First Ladies & Their Mothers

Emma Folson and her daughter Frances Cleveland at the time of her marriage to the President in 1886.

Emma Folsom and her daughter Frances Cleveland at the time of her marriage to the President in 1886.

There was a time when the best a mother might hope for in terms of her daughter rising to the heights of political power was to be married to the President of the United States.

There is no known image of the first American woman who had the experience of witnessing this happening, Juliana Gardiner in 1844, following the elopement of her daughter Julia to incumbent widower President John Tyler, but eleven other mothers would also share this experience. And as medical care improved through the twentieth century, more of them had the pleasure of being known as the President’s Mother-in-Law.

Among the last twelve First Ladies, eight such women were able to share the glory with the women who raised them.

Not that they all were pleased about their daughters living in the great white mansion on Pennsylvania Avenue. Regardless of how high a pinnacle their sons-in-law reached, two of them could never reconcile themselves to the idea that their daughters had married well: the moms of Grace Coolidge and Bess Truman.

Here, then, on Mother’s Day is a glimpse at those women who lived to see their daughters grow up to be First Ladies.

Edith Wilson's mother Sallie Bolling and Woodrow Wilson on the Washignton Senators opening day in 1915.

Edith Wilson’s mother Sallie Bolling and Woodrow Wilson on the Washington Senators opening day in 1915.

Lemira Goodhue, mother of Grace Coolidge.

Lemira Goodhue, mother of Grace Coolidge.

Bess Truman's mother Madge Wallace with her nurses on the White House South Lawn. 001

Bess Truman’s mother Madge Wallace with her nurses on the White House South Lawn.

Mamie Eisenhower and her mother Minnie Doud on the front steps of the family's Denver home.

Mamie Eisenhower and her mother Minnie Doud on the front steps of the family’s Denver home.

Janet Auchincloss had a proper plastic bonnet for the rain but a newspaper was good enough for Jackie Kennedy Onassis at the 1980 graduation ceremony of the latter's daughter.

Janet Auchincloss had a proper plastic bonnet for the rain but a newspaper was good enough for Jackie Kennedy Onassis at the 1980 graduation ceremony of the latter’s daughter.

 

Rosalynn Carter with her mother Allie Smith and daughter Amy touring a National Geographic building exhibit.

Rosalynn Carter with her mother Allie Smith and daughter Amy touring a National Geographic building exhibit.

Nancy Reagan after presenting her mother Edie Davis with an award plaque for a lifetime of volunteer work at her Arizona elderly care home.

Nancy Reagan after presenting her mother Edie Davis with an award plaque for a lifetime of volunteer work at her Arizona elderly care home.

Hillary Clinton with her mother Dorothy Rodham who lived to see her daughter become Secretary of State.

Hillary Clinton with her mother Dorothy Rodham who lived to see her daughter become Secretary of State.

Laura Bush and her mother Jenna Welch in July of 2001.

Laura Bush and her mother Jenna Welch in July of 2001.

Mrs. Obama and her mother Marian Shields Robinson.

Mrs. Obama and her mother Marian Shields Robinson.


Categories: First Ladies

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6 replies »

  1. Hi Carl,
    I never knew that Mrs. Goodhue never approved of her son-in-law – as for President Truman, I always thought he deserved some sort of medal for having to live Mrs. Wallace – she sounded dreadful and just mean.

    David//Chicago

    • David – I actually seem to recall that those were the very words of someone else who knew President Truman, or perhaps it was someone who worked on the domestic staff in the White House who said it that way exactly. Thanks for writing.

  2. Great article for Mother’s Day. I loved seeing the photos as I have not seen most of these moms before. Thanks for finding them.

    • You are welcome – some are rather surprising I thought. The affectionate display among the Victorian Frances Cleveland and her mom, and the informality of Jackie versus her mom. Thanks for writing.

  3. Harry Truman (paraphrasing him) at the death of his mother-in-law Madge Gates Wallace wrote that he found mother-in-law jokes unfunny because “I’ve had a good one.” By all accounts Madge was a dragon lady where Harry was concerned, and coldly referred to him as “Mr. Truman” until her dying day. Now her fine home in Independence is a tourist attraction…because “Mr Truman” lived there!

    • I’m sure there were many a time when his patience was tested and we know that Bess Truman on at least one occasion snapped at her own mother for the disrespect she showed him as President, if not as a person. Thanks for writing.

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