All the Presidents' Wives: First Ladies of Scandal
Most of us have heard about past Presidents' limitless libidos, uncomfortably close ties to crooks, and political sabotage of their opponents. But how about the women who loved and married these powerful men? Turns out that the first ladies, those supposed paragons of virtue, are as human as the rest of us.
Some of these "scandals" would barely register today (and others may even be a cause for advocacy and celebration) but at the time they were closely guarded secrets or political bombshells.
Eleanor Roosevelt's Lesbian Love Affair
FDR and Eleanor had one of the most simpatico political relationships but things seemed to have cooled in the bedroom after she discovered his early affair with his secretary. Perhaps that is why she sought solace in the arm of another....woman. Based on over 3500 letters, some biographers and historians believe Eleanor Roosevelt had an intimate sexual relationship with journalist Lorena Hickock. Roosevelt wrote, "I ache to hold you close." Hickok mused, "Most clearly I remember your eyes and the feeling of that soft spot just northeast of the corner of your mouth against my lips." Did the pioneering progressive find true Sapphic happiness or was this just a very, very close friendship? In another era would Lorena have been Eleanor's first lady?
Florence Harding's Questionable Past
Before she met Warren Harding, Florence Kling had a son with a man she most likely never married. She separated from her maybe-husband and supported herself and her son by giving piano lessons. Eventually her parents took over the care of her son. During her tenure as first lady, Florence brought in a fortune teller. Despite rumors that Florence poisoned her husband, most historians agree that he died because the doctor treated his heart attack as food poisoning. While a bit outside of 19th century Ohio standards, Florence doesn't hold a candle to her husband, perhaps the most scandalous president in United States History. He fathered several children out-of-wedlock and one of his many baby-mamas was the first to write a Presidential mistress' tell-all. More damningly, his administration is best known for accepting bribes and betraying national interests in the Teapot Dome Scandal.
Julia Gardiner Tyler's May-December Romance
When Julia married the widower-in-chief, she was just 24-years-old, 30 years President John Tyler's junior. The "Rose of Long Island" was no stranger to scandal--her parents had shipped her off to Europe after she sparked gossip by appearing in a department store advertisement. Her modeling experience was put to use again as she had an engraving of her image entitled "The President's Bride" and sold as a souvenir. For the most part, though, people indulged the young first lady's extravagance, which included receiving guests while seated on a throne, riding in a fancy coach pulled by a team of eight matching white Arabian horses, and maintaining a court of ladies-in-waiting adorned in white satin. The First Lady also initiated the custom of having the president greeted with the anthem “Hail to the Chief.”
Laura Bush's Fatal Accident
Okay, I admit I found this out on "Family Guy". A teenage Laura ran a stop sign and killed a classmate, who may or may not have been an ex-boyfriend. Kind, mild-mannered, librarian Laura no doubt carries the guilt from that huge mistake with her.
Nancy Reagan's Expensive Tastes and Reliance on Astrology
Although she claimed she was doing it all for America, Nancy Reagan got into a tight spot when people found out she was accepting tens of thousands of dollars worth of designer dresses without disclosing the gifts on financial documents. Some appreciated her attempts to restore glamor to the White House but others attacked her as being out of touch with ordinary Americans during a recession. After the assassination attempt on the President, Nancy called in an astrologer to protect her beloved Ronnie. According to staffers, Cancerian Nancy even dictated the President's public appearances based on the color-coded schedule from the astrologer.
Mary Todd Lincoln's Garage Sale
The American public was often willing to forgive extravagance in a first lady as long as she had youthful looks and a charming personality. Staffers referred to Mary Todd Lincoln, on the other hand, as a "hellcat". One of our least popular first ladies, Mary suffered from mental illness. Recently released diaries suggest that she embezzled money from the government, hiring fake employees and keeping their salaries, inflating the costs of state dinners, and charging her personal items to the United States' accounts. Despite pilfering from the White House pantry on her way out, Mary found herself destitute following Lincoln's assassination. For relief from poverty, she attempted to sell off trunk-fulls of her designer clothing. When her fundraising efforts were discovered, the papers savaged her for this lapse of etiquette.
Rachel Jackson's Bigamy
Rachel's first husband claimed that Rachel flirted with others, abandoned him, and then committed bigamy when she married Andrew Jackson. Her side is that she fled an abusive husband who misled her into believing he had filed a divorce. Once the divorce was truly final, Andrew Jackson re-wed Rachel Jackson. The scandal haunted Jackson during his campaign for the presidency and perhaps contributed to Rachel's death shortly before Jackson took office.