Frances Folsom was born on July 21, 1864 in Buffalo, New York, only surviving child of Emma C. Harmon and Oscar Folsom—who became a law partner of Cleveland’s. As a devoted family friend Cleveland bought “Frank” her first baby carriage. As administrator of the Folsom estate after his partner’s death, though never her legal guardian, he guided her education with sound advice. When she entered Wells College, he asked Mrs. Folsom’s permission to correspond with her, and he kept her room bright with flowers.
Though Frank and her mother missed his inauguration in 1885, they visited him at the White House that spring. Affection turned into romance—despite 27 years difference in age—and on June 2, 1886, they were married in the Blue Room.
Cleveland’s scholarly sister Rose gladly gave up the duties of hostess for her own career in education; and with a bride as first lady, state entertainments took on a new interest. Mrs. Cleveland’s unaffected charm won her immediate popularity. She held two receptions a week—one on Saturday afternoons, when women with jobs were free to come.
After the president’s defeat in 1888, the Clevelands lived in New York City, where baby Ruth was born. In 1892, Grover Cleveland won another term and the first lady returned to the White House as if she had been gone but a day. People took keen interest in the birth of Esther at the Executive Mansion in 1893, and of Marion in 1895.When the family left the White House, Mrs. Cleveland had become one of the most popular women ever to serve as hostess for the nation. It was also during this time that newspapers across the country began referring to the role as “first lady of the land.”
She bore two sons while the Clevelands lived in Princeton, New Jersey, and was at her husband’s side when he died at their home, “Westland,” in 1908.
In 1913 she married Thomas J. Preston Jr. a professor of archeology, and remained a figure of note in the Princeton community until she died on October 29, 1947. She had reached her 84th year—nearly the age at which the venerable Mrs. Polk had welcomed her and her husband on a presidential visit to the South, and chatted of changes in White House life from bygone days.
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