Leticia Christian was born on a Tidewater Virginia plantation on November 12, 1790, to Mary and Colonel Robert Christian. Although she was not formally educated, Letitia learned all the skills of managing a plantation, overseeing enslaved people, rearing a family, and presiding over a home that would be John Tyler’s refuge during an active political life. They were married on March 29, 1813—his 23rd birthday. Thereafter, whether he served in Congress or as governor of Virginia, she attended to domestic duties and preferred to stay out of the spotlight. Only once did she join him for the winter social season in Washington. Leticia gave birth to eight children; seven survived to adulthood.
By 1841, Leticia suffered a paralytic stroke that confined her to a chair. Despite this, Leticia was able to still carry out many of her duties when her husband ascended to the presidency following the untimely death of President William Henry Harrison.
In a Second Floor room at the White House, Letitia Tyler kept her quiet but pivotal role in family activities. She did not attempt to take part in the social affairs of the administration. Her daughter-in-law Priscilla Cooper Tyler, assumed the position of White House hostess, met its demands with spirit and success, and enjoyed it.
Daughter of a well-known tragedian, Priscilla had gone on the stage herself at 17. Playing Desdemona to her father’s Othello in Richmond, Virginia, she won the instant interest of Robert Tyler, whom she married in 1839. Intelligent and beautiful, she charmed the president’s guests—from visiting celebrities like Charles Dickens to enthusiastic countrymen. Once she noted ruefully: “such hearty shakes as they gave my poor little hand too!” She enjoyed the expert advice of Dolley Madison, and the companionship of her young sister-in-law Elizabeth until she married William N. Waller in 1842. For this wedding, Letitia made her only public appearance at a White House social function.
The first president’s wife to die in the White House, Letitia Tyler ended her days peacefully on September 10, 1842, holding a damask rose in her hand after suffering a stroke. She was taken to Virginia for burial at the plantation of her birth, deeply mourned by her family.
You Might Also Like
Collection Presidential and First Lady Portraits
Since 1965, the White House Historical Association has been proud to fund the official portraits of our presidents and first ladies,...
Podcast Fearless Leadership: A Conversation with Jean Case
Fearless leaders have walked the halls of White House for centuries. In this episode, White House Historical Association President Stewart...
Podcast Entertaining at the White House
From diplomatic dinners to holiday gatherings, the White House has always played a central role in the nation’s official en...
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 Animal Ambassadors
Animals, whether pampered household pets, working livestock, birds, squirrels, or strays, have long been a major part of White House...
Collection The First Ladies
Biographies & Portraits
Collection The Presidents
Biographies & Portraits
Collection The White House Behind the Scenes
While the presidency is often in the eye of the public, those who ensure operations at the White House run...
Podcast Conversations from History Happy Hour
In this first episode of 2021, White House Historical Association President Stewart D. McLaurin introduces the Association’s popular virtual program Hi...
Collection Presidential Inaugurations
In April 1789, George Washington took the oath of office in New York City. Constitutional guidelines for inaugurations are sparse, offering...
Collection Women and the White House
While there has yet to be a female president, women have played an integral role in shaping the White House...
2022 National History Day Resources
The White House Historical Association (WHHA) offers many different resources for students working on National History Day projects.