Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The President's Sister: Rose Cleveland

Last week, our guessing game was President Cleveland's sister, Rose, so now let's learn a little something about her.

When Grover Cleveland came to the White House, he was a bachelor and so his sister, Rose Elizabeth Cleveland, came with him to act as the official hostess until his marriage to Frances Folsom. Frances Cleveland, a young White House bride, was loved by the public and so Rose's contributions are often overlooked.

Rose Cleveland was a serious academic and found her duties tiresome and actually conjugated Greek verbs in her head during receptions, but she did her duty for her brother. The National First Ladies Library biography gives us an interesting view of Rose Cleveland that includes the possibility of homosexuality:
Rose Elizabeth "Libbie" Cleveland was born 13 June, 1846; she was educated at the Houghton Seminary and taught literature in Lafayette, Indiana and later at Hamilton College.

Publicly, Rose Cleveland was considered a "bluestocking," a serious, academic woman with little patience for those women who focused only on clothing and entertaining. Her private letters, however, reveal the frustration she experienced as a result of following the unwritten code of social proprieties that Victorian First Ladies had followed, such as not dining in private homes or appearing in the public markets. She had a love of Gilbert & Sullivan productions, however, and often managed to even coax her hard-working brother out of the White House to attend the theater with her. Her facility with the classics came in handy when, during the endless receiving lines she found quite dull, she conjugated Greek and Latin verbs in her head. While she largely remained disinterested in politics, she didn't hesitate to express her anti-Catholicism to the President in her warnings to him not to appoint too many "papists" to federal positions. Most of her friends were theatrical or literary professionals. Rose Cleveland was herself notable as the first First Lady, though not a presidential wife, to publish books she wrote during her incumbency. Her first book George Eliot's Poetry and Other Studies was published while she was in the White House, in June of 1885; it went through 12 editions in a year and earned her some $25,000. The following year - still as White House hostess - she published You and I: Or moral, intellectual and social culture, a 545 page treatise considering the changes wrought on 1886 American life. Her last book, The Soliloquies of St. Augustine, translated into English, With Notes and Introduction by the Translator was published in 1910 by Little, Brown, and Company.

In 1889, just months after her brother's first term of the presidency ended, the 44 year old Rose Cleveland began a romantic friendship with Evangeline Simpson, a wealthy 30-year-old widow, whom she met while on vacation in Florida. After returning to their respective homes, the two women exchanged what can only be described as a series of increasingly erotic letters. "I tremble at the thought of you," Cleveland wrote. "I dare not think of your arms." Simpson, in return, addressed Cleveland as "my Clevy, my Viking, my Everything." When Simpson enclosed a photo of herself in a letter, Cleveland replied that "the look of it [is] all making me wild." After a few years, however, Simpson chose to follow a more conventional path. In 1892, she became engaged to an Episcopal bishop twice her age. The decision, Cleveland wrote, hurt her deeply. Nevertheless, she wished the couple well on the occasion of their 1893 wedding - on White House stationery. He died in 1901, and after Evangeline had observed the traditional one-year of mourning, she abruptly left for Europe and was joined by Rose, the two women living together in Italy.

They settled there permanently in 1910. Evangeline Whipple lived for 12 years beyond Rose Cleveland, who died on 26 November, 1918. The two women are buried alongside each other in Italy.

Hope you enjoyed this information about Rose's life.

1 comment:

coriolan said...

In his autobiography "Marching Along," John Philip Sousa spoke very highly of Rose Cleveland (as he did of Cleveland himself, who he called a "great man"). Sousa also noted that Cleveland seemed more care-woen after his marriage to Frances Folsom (Sousa conducted the Marine band on Cleveland's wedding day).