Probably no prior presidential children were watched, followed, or written about as were Grover Cleveland’s. The entire nation followed the Cleveland family, and the antics of the children growing up in the White House. Although common today, Cleveland’s family was the first to receive this star treatment. Certainly, the advent of inexpensive newspapers, competition for readership, and the first newspaper chains increased the appetite for news of the children of the First Family.
It began during Cleveland’s first term when he married his 21 year old ward, Francis Folsom, the daughter of his best friend and law partner, Oscar Folsom, who died when Francis was a young child. She was extremely popular, being pictured in newspapers as the Queen of Hearts in a deck of cards.
Cleveland had five children, three daughters and two sons. He also accepted responsibility for another son born before he was married.
Oscar Folsom Cleveland, born 1874. Oscar was born to Maria Halpin, a widow from New Jersey who had left her two children behind and moved to Buffalo seeking a new life. She got a job in a department store and worked her way up to department manager. She kept company with a number of men, including Grover Cleveland and his law partner and best friend, Oscar Folsom, (hence her choosing those two names for the child). Grover accepted responsibility, even though he was uncertain of the child’s paternity, because the other men involved with Maria were married and he felt he had less to loose from such an admission. He decided, however, not to marry Mrs. Halpin. Shortly after Oscar’s birth, Maria began drinking heavily, and Grover Cleveland had Maria committed to an asylum for the sake of the child. Cleveland paid the $5.00 a week fee to keep Oscar in an orphanage until his mother improved. Maria Halpin kidnapped her child from the orphanage, but he was soon recovered. Cleveland paid Maria Halpin $500.00 to give up custody of Oscar, and she re-settled in New Rochelle, where she married. Oscar was adopted by a prominent New York family and became a doctor. (See the earlier article “Rum, Romanism and Rebellion” for more details)
Ruth Cleveland, 1891-1904. You have most probably heard of this presidential child, although you might not be aware of it. Ruth Cleveland, born in the period between her father’s non-consecutive terms, was very popular with the public, being called Baby Ruth in the press. She achieved a sort of immortality when a candy maker named the Baby Ruth candy bar after her. At the age of twelve, Ruth died of diphtheria. The entire nation mourned along with the Clevelands.
Esther Cleveland, 1893-1980. Esther is also famous, as the answer to a popular trivia question. Esther was the first, and to date the only, child of a president born in the White House. Esther did volunteer work in England during World War I, where she met her husband, Captain William Bosanquet of the British army. Bosanquet was an executive in the iron and steel industry. After her husband died, Esther returned to the United States and settled in Tamworth, New Hampshire.
Marion Cleveland, 1895-1977. Marion was born in Buzzard’s Bay, Massachusetts. She attended Columbia University Teachers College. Her first marriage was to Stanley Dell. In 1926, she married John Amen, a New York lawyer. From 1943 until 1960, Marion served as community relations adviser for the Girl Scouts of America at its New York headquarters.
Richard Folsom Cleveland, 1897-1974. Richard was born in Princeton, New Jersey. He served as a Marine Corps officer during World War I, and then graduated from Princeton in 1919, earned his master’s degree from Princeton in 1921, a law degree from Harvard Law School in 1924. He practiced law in Baltimore, Maryland and became active in democratic politics. At the 1932 Democratic Convention, Richard had the honor of giving the seconding speech for Governor Albert C. Ritchie of Maryland. From 1934-1935, Richard served as general counsel to the Public Service Commission in Baltimore. An anti-New Deal Democrat, he opposed the re-election of Franklin Roosevelt and was active in the American Liberty League.
Francis Grover Cleveland, born 1903. Also born in Buzzard’s Bay, Massachusetts, Francis graduated from Harvard University with a degree in drama. He taught for a while in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and then moved to New York to try for a career in the theater. He finally settled in Tamworth, New Hampshire, where he operated a summer stock company called the Barnstormers. He also won election as a selectman (town council).