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Frances “Frank” Clara Folsom was born on July 21, 1864, in Buffalo, New York, to Emma and Oscar Folsom. Her father operated a firm with law partner Grover Cleveland, who became a close family friend and was even referred to by Frances as “Uncle Cleve.” When she was eleven years old, her father died in a carriage accident. Cleveland served as a pallbearer at the funeral and became an administrator of Folsom’s estate.1

Frances attended Central High School but left school in October 1881. Despite not graduating, Cleveland, in his role as Mayor of Buffalo, helped secure a diploma. She later enrolled at Wells College in Aurora, New York.2

Following Cleveland’s election to the presidency in 1884, he invited Frances and her mother Emma to attend his Inauguration. Frances was unable to attend because of her college examination schedule, but she visited later that month and President Cleveland began quietly courting her. She graduated from Wells College in June 1885, and soon embarked on a European tour, while secretly agreeing to marry Cleveland.3

On June 2, 1886, she married President Grover Cleveland in a small ceremony in the Blue Room. At just twenty-one years old, she was the youngest first lady in American history and the only one married in the White House. Following their marriage, Frances took over the White House hosting duties from the president’s sister, Rose. She became extremely popular with the press, eager for details about her wedding and married life with the president. During her husband’s first term, she kept up an active and rigorous social schedule, hosting two receptions a week, including one on Saturday so that working women could attend.4

When Cleveland lost the 1888 election to Benjamin Harrison, Frances prepared to leave the White House, but one recollection recounted her comments to a White House employee: “Now, Jerry, I want you to take good care of all the furniture and ornaments in the house, and not let any of them get lost or broken, for I want to find everything just as it is now, when we come back again.”5 This prophetic statement ultimately came true. The Clevelands moved to New York City where Frances gave birth to her first child Ruth in 1891 and participated in philanthropic work. They returned to the White House following the election of 1892.

During Cleveland’s second term, Frances became the only first lady to give birth to a child at the White House when her daughter Esther was born in 1893. She gave birth to a third daughter, Marion, in 1895. With three young children at the White House, Frances dealt with increased scrutiny from the press and attempted to shield her growing family by ordering the closure of the White House Grounds while her family was in residence. They also had a second home in Washington, D.C. to get away from the White House when needed. In addition to caring for her family and continuing her hostess duties, she also left her mark on the White House. Frances ordered many rooms repainted or repapered and remodeled the Red Room.6

At the conclusion of Cleveland’s presidency, the family left the White House and moved to Princeton, New Jersey. Frances gave birth to two sons, Richard and Francis, in 1897 and 1903. Their daughter Ruth died in 1904, followed by her husband in 1908.7

After Cleveland’s death, Frances continued to raise her children and in 1912 remarried Thomas J. Preston Jr. During her later years, she traveled to Europe, remained engaged in politics, and continued her extensive philanthropic work. Frances Cleveland died on October 29, 1947, at the age of eighty-three. She was buried next to Grover Cleveland at Princeton Cemetery.8

Footnotes & Resources

  1. Annette Dunlap, Frank: The Story of Frances Folsom Cleveland, America’s Youngest First Lady, (Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 2009), 13.
  2. Dunlap, Frank, 17.
  3. Dunlap, Frank, a
  4. William Seale, The President’s House, (The White House Historical Association, 2008), 542-545.
  5. W.H. Crook, Memories of the White House, (Boston, Massachusetts: Little, Brown, and Company, 1911), 196
  6. Seale, 587; Dunlap, Frank, 94-97.
  7. Dunlap, Frank, 113-119
  8. “First Lady Biography: Frances Cleveland,” National First Ladies Library,; Dunlap, Frank, 165-167.