Letters of Fanny Hayes Platt to Rutherford B. Hayes

1838 – 1856

 

 


Fanny Arabella Hayes Platt was born in Delaware, Ohio, on 25 January 1820; her parents were Rutherford and Sophia (Birchard) Hayes. Fanny was the older sister of President Rutherford B. Hayes. The only two Hayes children to survive to adulthood, Fanny and “Rud”—as the future president was nicknamed—endured the typical sibling quarrels of youth to become close friends and confidantes as they grew into adulthood. Indeed, Hayes was quite fond of his sister, and she had considerable influence on him throughout his life.

 

Hayes’s first memories of Fanny were as his childhood protector and playmate. She was interested both in physical and intellectual pursuits, and the two could be found staging notable dramas and poems as well as enjoying outdoors activities such as swimming, fishing, and sailing. The tomboyish Fanny also excelled in rifle shooting. Apart from the leisurely endeavors they shared, the Hayes siblings were like-minded in terms of humor and temperament as well. They each possessed a knack for irreverent criticisms and caustic wit, which could lead to squabbling in their youth. Despite these arguments, however, Rud and Fanny were quite devoted to one another.

 

Fanny was enrolled at the Female Seminary in Putnam, Ohio in her youth. She excelled at her studies, and her quest for education motivated her to encourage Rutherford along the path of success. She envied the opportunities provided to men during the era, and lamented that she herself would not be able to attend college. As such, Fanny felt that her brother should take full advantage of the academic prospects available to him. Rud, however, tended to have a rather lackadaisical approach to his studies, which would often frustrate his highly motivated sister. Fanny continued to enjoy intellectual pursuits throughout her life, as evident in her later letters to Rutherford, where she would often make mention of the authors whose works she was reading—such as Bacon, Coleridge, and Dickens—as well as various academic lectures she had attended. Fanny also developed a taste for aesthetic performances and was particularly fond of popular singer Jenny Lind, whom she considered to be a personal heroine.

 

In July of 1839, Fanny became engaged to Columbus, Ohio, entrepreneur William Augustus Platt, and they were married on 2 September 1839. Platt, who was born on 7 March 1809 in Lanesborough, Massachusetts, had moved to Ohio when he was eight years old. He had been trained in watch making and went on to establish a successful jewelry store in Columbus. Not confined to one area of business, however, Platt would eventually become president of three prosperous establishments—a door company, the first gas corporation, and the Ohio Tool Company. He was also involved in real estate, and acquired a large number of land holdings, including the future site of William and Fanny’s comfortable three-acre estate in Columbus. Rutherford and William became close following Fanny’s marriage, and the two would remain in contact following Fanny’s untimely death. William eventually remarried, but would be buried with Fanny in the Platt lot at Green Lawn Cemetery in Columbus, Ohio, upon his death from pneumonia in August of 1888.

 

Fanny settled into married life with William in Columbus, but still maintained a keen interest in Rutherford’s intellectual, business, and romantic pursuits. She worried after his health, his career, and his love interests, all while maintaining her own household and children. Fanny, unfortunately, had a difficult time in childbirth, and on one occasion suffered severe postpartum depression following the birth of her second daughter, Laura. Although she eventually recovered from the illness, which had been the cause of considerable concern for both Rutherford and William, it was the aftershocks of the birth and subsequent loss of twin girls that would lead to Fanny’s death in 1856. After suffering with illness and delirium for almost a month, Hayes’s adored sister passed away on 16 July. Devastated by the loss, Rutherford wrote, “My dear only sister, my beloved Fanny, is dead! The dearest friend of childhood…the confidante of all my life, the one I loved best, is gone.” Although deceased at the young age of thirty-six, Fanny’s influence and affection would remain a constant memory of Hayes throughout the remainder of his life. She left behind a legacy of intelligence, ambition, wit, and unwavering devotion that would not be forgotten.

 

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