While Jane Pierce was First Lady, she was not that active in the administration, especially in the early years as she was in mourning for her son, Benny, who had died on the way to the White House. So Abby Kent Means, her uncle’s widow, often stood in for her at official functions. Cabinet wives, such as Varina Davis (Mrs. Jefferson Davis), were the center of Washington social life. Carl Anthony, in First Ladies, says that Jane Pierce noticed the competition from Varina Davis and seems to suggest that made her try a little harder. Anthony also notes that Mrs. Pierce made some efforts to get to know Mrs. Davis, taking carriage rides with her.
Carl Anthony has this blurb on Mrs. Means in America’s First Families:
Abby Kent Means initially substituted as hostess for Jane Pierce. The wealthy widow of Jane’s maternal uncle, Robert Means, Abby was able to cope with Jane’s severe neurosis and endless illnesses, and was something of a progressive in her abolitionism and intolerance of anti-Catholicism (she called a table of congressmen “very stupid” because they were bigoted Know-Nothing Party members).