The adorable love stories of 11 presidents and their first ladies

  • Some US presidents and first ladies can boast of pretty swoon-worthy love stories.
  • Grace and Calvin Coolidge met after she spied him shaving through a window; Theodore and Edith Roosevelt were childhood friends whose relationship blossomed into something more.
  • Here’s a look at some of the most romantic presidential love stories.

Marriage is one thing that all of the US presidents throughout history have in common – with the exception of lifelong bachelor James Buchanan.

Not all of those relationships were equally rock steady, though.

Some first ladies, like John Quincy Adams’s wife Louisa, felt deeply uncomfortable in the realm of politics.

Meanwhile, a number of presidents, like James Garfield, Warren Harding, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Bill Clinton, were known for their philandering.

And a few presidential pairs, like Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, functioned more like work colleagues than spouses.

Still, the book “First Ladies: Presidential Historians on the Lives of 45 Iconic American Women,” serves up plenty of heartwarming anecdotes. Many of the most famous and powerful people in American history could be quite romantic, as it turns out.

Here’s a look inside some of the most touching love stories between US presidents and their first ladies:


John Adams relied on his wife Abigail.

Abigail Adams famously asked her husband John to “remember the ladies” as he helped to found the fledgling United States.

As a founding father and as president, Adams didn’t do much to adhere to her request on a macro-level. But he certainly relied on Abigail for support and advice throughout his career.


John and Abigail wrote to one another constantly when they were separated.

Hulton Archive / Stringer / Getty ImagesJohn Adams.

John and Abigail Adams were partners, through and through. Even when work and war separated the couple, they sought to stay in contact.

In “First Ladies,” historian James Taylor estimated that the pair wrote around 1,170 letters to one another, penning messages around once or twice a week.

“They were partners in everything he did. … he writes to her thanking her for being a partner in the activities,” he said.


The two also had unique pet names for one another.

Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia CommonsDiana, goddess of the moon.

The pair’s trove of letters reflects their habit of teasing one another, and an affectionate side to their marriage. Business Insider previously reported that Adams referred to his wife as “Miss Adorable” and “Diana,” after the Roman goddess of the hunt and the moon.

Abigail called him Lysander – referencing the Spartan War hero – and “my dearest friend.”


Dolley Payne was a popular widow with a tragic past before she met James Madison.

In 1794, Dolley Payne was just about the most eligible bachelorette in all of Philadelphia.

The young mother had tragically lost her first husband, one son, her mother-in-law, and her father-in-law in a 1793 yellow fever epidemic. She had little in the way of financial resources.

Still, the 26-year-old Payne was considered beautiful and charming, and attracted a number of suitors.


James Madison reportedly fell in love with her at first sight.

National Archives / Handout / Getty ImagesJames Madison.

One such admirer was 43-year-old politician James Madison, who fell hard for the widow when he caught a glimpse of her on the streets of Philadelphia.

The two had little in common. Dolley was vivacious, social, and confident. Madison was slight, cerebral, and a touch awkward – he once reportedly refused to go outdoors after misplacing his hat.


The relationship between James and Dolley Madison attracted some famous fans.

Still, the couple had a lot of famous figures rooting for them. Future vice president Aaron Burr – who attended Princeton with Madison – may have formally introduced them.

And, as historian Catherine Allgor recounted in the book “First Ladies,” the courtship received a glowing endorsement from Martha Washington.


The relationship between the Madisons only grew stronger over the years.

The pair wed in 1794. Over the years, their bond only grew stronger.

“As the marriage went on, she fell deeply in love with James, and James got over his infatuation and loved her deeply as well,” Allgor said.


Andrew Jackson was devastated by the death of his wife Rachel.

March 4, 1829 must have been a truly bittersweet day for Andrew Jackson.

He had defeated incumbent president and longtime rival John Quincy Adams and ascended to the White House. But, by his own feeling, the contentious race for the presidency had cost his wife Rachel her peace of mind, health, and, ultimately, her life.

And so, as Washington D.C. celebrated his victory, the president mourned his spouse, who had died on December 22 of the previous year.


Rachel Jackson was married to another man before she met the future president.

The trouble that would plague Rachel Jackson during the election of 1828 had been simmering for years before her husband decided to run for office.

In “First Ladies,” historian Patricia Brady said that, before she met Jackson, Rachel was “married very unhappily to a man who treated her badly.”

Then she met Jackson, who was renting a room at one of her mother’s properties.

