[The following column is the seventh of a series in COLUMNIST WITH A VIEW. The sketches are taken from the editor’s book manuscript Our Curious Presidents and Their Families. Many books of presidential trivia are available, however, the pieces I have selected from my own research are somewhat obscure. Most of them come from presidential autobiographies, approved biographies, or the sources indicated.]
The presidents of the United States were not immune from rocky marriages.
George Washington wrote several questionable letters of a private nature to Mrs. Sally Fairfax, his neighbor’s wife. She was definitely Washington’s first love interest. Fairfax eventually took his wife to England. Washington married Martha, a wealthy widow, and doubled his wealth! Mrs. Washington was faithful to her husband, following him from camp to camp during the Revolutionary War. But, she did not want him to be president and refused to accompany him to New York for his inauguration.
John Quincy Adams had a difficult and unhappy marriage primarily because of differing temperaments. Louisa Adams’ anxieties and John Quincy’s eccentricities made them essentially incompatible.
Franklin Pierce and Jane Appleton Pierce had problems during their entire marriage because of background differences. Jane Pierce was austere and a teetotaler with strong religious convictions, while Franklin was a convivial, extroverted “party-animal” type. The tragic deaths at an early age of all their children put a tremendous strain on the couple’s relationship and Pierce’s aspirations. By the time they reached the White House, Jane Pierce was an emotional wreck and blamed her husband’s political ambitions for the accidental death of their remaining son, Benjamin, while he was president-elect.
Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln’s marriage was less than ideal. Mary was high-strung, ambitious, and mentally unstable. Her lavish spending while first lady
caused the president a great deal of worry; as well, the fact that she had relatives serving in the Confederate Army. Lincoln showed patience beyond measure with his wife
James A. Garfield’s relationship with his wife Lucretia was troubled early-on. Garfield had an affair with a young widow while he was in the military, a fact his wife never forgot. Garfield also had an extramarital affair with a woman in New York. Later, the Garfield’s marriage seemed to stabilize. Incidentally, Garfield was the only ordained minister to become president. Nonetheless, he had an eye for the ladies.
Benjamin Harrison’s law career and his avid interest in political affairs kept him away from his family for considerable lengths of time. This caused tension in the marriage between him and his wife Caroline. Their relationship seems to have improved considerably following Harrison’s service during the War Between the States.
Woodrow Wilson carried on a three-year extramarital affair while married to his wife Ellen Louise Axxon Wilson. Washingtonians looked askance at how quickly he romanced and married Edith Bolling Galt following his first wife’s death in the White House.
Warren G. Harding was never close to his wife Florence Kling Harding because of emotional differences. He was known to have several extra-marital affairs before and during his presidency. And, yes, once he hid a paramour in a closet while the First Lady ranted through the house looking for her.
Franklin D. Roosevelt’s relationship with his wife Anna Eleanor Roosevelt became mostly cool and professional after Eleanor discovered he was having an affair with her social secretary. As a matter of fact, Roosevelt’s girlfriend was with him at his Georgia White House when he suddenly died. She disappeared quickly…before Eleanor arrived to accompany his body back to Washington, D.C.
Dwight D. Eisenhower reputedly had an intimate relationship with his driver, Kay Summersby, while serving in Europe. President Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote a letter to Eisenhower “suggesting” an end to the affair and the rumors.
Recent findings substantiate the rocky relationship between John F. and Jacqueline Kennedy. He frequently consorted with other women during his entire marriage, and his behavior continued in the White House, a fact well known to the first lady.
Lyndon Johnson’s reputed extra-marital and untoward affairs never seemed to interfere with his relationship with his wife. The story is often told that when Lady Bird Johnson was told of a particular tryst between her husband and another woman, Lady Bird remarked, “Why, I wouldn’t think she’s Lyndon’s type!”
Bill Clinton’s relationship with Hillary Rodham Clinton was strained by numerous reported, reputed, and confirmed affairs with other women throughout their marriage. The most well-known, however, was his affair with White House Aide Monica Lewinsky.