information center:  
 
Return to homepage
 

Features

Northwest Ohio Veterans' Oral History Project

Collections

Rutherford B. Hayes Collections
Local History Collections
Charles E. Frohman Collections
Special Collections
Local Government Records
Miscellaneous Manuscripts
Gilded Age Collections

 

 

 
Return to Manuscripts Collections

Lucy Webb Hayes
and Her Influence Upon Her Era

By Emily Apt Geer

Seldom in American history has the character of a President's wife been so distorted as that of Lucy Webb Hayes. Critics of the Hayes temperance policy in White House entertaining attributed the ban on the serving of liquor and wine to Mrs. Hayes, and derisively nicknamed her "Lemonade Lucy." To counteract the attack and ridicule, Mrs. Hayes' friends and relatives pictured her as a woman of saintly proportions whose every thought was concerned with the welfare of humanity. Writers of history have perpetuated both the trite nickname and the unnatural image to an extent that the real personality of Lucy Webb Hayes is all but lost.

This review, by reexamining letters to and from Lucy Webb Hayes along with various other accounts in diaries, memoirs, and newspapers, seeks to dispel these false images. It reveals Lucy Hayes as she really was--an intelligent, warm-hearted, very human woman--influential and also influenced by her associates; and because of her husband's position, able to extend her influence beyond personal family and friends.

Lucy Hayes served as First Lady during an important transitional era in nineteenth-century American history. Kenneth E. Davison in The Presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes, states that "the period from Hayes' nomination and election through his presidency and retirement coincided with the birth of a new age: the modern economic and social world."1

Davison and other historians of the Gilded Age cite numerous changes that occurred during this era in American economic, social and intellectual life. Major economic trends of the 1870s included the rise of national businesses, shifts in centers of agriculture, and the development of a favorable balance of trade for the United States. The accelerated movement of people from rural to urban areas also brought about great alterations in social life. Meanwhile, American artists and writers gained greater recognition for their accomplishments; developments in professional and graduate study, and the formation of new learned societies constituted significant milestones in American scholarship. The Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, that so thrilled Lucy Hayes in 1876,2 educated its many visitors to the possibilities of favor saving inventions, and suggested ways of using new found time for educational and leisure pursuits.3

With urbanization and industrialization changing the needs and roles of people, particularly women, American industry and business became increasingly aware of opportunities for employing women and satisfying female customers. It is not surprising that, in this atmosphere, Lucy Hayes--the first wife of an American President to have earned a college degree, and a woman with a sincere interest in human welfare--should be hailed as a representative of the "New Woman Era."4

But was Lucy Hayes a true representative of the new woman era? By what criteria should she be judged? How well did she fulfill the era's expectations? What kind of an example did she set for other women?

If a married woman of the 1870s were physically and financially able, she was counted on the serve as a hostess, to manage a household, to supervise family life, and to be a loving and supportive wife. In addition an important government official's wife was also expected to show an interest in the poor and unfortunate, particularly those in the District of Columbia. Leaders of the woman's rights movement, which focused almost exclusively on suffrage after the Civil War,5 welcomed the support of prominent women. The new woman was also supposed to be interested in politics.6

Exponents of education for women expected the presence in the White House of the first President's wife with a college degree to encourage female education, and temperance organizations, such as the recently formed Woman's Christian Temperance Union (1874), fully expected Mrs. Hayes would advocate a temperance policy in the White House. Finally, church groups also looked to Lucy Hayes for encouragement and support because of her strong religious convictions.

What was the background of this woman who became First Lady in 1877? What forces molded her character? What indications were there that she would live up to the expectations for the new woman?

Lucy Webb was born in Chillicothe, August 28, 1831, the third child and only daughter of Maria Cook and Dr. James Webb. Lucy's father died of cholera when she was two years old and, quite naturally, her strongwilled grandfather, Isaac Cook, a prominent citizen of Chillicothe and vigorous advocate of temperance, exerted an influence on the character of the little girl.7

When Lucy was twelve, her mother moved to Delaware so that her sons, James and Joseph, could enroll in the newly organized college department of Ohio Wesleyan. Lucy attended classes in the preparatory department and earned a few credits in the collegiate division. A term report signed by the vice-president in 1845 noted that her conduct was "unexceptionable" (beyond reproach).

