Friday, April 17, 2009

Betty Taylor Bliss

While Margaret Taylor went to Washington with her husband, she was not active in the Washington social life. Instead, she had her daughter, Betty, perform the public duties:
In many respects, it was Peggy Taylor's daughter, Mary Elizabeth "Betty" Taylor Bliss Dandridge (1824-1909) who assumed responsibility for the family's primary interaction with the general public. She married her father's aide, Colonel William Wallace Bliss on 5 December 1846. He was the son of Captain John Bliss of the U.S. Army and his wife Olive Limonds, both of Connecticut. Educated in Philadelphia, and spending much of her adolescent years in Kentucky and Virginia with relatives and away from her parents, Betty Bliss was once dubbed a "rustic belle" but contemporary accounts suggest that she was intelligent and sophisticated. She had been acting as something of a spokesperson for her more reclusive mother once her father had achieved national acclaim and the family attracted unwanted curiosity. At the Inaugural Ball, following the Russian Minister's wife in red silk and diamonds, "Miss Betty" appeared in a simple white dress with a white flower in her hair and her naturalness became her trademark. She presided over all public functions in the White House as the official hostess of the Taylor Administration. By the time the fall 1849 social season began, however, there was a marked difference in the style of the family. There is a suggestion that her mother's health had briefly deteriorated since she then relinquished all the domestic management to Betty Bliss, who also seemed to observers to now "appreciate the importance of her social elevation." The change was visibly apparent at the March 4, 1850 White House reception when Betty Bliss led the conversations with men, balancing humor with sensibility and her poise was highly praised in the next day's newspapers.

Betty Bliss was with her mother, husband, sister and brother-in-law at the bedside of the President when, after a sudden gastric illness of five days, he died on 9 July, 1850. Peggy Taylor could not accept the reality of his demise as it became inevitable within a matter of hours. She became hysterical and repeated that he had survived worse threats to his life on the battlefield and in the primitive forts where they had lived. She begged him not to leave her and upon his death insisted that the ice preserving his body be removed on three occasions just so she could look upon his face one more time. She was unable to attend his funeral in the East Room. Instead, according to Varina Davis, she listened to the funeral dirges and drum marches lying upstairs on her bed, shaking and sobbing in shock.

Six years after her first husband's death on 4 August, 1852 (just ten days before her mother's death) Betty Bliss remarried to Philip Pendleton Dandridge on February 11, 1858. While her sister Ann and her two sons moved to Germany during the Civil War, Betty remained loyal to the Confederacy and took responsibility for Ann's daughter and namesake, living in Winchester, Virginia. She herself had no children, but until her death at age 85, "Miss Betty" sought to maintain the public's fading memory of her father. She died on 25 July, 1909 in Winchester.

I hope you enjoyed this background on Betty Bliss, one of our White House hostesses.


coriolan said...

Speaking of the Taylor administration, you might find this of interest - there are some folks who are attempting to resurrect the Whig Party

They claim to have 30,000 members so far.

They also claim that five presidents began their political careers as Whigs. Obviously, there's WH Harrison & Zach Taylor, Fillmore, and Lincoln - but who was the fifth? HINT: It was not the lifelong Democrat John Tyler.

Jennie W said...

Is it Hayes?