Lucy Ware Webb Hayes (August 28, 1831 – June 25, 1889) was a First Lady of the United States and the wife of President Rutherford B. Hayes.
Hayes was the first First Lady to have a college degree. She was also a more egalitarian hostess than previous First Ladies. An advocate for African-Americans both before and after the Civil War, Lucy invited the first African-American professional musician to appear at the White House. She was a Past Grand of Lincoln Rebekah Lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, together with her husband.
Historians have christened her "Lemonade Lucy" due to her staunch support of the temperance movement; however, contrary to popular belief, she was never referred to by that nickname while living, and it was her husband who banned alcohol from the White House.
Lucy Webb Hayes was born on August 28, 1831 in Chillicothe, Ohio. Her parents were Dr. James Webb and Maria Cook. She had two older brothers who both became medical doctors.
In 1833, Lucy's father went to his family's home in Lexington, Kentucky to free 15-20 slaves he had inherited from his aunt. There was a cholera epidemic happening at the time and James cared for the sick. Soon James became infected with cholera himself and died. Friends of Lucy's mother advised the family to sell the slaves rather than free them. Maria responded that she would take in washing to earn money before she would sell a slave.
Maria's father, Isaac Cook, was a temperance advocate and he encouraged young Lucy to sign a pledge to abstain from alcohol.
In 1844, the Webb family moved to Delaware, Ohio. Lucy's brothers enrolled at Ohio Wesleyan University and although women were not allowed to study at Wesleyan, Lucy was permitted to enroll in the college prep program at the university.
A term report signed by the vice-president of Ohio Wesleyan in 1845 noted that her conduct was "unexceptionable" (beyond reproach).
Several months later Lucy transferred to Cincinnati Wesleyan Female College and she graduated from there in 1850. Lucy was unusually well educated for a young lady of her day.
While in college, Lucy wrote essays on social and religious issues. One essay was entitled "Is Traveling on the Sabbath Consistent with Christian Principles?" At her commencement, she read an original essay, "The Influence of Christianity on National Prosperity." Lucy appears to have been influenced by the women's suffrage movement, writing in one essay, "It is acknowledged by most persons that her (woman's) mind is as strong as a man's....Instead of being considered the slave of man, she is considered his equal in all things, and his superior in some."
Lucy first met Rutherford B. Hayes at Ohio Wesleyan University. At the time, Lucy was fourteen years old and Rutherford was twenty-three. Rutherford's mother was hopeful that the two would find a connection, but at this point Rutherford considered Lucy "not quite old enough to fall in love with."
In 1850, Rutherford's older sister Fanny Platt encouraged him to visit with Lucy again. That summer Lucy and Rutherford were members of the same wedding party. Rutherford was so taken with Lucy that he gave her the prize (a gold ring) that he had found in the wedding cake.
In 1851, Rutherford wrote in his diary, "I guess I am a great deal in love with L(ucy)....Her low sweet voice...her soft rich eyes." Rutherford also praised her intelligence and character, "She sees at a glance what others study upon, but will not, perhaps study what she is unable to see at a flash. She is a genuine woman, right from instinct and impulse rather than judgment and reflection."
After the couple became engaged, Lucy returned the wedding cake ring to Rutherford and he wore that ring for the rest of his life.
Lucy and Rutherford were married at her mother's house in Cincinnati in a simple ceremony on December 30, 1852.
Lucy and Rutherford spent their honeymoon at Fanny's house in Columbus, OH before returning to Cincinnati. In Columbus, Rutherford argued a case before the Ohio Supreme Court while Fanny and Lucy developed a close friendship. The two women attended lectures and concerts together. Lucy and Fanny once went to a lecture by noted suffragette Lucy Stone. Lucy Hayes agreed with Stone that a reform in the wage scale for women was long overdue, and that "violent" methods sometimes served the purpose of calling attention to the need for reforms. Lucy noted that Stone took the position that "whatever is proper for a man to do is equally right for a woman provided she has the power." According to Emily Apt Geer of the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, "if the influence of the bright and aggressive Fanny Platt has extended over a normal lifetime, Lucy Hayes might have become active in the woman's rights movement." Fanny Platt died in childbirth during the winter of 1856. Lucy's sixth child and only daughter was named in memory of Fanny.