According to family tradition, Rutherford Hayes, while on a visit to his birthplace in Delaware, first heard the "merry peal" of Lucy's laughter, and saw the pretty fifteen year-old girl near the famous sulphur spring on the campus of Ohio Wesleyan.8 Soon after this brief meeting, Mrs. Webb decided her daughter was ready for college and late in the fall of 1847, Lucy Webb, now sixteen, enrolled in the collegiate department of Wesleyan Female College in Cincinnati.

Themes written by Lucy at this time reveal as much about the climate of learning at Cincinnati Wesleyan Female College as they do of the attitude of the writer. Moral issues provided most of the topics. There were such titles as "Has the World Degenerated Since the Fall?" and "Is Traveling on the Sabbath Consistent with Christian Principles?" An essay entitled, "Has Society a Right to Prohibit the Manufacture and Sale of Ardent Spirits?" brought forth all the temperance arguments Lucy has learned from the pulpit, the lecture platform, and her Grandfather Cook. Ideas from another theme suggest she may have been influenced by feminists of her day (Margaret Fuller published her landmark book, Women in the Nineteenth Centery, in 1845). Lucy wrote, "It is acknowledged by most persons that her (woman's) mind is as strong as a man's….Instead of being considered the slave of man, she is considered his equal in all things, and his superior in some."9

Early in January 1850, Rutherford Hayes, who had moved to Cincinnati a few weeks earlier to begin a new law practice, came to see Lucy Webb at her school. Thereafter his frequent appearances at the college and comments in his diary disclose a growing interest in her. Perhaps he even saw Lucy graduate in June 1850 and hears her read her commencement essay, "The Influence of Christianity on National Prosperity."10

A year later Rutherford was writing in his diary, "I guess I am a great deal in love with L(ucy)….Her low sweet voice…her soft rich eyes." Rutherford, however, was practical enough to look for other reasons for his attachment, and this perceptive analysis of Lucy's character indicates: "Intellect, she has too," he wrote, "a quick spritely one, rather than a reflective profound one. She sees at a glance what others study upon, but will not, perhaps study what she is unable to see at a flash. She is a genuine woman, right from instinct and impulse rather than judgment and reflection."11

A few weeks later, June 1851, Rutherford Hayes and Lucy Webb became engaged and a year and a half later, on December 30, 1852, were married at Maria Webb's home in Cincinnati. They left that evening for Columbus where he combined appearances before the Ohio Supreme Court with a pleasant visit in the home of his sister, Fanny Platt.12

The years from 1853 to the beginning of the Civil War were happy ones for the growing Hayes family. The first three of their children were born during this period: Birchard Austin, November 1853, Webb Cook, March 1856, and Rutherford Platt, June 1858.

Lucy's happiness and pride in her husband's professional achievements were tempered only by the death of his beloved sister, Fanny Platt, in 1856.

During frequent visits with the Platt family, Lucy Hayes had had long discussions with her sister-in-law and they attended lectures and concerts together. The interest in woman's rights which Lucy had expressed earlier in her college theme was renewed when she hears Lucy Stone speak. Lucy wrote to her husband that she was pleasantly surprised by the logic of Miss Stone's arguments and came home "Womans Rights in some things." She agreed with Miss Stone that a reform in the wage scale for women was long overdue, and that "violent" methods sometimes served the purpose of calling attention to the need for reforms. She noted Miss Stone took the position that "whatever is proper for a man to do is equally right for a woman provided she has the power."13 Possibly, if the influence of the bright and aggressive Fanny Platt has extended over a normal lifetime, Lucy Hayes might have become active in the woman's rights movement.

Fortunately, Lucy and her husband turned from their sorrow over Fanny's death to the absorbing political drama of 1856. Lucy's latent interest in politics was stimulated by the vision of the Republican nominee for president, the glamorous John C. Fremont, and his romantic wife, Jessie Benton, in the White House. After election results showed Fremont losing the race, Rutherford wrote to his uncle, "Lucy takes it to heart a good deal that Jessie is not to be mistress of the White House after all."14

The onset of the Civil War in 1861 marked a change from private to public life for the Hayes family. When the first news of the firing on Ft. Sumter reached Cincinnati, Lucy was all for war. She even felt that if she had been at Ft. Sumter with a garrison of women there might have been no surrender.15 Her enthusiasm encourated Rutherford to enlist as a major in the Twenty-third Ohio Volunteer Infantry. At the end of the war he received the brevet rant of major-general.

