Jane Means Appleton Pierce
March 12, 1806, in Hampton, New Jersey
December 2, 1863, in Andover, Massachusetts
Jane Pierce became first lady when she was 46 years old and held the title of first lady throughout Franklin Pierce’s administration in the years 1853-1857; however, a deep depression prevented her from performing most of her duties and maintaining a regular social schedule during her first two years in that role. The Pierce’s oldest son had died of typhoid fever in 1843; then, shortly before Pierce’s inauguration, their second son was killed in a horrific train accident. The loss of her two sons was too much for Jane to bear. She moved to the White House, but found herself unable to escape her sorrow and perform the duties of first lady. She delegated those duties to her aunt and family friend Abigail Ken Means, as well as to her personal friend Varina Davis. In the meantime, Jane isolated herself. She had the White House draped in black bunting, and her hidden presence within became rumored as the “Shadow of the White House.”
Two years later, Jane emerged from the shadows and attended an event held on New Year’s Day of 1855. Though she continued to limit her social calendar, she attempted to complete her tenure as first lady by fulfilling her duties as hostess. She also became more interested in politics and enjoyed attending the debates at the Capitol.
Mrs. Robert E. Lee noted about Jane, “I have known many of the ladies of the White House, none more truly excellent than the afflicted wife of President Pierce. . . . She was a refined, extremely religious, and well-educated lady.”