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Frances Cleveland

Who was the youngest first lady of the United States?

At the age of 31, Jackie Kennedy captivated the nation with her youth and beauty when her husband was elected president in 1960. But it might surprise you to learn that she is only the third-youngest first lady in American history. Who’s the youngest presidential wife ever? That title belongs to Frances Folsom Cleveland, who was only 21 when she married President Grover Cleveland on June 2, 1886, in the Blue Room of the White House. A close friend and former law partner of Frances’ father (who died in a carriage accident when she was 10), Cleveland invited Frances and her mother to the White House in 1885, right before the two women left on a grand tour of Europe. Though rumors flew that the president might marry Mrs. Folsom, he instead proposed to her daughter Frances by letter. They married when she returned, becoming the only president and first lady to wed in the executive mansion.

Such a young first lady fascinated the American public and press, who called her “Frankie” (a nickname she hated). Her hairstyle was widely copied and her face appeared on souvenir coins, while bustle skirts—a previously popular style—reportedly fell out of fashion after she stopped wearing them. In 1892, when voters reelected Cleveland to a second term after a four-year gap, Frances became the only first lady to return to the White House after leaving it. In September 1893 she gave birth to the second of their three daughters, the first child born to a sitting president. (Their oldest daughter, Ruth, supposedly inspired the Baby Ruth candy bar.) Grover Cleveland died in 1908, and in 1913 Frances became the first presidential widow to remarry. She died in 1947, after living longer after leaving the White House (51 years) than any other former first lady.

Categories: First Ladies, Grover Cleveland, U.S. Presidents, White House