First Lady Jane Means Appleton Pierce

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Jane Pierce with her last surviving son, Benjamin Pierce. The child died in 1853 in a train crash, two months before his father was sworn into office as President.

A forgotten person today, Jane Pierce was a sad and depressed woman who had to lead a life in politics that she hated. Her tenure as First Lady was a trial for her.

The melancholy, shadow-like Jane Pierce despised politics and did not enjoy her life in Washington. The accidental death of her son Benny, just two months before her husband was inaugurated, was too much for her to bear. Her health suffered and she died six years after Pierce took office.

Early Years of Mrs. Pierce

Jane Means Appleton Pierce was born in Hampton, New Hampshire, on March 12, 1806, the daughter of wealthy parents. Her father, a Congregational minister and later a President of Bowdoin College, was apparently a religious zealot, and followed a sacrificial fast that killed him. His strict religious beliefs were absorbed by his daughter and had a distinct effect on her viewpoint of life.

Marriage to Franklin Pierce

Jane and Franklin were married in Amherst, New Hampshire, on November 10,1834, and had three children: Franklin (1836), Frank (1839-1843) and Benjamin, who was born in 1841 and was accidentally killed in 1853. This event was the undoing of Jane, and she truly never recovered. Franklin Pierce had held office in the House of Representatives in Washington, and was made a United States senator in the 1837. At Jane’s urging, he gave up the senate before his term was up and they returned to New Hampshire.

Political Life

After relinquishing his senate seat, at Jane’s insistence, Franklin agreed to give up politics. However, unknown to his wife, Pierce kept abreast of the political scene and let it be known that he was available. When the Democratic Party appealed to him to run for the presidency, he agreed and was inaugurated in 1853.

Life in the White House

For the first two years of Franklin’s term, Jane remained in an upstairs room in the mansion, not taking on any of the duties of a President’s wife. Her first public appearance was at a New Year’s Day reception in 1855. Until that time the official hostess duties were fulfilled by her aunt, Abby Kent Means, and her friend Varina Davis, wife of Secretary of War Jefferson Davis.

Health of Jane Pierce

Jane’s melancholy outlook undoubtedly contributed to her failing health. After Benny’s death, she became a recluse, writing letters to him daily and thinking about nothing else. When she finally worked her way back into public life she was frail and unable to carry out all her duties. On December 2, 1863, Jane died of tuberculosis and was buried in the Old North Cemetery in Concord, New Hampshire.

Sources:

  1. First Ladies Carl Sferrazza Anthony Quill William Morrow New York 1990
  2. The Smithsonian Book of the First Ladies Edith P.Mayo, General Editor Henry Holt and Company New York 1996