Hayes family letters, diaries and other contemporary accounts show the attitude of the civilian population toward the war effort, and provide superb descriptions of camp life and military campaigns. They also explain Lucy's abiding interest in veterans' welfare. The happy months Lucy and the children spent with Rutherford Hayes in army camps along the Kanawha River in western Virginia were interrupted by the sorrow of separation and the death of their year and a half old son, Joseph, at Camp White, near Charleston. The ordeal of South Mountain, where Hayes was painfully wounded, and the danger of the fierce campaign of 1864 in the Shanandoah Valley were other worries. Finally, Lucy and Rutherford's fifth son, George Crook, born in September 1864, died like the other war baby, before he was two years old.

Although Hayes had been elected to Congress in the fall of 1864, he did not resign from the army until the following spring, In May 1865, Lucy accompanied her husband to Washington where they watched the Grand Review of the Army from the congressional stand. She thought Andrew Johnson was a "noble looking" man and was thrilled as she watched the cavalry ride past, although her sympathetic nature could not "shake off" the "sad thoughts of the thousands who would never gladden home.16

The Hayes Family did not move to Washington to live, but Lucy visited her husband whenever possible. Her frequent presence in the gallery of the House to listen to congressional debates was evidence of her growing interest in politics.17 When at home in Cincinnati, she wrote her husband how she missed being able to talk politics with him, and expressed concern over Johnson's vetoes of Radical Republican measures.18

While serving his second term in Congress, Rutherford Hayes was nominated for governor of Ohio by the Union Republican Party (June 1867). As he campaigned for office Lucy awaited the arrival of their sixth baby; on September 2, 1867, the longed-for girl was born and promptly named Fanny after Rutherford's sister.

Hayes was elected governor of Ohio by the scant margin of 2983 votes. With Democratic majorities in both houses, he could not hope for passage of much controversial legislation, so he turned his attention instead to overdue reform of state institutions. In this he was aided by Lucy, who often accompanied her husband on visits to prisons, correctional institutions for boys and girls, hospitals for the mentally ill, and facilities for the deaf and dumb.19

Lucy found particular satisfaction in the establishment of a soldiers' orphans home. Failing to win state support, she and her friends worked with the Grand Army of the Republic to start a home with voluntary contributions at Xenia. Eventually in 1870, the Home became a state institution. A deadlock in the state senate in April 1870 over the confirmation of Governor Hayes' nominees for the Board of Managers nearly defeated the measure. A tri-lingual filibuster and locked doors, however, kept the senate in session until a supporter of the bill arrived to break the tie. Throughout the controversy, Lucy exerted pressure on her friends, especially in the senate, to have the Home approved.20

While Lucy found state politics interesting, home affairs occupied much of her time. There were many friends and political visitors to be lodged and entertained in the houses they rented, first on East State Street across from the Capitol, and then on Seventh Street. In February 1871, a "healthy, good-natured" baby boy, Scott Russell, was added to the family.21

Rutherford Hayes chose not to run for a third term as governor in 1871. By the spring of 1873, the family had moved to Fremont into the home at Spiegel Grove which Rutherford's uncle, Sardis Birchard, had built with them in mind. There, on August 1, 1873, just before her forty-second birthday, Lucy gave birth to her eighth and last baby. Like his two brothers of the war years, however, little Manning Force did not survive his second summer.

Although pleased with their life in Fremont, Hayes yielded in 1875 to the pleas of Republican party leaders to run for an unprecedented third term as governor. His election over a strong opponent automatically meant he would be considered for the presidency in 1877. Lucy assured her husband that she had not been bitten by the "mania" but she was "so happy, so proud" to be his wife.22 Secretly cherishing the same dream, she told her son in college that their cook, Winnie Monroe, was "looking to the Top of the Ladder."23

While serving his third term as governor, Hayes was dramatically nominated for President by the Republican convention at Cincinnati in June 1876. The campaign was very different from others he had participated in because custom decreed that a presidential nominee might allow others to do the talking for him. Also, for the first time since Hayes entered politics, Lucy became a prime subject of newspaper stories. A correspondent for the New York Herald wrote, "Mrs. Hayes is a most attractive and lovable woman…"24 A year later, another writer for a national publication commented, "Mrs. Hayes is said to be a student of politics, and to talk intelligently upon their changing phases."25

The presidential election of 1876 did not give a clear-cut victory to either Rutherford B. Hayes of Samuel J. Tilden, and had to be decided through a special Electoral Commission authorized by Congress. Lucy's confidence in her husband helped him through this difficult period, but her friends wondered how she endured "sitting on the ragged edge."26 That Lucy's sense of humor did not desert her is shown by this excerpt from a letter to her son Birchard: "Your father and I are becoming more and more attached to each other…I will never desert Mr. Micawber."27

On March 1, 1877, a day before the last electoral vote had been counted, the Hayes family and friends boarded a train for Washington. Just before dawn the next morning, March 2, they were awakened near Harrisburg to receive the news that Congress had finally declared Hayes the duly elected President of the United States.28 Now the influence of Lucy Hayes, like that of her husband, would be extended to the national scene.