The couple had eight children: Birchard Austin (1853-1926), Webb Cook (1856-1934), Rutherford Platt (1858-1927), Joseph Thompson (1861-1863), George Crook (1864-1866), Fanny (1867-1950), Scott Russell (1871-1923), and Manning Force (1873-1874).
Rutherford had previously thought the abolition of slavery was too radical a move, but influenced by Lucy’s anti-slavery sentiments, soon after their marriage Rutherford began defending runaway slaves who had crossed into Ohio from Kentucky.
After Lincoln's election in 1860, Lucy and Rutherford joined the presidential train from Indianapolis to Cincinnati.
When the first news of the firing on Ft. Sumter reached Cincinnati, Lucy was in favor of the war. She even felt that if she had been at Ft. Sumter with a garrison of women there might have been no surrender. Her enthusiasm encouraged Rutherford to enlist as a major in the Twenty-third Ohio Volunteer Infantry. As often as she could, Lucy – sometimes with her mother and children – visited Rutherford in the field. She often assisted her brother, Dr. Joe Webb, in caring for the sick.
In September 1862, Rutherford was injured in battle in Middleton, Maryland. Thinking he was hospitalized in Washington due to a paperwork error, Lucy rushed to the nation's capitol. She eventually found him in Maryland and after two weeks of convalescence, the Hayeses returned to Ohio with other wounded troops.
After Rutherford returned to his regiment, Lucy became a regular visitor Rutherford's Army camp. She ministered to the wounded, cheered the homesick, and comforted the dying. She also secured supplies from Northern civilians to better equip the Union soldiers. Lucy was often joined by her mother at camp and her brother Joe was the regiment's surgeon. The men of the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry affectionate nicknamed her "Mother Lucy" for her service. At one point, twenty year old William McKinley spent hours tending a campfire because Lucy sat nearby.
The couple's infant son, Joe, died while at an Army camp.
While Rutherford served in Congress, Lucy joined him in Washington for its winter social season. Lucy regularly sat in the gallery of the House to listen to congressional debates. She often wore a checkered shawl so her husband could spot her.
In 1866, the Hayses and other congressional couples visited the scene of race riots in Memphis and New Orleans to see the damage that had been done.
She also worked for the welfare of children and veterans.
The couple's nearly two-year-old son George died during this period.
First Lady of Ohio
While Rutherford was Governor of Ohio, Lucy often accompanied her husband on visits to prisons, correctional institutions for boys and girls, hospitals for the mentally ill, and facilities for the deaf and mute.
In 1870, Lucy and her friends established a soldiers' orphans home in Xenia, Ohio.
Rutherford initially chose not to run for a third term as governor and in 1873 the family moved to Spiegel Grove. Rutherford's uncle, Sardis Birchard, had built the house with them in mind. This house would later become the first presidential library.
In 1875, Rutherford ran for and won a third term as governor. The hard fought victory brought Rutherford to national prominence and in June 1876, Rutherford was nominated for president by the Republican party.
Lucy played an active role in her husband's administration and lobbied the state legislature to provide more funding to schools, orphanages, and insane asylums.
Their youngest child, named for General Manning F. Force, was born and died in 1873, while the Hayes family lived at Spiegel Grove.
First Lady of the United States
The Presidential election of 1876 was one of the most controversial in the country's history. Hayes was not declared the winner until March 1, 1877, five months after Election Day. The declaration was so delayed that the Hayes family boarded a train to Washington without being sure if Rutherford was the president elect. The next morning, March 2, they were awakened near Harrisburg to receive the news that Congress had finally declared Hayes President of the United States.
