When First Twin Jenna Bush is married this weekend in Crawford, Texas, she’ll be the first presidential child since 1992 to tie the knot while Dad’s in office. That year, Jenna’s aunt, Dorothy Walker Bush—younger sister of George W. and youngest child of George H.W.—married Robert B. Koch, in a quiet ceremony at Camp David.
Jenna’s betrothed, Henry Hager, is described as “a former aide to the president.” According to Doug Wead, author of All the Presidents’ Children, in her choice of spouses, “Jenna Bush is following a long line of presidential children before her. Like the rest of us, they marry whoever is around.”
It’s 37 years and counting since a son or daughter of the president was married at the White House (during the Age of Nixon). Historians reckon there have been about 30 major weddings at the White House. And of the 23 presidential offspring married while their father was in office (Jenna included), nine tied the knot at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
If I could pick five White House weddings to attend and report back to mental_floss—for their historical interest if not for the open bar—it would be these:
Maria Hester Monroe—March 9, 1820
This first wedding of a presidential child seems to have put a damper on President James Monroe’s Era of Good Feeling. Seventeen-year-old Maria was engaged to 21-year-old Samuel L. Gouverneur, her first cousin and a White House staffer.
The wedding took place in the East Room or the Blue Room (historians aren’t sure), just three years after the presidential mansion was rebuilt following its burning in the War of 1812. Maria’s older sister had taken charge of the wedding plans with the cool efficiency of Martha Stewart, and by inviting just 42 family members and close friends, she antagonized Washington society and the diplomatic corps.
The couple tried to make amends by scheduling a round of balls. The first was nine days after the wedding, at the home of naval hero Commodore Stephen Decatur. During the festivities, Decatur quietly accepted a challenge to a duel. The following Wednesday he was shot and killed on the field of honor. The news shocked the country and plunged the capital into mourning, forcing the cancellation of all celebrations, including those of Mr. and Mrs. Gouverneur.
John Adams II—February 5, 1828
Louisa Adams, wife of Monroe’s secretary of state, John Quincy Adams, had noted in her diary how much bad feeling the Monroe wedding had generated. Yet after Adams succeeded Monroe, the White House wedding of son John Adams II—the only presidential son married in the White House—proceeded in much the same way.
Mary Catherine Hellen was close not only to John II, but to the entire Adams family. After her parents died, John Quincy and Louisa Adams raised Mary and her siblings. As a teenager Mary became the object of affection—if not obsession—of the three Adams sons. She had already enthralled one brother and been engaged to another when, at age 17, Mary wed the youngest Adams in a small, quiet ceremony.
John II died of alcoholism at age 31, and Mary went back to live with John Quincy and Louisa, running their household until their deaths. She outlived her own children and died in 1870.
Grover Cleveland—June 2, 1886
The only president to serve two non-consecutive terms was also the only president married in a White House ceremony. Grover Cleveland was 49 and a little more than a year into his first term when he married 21-year-old Frances Folsom. The wedding was a simple affair—attended by close friends, family, and cabinet members and their wives. Apparently Washington was getting used to small ceremonies. But the occasion was far from quiet—John Philip Sousa led the Marine Band.
After the ceremony, “[T]he ladies kissed the bride to their hearts content,” The New York Times reported, “but the gentlemen followed the example of the groom and refrained.” There was a 20-pound salmon to sup on and a 25-pound wedding cake.
Cleveland had known his bride her whole life. Her father was a close friend of the future president, and Cleveland bought the infant Frances a baby carriage as a gift. When her father died leaving no will, the court appointed Cleveland to administer the estate. He was, until shortly before he married her, Frances’s legal guardian.
Two other presidents married while in office. John Tyler married his second wife, Julia Gardiner, in 1844, in New York City. And Woodrow Wilson married his second wife, Edith Bolling Galt, in 1915, at her home in Washington, DC.
Alice Lee Roosevelt—February 17, 1906
Of all the presidential children, Theodore Roosevelt’s eldest child had a reputation that most closely resembles Jenna Bush’s. Princess Alice, as she was known, was a late-Victorian version of a celebrity, whose wild exploits were catnip for the press—smoking in public, driving her own car, chewing gum, and flirting with men—without a chaperone.
One of her many suitors was Nicholas Longworth, 35, an ambitious Republican congressman from Ohio. And if previous White House weddings were simple, private affairs, the Roosevelt-Longworth wedding was the Must-See Event of the year. The House of Representatives adjourned for the day, and 1,000 guests fought for both parking spots and a view of the bride from one of the White House’s state rooms.
Alice refused to have bridesmaids, who might have detracted attention from the 22-year-old bride and her wedding dress with its 18-foot-long train of silver brocade. She walked toward the East Room on the arm of her father and managed to do the impossible—she upstaged Theodore Roosevelt.
Nicholas Longworth went on to become speaker of the House. He already was a drinker and womanizer, two activities that cooled their marriage quickly. When Alice had a daughter, the father reputedly was Sen. William Borah of Idaho.
Tricia Nixon—June 12, 1971
The ‘60s had seen the weddings of President Lyndon Johnson’s two daughters and President-elect Richard Nixon’s younger daughter. The wedding of elder daughter Tricia Nixon to Edward Cox, a 24-year-old law student with a liberal bent, was the most sumptuous and last White House wedding to date.
It was also the first outdoor White House wedding, held in the Rose Garden between rain showers and broadcast live on television. At the reception, which followed in the East Room, the 25-year-old bride danced with her father to “Thank Heaven for Little Girls.” The 400 wedding invitations, Time magazine reported, included one to “Eddie’s friend Ralph Nader.”
According to The Hill, “[Tricia’s] dress made its way [from Boston] to the White House under the watch of designer Priscilla Kidder and a phalanx of armed Secret Service agents. A cover story in Life magazine reported that the group purchased a first-class seat for the dress to ensure its safe passage to Washington.” Also in attendance was Alice Roosevelt Longworth, whose own White House wedding was 65 years earlier.