The new President's White House family included twenty-one year old Webb who served as his father's personal secretary, six year old Scott, and Fanny, who was nine. The other two sons, Rutherford, eighteen, and Birchard, twenty-three, interrupted their college studies to participate in the first few days at the Mansion.

Since it was not then the custom for a President's wife to have a staff of social assistants, Lucy Hayes made up for her lack of grown daughters by inviting nieces, cousins, and daughters of friends to assist her with social duties. The presence of these attractive young ladies, some of whom stayed at the White House so long that they virtually became part of the family, interested Washington society and helped enliven Hayes White House dinners and receptions.29

For Lucy Hayes, everyday life in the White House followed a pleasant routine and served, consciously or unconsciously, as a good example of middle class propriety and Christian morality. After breakfast and a walk through the greenhouses, the family and guests gathered in the library where a chapter from the Bible was read and the Lord's Prayer repeated. By this time flowers had been brought in from the conservatories and, with the help of Mrs. Hayes, were arranged for the White House. Other bouquets were sent to friends and Washington hospitals. The rest of the morning Lucy was busy receiving calls and taking visiting friends and relatives on tours of the city.30

The public also was intrigued by the Sunday evening soirees that the Hayes family instituted. There exist pictures of Carl Schurz, Secretary of the Interior (called by Grant an infidel and atheist) playing such favorite hymns as "Jesus Lover of My Soul," and "Blest Be the Tie that Binds," with Lucy Hayes leading the singing for the family and friends gathered in the parlor.31

Washington reporters soon recognized Mrs. Hayes competence as a hostess (acquired through long years as the wife of an elected official) and often expressed their appreciation for her helpfulness and cordiality. Surprisingly, of the eighteen Presidents who had preceded Hayes, only eight had wives who were able to assume the social responsibilities of their position for a full term. Five of the eight, Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Dolley Madison, Elizabeth Monroe, and Louisa Adams were from the early period. Sarah Polk, Mary Lincoln and Julia Grant were the three from the mid-century years.32

The winter social season began on New Year's Day and ended with the coming of Lent. Describing Mrs. Hayes' appearance at the White House New Year's Reception in 1879, a reporter for the Washington Post, a paper hostile to the Hayes Administration, wrote, "The dress of Mrs. Hayes was at once simple and elegant…With accustomed good taste she wore no jewelry, and the white plume in her black hair fell gracefully in drooping folds."33 Two months later a reporter for the same paper, describing the reception for the diplomatic corps, noted that "the brilliancy of the scene…was probably never excelled in any fete given by any administration."34

When the Hayes family moved to Washington the White House staff, knowing that liquor had not been served in the household in Ohio, waited to see what the policy would be for formal entertaining. Doubtless Winnie Monroe, who had reached the "top of the ladder," told them that Hayes' uncle, Sardis Birchard, had maintained a "fine cellar" well stocked with wine and liqueurs,35and that Mrs. Hayes had helped her mother secure wine for medicinal purposes.36 Politicians remembered that Hayes sometimes had a "schoppen" of beer when he visited Cincinnati,37 and army friends could recall promotions celebrated with spirits.38

At the first official state dinner, April 19, 1877, given in honor of the Russian Grand Duke Alexis and his companion, Grand Duke Constantine, a "full quota" of wine was served, but soon after this Hayes made it known that there would be no more alcoholic beverages served at future White House functions.39 The decison must have been a joint resolution on the part of Lucy and Rutherford Hayes since that was the way they solved such problems. Many factors entered into it: a wish to set a good example; Lucy's life-time abstinence from liquor; a desire to keep the temperance advocates in the Republican ranks rather than have them join the Prohibition Party; and Hayes' firm conviction that government officials should conduct themselves at all times with discretion and dignity.40

Some years later, a literary critic wrote that the decision to bar wine from White House entertaining was "unfortunate." "However creditable this…may have been to the moral ideals of the President, it was unfortunate for his reputation, for it labeled him."41 Even more it labeled Lucy Hayes because she received most of the credit for the temperance policy. Many modern readers of American history remember her as "Lemonade Lucy rather than as a gracious hostess, and a witty, well-educated, and warm-hearted woman who raised the prestige of the First Lady in American life.