In the early days of Rutherford's administration, the North's military occupation of the South and the Reconstruction era came to an end.
Restoration funds for the White House were unavailable when they first moved in, so Lucy retrieved old furniture from the attic and rearranged things to hide the holes in the carpets and drapes. According to executive assistant William Cook, "any really good things owed their preservation to this energetic lady."
By the time of Rutherford's inauguration, the position First Lady was an increasingly prominent position. There were growing numbers of female journalists in the late nineteenth century. Female reporters devoted much of their time and energy to covering the most visible woman in America: the First Lady. The attention began after Rutherford's inauguration with the New York Herald writing "Mrs. Hayes is a most attractive and lovable woman. She is the life and soul of every party... For the mother of so many children she looks ... youthful."
Lucy Hayes was actually the first wife of the President to be widely referred to as the First Lady by the press, when Mary Clement Ammes referred to the "First Lady" in a newspaper column about the inauguration. Advances in printing technology meant that a wide audience saw sketches of the new First Lady from the 1877 inauguration.
At this time it was not then the custom for a president's wife to have a staff of social assistants and unlike some previous First Ladies, Lucy had no adult daughters to help shoulder the workload. Lucy depended on nieces, cousins, and daughters of friends to help with social events and these young ladies helped enliven the Hayes White House.
Lucy was fond of animals. A cat, a bird, two dogs, and a goat joined the Hayes family in residence at the White House.
In 1879, the Washington Post, described Lucy's dress at the White House New Year's Reception, "The dress of Mrs. Hayes was at once simple and elegant...With accustomed good taste she wore no jewelry, and the white plume in her black hair fell gracefully in drooping folds."
At the first official state dinner on April 19, 1877 to honor Russian Grand Duke Alexis and Grand Duke Constantine, a "full quota" of wine was served, but soon after this Hayes made it known that there would be no more alcoholic beverages served at future White House functions. The six wine glasses laid out at each place setting had angered temperance advocates and Rutherford believed the Republican party needed the temperance vote. The decision was Rutherford's, although Lucy may have influenced his decision. Although the Hayes family were generally teetotal, they had previously served alcoholic beverages to guests at their home in Ohio. But because Lucy was a known teetolter (Hayes sometimes had a "schoppen" of beer when he visited Cincinnati) she was blamed for the dry White House.
In general, Lucy had a more casual style that was reflected in the receptions she held during Washington's winter social season. During the holidays, she invited staff members and their families to Thanksgiving dinner and opened presents with them on Christmas morning. The White House telegraph operator and secretaries were included in the Thanksgiving group. The group was so large it took three turkeys and a roast pig to feed them all. Lucy was generally kind towards the White House staff, she also allowed White House servants to take time off to attend school.
On December 31, 1877, Rutherford and Lucy celebrated their silver wedding anniversary in the White House.
The most significant change made to the White House during Hayes' term were the installation of bathrooms with running water and the addition of a crude wall telephone. Lucy was the first First Lady to use a typewriter, a telephone, and a phonograph while in office, and was also the first to enjoy a permanent system of running water in the White House.
Lucy preferred to enlarge the greenhouse conservatories rather than to undertake extensive redecoration of the White House. The billiard-room, which connected the house with the conservatories, was converted into an attractive greenhouse and the billiard table consigned to the basement. Shuttered windows in the State Dining Room could then be opened for dinner guests to look into the conservatories. This eliminated the billard table which many Americans regarded as either a gambling device or a rich man's toy.
Every day, flowers were brought in from the greenhouses to decorate the White House. Additional bouquets were sent to friends and Washington hospitals. Greenhouse upkeep made up one fourth of the White House's household expenditures under Hayes.
Looking to celebrate American flora and fauna, Lucy commissioned Theodore R. Davis to design new china for the White House. After eating on them, Washington hostess Clover Adams complained that it was hard to eat soup calmly with a coyote springing from behind a pine tree in the bowl.
