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Lucy Ware Webb Hayes


Ladies of the White House or In the Home of the Presidents
Published by: Bradley & Company 
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NAME: Lucy Ware Webb Hayes

DATE OF BIRTH: August 28, 1831

PLACE OF BIRTH:  Chillicothe, Ohio

FAMILY BACKGROUND:  Lucy Ware Webb Hayes was the daughter of  James Webb and Maria Cook Webb, and sister to two older brothers (James and Joseph). Lucy's father was a medical doctor from Lexington, Kentucky. Going against his Southern conventions, he and his family were highly oppossed to slavery. After inheriting 15-20 slaves from his aunt, Dr. Webb returned to his family home to free them. After freeing the slaves, he worked tirelessly to care for the slaves who were suffering from a cholera epidemic. Despite his efforts, Dr. Webb lost his parents and a brother, and eventually died himself from cholera. Lucy was two years old when he died. When a family friend encouraged Mrs. Webb to sell these slaves after her husband's death, she was adamant in her belief that she would "take in washing" to support her family before selling slaves. The family then lived near Mrs. Webb's family in Chillicothe, Ohio.

EDUCATION:  Lucy attended elementary school in Chillicothe. In 1844, her family moved to Delaware, Ohio, to be near her brothers attending the newly formed Ohio Wesleyan University. Both of them became medical doctors. Although women were not allowed to study at Wesleyan, Lucy was permitted to attend classes in the preparatory department, earning a few credits in the collegiate division. Mrs. Webb worried that Lucy would be forced into marriage with a new Methodist minister, so in 1847, she enrolled Lucy in one of the few colleges in the U.S. that granted degrees to women, Cincinnati Wesleyan Female College. Lucy was 16 years old. Lucy excelled here and became a member of the highly respected Young Ladies Lyceum during her last year. She graduated in 1850.

ACCOMPLISHMENTS:  Mrs. Lucy Webb Hayes was the first First Lady to be called "First Lady." Unlike her predecessors, she was extremely popular and well loved by the American people. She was intelligent; the first presidential wife to be college educated.  The American public loved her for her easy manner with people. As First Lady she was very much an equal to her husband, sharing his interest in politics and people. One reporter said with sarcasm that when she took a trip without her husband, President Hayes would be "acting President" in her absence.

According to family lore, Rutherford Birchard Hayes first heard the "merry peal" of Lucy's laughter on the Wesleyan campus when she was only fifteen. He was visiting his birthplace in Delaware. In January 1850, he began a new law practice in Cincinnati and they met again while members of a wedding party. At this wedding, Rutherford gave Lucy a gold ring, a prize in his piece of wedding cake. When Lucy and Rutherford were married at her parents' home on December 30, 1852, Lucy gave Rutherford this gold ring; he wore it for the rest of his life. The Hayes had eight children, three who died in infancy: Birchard Austin (1853-1926), Webb Cook (1856-1934), Rutherford Platt (1858-1927), Joseph Thompson (1861-1863), George Crook (1864-1866), Frances "Fanny" (1867-1950), Scott Russell (1871-1923), and Manning Force (1873-1874). 

Lucy and Rutherford were partners, respecting each other's ideals and goals. While practicing law in Cincinnati, he was influenced by her anti-slavery sentiments and defended runaway slaves who had crossed the Ohio River. When the Civil War erupted, Lucy's enthusiasm encouraged Rutherford to enlist as a major in the Twenty-third Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He was almost 40 years old, with three small sons. Lucy's brother Joe also joined the Ohio regiment as surgeon. As often as was possible and safe, Lucy visited Rutherford in the field, sometimes camping out there with her mother and children, and helped her brother care for the sick and wounded.

During the war, Lucy found time to visit hospitals and correspond with her husband. Their letters back and forth brought them even closer together; Rutherford wrote in his diary: "Darling wife, how this painful separation is made a blessing by the fine character it develops or brings to view. How I love her more and more!"  A couple times during the war, Rutherford was wounded -- the first time was quite minor, while the second time he almost lost his arm. After hit in the left arm with a musket ball, Rutherford continued to lead his men despite the serious and painful injury, until his men insisted upon carrying him from the field. Lucy's brother dressed his wound in the field hospital, probably saving his arm from amputation. He was taken to Middletown, Maryland, to the home of Jacob Rudy.

On both injury occasions, Rutherford requested a telegram be sent to his wife. However, the second time he also requested two other telegrams be sent, but the orderly had only enough money for two telegrams. He chose to send the telegrams to the two men, rather than the wife. When Lucy found out later, she was incensed. A few days later, Lucy received a telegram stating "I am here, come to me. I shall not lose my arm." The telegram had a Washington byline, so Lucy entrusted the children with relatives and caught the morning stage coach. She met up with Rutherford's brother-in-law, William Platt, who accompanied her. It took them a week to get to Washington -- but Rutherford was nowhere to be found. She made a round of all the hospitals, including the Patent Office (made into a hospital during the war) and the Surgeon General's Office. William noticed on the original draft of the telegram that Middletown was crossed off and Washington was added. Lucy went back to the Patent Office and called out, "Twenty-third Ohio." Several wounded soldiers anwered her and told her Colonel Hayes was in Middletown. With relief, she finally found her husband and that he was recuperating well.

