Presidential Children – California or Bust

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Theodore Roosevelt and Edith Roosevelt with their children. Children from left to right: Quentin, Theodore Jr., Archie, Alice, Kermit, and Ethel.

With few exceptions (such as Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman, and Richard Nixon), Presidents have been born east of the Mississippi River. Others (such as George Bush the Elder and Ronald Reagan) were born east of the Mississippi River but moved west before being elected President. Some (Herbert Hoover and Dwight Eisenhower) were born west of the Mississippi River and moved east before being elected President. It is surprising, therefore, that so many presidential offspring have found their way to California. I discovered this recently in answering a letter from two readers who noticed one of the sons of President John Tyler of Virginia buried near their home in California. They asked how many other presidential children moved to their state.

The Tyler child who moved to California was Tazewell Tyler (1830-1874). He had been a surgeon in the Confederate army during the Civil War. At the end of the war, he moved to California and established a medical practice. He married for the second time and had five sons and two daughters. He died there shortly after his 43rd birthday.

Two of Ulysses S. Grant’s sons settled in California. Ulysses, Jr. (1852-1929), called Buck, eventually settled in San Diego. He was a delegate from California to the Republican National Convention in 1896, and an unsuccessful candidate for the U.S. Senate from California in 1899. In 1910, Buck opened the U.S. Grant Hotel in San Diego. The hotel is still in operation today.

Jesse Root Grant (1858-1934) lived in California, and was one of the developers of Tijuana (then called Tia Juana) as a resort. He left his father’s party and became a Democrat, and was an unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 1908 (William Jennings Bryan won the nomination for the third and final time).

James Garfield’s daughter Mary (1867-1947), called Mollie, married her father’s presidential secretary, Joseph Stanley-Brown, who later became an investment banker. They lived in Pasadena, California, and New York City.

Chester Arthur, Jr., called Alan, was a wealthy playboy who enjoyed travel and playing polo. At the age of 36, he married Myra Townsend, a California heiress. They lived in California until they separated 16 years later. They finally divorced in 1927. He then lived in Colorado Springs, Colorado where he re-married. His second marriage was apparently much happier.

Woodrow Wilson’s daughter Eleanor (1889-1967) married her father’s Secretary of the Treasury, William Gibbs McAdoo, a leader in the California Democratic Party. McAdoo was the front-runner for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 1924, and led on the first ballots at the convention. But the two-thirds rule prevented McAdoo from winning, and the party turned to a compromise candidate (John W. Davis of West Virginia). Eleanor and McAdoo were divorced in 1934, and she then settled in Montecito, California where she lived the rest of her life.

Herbert Hoover’s second son, Allan (born in 1907), operated a ranch in California, but eventually became a mining engineer like his father. He retired to Greenwich, Connecticut.

Franklin Roosevelt’s son James (1907-1991) settled in California. He was the unsuccessful Democratic candidate for governor of California in 1950 (he lost to Republican Earl Warren, later Chief Justice of the U.S.) and was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from California from 1955-1966.

John Aspinwall Roosevelt (1916-1981) operated the Grayson-Robinson Department store in Los Angeles. The only member of his family to become a Republican, he was chairman of the Citizens for Eisenhower in 1952, and later supported Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. He later moved back to New York to work in a Wall Street firm.

As Richard Nixon was born in California, I won’t mention his daughters in this list.

Gerald Ford’s son Jack (born in 1952) lives in California. He was assistant to the publisher of Outdoor Magazine for a time, and from 1978-1980 was co-publisher of the weekly magazine, Del-Mar News Press, both California publications. He then worked in public relations in San Diego.

Again, Ronald Reagan moved to California, and was elected governor of the state in 1966 and 1970. So, there is no surprise that his children lived there.

It is interesting that so many presidential children moved to the other side of the country. Some may have wanted to move as far away from the spotlight of history as possible. Others may have just been anxious to strike out on their own or to take advantage of the opportunities of a relatively new land.