Music was important to Lucy and while famous musicians performed downstairs at White House events, informal "sings" occurred upstairs in the family quarters. Lucy sang and played the guitar, and was assisted by the talents of friends and family. At times, Secretary of the Interior Carl Schurz played the piano while Vice President William A. Wheeler, Secretary of the Treasury John Sherman, and his brother, Gen. William T. Sherman, joined in singing gospel songs.
Lucy frequently accompanied her husband on trips around the country. Rutherford travelled so much that the Chicago Tribune nicknamed him "Rutherford the Rover." In 1877, The couple undertook a tour of the South in hopes of improving national unity. The Richmond Dispatch reported that Lucy "won the admiration of people where she has been."
In 1878, Lucy toured Philadelphia without her husband. She visited the Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia School of Design for Women, and the Woman's Medical College, as well as several schools and orphanages. This was the first documented instance of a First Lady following a public schedule independent of the President.
In 1880, Lucy was the first presidential spouse to visit the West Coast while her husband was President. While on their Western tour, Lucy and Rutherford met with Sarah Winnemucca. Lucy was moved to tears by Winnemucca's impassioned speech for Native American lands.
Lucy’s compassion and sincerity endeared her to Washingtonians. She regularly visited the National Deaf Mute College (Today Galludet) and the Hampton Institute where she sponsored a scholarship for a student. She continued to show concern for the poor by contributing generously to Washington charities. In January 1880 alone, Lucy and Rutherford gave $990 to help the poor in Washington.
However, Lucy rejected pleas from groups requesting her public support, committing herself instead to serving as a moral example to the nation. Rutherford once commented, "I don't know how much influence Mrs. Hayes has with Congress, but she has great influence with me."
As First Lady, Lucy advocated for the completion of the Washington Monument.
When the children of Washington were banned from rolling their Easter eggs on the Capitol grounds, they were invited to use the White House lawn on the Monday following Easter.
Lucy was a friend to other First Ladies. During her tenure as First Lady, Lucy visited with Sarah Polk and journeyed to Martha Washington's Mount Vernon and Dolley Madison's Montpelier. She asked Julia Tyler to help officiate at a White House reception and was friendly with former First Lady Julia Grant. She was also friendly with future First Ladies including Lucretia Garfield, Ida McKinley, and Helen Herron Taft.
When Rutherford commission portraits of past presidents were commissioned for the White House, Lucy insisted that paintings of both Martha Washington and Dolley Madison also grace the walls of the presidential mansion. Lucy's own official portrait by Daniel Huntington was commissioned by the Woman's Christian Temperance Union.
On his 48th birthday, Rutherford wrote 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."
Rutherford kept his promise to serve only one term, the Hayes family returned to their Fremont, Ohio, home, Spiegel Grove, in 1881.
Views on race
Lucy Hayes was an advocate for African-Americans both before and after the Civil War.
Lucy remained in contact with her family's former slaves, employing some. Winnie Monroe, a former slave freed by Lucy's mother Maria, eventually moved to the White House with the Hayes family as a cook and nurse. Later, Lucy would encourage Winnie's daughter Mary Monroe to attend Oberlin.
The Hayes were so known for their sympathy towards African-Americans that a month after they returned to Cincinnati from Columbus, a black baby was left on their doorstep.
In 1861, Lucy wrote to her husband, "if a contraband [runaway slave] is in Camp--- don't let the 23rd Regiment be disgraced by returning [him or her]."
As First Lady, Lucy invited African-American performers to the White House. In 1878, Marie Selika Williams (1849-1937), also known as Madame Selika, appeared at the White House. Introduced by Frederick Douglass, Madame Selika was the first African-American professional musician to appear at the White House.
Views on temperance
Lucy was a known teetotaler, having signed a pledge to abstain from alcohol at a young age.
Alcoholic beverages were banned from the White House during Rutherford's term, but historians generally credit Rutherford with the final decision to ban alcohol. Lucy actually opposed prohibition. She preferred to persuade rather than prevent and did not condemn those who used alcohol in moderation.