On the trip back to Ohio a couple weeks later, Lucy and Rutherford were joined by six or seven disabled soldiers from the regiment. When they had to change trains at one point, and finding no seats in the coaches, Lucy led the men into the Pullman car with the fashionable crowd returning from Saratoga. Oblivious to the looks of scorn, Lucy helped her "boys" into empty seats. Later, a telegraph messenger walked through paging Colonel Hayes. Suddenly the "society folk" were interested in the men, offering them grapes and other treats. Lucy disdainfully declined them. The troops affectionately nicknamed her "Mother Lucy." When she stayed in camp with them, she cared for them when they were ill, sewed and repaired their uniforms, and listened to their troubles. During the long war years, she and Rutherford lost two sons before they turned two years old.

Lucy’s interest in her husband’s career and confidence in his ability not only supported and encouraged him as a soldier, but as a congressman, governor of Ohio, and finally President of the United States. In August, 1864, political supporters in Cincinnati nominated Rutherford for Congress from the second district (previously he had served as City Solicitor for Cincinnati). Lucy wrote to Rutherford's Uncle Sardis (who had raised him as a son): "Of course dear Uncle it is gratifying to know how he stands with our citizens and friends -- I wonder if all women or wives have such a unbounded admiration for their better half." Rutherford answered the plea to canvass a campaign, much as expected by his wife and friends, with: "An officer fit for duty who at this crisis would abandon his post to electioneer for a seat in Congress ought to be scalped." Doubtless his concept of duty, war record, and reputation for integrity contributed to Rutherford winning the election anyway in October.

Rutherford did not resign from the Army until May of 1865, after the South surrendered and President Lincoln was assassinated. Although Lucy and the children did not move to Washington to live, she visited Rutherford often and sat in the gallery of the House to listen to debates -- particularly those on Reconstruction. In letters, she wrote her husband that she missed being able to talk politics with him. Her interest was growing. While serving his second term in Congress, Rutherford was nominated for governor of Ohio by the Union Republican party. While he was campaigning, she gave birth to their long-awaited daughter, whom they named after Rutherford's sister (who had passed away shortly after they had married).

Rutherford was elected governor of Ohio in November, 1867, but the two state houses had Democratic majorities. With not much hope of passing controversial legislation, he focused on overdue reform of state institutions. Lucy often accompanied him on visits to prisons, correctional institutions for boys and girls, and hospitals for the mentally ill, deaf and mute. She particularly was satisfied in establishing a soldiers' orphans home, without any state support. Eventually the home became a state institution, in 1870, with Lucy exerting pressure on friends in the Senate to have the home approved during the controversy.

During Rutherford's two-term governorship, Lucy began her role as hostess, entertaining and lodging friends and political visitors in their rented houses near the Capitol. She gave birth to their sixth son during this time. In 1871, Rutherford chose not to run for a third term and, in the spring of 1873, the family moved to Fremont, Ohio, into the home at Spiegel Grove that Uncle Sardis Birchard had built with them in mind. In August, Lucy gave birth to her eighth and final baby, another son -- just weeks before she turned 47 years old. Unfortunately, this son, like his two brothers born during the war, did not survive past two years old.

In 1875, leaders of the Republican party pleaded with Rutherford to run for an unprecedented third term as governor. He won, and during this term was nominated for President at the Republican convention in June 1876. At that time, custom decreed that other people do the talking for the nominated candidate. During this campaign, Lucy became a prime newspaper article subject for the first time. A writer for the New York Herald wrote: "Mrs. Hayes is a most attractive and lovable woman..." A year later, another reporter wrote: "Mrs. Hayes is said to be a student of politics, and to talk intelligently upon their changing phases."

The election was extremely close and had to be decided through a special Electoral Commission. Lucy's confidence in Rutherford helped him through this tense difficulty -- which was not concluded until March 2, 1877, after all the electoral votes were counted and Congress declared Rutherford B. Hayes as the duly elected President. With their sons Birchard and Rutherford in college, Lucy and Rutherford moved into the White House with six-year-old Scott, nine-year-old Fanny, and 21-year-old Webb (who served as his father's personal secretary). Presidential wives did not have staffs then, but Lucy invited nieces, cousins and daughters of friends to help her with social duties. Many of them stayed so long they virtually joined the family, and certainly enlivened White House events.

During her time as First Lady, from 1877 to 1881, she was well loved by her staff and visitors alike. Her husband said that she "hated" formal state dinners and that she felt comfortable at informal gatherings. Although most likely a joint decision, Lucy earned the unfortunate name "Lemonade Lucy" for their decision to not serve alcohol at the White House (although the nickname apparently did not come up until they were out of the White House). In actuality, Rutherford realized the political importance of the temperance movement and its advocates to the Republican party. He also felt public officials should maintain a dignified demeanor. Despite the lack of alcohol, Lucy was a very popular hostess.

