White House Weddings
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A magical fascination surrounds the idea of a White House wedding. For Americans, this is the closest we can get to the "royal" weddings that capture European imaginations. There have only been a handful of White House weddings in our nation's history.
In 1820 James Monroe's daughter Maria became the first child of a president to marry in the White House in a ceremony restricted to family. In 1832 Mary Eastin married Lucius Polk (Mary was related to Andrew Jackson's niece -- Lucius was a distant relative of President Polk). Again, the details were not widely reported, because it was considered indelicate to pry into the details of "a matter so private in nature as a wedding and then to air them to the general public," says Wilbur Cross and Ann Novotny, authors of White House Weddings. The media definitely looks at high profile weddings a bit differently today!
John Tyler was the first president to marry while in office when he wed Julia Gardiner in 1844. He had been widowed, and his new bride was the daughter of his late Secretary of State. He kept his plans secret, not only because he was an unpopular President, but because his beloved was 30 years his junior. They were not married in the White House, but opted for a private ceremony in New York City instead.
One of the grandest White House weddings was held when Ulysses Grant's daughter Nellie married Englishman Algernon Sartoris in 1874. A special platform was built below a window in the East Room. There were elaborate floral displays, including a massive wedding bell of white rosebuds, wreaths on either side of the platform spelling out the couple's initials (NWG and ACFS), and all of the columns in the room were draped with red, white, and blue flowers. Lavish details about the ceremony and reception appeared in the papers, and the New York Graphic published a 12 page pictorial. The couple received an original poem from Walt Whitman as a wedding gift.
The next White House wedding was Rutherford B. Hayes' niece Emily Platt's marriage in 1878. Emily was 28 and married a 42 year old widower. She was an orphan, so Mrs. Hayes served as the Mother of the Bride. President Grover Cleveland married Frances Folsom in 1886 in the Blue Room of the White House. Her father was killed when he was thrown from a carriage, and Grover Cleveland became her guardian. He courted her while she was in college, and married her shortly after graduation. The bride wore no jewelry, except a sapphire and diamond engagement ring, and carried no bouquet. The couple entered the Blue Room together "a new moments before seven to the sounds of Mendelssohn's Wedding March played by the Marine Band," according the Harper's Weekly, June 12, 1886. He was the first president to be married in the White House.
Teddy Roosevelt's daughter Alice married in the White House in 1906. She had no bridesmaids, because she thought the procession looked "peculiar." She was very independent -- she smoked, spoke her mind, and did whatever she pleased. Over 700 guests attended the wedding, and she received gifts from all over the world, including a box of snakes from a snake collector.
In 1913, Woodrow Wilson's daughter Jessie married Francis Bowes Sayre. She was a college graduate with an interest in social work, and he graduated from Harvard Law School. Their wedding was as quiet as a White House wedding could be, with a private ceremony and no news releases. Gifts were actually discouraged. The bridesmaids wore pink satin over a silver petticoat, and each was a different shade of pink, from a shell tint to a deep rose.
Both of President Lyndon Johnson's daughters were White House brides in the 1960s. Luci Johnson married Patrick J. Nugent on August 6, 1966 at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC, followed by a White House reception. The seven-tiered wedding cake was eight feet tall, and weighed 300 pounds! Overnight Luci's nine foot veil was spread out on Lincoln's bed. Lynda Bird Johnson married Marine Captain Charles S. Robb in a White House decorated for Christmas on December 9, 1967. The seven bridesmaids wore long red velvet gowns. Both Johnson girls invited White House bride Alice Roosevelt to attend their weddings.
The last bride to marry in the White House was Tricia Nixon, who married Edward Finch Cox on June 12, 1971 in the Rose Garden, the only White House wedding to take place outside. A threat of rain postponed the ceremony half an hour, but it was held between raindrops as planned. The couple received 400 guests in the Blue Room, and had their first dance in the East Room. The four bridesmaids changed into their mint green and lilac organdy gowns in the Lincoln bedroom. She was the 15th White House bride, and the 8th daughter of a President married in the Executive Mansion while her father was in office. She invited both Johnson brides and Alice Roosevelt.
WEDDING GOWNS ON DISPLAY
Both of President Richard Nixon’s daughters’ wedding gowns are on display at The Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace in Yorba Linda, California.
This is the last in a series of articles about the evolution of fashion. Visit the subject heading “Antique Spotlights” to read them all!
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