According to the National First Ladies Library, Lucy met Rutherford when she was only 14, but the two did not start courting until she was in college. In 1850, she graduated with honors from Wesleyan Female College in Cincinnati, Ohio, and delivered a speech at her commencement entitled “The Influence of Christianity on National Prosperity.” After an engagement of a year and a half, the two were married in her mother’s home in Chillicothe, Ohio. The couple had eight children, though two of their sons died in early childhood.
During the Civil War, while her husband served in Ohio’s 23rd Infantry regiment–at 40 he was considered to be an “old man” by the younger soldiers–Lucy volunteered to help out in hospitals, where she saw first-hand the horrors of war. Rutherford’s fellow soldiers called her the “Mother of the Regiment” for her kindness and nurturing care. Her Civil War work inspired her future activism for reforms in mental health, orphanages and homelessness. Lucy was also an effective campaigner in Hayes’ successful bid for the White House in 1876.
The very popular Lucy Hayes was the first wife of a president to be referred to as “first lady”–a title that grew out of her husband’s reference to her as the “first lady of the land.” Lucy was an abolitionist and supported, in theory at least, the early women’s suffrage movement. She was often criticized for not taking a more active role in promoting women’s suffrage and while she and Rutherford were both believers in the temperance movement, it was her husband’s idea–not hers as legend has it–to forbid serving alcohol in the White House. Lucy allowed White House servants to take time off to pursue their education and commissioned paintings of the presidents who had not yet had portraits hung in the White House. She also had a portrait of Martha Washington created to hang next to George Washington’s.
After Hayes retired from politics (he served only one term from 1877 to 1881), he and Lucy moved back to their home in Spiegel Grove, Ohio. She died from a stroke in 1889, five years before the death of her husband.