Lucy continued to work for veterans' benefits, Native American welfare, rehabilitation of the South, and young people while in the White House -- making frequent trips to Gallaudet College (even supporting various students), the National Deaf Mute College, and the Hampton Institute (where she sponsored a scholarship for Native American students). She contributed generously to Washington charities, and often sent servants on nightly errands delivering a note and money to someone in need. Lucy also started what has become a tradition: the Easter egg roll. When children were banned from rolling eggs on the Capitol grounds, she invited them to use the White House lawn on the Monday after Easter. By the time she left Washington, Lucy was acclaimed the "most widely known and popular President's wife the country has known."

During their stay at the White House, the Hayeses had bathrooms with running water installed and a crude wall telephone added. With a renovating appropriation delayed (due to strained relations with Congress), Lucy scoured the cellar and attic, finding and restoring furniture. After the appropriation was approved, rather than undertaking extensive redecoration, Lucy decided to enlarge the conservatories by converting the connecting billiard room into a greenhouse, which was viewable from the dining room. Together, the Hayeses committed themselves to finishing the Washington Monument and were the first President and First Lady to visit the West Coast, in 1880. Lucy often accompanied Rutherford on trips.

And it was Lucy who was dubbed the title of "First Lady" -- courtesy of Mary Clemmer Ames, a reporter who called her "the first lady of the land," in an account of President Hayes' inauguration. Other reporters liked the title so much (it was much better than "Presidentess"), they continued to use the title for Lucy, as well as her successors.

When he had accepted the presidency, Rutherford said he would only serve one term and he kept his word. And, for as much as she enjoyed Washington, Lucy was also ready to leave. They returned to Spiegel Grove in March, 1881. Lucy devoted herself to her activities: joining the Woman's Relief Corps (founded in 1883), teaching a Sunday School class, attending reunions of the Twenty-third Ohio Volunteer Infantry, entertaining guests, and continuing her work for better prison conditions and veterans' treatment. Later, she was persuaded to serve as national president of the recently formed Woman's Home Missionary Society of the Methodist Church, which worked for the betterment of poor and destitute women. 

On a summer afternoon, while sewing beside her bedroom bay window and watching Scott and Fanny and their friends playing tennis, Lucy suffered a severe stroke. Early in the morning on June 25, 1889, she died in her sleep. She was two months from turning 58 years old. Rutherford was grief-stricken; he had lost his partner in all aspects of his life. Later, he would refer to their marriage as "the most interesting fact" of his life. On his forty-eighth birthday, he had written to Lucy: "My life with you has been so happy -- so successful -- so beyond reasonable anticipations, that I think of you with a loving gratitude that I do not know how to express." Their son Webb wrote: "My Mother was all that a Mother could be and in addition was a most joyous and lovable companion."

Rutherford died three years later; the two are buried together at Spiegel Grove. In 1912, their second son, Colonel Webb Cook Hayes, deeded Spiegel Grove to the state of Ohio, including his father's library collection of 12,000 books, and began building a museum on the property. In 1916, he opened the first presidential library and museum in the United States using his own money and some from the state. (See website information below.) In the late 1960s, Lucy's birthplace was restored and opened to the public as the Lucy Webb Hayes Heritage Center (90 West Sixth Street, Chillicothe, OH; 740-775-5829; open Fridays and Saturdays from 1-4 p.m.; $2 admission).

DATE OF DEATH: June 25, 1889

PLACE OF DEATH:  Fremont, Ohio

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Barnard, Harry.  Rutherford B. Hayes, and his America.  Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1954.

Commire, Anne, editor. Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Waterford, Conn.: Yorkin Publications, 1999-2000.

Geer, Emily Apt.  First Lady: The Life of Lucy Webb Hayes.  Kent: Kent State University Press, 1984.

Gould, Lewis L., editor. American First Ladies: Their Lives and Their Legacy. New York: Garland Publishing, 1996.

Mahan, Russell L. Lucy Webb Hayes: A First Lady by Example. New York: Nova Science Publishers, 2004.

 

WEB SITES:

Lucy Webb Hayes - Several articles about her, plus her letters, from the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center

Lucy Ware Webb Hayes - White House history 

Lucy Ware Webb Hayes - National First Ladies' Library 

Lucy Ware Webb Hayes - The American President, PBS 

Lucy Ware Webb Hayes - LookSmart.com: Biographies and factsheets

Lucy Hayes - by James L. Walker - Bits of Blue and Gray: An American Civil War Notebook 

The Very First "First Lady": Lucy Webb Hayes - by Merre A. Phillips - Seasons of the Sandusky: Magazine for Information, Entertainment and Activities of the Sandusky River Valley and Lake Erie Island Area

 

This page may be cited as:
Women in History. Lucy Ware Webb Hayes biography.  Lakewood Public Library.  <http://www.lkwdpl.org/wihohio/haye-luc.htm>.

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