Mrs. Hayes' hospitality strained the capacity of the White House. The family apartment on the second floor consisted of six or seven bedrooms and one sitting room. The office of the President and the Cabinet Room were also on the second floor, and official visitors used the same corridors as did the the family. About the only changes in these quarters during Hayes' term were the installation of bathrooms with running water and the addition of a crude wall telephone.42 Rud Hayes said that when he and Birchard came home from college they seldom had a bedroom or even a bed to themselves. They might be assigned a cot in the hall, a couch in a reception room, or even a bathtub as a "resting place."43

Despite cramped living quarters, Lucy Hayes was charmed with the White House. After eight years of vigorous entertaining by the Grants much renovating was necessary, but because of strained relations between Hayes and Congress the appropriation was delayed. Holes in the carpet and tears in the curtains were covered as much as possible by moving furniture and reversing ends of curtains. William Crook, an executive clerk who served Presidents from Lincoln through Theodore Roosevelt, testified that Lucy Hayes ransacked the attic and cellar to find furniture that could be restored and that "many really good things owed their preservation to this energetic lady."44

When Congress finally appropriated money for repairs and remodeling, Lucy preferred to enlarge the conservatories rather than to undertake extensive redecoration. The billiard-room, which connected the house with the conservatories, was converted into an attractive greenhouse and the billiard table consigned to the basement. Shuttered windows in the State Dining Room could then be opened for dinner guests to look into the conservatories.45 Thus the delayed appropriation was used to make the dining area more attractive and eliminated what many Americans regarded as either a gambling device or a rich man's toy.

Lucy Hayes managed her family and domestic affairs with kindness and affection. She supervised the education of Fanny and Scott and was the confidant and advisor to her older sons. Letters to Rud at Cornell included advice such as, "card playing reserved for home," or in jest, "don't let your youthful affections become entangled."46 Two elaborate doll houses in the hallway of the White House, or toys such as a new ball for Scott, often distracted the two young children from their studies.47

Lucy Hayes frequently accompanied her husband on trips around the country. He traveled so much that Lucy accused him of being "scenery mad" and the Chicago Tribune nicknamed him "Rutherford the Rover."48 Their longest trip was a 71 day odyssey to the Pacific coast in the fall of 1880, the first time any president had corssed the continent while in office. Lucy enjoyed the beautiful scenery of the Northwest and California, the rides by stagecoach through wild country, and the ocean voyage from Astoria to San Francisco. Laura Mitchell, the President's niece, who accompanied the party wrote to Fanny and Scott, "Your mama wishes me to tell you what a superb sailor she has grown."49

When Rutherford Hayes accepted the presidency, he said he would serve only one term, and although Lucy had enjoyed Washington she was ready to leave at the end of four years. Pressures and separations had not diminished the love Lucy and Rutherford felt for each other. Not long before his death, Rutherford referred to their marriage as "the most interesting fact" of his life.50 Lucy's love is evident in her letters although she never expressed it quite as well as Rutherford did on his forty-eighth birthday when he wrote, "My life with you has been so happy--so successful--so beyond reasonable anticipations, that I think of you with a loving gratitude that I do not know how to express."51

The Hayes family returned to Fremont in March, 1881, following the inauguration of James Garfield. Soon Lucy was involved in local activities; she joined the Woman's Relief Corps (founded 1883), taugh a Sunday School class, attended reunions of the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry and entertained distinguished visitors to Spiegel Grove. She found additional happiness in family gatherings and the "Noah's collection" of animals assembled on the grounds of the estate.52

Ultimately, Lucy Hayes was persuaded to become national president of the newly formed Woman's Home Missionary Society of the Methodist Church. Just as college themes had revealed her thoughts and concerns, her reports to the annual conferences of the W.H.M.S. expressed her mature convictions. In 1884, she emphasized that the most inspiring field for action by the society was the improvement of home conditions for the "uninformed, destitute, and unfortunate."53 At another conference she mentioned the gratifying growth of the organization and her pleasure in the development of juvenile societies.54 In her last address to the society in Boston, November 1888, she worried about "the crime against women that now holds Utah," and called attention to the "lamentable situation" of the "Negroes in the South" and the "neglected poor" of the cities.55

