin enrolled there, Jane moved at age 13 into the mansion of her wealthy maternal grandparents in Amherst. While going to school in Keene, New Hampshire, she discovered at a young age her interest in literature.
Jane was a slender girl, estimated to be 5'4" and only around 100 pounds. She was always quiet and prone to deep depressions, relying heavily on the help of others, specifically her aunt through marriage Abigail Kent Means and her older sister, Mary Appleton Aiken. Pierce allowed Jane to visit her sister as much as needed and her aunt often acted as a political wife for him when Jane could not.
How she met Pierce, a young lawyer with political ambitions, is unknown, but her brother-in-law Alpheus S. Packard was one of Pierce's instructors at Bowdoin. It is assumed that they met through this Bowdoin association. Franklin, almost 30, married Jane, 28, on November 19, 1834, at the bride's maternal grandparents' home in Amherst, New Hampshire. Jane's family was opposed to the union due to Pierce's political ambitions. The Reverend Silas Aiken, Jane's brother-in-law, conducted the small ceremony. The couple honeymooned six days at the boardinghouse of Sophia Southurt near Washington, D.C.
In 1836, their first son, Franklin Jr died just three days after his birth. Franklin Pierce was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives by the time they married and became a U.S. Senator in 1837. She was forced to become the political wife she never wanted to be. Jane hated life in Washington, D.C., and encouraged her husband to resign his Senate seat and return to New Hampshire, which he did in 1842. She blamed politics for all the troubles in her life including the death of her child and Franklin's excessive alcohol consumption. Service in the Mexican–American War brought him the rank of Brigadier General and local fame as a hero. He returned home safely, and for four more years the Pierces lived quietly at Concord, New Hampshire. Their son Frank passed from typhus a year later, causing stress for the entire family and leading to health issues for Jane. In 1848, President James K. Polk offered Franklin an appointment as United States Attorney General; however, due to Jane's objection, he turned it down. A U.S. Senate seat and the office of Governor of New Hampshire were also offered, and again he turned the posts down for family reasons.
In 1852, the Democratic Party made Pierce their candidate for president; Jane fainted at the news. When he took her to Newport for a respite, 11-year-old Benny wrote to her: "I hope he won't be elected for I should not like to be at Washington and I know you would not either." However, the President-elect convinced his wife that his office would be an asset for Benny's success in life.
The Pierces apparently had genuine affection for each other, but they quarreled often—preferring private life, she opposed his decision to run for president—and gradually they drifted apart. When Benny was killed in a train accident before the swearing-in on January 6, 1853, Jane believed that God was displeased with her husband's political ambitions. On March 4, the presidential inauguration took place and Jane was not present for the ceremony. She distanced herself during her husband's presidency, wrapped in melancholia after losing every one of her young children. She never recovered from the loss.
For nearly two years, she remained in the upstairs living quarters of the White House, spending her days writing letters to her dead son. She left the social chores to her aunt Abby Kent-Means and her close friend Varina Davis, wife of War Secretary Jefferson Davis. Pierce made her first official appearance as First Lady at a New Year's Day reception in 1855 and thereafter served as White House hostess intermittently for the remainder of her husband's term ending in 1857.
She died of tuberculosis at Andover, Massachusetts, on December 2, 1863. She was buried at Old North Cemetery in Concord, New Hampshire; her husband was interred there beside her in following his death in 1869.
The Pierces had three children, all of whom died young:
- Franklin Pierce, Jr. (February 2–5, 1836)
- Franklin "Frank" Robert Pierce (1839 – 1843) – died at age four from epidemic typhus.
- Benjamin Pierce (April 13, 1841 – January 16, 1853) – Two months before Franklin Pierce's inauguration as president, a tragedy occurred as the family traveled by train from Andover, Massachusetts, to Concord, New Hampshire to attend a family friend's funeral. Minutes after departure, their passenger car broke loose from the train and rolled down an embankment. The only fatality was Benjamin Pierce.
- Letter to Benjamin Pierce from Jane Pierce after Benjamin's death
- Painting of Jane Pierce
- The Memory Palace, history podcast episode: "The Saddest President."
- Jane Pierce at C-SPAN's First Ladies: Influence & Image
| First Lady of the United States