Lucy was not a member of any temperance groups. She resisted attempts by the Woman's Christian Temperance Union to enlist her as a leader out of fear of creating political fallout for her husband by association with the controversial cause.
The Woman's Christian Temperance Union paid for a portrait of Lucy by Daniel Huntington before she left the White House.
The first written references to "Lemonade Lucy" don't turn up until the 20th century, which didn't begin until 11 years after Lucy's death, according to Tom Culbertson of the Hayes Center. Hundreds of articles, cartoons, and poems were devoted to chronicling and parodying her opposition to drinking. Historian Carl Anthony suggests a reason the legend of Lemonade Lucy might have become so popular with historians of the early 20th century, when there was greater moral stigma associated with alcohol consumption.
Views on suffrage
As a young woman, Lucy expressed opinions that suggested she was pro-suffrage, but she did not join any of the prominent suffrage groups of the day. Two of Lucy's aunts were involved in the suffrage movement.
Many historians believe that had Fanny Platt lived longer, Lucy would have become a committed advocate for women's suffrage.
Back in Ohio after leaving the White House, Lucy joined the Woman's Relief Corps (founded 1883), taught a Sunday School class, attended reunions of the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry and entertained distinguished visitors to Spiegel Grove. Lucy also became national president of the newly formed Woman's Home Missionary Society of the Methodist Church. As president, she called attention to the plight of the urban poor and disenfranchised African-Americans in the South. She also spoke out againist Mormon polygamy. However, when asked by Susan B. Anthony to send delegates from the Home Missionary Society to a meeting of the International Council of Women, Lucy declined.
Hayes spent her last eight years at Spiegel Grove. A few days after suffering a stroke, she died on June 25, 1889. She was 57 years old. Flags across the country were flown at half-mast in her honor.
Rutherford died three and a half years later and was buried beside his wife. In 1915, their remains were moved to Spiegel Grove. Below them are buried their dog Gryme and two horses named Old Whitey and Old Ned.
Lucy Hayes served as First Lady during an important transitional era in nineteenth-century American history. Major economic trends of the 1870s included the rise of national businesses, shifts in centers of agriculture, and the development of a favorable balance of trade for the United States. The accelerated movement of people from rural to urban areas also brought about great alterations in social life.
Emily Apt Geer explained,
A twentieth century feminist might regret that Lucy Hayes did not support woman suffrage, but this would have been contrary to her social code and her concept of the role of a political wife. The example, however, that Lucy Hayes set for the nation as a hostess and homemaker, the adoration and respect accorded her by her family, her efforts to help other people, her sincere interest in politics, and the extent of her education, promised well for the future status of women in the American social and intellectual structure.
Spiegel Grove is operated by the Ohio History Connection and is open to the public.
The Hayes had four sons and a daughter to live to maturity, including James Webb Cook Hayes (1856–1934) and Rutherford Platt Hayes (1858–1931).
In popular culture
- In the musical comedy 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the First Lady sings the "Duet for One," in which she transforms from Mrs. Grant into Lucy Webb Hayes.
- In the Lucky Luke comic book Sarah Bernhardt, which is set in the late 19th-century Wild West, President Rutherford B. Hayes's wife is portrayed as being one of many who strongly disapprove of the titular actress's tour of the United States, given her reputation for loose morality. Disguised as a man called "George," the First Lady infiltrates Sarah's entourage and sabotages their tour throughout the U.S., though she does come to accept Sarah when the French actress's charms and singing talent moves a tribe of hostile Indians. "The president's wife" is not mentioned by name in the book, and thus might be regarded as fictional, although she and her husband do resemble Rutherford and Lucy Hayes in many ways. Hayes himself is portrayed as a man who is very taken aback by his wife's hostility towards Sarah, and keeps making the same speech over and over again, even when there is no one there to listen to him.