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Has Every U.S. President Had a First Lady?

Not every U.S. President has had a First Lady. While most presidents have been married during their terms, a few, like James Buchanan, remained bachelors. Others, such as Woodrow Wilson, were widowed and remarried while in office. The role of First Lady has also been filled by other relatives when necessary. Curious about who stepped in? Dive deeper to uncover these unique presidential stories.

Little sisters sometimes have to put up with a lot from their big brothers -- especially when that big brother becomes the president of the United States. In 1884, Grover Cleveland was elected as America's leader, but as a bachelor, he had no official first lady. To fill the vacancy, his little sister, Rose Cleveland, stepped in, despite her dislike of high society and social events. Rose was known as someone who preferred the academic life, so even when she oversaw White House receptions, she was said to silently conjugate Greek verbs to entertain herself.

Luckily for Rose, Grover Cleveland fell in love with Frances Folsom, and the two married in 1886. Rose, freed from public life, went on to pursue a career as an educator, writer, and lecturer. She served as editor of Literary Life, a Chicago-based magazine, and as principal of the Collegiate Institute in Lafayette, Indiana. The new first lady, Frances, loved her new status, becoming recognized as a wonderful White House hostess and supporter of a number of social causes.

Getting to know Grover Cleveland:

  • Cleveland was nicknamed "Big Steve" -- his real first name was Stephen -- because at 275 pounds (124.7 kg), he weighed more than any other president except William Howard Taft.

  • Before becoming president, Cleveland personally hanged two convicted murderers while serving as a sheriff of Erie County, New York.

  • Despite his love of education and work as a teacher, Cleveland was one of only seven presidents who didn't attend college.

Frequently Asked Questions

Has every U.S. President had a First Lady?

Before his marriage to Frances Folsom, bachelor Grover Cleveland relied on his sister, Rose, to carry out the role of First Lady.
Before his marriage to Frances Folsom, bachelor Grover Cleveland relied on his sister, Rose, to carry out the role of First Lady.

No, not every U.S. President has had a First Lady. For instance, James Buchanan, the 15th President, never married and is the only bachelor president, so he did not have a First Lady during his presidency from 1857 to 1861. Instead, his niece, Harriet Lane, acted as the White House hostess.

Who serves as First Lady if the President is unmarried or widowed?

If a President is unmarried or widowed, another female relative or friend may assume the role of the First Lady. This was the case with Harriet Lane for James Buchanan, and more recently, when Thomas Jefferson was widowed, his daughter Martha Jefferson Randolph served in this capacity at various times.

What are the responsibilities of a First Lady?

The role of the First Lady is not officially defined and has evolved over time, but traditionally includes hosting social events, managing the White House, championing social causes, and representing the administration domestically and abroad. First Ladies like Eleanor Roosevelt and Michelle Obama have taken active roles in policy advocacy and public service initiatives.

Can a man be a First Gentleman in the United States?

While the United States has not yet had a female president, the term "First Gentleman" is the male equivalent of First Lady and would be used if a president were female. This term has been used at the state level; for example, Andy Moffit served as the First Gentleman of Rhode Island when his wife, Gina Raimondo, was governor.

How has the role of the First Lady changed over time?

The role of the First Lady has significantly evolved from a solely social hostess to a position of influence and advocacy. Early First Ladies like Martha Washington and Abigail Adams primarily focused on entertaining guests and managing the presidential household. In contrast, modern First Ladies such as Hillary Clinton and Rosalynn Carter have taken on more active roles in policy, social issues, and political campaigns, reflecting broader changes in society regarding women's roles and leadership.

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Discussion Comments

anon1004326

Don’t forget James Buchanan, a lifelong batchelor.

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    • Before his marriage to Frances Folsom, bachelor Grover Cleveland relied on his sister, Rose, to carry out the role of First Lady.
      Before his marriage to Frances Folsom, bachelor Grover Cleveland relied on his sister, Rose, to carry out the role of First Lady.