This Day in History: An Unlikely Wedding

On this day in 1852, Rutherford B. Hayes, who would go on to become the 19th President of the United States, married Lucy Webb, a sociable, devout Methodist from his home state of Ohio. She was 24 and he was 33.

Lucy met Rutherford when she was only 14, but the two did not start dating until she was in college. In 1850, she graduated with honors from Wesleyan Female College in Cincinnati, Ohio. 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, six of which survived into adulthood.

During the Civil War, Hayes served in Ohio’s 23rd Infantry regiment; at 40 he was regarded as an “old man” by the younger soldiers. Meanwhile, Lucy volunteered to lend a helping hand in hospitals, where she saw firsthand the atrocities of war. Hayes' fellow soldiers dubbed her the “Mother of the Regiment” for her gentle care and kindness. Not surprisingly, she would later be an activist for reforms in mental health, homelessness, and orphanages. Lucy also campaigned for her husband in his successful bid for the White House in 1876.

Lucy Hayes was the first wife of a president to be referred to as “first lady," which stemmed from 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, though she was frequently criticized for not taking a more active role in promoting women’s suffrage.

While she and Rutherford were both believers in the temperance movement, legend has it that it was her husband’s idea -- not hers -- to forbid serving alcohol in the White House. Moreover, Lucy commissioned paintings of the presidents whose portraits had not yet been hung in the White House. She also had a portrait of Martha Washington created to hang next to George Washington’s.

Rutherford B. Hayes served only one term, from 1877 to 1881. After retiring from politics, he and his wife moved back to their home in Spiegel Grove, Ohio. Lucy died five years before her husband.

No comments: