Lucy Webb Hayes life and biography

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Lucy Webb Hayes biography

Date of birth : 1831-08-28
Date of death : 1889-06-25
Birthplace : Chillicothe, Ohio, United States
Nationality : American
Category : Famous Figures
Last modified : 2010-08-06
Credited as : First lady of the United States, wife of President Rutherford B. Hayes,

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American First Lady Lucy Ware Webb Hayes (born August 28, 1831 in Chillicothe, Ohio, United States - died June 25, 1889 in Fremont, Ohio, United States) was considered by many of her era to be the most successful First Lady to date. Remembered equally for her strict adherence to the temperance movement and for her dedication to her husband and family, Hayes was also remarkably well-educated and progressive for her time. At a young age, Hayes became an adherent of abolitionist beliefs; from the Civil War on, she was especially interested in the welfare of soldiers and their families. Her influence on her husband, Rutherford B. Hayes, was evident throughout his life and career.

Early Life and Education

Lucy Ware Webb was born into a politically progressive family. Her father, James Webb, was a medical doctor originally from Lexington, Kentucky. James Webb was a supporter of the abolitionist movement who freed the slaves he inherited from his Kentucky family. After completing his medical training in Lexington, he moved to Chillicothe, Ohio--then the state capital--where he met Maria Cook, the daughter of politician and Ohio pioneer settler Isaac Cook. The couple married on April 18, 1826, at the Cook family farm. The following year Maria gave birth to their first son, Joseph Thompson; another son, James Dewees, was born in 1928. Lucy Ware, named for her paternal grandmother, became the youngest member of the Webb family on August 28, 1831.

During the summer of 1833, James Webb traveled to Kentucky to conduct business and visit his father. There he contracted cholera and died; his father, mother, and brother also died during this cholera outbreak. Left fatherless at the age of two, young Lucy turned to her maternal grandfather, Isaac Cook. From him, she came to value the importance of temperance and signed a pledge to avoid drinking alcohol. The Webb family was financially secure, and all three Webb children attended school in Chillicothe.

In 1844 the Webbs moved to Delaware, Ohio, so that Joseph and James could attend the recently-founded Ohio Wesleyan University. Hayes attended college preparatory classes at the school and even some university courses; writing in First Ladies of the United States: A Biographical Dictionary, Robert P. Watson noted that Hayes "was something of an educational pioneer, as very few women of the time enrolled in universities alongside men." Soon, however, Maria Webb transferred her daughter to the Wesleyan Female College in Cincinnati, where Hayes did well academically and enjoyed her college years. In 1850 she was admitted to a college society, the Young Ladies Lyceum, before taking her degree. In an era when women rarely received a college education, Hayes was an anomaly; later, she would become the first college-educated woman to serve as First Lady of the United States.

Married a Cincinnati Lawyer

A native of Delaware, Rutherford B. Hayes reportedly first noticed Lucy Webb in the summer of 1847, when she was only 15 years old. In First Lady: The Life of Lucy Webb Hayes, Emily Apt Geer wrote that Hayes considered Lucy "a bright sunny hearted little girl not quite old enough to fall in love with--and so I didn't." However, both Sophia Hayes, Rutherford's mother, and Maria Webb thought that the match would be a good one and encouraged contact between the two families. Hayes practiced law in Cincinnati, and seems to have met Lucy socially at least once before her graduation from college. Lucy and her mother left Cincinnati for several months following her graduation, but after their return to the city during the winter of 1851, Hayes began courting Lucy. In June of that year the couple became engaged; on December 30, 1852, they married at the Webb home in Cincinnati.

The couple remained in Cincinnati, first at the Webb home and then in their own residence nearby. During the early months of their marriage, Lucy Hayes convinced her husband to support abolitionist ideas; Geer noted that "by 1854, Rutherford, bolstered by the convictions of his wife and aware of the inhuman plight of slaves trying to escape through the gateway city of Cincinnati, was available at all hours to give legal aid to trapped or fugitive slaves." That same year, Lucy Hayes became interested in politics due to the emergence of the new anti-slavery Republican political party. Her husband, already inclined towards politics and encouraged by his wife's interest, let it be known that he was interested in public office. The Cincinnati city council appointed him to an unexpired term as head of the city's law department in 1858, and soon thereafter he won election to the post for a two-year term. From her college years onward, Lucy Hayes was also interested in the growing women's rights movement; she attended speeches on the matter with her sister-in-law, Fanny Platt, until Platt's death in 1856.

As the Hayes family grew in importance, it also grew in size. Hayes gave birth to their first son, Birchaud Austin, in November of 1853. In March of 1856, the couple had a second son, James Webb Cook. He was followed by Rutherford Platt in June of 1858. Shortly following childbirth, Hayes contracted a severe case of rheumatism, which occasionally recurred throughout the rest of her life. The strain of motherhood sometimes caused Hayes to suffer from migraine headaches, which also plagued her through the years to come.

