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President Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan Dancing at an Inaugural Ball at the DC Armory in Washington, DC, National Archives
Nancy and Ronald Reagan at his Inaugural Ball, 1985: National Archives
February 7, 2021

Love in the White House

As Valentine’s Day approaches, we thought it would be fitting to explore how the White House has been the backdrop to various stages of love.

Bachelorhood

The only president who assumed office as a bachelor, and remained so, was James Buchanan. Buchanan served as the 15th President of the United States from 1857-1861. Having presided over the nation leading up to the Civil War, and failing to grasp the gravity and extent of the division facing the country, his political legacy and reputation are about as brutally depicted as his love life. For his own part, Buchanan bore his lot with good humor, lamenting on occasion his “hard fate with the ladies.” 

Marriage

Like Buchanan, Grover Cleveland entered the White House a bachelor in 1885, but he would not remain so for long. The following year, 49-year-old Cleveland married 21-year-old Frances Folsom in the White House. Though Cleveland was the second president to marry in office, Grover and Frances were the first – and to date, only – couple to marry in the White House. Francis became the 22nd First Lady, and the youngest in history. Cleveland had been law partners and very close friends with Francis’s father. In fact, Cleveland had bought the Folsoms a pram on the occasion of Frances’s birth. When Oscar Folsom died, Cleveland became the executor of his estate, and Francis, then 11, became Cleveland’s ward. Despite the age gap and nearly familial bonds between the two, the American public embraced the union, and the young and charming First Lady, in particular. 

Golden Years

When Ronald Reagan was elected the 40th President in 1984, he made history in two ways: at 69, he was the oldest president elected (Joe Biden most recently took the title, having just assumed the presidency at age 78), and he was the first divorced person to assume the office. Reagan did not enter the White House alone, though – far from it. Nancy Reagan, the First Lady, had been his wife for over 30 years. Nancy and Ronald were famously and enduringly in love. Despite the pressures of always being in the limelight (they were a Hollywood couple before), their love never wavered, and it’s been commonly said that they never stopped courting. Indeed, their marriage has been described as “the greatest love affair in the history of the American Presidency.”

 

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