Jane Pierce

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Jane Pierce
Jane Means Appleton Pierce first lady of the USA.jpg
Pierce in 1857
First Lady of the United States
In role
March 4, 1853 – March 4, 1857
PresidentFranklin Pierce
Preceded byAbigail Fillmore
Succeeded byHarriet Lane (acting)
Personal details
Jane Means Appleton

(1806-03-12)March 12, 1806
Hampton, New Hampshire, U.S.
DiedDecember 2, 1863(1863-12-02) (aged 57)
Andover, Massachusetts, U.S.
Resting placeOld North Cemetery
(m. 1834)
Parent(s)Jesse Appleton
Elizabeth Means

Jane Means Pierce (née Appleton; March 12, 1806 – December 2, 1863), wife of President Franklin Pierce, was the first lady of the United States from 1853 to 1857. Disliking politics, she was unhappy in the role, often unable to perform her duties, as she suffered from poor health as well as grief for the death in childhood of all three of their sons.

Early life[edit]

Jane Appleton 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, Appleton 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.[citation needed]

Appleton was shy, devoutly religious, and pro-temperance. She was somewhat gaunt, and was constantly ill from tuberculosis and psychological ailments.[1][2][3]

Marriage and family[edit]

Appleton's brother-in-law, Alpheus S. Packard, was one of Franklin Pierce's instructors at Bowdoin. It is assumed that Appleton met Pierce through this Bowdoin association. Franklin, almost 30, married Jane, aged 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.[citation needed]

Franklin and Jane Pierce had three sons, all of whom died in childhood. Franklin Jr. (February 2–5, 1836) died in infancy, while Frank Robert (August 27, 1839 – November 14, 1843) died at the age of four from epidemic typhus. Benjamin (April 13, 1841 – January 6, 1853) died at the age of 11 in a train accident.[4]

Jane Pierce with her last surviving son, Benjamin Pierce. The child died in 1853 in a train crash, two months before his father was sworn into office as president.

Jane Pierce abhorred politics and especially disliked Washington, D.C. Jane's distaste for politics created a tension that would continue throughout Franklin Pierce's political ascent.[1][2][3] Franklin was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives by the time Jane married him. He became a U.S. Senator in 1837, and Jane was forced to become the political wife she never wanted to be. Jane 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.[citation needed]

Franklin Pierce served in the Mexican–American War and attained the rank of Brigadier General. After his return home, the Pierces lived quietly at Concord, New Hampshire for four years.[5] 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.[citation needed]

First Lady of the United States[edit]

In 1852, Franklin Pierce received the Democratic Party nomination for president; when Jane heard the news, she fainted.[6] Franklin persuaded Jane that if he became president, their son Benny would be more likely to become successful.[5]

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.[7][better source needed] 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]


Jane Pierce 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 beside her following his death in 1869.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b Wallner, Peter A. (2004). Franklin Pierce: New Hampshire's Favorite Son. Plaidswede. pp. 31–32, 77–78.
  2. ^ a b Gara, Larry (1991). The Presidency of Franklin Pierce. University Press of Kansas. pp. 31–32.
  3. ^ a b Baker, Jean H. "Franklin Pierce: Life Before the Presidency". American President: An Online Reference Resource. University of Virginia. Archived from the original on December 17, 2010. Retrieved January 16, 2019. Franklin and Jane Pierce seemingly had little in common, and the marriage would sometimes be a troubled one. The bride's family were staunch Whigs, a party largely formed to oppose Andrew Jackson, whom Pierce revered. Socially, Jane Pierce was reserved and shy, the polar opposite of her new husband. Above all, she was a committed devotee of the temperance movement. She detested Washington and usually refused to live there, even after Franklin Pierce became a U.S. Senator in 1837.
  4. ^ Wallner 2004, pp. 241–44.
  5. ^ a b "Biography of Jane Pierce". whitehouse.gov. January 2, 2004 – via National Archives.
  6. ^ "Jane Appleton Pierce | Lane Memorial Library". www.hampton.lib.nh.us.
  7. ^ "Presidents of the United States (POTUS) | ipl: Information You Can Trust". www.ipl.org.

External links[edit]

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