On June 2, 1886, President Grover Cleveland made history by becoming the only US president to marry in the White House. His bride was Frances Folsom, a young woman 27 years his junior whom he had known since she was born.
Cleveland had been a close family friend and the law partner of Folsom’s father, Oscar Folsom. When Folsom died in a buggy accident in 1875, Cleveland became the executor of his estate and the unofficial guardian of Frances, who was 11 years old at the time. He maintained a close relationship with her and her mother while he rose to political prominence as the governor of New York and then the president of the United States.
When Cleveland was inaugurated as president in 1885, he was still a bachelor. He had previously indicated a desire not to marry, and a White House wedding seemed unlikely. Media speculation was pervasive, and some observers thought Cleveland would marry Folsom’s mother, who was closer to his age. Cleveland found this frustrating, wondering why speculation paired him with “old ladies”.
While Frances was in college, she became engaged twice, but neither engagement resulted in marriage. She expressed to her mother her desire to marry a man who was older. Cleveland and Frances began a courtship, and he proposed to her shortly after she turned 21. He asked her “would you put your life in my hands?” and she said yes.
The engagement was kept secret from the press until shortly before the wedding. Frances vacationed in Europe with her mother for several months, while Cleveland prepared for the ceremony. He invited only close associates of the couple to attend the wedding, which took place in the Blue Room of the White House on June 2, 1886. John Philip Sousa and the Marine Band provided the music.
The wedding was highly publicized, and hundreds of spectators gathered outside of the White House to celebrate. A public reception was held a week later, where thousands of people came to greet the newlyweds. Frances Cleveland became a popular and influential first lady, known for her beauty, charm, and social grace. She once replied to a reporter who asked why she married an older man: “we love him for himself alone”.
Frances and Cleveland’s second daughter Esther became the first child born to a president in a White House bedroom. They had three more children after leaving office. Cleveland is the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms. He died in 1908, with his last words being “I have tried so hard to do right”. Frances remarried in 1913, but remained devoted to her first husband’s memory.
The wedding of Grover Cleveland and Frances Folsom remains a unique and fascinating event in American history. It was the only time that a sitting president married in the White House, and it was also a love story that defied convention and captured the public’s imagination.
– Only Presidential White House Wedding, Mystic Stamp Discovery Center, June 2, 2016
– Grover Cleveland gets married in the White House, HISTORY, June 1, 2020
– Grover Cleveland Wedding: Married in the White House, Shapell, no date given
– Frances Cleveland, Wikipedia, last edited on May 21, 2023