On a June afternoon in 1889, as Lucy Hayes sat by the bay window in her bedroom sewing, and watching Scott, Fanny, and their friends playing tennis on the south lawn of Spiegel Grove, she suffered a severe apoplectic stroke. Early on the morning of June 25, 1889 she dies in her sleep. Lucy Hayes would have been fifty-eight on August 28, 1889.56

Rutherford Hayes was stricken with grief. Newspaper eulogies and letters came from all party of the country. Perhaps the most poignant tribute was written by her son Webb Hayes: "My Mother was all that a Mother could be and in addition was a most joyous and lovable companion."57

Reflecting on the questions asked when Lucy Hayes became First Lady: Was she a representative of the "New Woman Era?" Did she fulfill expectations as a good hostess, manager of the White House, and supervisor of a family. Observers as different as Julia Foraker and Mrs. George Bancroft agreed that she was an exceptional hostess.58 The comments of the White House staff indicate that she managed the Mansion in the same easy and efficient manner as the home in Spiegel Grove or rented houses in Columbus. Love and affection of her husband and children affirm her success as a wife and mother.

Did she show an interest in the welfare of the less fortunate and support Christian and charitable organizations? It would have been contrary to Lucy Hayes nature not to help the poor and needy. The doorkeeper at the White House remembered being called upstairs often to take money and a note to some destitute family.59 Her personal charities in Washington and Fremont were extensive.60 Throughout her lifetime, Lucy Hayes shared the flowers she loved so much with friends, the ill and the disconsolate. Obviously she was active in church activities and related organizations.

The refusal to serve wine at White House functions undoubtedly was a boost for temperance even though it subjected Lucy Hayes to unwarranted ridicule, and, accorning to the correspondent "Olivia," added to the tedium of three hour State dinners.61 Mrs. Hayes did not become a member of the W.C.T.U. According to the president of the organization, Frances Willard, Mrs. Hayes never did "so far as has been learned, participate in the crusade work" of the temperance movement.62

Nor "as has been learned" did Lucy Hayes support woman suffrage. Although she had given some thought to woman's rights earlier, there seemed to have been no contact with Elizabeth Cady Stanton or Susan B. Anthony when the National Suffrage Association met in Washington during the Hayes administration. In 1879, Mrs. Stanton, annoyed because Hayes had not mentioned woman suffrage in his State of the Union message, sent a committee of women to call upon him to "remind him of the existence of 20,000,000 unrepresented women."63 Hayes received the delegation and gave them a "most respectful and courteous hearing, asking questions and showing evident interest…"64 Before they left, he introduced them to Mrs. Hayes who showed them through the Mansion.65

When Hayes was governor of Ohio, he had written in his diary that the exercise of the political duties of citizenship was inconsistent with the demands of maternity.66 There is no evidence that suffragist pressure changed his stand. But then, as Mrs. Stanton wrote in 1902, Theodore Roosevelt was the first American President to publicly support woman suffrage.67

Lucy Hayes did not dispute her husband's position on suffrage. Professor David Thelen explained in the American Quarterly (Summer 1970) that at the core of Hayes' social thought was his passion for social harmony.68 This also applied to Lucy Hayes. When Susan Anthony wrote to her in 1888 asking the Woman's Home Missionary Society to send delegates to a meeting of the International Council of Women, Mrs. Hayes replied that it would be impossible without action of the whole society.69 Meanwhile, in a memorandum to officers of the society, she advised them not to introduce resolutions to approve the work of the Woman's Suffrage Association.70

How much Lucy Hayes helped to improve education for women is difficult to judge. Certainly her presence in the White House as the first President's wife with a college degree was an example for young women to emulate.

