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Grover Cleveland’s Family

cartoon of Grover Cleveland
Cartoon of a baby crying out 'I want my pa' as Grover Cleveland passes. During Cleveland's 1884 campaign for US President, his opponents discovered reports that Cleveland had fathered an illegitimate child while he was a lawyer in Buffalo, ten years earlier.

Grover Cleveland – The Player

Grover Cleveland is famous for having one of the most interesting family lives of all the presidents in American history. Others took office that endured sex scandals OR that married much younger wives. Yet, Cleveland managed both in a reasonably short space of time.

Why Is Grover Cleveland’s Family So Famous?

The shortened version of events is that Grover entered the White House as a bachelor after a story about an illegitimate child threatened his campaign. A couple of years later, he married a woman nearly 30 years his junior in the White House. He had known his bride since she was a baby. The couple went on to have five legitimate children – one of whom was born in the White House.

Of course, there is more to the story than just the juicier details. There are two sides to the story of the illegitimate child, further questions over the ethics of his relationship with his wife, and a tragedy involving his eldest daughter.

Where Did The Cleveland Family Come From?

The Cleveland name was a pretty big deal in the United States before Grover took the presidency. You may assume that the city of Cleveland shares its name with the president in some way. It was named after distantly relation General Moses Cleaveland. The direct Cleveland ancestors came from England and were among the settlers of the East Coast. He was also descended from ancestors on Guernsey and Anglo-Irish Protestants and German Quakers from Philadelphia.

Grover was the fifth of nine children and was christened Stephen Grover in 1837. His father worked for the American Home Missionary Society, relocating the family to New York. The low income hindered Grover’s education as he was forced to take up a two-year mercantile apprenticeship in Fayetteville. The family later moved again close to Utica. His mother was the daughter of a Baltimore bookseller.

Grover Cleveland’s Family And Relationships.

Two relationships in Cleveland’s life were controversial in some form. The first was his marriage to his wife, Frances Folsom Cleveland. Although the pair had a long and seemingly happy union, there were questions over the nature of their previous relationship. The misinterpreted version is that he married his adopted daughter. This isn’t the case, but there was a strong tie between them during her childhood.

Frances Folson was christened Frank Clara Folsom in 1864, in tribute to her uncle, but soon took the name Frances as Frank was deemed too masculine. She was born in and grew up in Buffalo, New York, as part of the wealthy Folsom family, who were descendants of European settlers. The family had been among the first across Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire.

Cleveland Married Frances Folsom In The White House.

When he entered the White House, Grover Cleveland was a bachelor but didn’t stay that way for long. He proposed to young Frances Folsom during a visit to Washington in 1885. The then twenty-year-old Frances had just finished her education at Wells College in Aurora. Cleveland was forty-eight, but the large age gap wasn’t that big a deal at the time. Similar relationships between presidents and first ladies had already occurred.

The pair married at the White House within the Blue Room a year later. This venue made sense, as the sitting president should take advantage of the chance to be the first to marry there. However, there was an air of secrecy to the “very quiet wedding,” and plans were kept hidden until days before. This may have been due to the potential for bad press, given the nature of the couple’s true relationship.

Grover Cleveland’s Prior Relationship With Frances Folsom.

Although President Grover Cleveland and Frances did not start a romantic relationship until she was an adult, they had known each other for much longer. Frances Cleveland was the daughter of one of the president’s oldest friends, and he had been a part of her life since infancy. There are stories about him buying her gifts as a child and even supplying the family with her baby carriage. Over the years, he became a father figure to Frances and was appointed administrator of the Folsom estate after her father died. The accident that killed her father occurred two days after Frances’ 11th birthday.

This prior relationship is interesting considering the speed at which Cleveland proposed to Frances after she finished college. She was just 21 at the wedding. There are even reports that Cleveland said he had waited for her to grow up.

Frances’ Political Life After Cleveland’s Death.

After her husband’s death, Frances Cleveland remarried at 48, making her the first presidential widow to do so. Her second husband was an archaeology professor at Wells College. In the following years, as war broke out and social revolutions began, Frances continued to make her presence felt in the world of politics.

Frances became a member of the pro-war National Security League in 1914 and later the director of their Speaker’s Bureau in 1918. She resigned the following year after suggesting psychological indoctrinates of school children to make them pro-war. This was not her only controversial political take, as she campaigned against women’s suffrage. She became the vice president of the “New Jersey Association Opposed to Woman’s Suffrage” in 1913.

The Cleveland Family Children.

Together, the couple had five children. Ruth was first born in 1891. And she was followed by Esther, Marion, Richard, and Francis between 1983 and 1903.

Ruth Cleveland.

The first of the Clevelands’ children was born in 1891, leaving a surprisingly long gap between marriage and parenthood. It wasn’t until after Cleveland’s first term that Francis gave birth. The president would have been in his 50s at this point. Sadly, eldest daughter Ruth did not survive very long. She had never been a well-child, but in 1904 she contracted diphtheria. She died just five days later, at the age of 12.