Civil War Years

By early 1861, the first stirrings of the conflict that would become the grueling American Civil War had begun. Shortly after the first shots of the war were fired at Fort Sumter, Rutherford Hayes decided to enlist in the Union army. He was made major of the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, and was soon committed to lengthy service. Lucy Hayes, then pregnant with the couple's fourth child, remained in Cincinnati; she gave birth to Joseph Thompson in late December. Despite her husband's frequent letters, Lucy Hayes worried about him and about the other soldiers fighting and dying in the conflict. In 1862 Rutherford Hayes was wounded during battle, and his wife set out for the capital to visit him in the hospital. Unable to find him at first, she traveled to many hospitals in the area before locating her husband. The following year she and her children relocated to Camp White to be with Rutherford Hayes. Shortly after their arrival, the youngest Hayes child died. While living at the camp, Lucy Hayes helped tend to wounded soldiers; she earned their respect for her compassion, becoming known as "Mother Lucy." In 1864 the fifth Hayes son, George, was born.

The Civil War drew to a close in 1865 and Rutherford Hayes returned home as a hero. His war record helped lead to his election to the United States Congress in 1865. Lucy Hayes was an active and supportive partner throughout her husband's political career; she regularly accompanied him to Washington, D.C., during sessions of Congress and became interested in Reconstruction. The following year three deaths struck the Hayes's immediate family: first toddler George, then Lucy Hayes's mother, Maria Webb, and soon after that, Rutherford Hayes's mother Sophia. However, Hayes was not reelected to Congress that year. In 1867 he resigned his seat to successfully run for Governor of Ohio as a supporter of the Congressional Radical Republicans, who stridently called for legal racial equality and hard-line reform in the South. That same year, Lucy Hayes gave birth to the Hayes's sixth child and only daughter, Fanny. Geer wrote that serving as governor's wife prepared Hayes for her years as First Lady, commenting that "she learned to identify herself completely with her husband's career and to balance her activities as a hostess with the demands of a young family."

Became Wife of a Governor

Because Rutherford Hayes was a Republican governor and both houses of the Ohio Congress had a Democratic majority, he had little hope of accomplishing significant legislative action. Instead, he worked to reform prisons, hospitals, and other public institutions in the state. Lucy Hayes visited many public institutions to raise public awareness of and support for her husband's programs, and on her own helped a group of volunteers establish a home for soldiers' orphans near Xenia, Ohio. Rutherford Hayes won reelection as governor in 1869, but did not run for a third term in 1871. The Hayes family--recently expanded by the addition of one final child, Scott--returned to private life for only a short time before Rutherford Hayes's interest in politics led him to campaign for office. He narrowly won election to a third gubernatorial term in 1875. This election practically guaranteed that Hayes would be a strong contender for the Republican presidential nomination the following year.

Rutherford Hayes was nominated for and won the Presidency in 1876, carrying the electoral--although not the popular--vote. His win was contested for months, and until the time of his inauguration, Hayes questioned whether he would take office. Despite this, Hayes and his wife enjoyed popular support upon entering the White House. With the Hayes administration came the end of Reconstruction, as the nation--and Congress--lost its drive for reform more than a decade after the close of the Civil War. Few other notable events marked Hayes's years in office.

Presided Over a Happy White House

Lucy Hayes's official White House biography commented that "she entered the White House with confidence gained from her long and happy married life, her knowledge of political circles, her intelligence and culture, and her cheerful spirit." She quickly became recognized as a successful First Lady, admirably performing her duties as hostess and offering private and public support to her husband. The Hayeses often entertained friends, creating what Watson called "a fun and active White House" that was home to three children, two dogs, a Siamese cat, a bird, and a goat. In 1877 the Hayeses celebrated their silver wedding anniversary at the White House.

Because of Lucy Hayes's dedication to the temperance movement, she and her husband barred all alcohol from the White House. This act earned Hayes the nickname of "Lemonade Lucy" as well as some public derision, and remains one of her most-remembered acts. Evidence suggests that the rule of temperance may have been suspended for visiting dignitaries on a handful of occasions. Lucy Hayes also initiated the annual White House Easter Egg Roll, a popular activity for children to this day.

Later Years and Legacy

Hayes, along with her husband, returned to Ohio at the end of Rutherford Hayes's term in 1881, Hayes not wishing to run for a second term. They settled at Spiegel Grove, a family property in Fremont. Although Lucy Hayes was invited to take an active role in the Women's Christian Temperance Union, she declined participation, aside from leading a few prayers at local meetings, most likely because the organization was somewhat controversial. She served as president of the national Woman's Home Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church from 1880 until her death. In this role she continued her lifelong work to improve the lives of other members of society.

Hayes died on June 25, 1889, at Spiegel Grove, as the result of a stroke. She was buried at Spiegel Grove State Park in Fremont. Today, scholars and historians primarily remember her for her abilities as hostess and supportive partner during her husband's political career, particularly his time in the White House. Geer also noted that Lucy Hayes's educational background, concern for social welfare, and active interest in politics "enhanced the role of women in the American social and political structure." Although Hayes never assumed the mantle of "new woman" that some of her day tried to assign to her, she was nonetheless in some ways a pioneer and an example for later generations of women to follow.

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