No, I’m not talking about ghosts, but rather First Ladies. We often talk about women who excelled in the role of White House hostess, but just as we sometimes forget obscure Presidents we also tend to forget obscure First Ladies. First Ladies don’t campaign (well in modern society they do a lot of campaigning with their husbands, but you know what I mean) for office, rather they might not have ever supposed when they married their husband that he would one day be President. In the case of these two women, they actively tried to talk their husbands out of running for the office. Now I went looking for information on these two obscure First Ladies (Carl Anthony used the term “phantom” to refer to Peggy Taylor if you want to know where I got it from) and really found there was little information online beyond the obligatory biography in the “usual” places (the White House, the National First Ladies Library, etc.) and that they really were extremely similar and offered little new or exciting to get us interested in these women. So I decided to add some information from my own library to rectify that problem in a small way. The links are to what I considered the most in depth biographies available online.
Jane Pierce detested the life of a politician’s wife and repeatedly tried to get her husband to get out of politics. He told her that did not actively seek the nomination and only ran because they nominated him anyway. She found after his election that this was a lie. She agreed to go to DC, though, but on the way there her son, Bennie, was killed in a train wreck. Jane Pierce (Mrs. Pierce’s father was a religious fanatic and she took to many of his beliefs) blamed her husband for the boy’s death, deciding the God had killed the boy so Franklin would have no distractions while in office. She went into mourning for two years, refusing to come out and even go so hold a séance at the White House, trying to reach her son’s spirit. Even after this period, she did very little as First Lady. [Source: Carl Anthony’s First Ladies, vol. 1, pg. 157 – 159] Carl Anthony wrote: “She cast a permanent pall on the administration and rendered Pierce’s political career – which she so detested – and Washington – which she viewed with condescension – obsolete in her sphere.” [Anthony, 159]
Rumors abounded about why Margaret Taylor was never seen while her husband was President. Some said she was an embarrassment to the family and too “uncouth” to be seen in public or said she hated politics. The truth was she was a educated, genteel Southern lady, who had grown up with Martha Washington’s granddaughters. Margaret “Peggy” Taylor prayed that Henry Clay would be nominated in place of her husband for President. While she did not act as the White House hostess (her daughter Betty Bliss did instead), she did entertain special guests in her upstairs rooms. [Source: Carl Anthony’s First Ladies, vol. 1, pg. 145-147] According to legend, Peggy Taylor prayed that her husband would survive the Mexican War and if he did she would never partake of a social life again. [See website link for more information on this…Carl Anthony actually doesn’t bring this up which tells me there is probably no factual base to this legend]. Peggy Taylor predicted upon her husband’s nomination that he would die in office and he actually did – she called his nomination a “plot to deprive me of his society, and shorten his life by unnecessary care and responsibility.” [Anthony, pg. 146] Peggy Taylor was so little know in DC that there is no verified photograph or painting of her (there is more information on this on the website link…there is supposedly a photo that was found in 1998…Carl Anthony also addresses this issue in his footnotes).