Letters and periodicals from the time John C. Fremont ran for president in 1856 until the end of Rutherford Hayes' term in 1881 include frequent references to Lucy Hayes interest in politics. On several occasions she also interceded with her husband on behalf of applicants for government positions. Although Rutherford Hayes announced at the beginning of his term that applications to members of his family would be futile, there were times when Lucy could not resist some of the more worthy applicants, particularly young ladies.71 Ironically, Lucy Hayes was credited with persuading her husband to appoint the impoverished and aging John C. Fremont to the post of territorial governor of Arizona.72

While Lucy Hayes did not change many of her husband's political tenets and beliefs, she encouraged his ambition for elective offices, bolstered his self-confidence, and to some extent exerted a humanizing influence upon his political activities. Both she and Rutherford received credit for infusing what Secretary Schurz called a "new spirit of purity and conscience into our public life."73

My study of Lucy Hayes indicates that in the long struggle for the advancement and recognition of women she is better described as a transitional figure than as a representative of the new woman era. A twentieth century feminist might regret that Lucy Hayes did not support woman suffrage, but this would have been contrary to her social code and her concept of the role of a political wife. The example, however, that Lucy Hayes set for the nation as a hostess and homemaker, the adoration and respect accorded her by her family, her efforts to help other people, her sincere interest in politics, and the extent of her education, promised well for the future status of women in the American social and intellectual structure.


End Notes

1 Kenneth Davison, The Presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, Inc., 1972), 66. go back

2 Lucy Webb Hayes to Rutherford Platt Hayes, November 2, 1876. R. B. Hayes Library, Fremont, Ohio, hereinafter cited as RBHL.
go back

3 Davison, Hayes, 59-66. go back

4 Laura C. Holloway, Ladies of the White House (Philadelphia: Bradley & Co., 1880), 560. go back

5 Mary Ann Oakley, Elizabeth Cady Stanton (Old Westbury, N. Y.; The Feminist Press, SUNY, College at Old Westbury, 1972), 81.|
go back

6 Washington Press, January 2, 1879. go back

7 Margaret C. Gilmore, "Life of Judge Isaac Cook" (Mimeographed, n.d.). RBHL. go back

8 Laura Platt Mitchell, "Lucy Webb Hayes: Reminiscenses for Her Grandson by One of Her Nieces." (53 page typewritten account, (1890), 12; Rutherford B. Hayes to LWH, August 4, 1851. RBHL. go back

9 Lucy Webb original compositions. RBHL. go back

10Harry Barnard, Rutherford B. Hayes and His America, (Indianapolis: The Bobbs Merrill Co., 1954), 179. go back

11 R. B. Hayes Diary, May 23, 1851. RBHL. go back

12 RBH to Sardis Birchard, January 22, 1853. Hayes Diary, December 30, 1852. RBHL. go back

13 LWH to RBH, April 23, 1854. RBHL. go back

14 RBH to SB, October 18, 1856. RBHL. go back

15 RBH to SB, Apr. 15, 1861. RBHL. go back

16 LWH to Maria Webb, May 26, 1865. RBHL. go back

17 RBH to Sophia Hayes, February 4, 1866. RBHL. go back

18 LWH to RBH, March 25, [1866]. RBHL. go back

19 Barnard, Hayes and his America, 247; RBH to James D. Webb, June 3, 1870. RBHL. go back

20 Charles R. Williams, The Life of Rutherford Birchard Hayes (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1912), l, n.l, 348. go back

21 Hayes Diary, February 8, 1871. RBHL. go back

22 LWH to RBH, October 25, 1875. RBHL. go back

23 LWH to "My Dear Boy" [Birchard], November 28, 1875. RBHL. go back

24 New York Herald quoted in Fremont Weekly Journal, July 7, 1876. go back

25 "Gossip About Women," National Union, November 22, 1877, p. 116. go back

26 Mrs. L. C. Austin to LWH, November 10, 1876. RBHL. go back

27 LWH to Birchard A. Hayes, February 6, 1877. RBHL. go back

28 Barnard, Hayes and His America, 403. go back

29 Williams, Life, II, 301; Barnard, Hayes and His America, 404; Davison, Hayes, 76-77. go back

30 Laura Platt Mitchell, "Memorandum of a Typical Day at the White House." RBHL. go back

31 Julia Bundy Foraker, I Would Live It Again (New York; Harper & Bros., 1932, 69-70; Carl Wittke, "Carl Schurz and Rutherford B. Hayes," Ohio Historical Quarterly, LXV (October 1956), 350. go back

32 Information about lives of Presidents from: Laura Holloway, Ladies of the White House, 1882; Bess Furman, White House Profile (Indianapolis; Bobbs Merrill Co., Inc., 1953); Marianne Means, The Woman in the White House (New York: Random House, 1963); Kathleen Prindiville, First Ladies (New York: MacMillan Co., 1955); Jane Tompkins McConnell and Burt McConnell, First Ladies (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1953). go back

