In looks and tragic destiny, Jane Means Appleton resembled the heroine of a Victorian novel. The gentle dignity of her face reflected her sensitive personality and physical weakness. She was born in 1806, daughter of the president of Bowdoin College. The subsequent death of her father prompted the family to move from Maine to Amherst, New Hampshire. There, Jane met a young lawyer with political ambitions, Franklin Pierce. They did not marry until she was 28 - surprising in that day of early marriages.
Jane always did her best to discourage her husband's interest in politics. In 1842, the death of their first-born son, the arrival of a new baby, and Jane's dislike of Washington weighed heavily in his decision to retire from the United States Senate at the apparent height of his career. Little Frank Robert, the second son, died the next year of typhus.
Service in the Mexican War brought Pierce the rank of brigadier and local fame as a hero. He returned home safely, and for four years the Pierces lived quietly in Concord, New Hampshire, in the happiest period of their lives. With attentive pleasure, Jane watched her third son Benjamin growing up.
When the Democratic Party made Pierce their candidate for president in 1852, Jane fainted at the news. When Franklin took her to Newport for a respite, Benny wrote to her: "I hope he won't be elected for I should not like to be at Washington and I know you would not either." But the president-elect convinced Jane that his office would be an asset for their son's success in life. On a journey by train, January 6, 1853, their car was derailed and Benny killed before their eyes. The whole nation shared the parents' grief. The inauguration on March 4, 1854 took place without an inaugural ball and without the presence of Mrs. Pierce. She joined her husband later that month, but any pleasure the White House might have brought her was gone. From this loss she never recovered fully.
She had to force herself to meet the social obligations inherent in the role of First Lady. Mrs. Robert E. Lee wrote in a private letter: "I have known many of the ladies of the White House, none more truly excellent than the afflicted wife of President Pierce she was a refined, extremely religious and well-educated lady."
With retirement, the Pierces made a prolonged trip abroad. Jane carried Benny's Bible throughout the journey. The couple came home to New Hampshire to be near family and friends until Jane's death in 1863. She was buried near Benny's grave.
You Might Also Like
Collection Animal Ambassadors
Animals, whether pampered household pets, working livestock, birds, squirrels, or strays, have long been a major part of White House...
Collection Cherry Blossoms
Since the first cherry blossom planting in 1912 by First Lady Helen Herron Taft, Washingtonians have celebrated the scenic beauty and...
Collection The First Ladies
Biographies & Portraits
Collection White House Women
While there has yet to be a female president, women have played an integral role in shaping the White House...
Collection Slavery in the President's Neighborhood
Many people think of the White House as a symbol of democracy, but it also embodies America’s complicated past an...
Collection The Presidents
Biographies & Portraits
Bio Sarah Polk
Born in 1803, Sarah Childress grew up on a plantation near Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Elder daughter of a Captain, she gained something...
Bio Frances Cleveland
"I detest him so much that I don't even think his wife is beautiful," said one of President Grover Cleveland's...
Bio Elizabeth Truman
Whistle-stopping in 1948, President Truman often ended his talk by introducing his wife as "the Boss" and his daughter, Margaret, as "...
Bio Lou Hoover
Admirably equipped to preside at the White House, Lou Henry Hoover had experience as wife of a man eminent in...
Bio Harriet Lane
Unique among first ladies, Harriet Lane acted as hostess for the only president who never married. James Buchanan was her...
Bio Abigail Adams
Inheriting New England's strongest traditions, Abigail Smith was born on November 11, 1744 at Weymouth, Massachusetts. On her mother's side she was...