Lucy Ware Webb Hayes
August 28, 1831, in Chillicothe, Ohio
June 25, 1889, in Fremont, Ohio
Lucy Hayes served as first lady throughout her husband Rutherford Hayes’s one term in the years 1877-1881. She was 45 years old when she became first lady.
Lucy is the first first lady to have attended and graduated from college. In 1850 she graduated from Ohio Wesleyan Female College in Cincinnati. She was an avid supporter of education reform, as well as equal rights for women, but she disappointed many by refusing to serve as a spokesperson for women’s rights groups. Lucy was a devoted mother to her eight children, but unlike many other women of the time, she was not afraid to leave them with relatives so that she could travel with her husband as his career required. Because Lucy and her husband supported the increasingly popular Temperance movement (which advocated for limiting alcohol consumption), their years in the White House were marked with a more restrained attitude toward entertaining. They in fact forbid liquor from being served in the White House, which resulted in the first lady being nicknamed “Lemonade Lucy.” Despite the nickname, Lucy was celebrated for hosting lavish dinners and lively receptions. Because she did not have grown daughters to assist her, she often asked the wives of cabinet members, as well as her own nieces and daughters of her friends, to help act as hostesses.
Lucy was also respected for her efforts to encourage national unity in these years following the Civil War. While visiting the South, she spent time with former First Lady Sarah Polk in Nashville; and back at the White House, Lucy invited former First Lady Julia Tyler to stand with her and greet guests during a reception even though Mrs. Tyler had been a staunch Confederate during the Civil War. One of Lucy’s more subtle attempts to encourage national pride was to ask the artist Theodore Davis to design the White House china service in a pattern decorated with flora and fauna representing different areas of the entire country. Lucy’s artistic influence was not limited to china, however, and she also commissioned an Ohio artist to paint portraits of all the presidents who were not yet included in the White House collection. She later had the same artist paint a full-length portrait of Martha Washington to complement the existing portrait of George Washington.
In the 19th century, popular opinion did not recognize the intellectual abilities of women, but Lucy did not underestimate her sex and noted, “Woman’s mind is as strong as man’s––equal in all things and his superior in some.”
At the end of Hayes’ term in office, a minister declared that the White House was “purer because Mrs. Hayes had been its mistress.”