Love Stories from First Ladies and Presidents
James Buchanan aside, many of America’s First Couples experienced adorable meet-cutes. Here, a few of the best.
The relationship between a President of the United States and their spouse is one that’s certainly met with great curiosity and wonder. The power couples field questions about how they make their marriage work amid stressful campaigns and busy days. What’s perhaps less examined are the stories of how they met.
Here, we reveal a few adorable stories from some of this country’s most famous sweethearts.
A Rom-Com with Coolidge
In 1903, 25-year-old Grace Goodhue was watering flowers in front of a Northampton, Massachusetts boarding house when she spotted a most peculiar site: her 32-year-old neighbor, Calvin Coolidge, dressed in a derby hat and underwear, shaving his face.
She burst out laughing but turned away in embarrassment when she realized she had been spotted. Coolidge, apparently unfazed, convinced a mutual friend to introduce him to his sneaky neighbor. He explained, upon meeting her, that the derby hat kept his unruly hair out of his face.
They were an unlikely pair—Grace, a warm and outgoing soul, and Calvin, often somber and even glum. Their chance encounter, however, seemed enough to break the ice. The couple was married in October 1905. He would later be sworn in as the 30th President of the United States in 1923.
Breakfast with Lady Bird
Lyndon Johnson met 22-year-old Claudia “Lady Bird” Taylor at a Texas office in August 1932, when Johnson was serving as the secretary to a Congressman in Washington D.C.
Home for the weekend, 26-year-old Johnson asked Taylor to join him the next day for breakfast. She skipped that date, instead choosing to go to a meeting right next door to their meeting spot, the Driskill Hotel.
After her meeting concluded, Taylor spotted Johnson, still waiting. He waved her in, and the two began talking. Breakfast turned into a drive around Austin and an all-day date. He even proposed. Lady Bird didn’t want to rush into marriage.
“It was just like finding yourself in the middle of a whirlwind,” the future First Lady recalled years later. “I just had not met up with that kind of vitality before.”
The two began exchanging letters when Johnson returned to D.C. Many of those Courtship Letters are available for viewing today.
“Tell me just how you feel—give me some reassurance if you can and if you can’t let’s understand each other now,” he writes on September 15, just two weeks after meeting her. “I’m lonesome. I’m disappointed but what of it. Do you care?”
Apparently, his words were enough to win her over. They were engaged 10 weeks after meeting and married at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in San Antonio on November 17, 1934.
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A Match Made in Church
Bess Wallace didn’t recall meeting young Harry S. Truman in their Missouri Sunday School class, but the future 33rd President of the U.S. couldn’t forget young Miss Wallace.
"Harry always spoke of the girl with the beautiful blue eyes and the long golden curls, and he claims that he fell in love with her that day," author and historian Nicole Anslover wrote in First Ladies.
She added, “As far as we know, he never did look at another woman.”
They attended grade school together, even high school. They graduated in the 1901 class from Independence High School. Truman moved to attend school and try his hand at business, but eventually returned to Grandview, where the two were raised. He started courting Wallace soon after.
Truman proposed in 1911, but Wallace gave him no answer. When World War I broke out, Truman was carried to war, and a photo of his beloved went with him. They were married in 1919.
Pet Names from President Adams
America’s second president and his wife, Abigail, viewed each other as intellectual equals, perhaps not a distinction shared among every paired couple of the time. Thankfully for us, their admiration for one another’s intellect meant they exchanged a bounty of letters; more than 1000 remain.
While the future president and first lady certainly conversed about family affairs and political discussions of the day, they offered great attention to their love and fondness for one another. Indeed when the letters were first published by the couple’s grandson, he left out many of their courtship correspondence.
“Miss Adorable”: “By the same token that the bearer hereof [JA] satt up with you last night, I hereby order you to give him, as many kisses, and as many Hours of your company after nine o'clock as he pleases to demand, and charge them to my account,” Adams wrote in a letter dated October 4, 1762. Adams also called his wife “Diana,” for the Roman goddess. The couple married two years later, on October 25, 1764. Their son, John Quincy Adams, became America’s sixth president in 1825.
Love at First Letter for the Madisons
At age 43, future fourth president James Madison, then a Congressman from Virginia, was a confirmed bachelor—and may have even preferred it that way. That is, at least, until he met North Carolina native Dolley Payne Todd, a widow 17 years his junior.
Aaron Burr was staying at Todd’s mother’s boarding house in Philadelphia, and Madison eagerly persuaded the boarder to introduce him to the young hostess. His encounter with the young Ms. Todd later prompted Todd’s cousin, Catharine Coles to write to Dolley and tell her of Mr. Madison’s overflowing affection.
“[H]e thinks so much of you in the day that he has Lost his Tongue, at Night he Dreames of you & Starts in his Sleep a Calling on you to relieve his Flame for he Burns to such an excess that he will be shortly consumed & he hopes that your Heart will be calous to every other swain but himself,” Coles wrote in a 1794 letter to Todd.
“[H]e has Consented to every thing that I have wrote about him with Sparkling Eyes,” she concludes.
Apparently his effervescent affection was enough to convince the future first lady to once again give her hand in marriage. They were married September 15, 1794.
A Faux Romance Becomes Real
15-year-old Eliza McCardle saw 17-year-old Andrew Johnson (later America’s 17th President) and his family pull through her hometown, Greenville, Tennessee in September 1826. She remarked to nearby friends and Rhea Academy schoolmates, “There goes my beau!”
Johnson moved out of Greenville soon after her proclamation, but the romantic fires between him and McCardle burned still. When he eventually returned to Greenville, the two began courtship in earnest. They married in May 1827. McCardle, at just over age 16, remains the youngest First Lady to get married to the future President.