Letitia Christian Tyler
November 12, 1790, in New Kent County, Virginia
September 10, 1842, in Washington, D.C.
Letitia and John Tyler moved into the White House after President Harrison died one month into his term in 1841 and Tyler unexpectedly succeeded as president. The 50-year-old Letitia had suffered a stroke just a few years earlier, which left her partially paralyzed. She was not healthy enough to adhere to the demanding schedule of a full-time first lady, so she designated the social responsibilities to her daughter-in-law, Priscilla Cooper Tyler. Letitia’s poor health also prevented her from attending White House social functions. During her time at the White House, she remained in the family quarters, but nevertheless managed to orchestrate household affairs. Though Letitia was an invalid, she did attend the wedding of her daughter Elizabeth, which was held in January 1842. Letitia died later that same year after succumbing to a second stroke, making her the first first lady to die while her husband was still in office. Following Letitia’s death, Priscilla continued to handle the social responsibilities. However, in 1844 Priscilla and her husband moved from Washington, so the Tyler’s daughter, Letitia Tyler Semple, acted as White House hostess until Tyler remarried.
Letitia’s daughter-in-law Priscilla remarked about the absent-yet-active role undertaken by her mother-in-law as first lady, “Mother attends to and regulates all the household affairs and all so quietly that you can’t tell when she does it.”