De Facto First Ladies


Angelica Singleton Van Buren

What role will Ivanka Trump play in the White House? Will she do the work of the First Lady while Melania Trump is living in New York with her son Barron?

JSTOR Daily has a nice historical piece on the women who did the work of White House hostess when the First Lady was absent.  They include Patsy Jefferson Randolph, Emily Donelson, and Margaret Wilson.

Here is a taste:

Martin Van Buren (1837–1841): Daughter-in-Law Angelica Singleton

Hannah Hoes Van Buren died before the age of 36, most likely of tuberculosis, in 1819, well before her husband’s time in office. The childhood sweethearts grew up in a small Dutch community in New York. Their eldest son, Abraham, met Angelica Singleton, a South Carolina belle visiting her cousin Dolley Madison. The two fell in love and quickly married. Angelica then took over hosting duties for her father-in-law.

Singleton’s portrait, with dark corkscrew curls and ostrich plumes, said to be Jackie Kennedy’s favorite, hung in the Red Room. Inspired by honeymoon visits with European aristocrats, Angelica spent her 1840 New Year’s Day reception sitting silently, “tableaux” style, holding a bouquet of flowers so that she could avoid the expected handshakes. Some historians think that press accounts of this royal behavior and her upper-class, finishing-school background helped lose Van Buren a second term.


Read the entire piece here.

One thought on “De Facto First Ladies

  1. Interesting to note that the de facto first ladies end with Wilson–I take it to mean that mortality for 19th century women was much higher than for 20th century ones.


Comments are closed.