The President’s Lady – Lemonade Lucy


In 1877, Rutherford B. Hayes was inaugurated as President after a close and disputed election. (See the 8 September 2018 article “The Stolen Election of 1876“) His wife was nicknamed “Lemonade Lucy” and was credited with a number of White House reforms, not all of which were popular. Whether or not people liked her ideas, she was definitely one of our more interesting First Ladies.

During the Civil War, Lucy was known as “Mother Lucy” to the men of the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, commanded by her husband. She made many visits to camp “to minister to the wounded, cheer the homesick and comfort the dying.” After the war, she served as First Lady of Ohio during her husband’s three terms as Governor. Thus, she entered the White House already well-loved by many and with experience and confidence in her role as First Lady.

Both Rutherford and Lucy Hayes were temperance people, though not prohibitionists. Their first official White House function was a dinner for two Russian Grand Dukes at which wine was served. After that, it was never served again. In addition to alcoholic beverages, profanity and tobacco were also forbidden.

Many people blamed Mrs. Hayes for the ban on liquor, and that is how she earned the nickname of Lemonade Lucy. But President Hayes took the credit for himself. “It seemed to me,” Hayes explained, “that the example of excluding liquors from the White House would be wise and useful, and would be approved by good people generally. I knew it would be particularly gratifying to Mrs. Hayes to have it done.” Of course, Hayes also hoped it would keep temperance people in the Republican Party and induce members of temperance organizations to vote Republican.

Not all Republicans liked the “Ohio Idea” as total abstinence in the White House came to be called. Secretary of State William Evarts did not see how he could ask foreign diplomats to attend such meals. After one official dinner, Secretary Evarts remarked dolefully: “It was a brilliant affair; the water flowed like champagne.” Republican Representative Garfield, who succeeded Hayes in the White House, complained about a “state dinner at the President’s wet down with coffee and cold water.”

One White House steward, sympathetic to those disappointed drinkers, created a concoction known as Roman Punch. Roman Punch was a kind of Sherbet or frozen punch made of lemon juice, sugar, beaten egg whites, and a hearty dose of Saint Croix rum. At first, this dish was served during the sherbet course inside oranges. Later, it was more boldly served in glasses. One reporter said, “This phase of the dinner was named by those who enjoyed it ‘the Life-Saving Station.'” It apparently went unnoticed by the President and Lucy.

Interestingly enough, President Hayes, after leaving the White House, firmly denied that there had ever been “Life-Saving Stations.” Hayes wrote, ” The joke of the Roman punch oranges was not on us, but on the drinking people. My orders were to flavor them rather strongly with the same flavor that is found in Jamaica rum! This took! There was not a drop of spirits in them! This was certainly the case after the facts alluded to reached our ears. It was refreshing to hear “the drinkers” say with a smack of the lips, ‘Would they were hot!'” Whether or not Lucy was the cause of the ban on liquors, she was certainly responsible for, or in complete agreement with, a number of other reforms.

Lucy Hayes was the first college graduate to serve as First Lady. She loved ornate, hand-painted chinaware, and even decorated some herself, which she used in the White House. She is also remembered for starting the tradition of the annual Easter egg-rolling on the White House lawn, a tradition that is still followed today.

Rutherford Hayes did not run for re-election, and looked forward to leaving the White House. Lucy shared his dislike for the place and also looked forward to the end of their term. In the last year of her time as First Lady, she told a friend, “I wish it were at an end.” After Garfield’s inauguration, Lucy returned with her husband to their estate, Spiegel Grove, where they lived happily until her death in 1889.