33 Washington Post, January 2, 1879. go back

34 Ibid., Feb. 26, 1879. go back

35 Curtis C. MacDonald, "Ansequago, A Biography of Sardis Birchard" (Ph.D. diss., Case Western Reserve University, 1958), 262-263. go back

36 LWH to RBH, June 24 [1854]. RBHL go back

37 Hayes Diary, July 21, 1870. RBHL. go back

38 Ibid., December 10, 1864. RBHL. go back

39 Barnard, Hayes and His America, 480. go back

40 C. B. Williams, (ed.) Diary and Letters of Rutherford Birchard Hayes (Columbus: The Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, 1922-26), III, 525. go back

41 W. L. Phelps, "Review of Rutherford B. Hayes," by H. J. Eckenrode, Boston Herald, July 5, 1930. go back

42 Charles Hurd, The White House: A Biography (New York: Harper & Bros., 1940), 186, 189. go back

43 R. P. Hayes, "Age of Innocence," Literary Digest, February 5, 1927, 41. go back

44 Margaret Spalding Gerry, Through Five Administrations: Reminiscences of Colonel Wm. H. Crook (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1910), 226. go back

45 Ibid., 227. go back

46 LWH to RPH, Jan. 31, 1879. RBHL. go back

47 Davison, Hayes, 77; LWH to BAH, March 26 [1879]. RBHL. go back

48 Davison, Hayes, 71. go back

49 Laura Platt Mitchell to Fanny and Scott Hayes, October 17, 1880. RBHL . go back

50 RBH to Albert English, July 14, 1892. RBHL. go back

51 RBH to LWH, October 4, 1870. RBHL. go back

52 Emily Apt Geer, "Lucy Webb Hayes: An Unexceptionable Woman" (Ph.D. diss., Case Western Reserve University, 1962), 260, 265. go back

53 Addresses by Mrs. Hayes, In Memoriam: Lucy Webb Hayes (Cincinnati Woman's Home Missionary Society, 1890), 83. go back

54 Ibid., 85. go back

55 Ibid., 100-101. go back

56 Lucy E. Keeler, "Account of the Last Hours of Lucy W. Hayes," manuscript written at the request of R. B. Hayes. RBHL go back

57 Webb C. Hayes to Elizabeth Tod, July 5, 1889. Draft in RBHL. go back

58 Foraker, I Would Live It Again, 74-75. The newspaper correspondent, Austine Snead (Miss Grundy), told Hayes that Mrs. Bancroft had never seen anyone so well fitted to be mistress of the White House as Lucy Hayes. RBH Diary, September 1, 1885. RBHL go back

59 Thomas F. Pendel, Thirty-Six Years in the White House (Washington: Neal Publishing Co., 1902), 93. go back

60 Geer, "Lucy Webb Hayes," 225, 261-262. go back

61 Emily Edson Briggs, The Olivia Letters: Being Some History of Washington City for Forty Years as Told by the Letters of a Newspaper Correspondent (New York: Neal Publishing Co., 1906). go back

62 "Mrs. Rutherford B. Hayes," Woman's Home Missions, August, 1889, 114. go back

63 Washington Post, January 8, 1879. go back

64 Elizabeth C. Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Matilda J. Gage, eds. History of Woman Suffrage, Vol. III, 1876-1885 (Rochester, N.Y.: Charles Mann, 1877), n. 129. go back

65 The National Republican, January 14, 1879. go back

66 Hayes Diary, April 27, 1870. RBHL go back

67 E. C. Stanton to Theodore Roosevelt, October 25, 1902. Included in Theodore Stanton and Harriet Stanton Blatch, eds., Elizabeth Cady Stanton As Revealed in Her Letters, Diary, and Reminiscences (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1922) II, 368. go back

68 David Thelen, "Rutherford B. Hayes and the Reform Tradition in the Gilded Age," American Quarterly (Summer, 1970), 152.
go back

69 LWH to Susan B. Anthony, February 1, 1888, RBHL. go back

70 LWH memorandum to officers of WHMS, ca. 1888. RBHL go back

71 Letters from Jennie McCann to LWH, November 22, 1877, February 12, 1878, August 13, 1878, December 14, 1878, June 3, 1879; LWH to General Schurz, November 10 [1880]. RBHL. go back

72 Barnard, Hayes and His America, 488. go back

73 Wittke, "Schurz and Hayes," 350. go back

go to top of page