Fun Activities and Facts about the Presidential Inauguration - Fast Facts about First Ladies

This illustration, from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, depicts America's "First Ladies" from Martha Washington through Michelle Obama. The print is available for purchase via the Library and Museum Store.


What are Some Fast Facts about First Ladies at Inaugurations?

  • Jane Pierce did not attend her husband's inaugural and there was no inaugural ball. She and her husband had lost their son, in a train accident, months before. She also refused to fulfill her White House duties so a relative handled those for her.
  • Mary Lincoln was in attendance and is said to have danced with her husband's opponent, Stephen Douglas, at the Inaugural Ball.
  • Grover Cleveland was a bachelor at the time of his inauguration. A year later, the 49-year-old president married a woman named Frances Folsom who was 28 years younger. When Cleveland lost the election of 1889, Frances vowed to return as First Lady. She did precisely that, four years later, after Cleveland became the only U.S. President to be re-elected after first sustaining a loss.
  • Ida McKinley witnessed the swearing-in of her husband but fell ill at the Inaugural Ball.
  • Ellen Wilson was in attendance, but she died during her husband’s first term. Woodrow Wilson remarried and his second wife, Edith, attended his second inauguration.
  • Grace Coolidge not only witnessed the ceremony, but she also talked with Nellie Ross, the nation's first woman governor.
  • Bess Truman was there and hosted the first integrated inaugural ball.
  • The "First Lady" Inauguration - in 1961 - has that name because several past, present and future first ladies were alive and attended some of the inaugural festivities. They included: Edith Wilson, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bess Truman, Mamie Eisenhower, Jackie Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon, and Betty Ford.
  • Lady Bird Johnson was there and was the first wife to hold the Bible while her husband took the oath of office.
  • Richard Nixon later became the first president to resign after the Watergate affair became public. He was replaced by Vice President Gerald Ford and there weren't inaugural festivities for his wife, Betty Ford, to attend. There was just the official swearing-in.
  • Rosalynn Carter was there. With her husband, Jimmy Carter, she left her chauffeured car and walked during the parade. According to C-SPAN, she later became the initial "First Lady" to make a foreign-policy trip.
  • Nancy Reagan was there, reportedly in very expensive clothes, and watched her husband, Ronald, take the oath on the west side of the Capitol. During Reagan’s second inauguration, the event was held in the Capitol Rotunda due to freezing weather.
  • Barbara Bush was there both times and walked back to the White House.
  • Hillary Clinton was there and walked back to the White House with her husband, William Jefferson Clinton.
  • Laura Bush was there both times that her husband took the oath.
  • Michelle Obama was there both times as her husband, Barrack Obama, took the oath of office.

For more information read First Ladies, by Carl Sferrazza Anthony, America's national expert on U.S. First Ladies (and the roles they have played throughout history). For the facts relied upon in this chapter, see "Information on First Ladies and Their Roles at the Inaugurations."

Original Release: Dec 01, 2016

Updated Last Revision: Sep 01, 2017

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