Ruth’s death received great press attention as the eldest child of the presidential family. She was buried in Princeton Cemetery and later immortalized via the Baby Ruth candy bar. However, there are still disagreements over whether she or Babe Ruth was the true inspiration for the product.

Esther Cleveland.

The Cleveland family’s second child was even more historic as she was the first to be born inside the White House. Esther was born in 1893, two years after Ruth and mid-way through the second term. This led to her being known as The White House Baby for decades to come. There was a point where it was feared history would repeat itself, as she contracted both measles and Diptheria as a child.

Esther married in a more lavish ceremony than her parents as a young adult. She married Captain William Sidney Bence Bosanquet of the British Coldstream Guards in 1918, which led to a wedding in Westminster Abbey. She stayed in England with William, living near Redcar, and was known for her charitable nature. Thanks to her academic work, they had a daughter named Philippa, one of Cleveland’s more notable grandchildren.

Marion Cleveland.

Little is known of the life of Marion Cleveland, others than some records about her marriages and death. She was born in Buzzards Bay, Barnstable County, Massachusetts, lived to be 81, and died in Princeton – an important place for the Cleveland children. It can be implied that she lived a relatively simple life away from politics and other ventures.

Richard Cleveland.

Richard Falley Cleveland was the third child and eldest son. At this point, the Cleveland family was out of the White House and back in Princeton. Richard Cleveland had a successful academic career at Phillips Exeter Academy and Princeton University. However, he left school to join the Marine Corps during the war.

He then went on to join the diplomatic corps in Beijing for six months.

On returning to the United States, Richard completed his studies at Princeton and moved to Harvard Law School. This set him up for a long career at a Baltimore firm from 1924 until he died in 1974. His legal career was only temporarily interrupted to serve as a delegate to the Maryland Constitutional Convention in 1967.

Francis Cleveland

The youngest of the five Cleveland children was a boy named Francis. He was born in 1903, just two years before eldest daughter Ruth’s death, in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts. At first, Francis followed in his brother’s footsteps to Phillips Exeter Academy and Harvard College. However, he soon took a different path.

Francis became an actor and took part in productions on Broadway. He would later co-found the Barnstormers Theatre with his wife and a producer called Edward P. Goodnow. Like his siblings, he did involve himself in politics, and he joined the Republican Party.

The 6th Illegitimate Child Of Grover Cleveland And Maria Halpin.

Officially, five Cleveland children were born to his wife, Frances. However, long before his marriage and presidency, a scandal resulted in an illegitimate child. Although Cleveland admitted that the child was his, there are two very different sides to this story. One was carefully crafted to make the future President out to be an upstanding gentleman, and the other made him out to be a criminal.

The first story came from those in charge of the presidential campaign. News broke in 1884 that a woman called Maria Crofts Halpin had given birth to a child fathered by Cleveland in 1874. The scandal could have led to significant controversy due to the illegitimate nature of the pregnancy. So, the team painted Cleveland in the best possible light. While opponents would try and use the story against him, Cleveland still gained the necessary majority of votes to reach the White House.

Cleveland’s official side of the story was that he and Halpin had been “illicitly acquainted,” which could have resulted in the pregnancy. He could not say for sure the child was his but accepted the possibility. The story portrayed Halpin as a promiscuous woman who slept with several of Cleveland’s associates in the Buffalo area. In contrast, Cleveland was the story’s hero, helping name the child and putting him in care while his mother was institutionalized.

Maria Halpin Told A Very Different Story.

However, Halpin’s side of the story takes a very different turn. For a start, she claims that Cleveland made the advances, and she gave in by agreeing to go to dinner with him. Afterward, Cleveland allegedly forced his way into her room, raped her, and threatened her if she told the authorities. The child was then put up for adoption, and she entered a mental institution.

An interesting side note here is that the attending physician of Providence Asylum at the time believed she had no reason to be there. He claims that she had been drinking and was in some distress but had been brought there unlawfully. She then left under her own free will a few days later.

Whatever the truth behind the conception, the child initially named Oscar Folsom Cleveland is believed to be Cleveland’s first child. The name came from his close friend at the time – the father of his future wife. Oscar was born one year before Cleveland would become the administrator of Folsom’s estate and provide for Frances.

Grover Cleveland’s Family History Remains Fascinating For Social Historians.

There are so many details to Grover Cleveland’s family and time in the White House that remain intriguing to this day. Of course, there were plenty of White House firsts with the first marriage in the building and the first birth. But, it is the prior relationships and scandals that add more color to the family tree.

Whatever the truth behind the Maria Halpin story and the relationship with Frances, there are questions about Cleveland’s affairs as a younger man. The story that he married his daughter may be an exaggeration, but he certainly was a father figure to her around the time of fathering an illegitimate child.

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