Rose Cleveland

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Rose Cleveland
Rose Cleveland.jpg
First Lady of the United States
In role
March 4, 1885 – June 2, 1886
PresidentGrover Cleveland
Preceded byMary McElroy (Acting)
Succeeded byFrances Cleveland
Personal details
Born(1846-06-13)June 13, 1846
Buffalo, New York, U.S.
DiedNovember 22, 1918(1918-11-22) (aged 72)
Bagni di Lucca, Italy
EducationHoughton College

Rose Elizabeth ”Libby” Cleveland (June 13, 1846 – November 22, 1918), was acting First Lady of the United States from 1885 to 1886, during the first of her brother, President Grover Cleveland's two administrations. The president was a bachelor until he married Francis Folsom on June 2, 1886, fourteen months into his first term.[1]

Life and career[edit]

Rose Cleveland, before 1918

Rose Elizabeth Cleveland was born in Fayetteville, New York, on June 14, 1846. Known to her family as "Libby", Rose was the youngest of nine children born to Richard Falley Cleveland and Ann Neal Cleveland. In September 1853, the family moved to Holland Patent, New York, where her father had just been appointed pastor of the Presbyterian church. He died the following month, with Rose being seven years old at the time of her father's death.

Rose stayed in Holland Patent to care for her widowed mother. Grover Cleveland, Rose's elder brother, was 16 years old at the time and was determined to help support his family. He left school and went to New York City to work as a teacher at the State School for the Blind. Rose was educated at Houghton Seminary in Clinton, New York where she later became a teacher to support herself and also help support her widowed mother.

Rose also taught at the Collegiate Institute in Lafayette, Indiana, and at a girls school in Muncy, Pennsylvania, where she taught in the late 1860s. At Muncy Seminary Rose was known for her strong personality and independence.

Rose gained a nickname within her circle of friends in Muncy; they called her "Johnny Cleveland" because she was usually found reading a book under an old tree at a nearby farm. Rose then prepared a course of historical lectures; one lecture, in particular, focused on altruistic faith, which she delivered before the students of Houghton Seminary and at other schools.

In the 1880s Rose returned to Holland Patent to care for her ailing mother. During this time she taught at Sunday School and did some work in literature. When not employed in this manner, she devoted herself to her aged mother in the homestead at Holland Patent until her mother's death in 1882.[2] After Ann Neal Cleveland's death, Rose was left alone at the homestead known as "The Weeds."

Rose continued to teach Sunday School and give lectures. In one lecture on altruistic faith, she stated, "We cannot touch humanity at large, except as we touch humanity in the individual. We make the world a better place through our concrete relationships, not through our vague, general good will. We must each find a true partner, someone who understands and appreciates us, someone whose faith in us brings out our best efforts. Our deepest craving is for recognition—to be known by another human being for what we truly are."[3]

White House years[edit]

When her elder brother, Grover Cleveland, became the 22nd President of the United States in March 1885, Rose assumed the duties of First Lady and lived in the White House for two years. She stood by her brother during his inauguration and was his hostess during his bachelor years in the White House.

During her early tenure as First Lady, Rose received front-page treatment from the New York Times about her appearance during her second reception at the White House. The newspaper reported that Miss Cleveland wore a dress of black satin, with entire overdress of Spanish lace. The satin bodice was cut low and sleeveless, and the transparent lace revealed the shoulders and arms. Rose Cleveland did not completely fit into Washington high society. It was said, "Rose Cleveland was a bluestocking, more interested in pursuing scholarly endeavors than in entertaining cabinet wives and foreign dignitaries."[4] Rose was an intellectual, and she preferred to lecture rather than entertain, but she made sure to perform her duties as First Lady as a favor to her brother.

When President Cleveland married Frances Folsom, Rose left the White House and began a career in education. She became the principal of the Collegiate Institute of Lafayette, Indiana, a writer and lecturer, and the editor of the Chicago-based magazine Literary Life.[5]

Later years[edit]

At age 44, she started a lesbian relationship with a wealthy widow, Evangeline Marrs Simpson, with explicitly erotic correspondence.[6] The tone of their letters cooled when Evangeline married an Episcopal bishop from Minnesota, Henry Benjamin Whipple, despite Cleveland's protests.[7]

English Cemetery, Bagni di Lucca, Italy

After Whipple's death in 1901, the two women rekindled their relationship and eventually, in 1910, moved to Bagni di Lucca, Italy to live there together.[7] They shared the house with the English illustrator and artist Nelly Erichsen. Rose died at home on November 22, 1918, at 7:32 in the evening during the 1918 flu pandemic. She was buried there in the English Cemetery, and Evangeline was also buried next to Rose in the same cemetery 12 years later.[5][8]




  1. ^ "Frances Cleveland Biography :: Rose Elizabeth Cleveland". National First Ladies' Library. Retrieved 4 June 2018.
  2. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg Wilson, J. G.; Fiske, J., eds. (1900). "Cleveland, Grover" . Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton.
  3. ^ The Passion of Rose Elizabeth Cleveland Hardy, Rob New England Review 28.1 (2007) p.180-193,207
  4. ^ American President A Reference Resource. Rose Cleveland, Frances Cleveland
  5. ^ a b Lillian Faderman, Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America, Penguin Books Ltd, 1991, page 32
  6. ^ Brockwell, Gillian (2019-06-20). "A gay first lady? Yes, we've already had one, and here are her love letters". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2019-06-21.
  7. ^ a b Solly, Meilan (2019-09-21). "New Book Chronicles First Lady Rose Cleveland's Love Affair With Evangeline Simpson Whipple". Smithsonian (magazine). Retrieved 2019-06-21.
  8. ^ Evangeline Marrs Simpson Whipple (1930-09-01). "Evangeline Whipple". In honor of the people. Retrieved 2016-09-07.

Further reading[edit]

  • Hardy, Rob. "The Passion of Rose Elizabeth Cleveland." New England Review 28.1 (2007): 180,193,207
  • Lillie, Lucy C. "The Mistress of the White House." Lippincotts Monthly Magazine 1887: 81–94
  • "Society Stars." Boston Daily Globe (Mar 14 1886): 4.