“All his life, Jackson… couldn’t bear to see women mistreated,” Brady said.

Jackson and Rachel fell in love and eloped to Natchez.

The couple was close, and Brady described Rachel as Jackson’s “touchstone.”


However, Rachel Jackson’s marital status became a political issue.

Meanwhile, Rachel’s first husband Lewis Robards proceeded to file for divorce in Virginia.

The Jacksons assumed that was the end of the story, but years later it was revealed that Robards had failed to follow the proper instructions when filing.

So technically, Rachel’s marriage to Jackson was bigamous. Jackson’s rivals seized upon the story in the 1828, decrying Rachel as an adulteress.


Rachel Jackson’s health declined as a result of the controversy.

The stress took its toll on Rachel. Her health declined, and she ultimately succumbed to a heart attack a month after the election.

According to WNPT, Jackson initially “refused to believe she was dead and asked servants to lay blankets across the dining room table in case she woke up and needed comfort or warmth.”

She was buried on Christmas Eve, dressed in the white gown and shoes she had planned to don at the inaugural ball.


Andrew Johnson always consulted his wife Eliza.

By all accounts, Andrew Johnson had a close relationship with his wife Eliza.

In “First Ladies,” historian Jacqueline Berger noted that the president’s days “seemed to revolve around Eliza,” who he always consulted before heading off to work.


Eliza Johnson taught her husband Andrew how to read.

The couple met as teenagers in Greeneville, Tennessee. Berger recounted a popular story of their first meet-up. Eliza was reportedly chatting to some friends outside the school one day when she spotted newcomer Andrew Johnson rolling into town for the first time.

Berger said Eliza joked that the young man was her “beau.” And sure enough, 16-year-old Eliza and 18-year-old Andrew Johnson struck up a courtship and wed shortly afterward.

Later on, Eliza would teach her new husband how to read and helped him run their tailor shop.


Ulysses Grant met his wife Julia through her brother.

Who knew that Ulysses Grant had a romantic side?

The future president met his future wife Julia through her brother, his fellow West Point student Fred Dent.

According to the Smithsonian, the two read poetry and rode horses together, and Grant even built her a small, yellow coffin after her pet canary died.


The couple spent four years apart during their courtship.

Wikipedia/Wikimedia CommonsGrant as a young man.

Grant’s military obligations would ultimately separate the pair for years during the Mexican-American War. FirstLadies.org reported that, after Grant left to report for duty, Julia allegedly dreamed that he would return in civilian clothes and propose.

He did just that, and the two went on to correspond for four years.


Grant wrote passionate love letters to Julia.

For Grant, the messages were a lifeline. According to the Smithsonian, one of Julia’s letters contained two dried flowers, “… but when Grant opened it the petals scattered in the wind. He searched the barren Mexican sands for even a single petal, but in vain.”

In response, he sent her a wildflower from the banks of the Rio Grande, according to the Washington Post.


Julia wasn’t afraid to be honest with her husband.

The pair wed in 1848. Grant’s abolitionist relatives refused to attend the ceremony, since Julia’s family owned slaves.

In “First Ladies,” historian William Seale said that Julia was supportive of her husband during his presidency, but wasn’t afraid to criticise him in private.


Grant tried to quell his wife’s insecurity about her lazy eye.

The marriage was by all accounts happy, but Seale noted that Julia often fretted about her husband’s skyrocketing fame, due to her lazy eye.

She looked into having it fixed but despaired after learning that the condition could not be corrected. According to Seale, when Grant learned what she had been doing, he told her “that he had fallen in love with her the way she was.”


Theodore and Edith Roosevelt grew up together but fell in love later in life.

Library of Congress / Wikimedia CommonsTheodore Roosevelt and his family.

In “First Ladies,” historian Kathleen Dalton recounted how future husband and wife Theodore and Edith Roosevelt were effectively raised together.

They both grew up around Union Square in New York City. They shared tutors, swapped books, and played together. Edith became close friends with Theodore’s sister Corinne, as well.


The pair drifted apart as teenagers.

Henry Guttmann/Stringer/Getty ImagesTheodore Roosevelt.

However, Dalton said that their close relationship took a hit in their teens, after a mysterious quarrel. Roosevelt went on to attend Harvard and marry Alice Hathaway Lee.

After giving birth to the couple’s daughter Alice, Lee died on the same day that Roosevelt lost his mother, a “tragedy that broke his heart,” according to Dalton.


Roosevelt turned to Edith after the tragedy.

Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesEdith Roosevelt.

The grieving widower eventually turned to his childhood friend for comfort. They began covertly courting one another, until newspapers broke the news of their engagement and Roosevelt had to loop in his family.

According to Dalton, Roosevelt could be an “inconsiderate” and forgetful husband at times. However, she added that “Theodore Roosevelt adored Edith Roosevelt and she was devoted to him.”


William and Helen Taft spent their courtship visiting Cincinnati’s beer halls.

According to historian Lewis Gould’s interview in “First Ladies,” William and Helen Taft’s lives began to intersect as they grew up in Cincinnati.

After the future president returned from Yale, the two began to court, venturing out to beer halls together.


Helen rejected her future husband’s first proposal.

Topical Press Agency / Stringer / Getty ImagesWilliam and Helen Taft.

“He was much more smitten with her originally than she was with him,” Gould said. “He proposed, but she rejected him, which was standard in those days; the woman never accepted the proposal right off.”


Taft cared for his wife after a seizure left her unable to speak.

Hulton Archive / Stringer / Getty ImagesWilliam and Helen Taft and their son Charlie.

Helen Taft went on to become an active first lady, spearheading the planting of cherry trees in Washington D.C. Tragedy struck the couple in 1909, when a seizure left Helen unable to speak.

Gould said her husband coached her in the White House, helping her to regain her speech.


Grace Coolidge first spotted her future husband Calvin through a window.

Library of Congress / Wikimedia CommonsCalvin and Grace Coolidge.

Believe it or not, Calvin Coolidge’s first encounter with his wife Grace is a scene straight out of a romantic comedy film.

According to the Coolidge Foundation, Grace was working at the Clarke School for the Deaf in Northampton, Massachusetts. One day in 1903, while watering flowers near a neighbouring boardinghouse, she caught a glimpse of a young man shaving in the mirror. He was dressed in long underwear and a hat.


The couple began courting after that encounter.

Hulton Archive / Stringer / Getty ImagesCalvin and Grace Coolidge.

Grace laughed at the odd sight. The young man – future president Calvin Coolidge – turned around. The two began courting shortly afterward.

And, as they say, the rest is history.


Calvin and Grace Coolidge were a true case of opposites attracting.

Hulton Archive / Stringer / Getty ImagesCalvin and Grace Coolidge.

According to “First Ladies,” historian Cyndy Bittinger said that the couple was a true case of opposites attracting. “Silent Cal,” as he became known during his presidency, was quiet and thoughtful, while Grace was a vivacious and fun-loving White House hostess.

However, both Calvin and Grace shared a wry sense of humour and a love of animals.


Harry and Bess Truman had a strong connection.

Truman Library/Wikimedia CommonsHarry and Bess Truman.

Harry and Bess Truman were more than just close.

“He just didn’t function with quite as much vigour when Bess wasn’t near,” historian Nicole Anslover said in the book “First Ladies.”


They first met as young children.

Central Press / Stringer / Getty ImagesHarry and Bess Truman.

In a twist of fate, the two attended Sunday school together as young kids. Bess reportedly didn’t remember much of her future husband, but “Harry always spoke of the girl with the beautiful blue eyes and the long golden curls, and he claims that he fell in love with her that day,” Anslover said.

“As far as we know, he never did look at another woman,” she added.


WWI prolonged their courtship.

Fox Photos / Stringer / Getty ImagesHarry and Bess Truman.

Despite the fact that Bess occupied a higher social status than Harry, the two began courting. Truman passively proposed for the first time in a letter in 1913, asking Bess: “If I bought a ring, would you wear it on your left hand?”

She didn’t respond, but they kept seeing one another. Then WWI broke out, interrupting their romance. Truman carried his beloved’s picture throughout the conflict. The Trumans finally wed in 1919.


Ronald and Nancy Reagan first met because of Hollywood’s anti-communist blacklist.

Ronald Reagan is remembered as a president who had a significant impact in the twilight years of the Cold War.

So it’s ironic that he met the love of his life thanks to a communist scare in Hollywood.


Reagan’s future wife Nancy met with him in order to clear her name from a blacklist.

Hulton Archive / Getty ImagesRonald and Nancy Reagan.

His future wife Nancy – then known as Nancy Davis – found her named listed on a blacklist. The situation turned out to be a case of mistaken identity – a different Nancy Davis was suspected of harboring communist sympathies.

Nonetheless, Nancy ended up scheduling a meeting with Screen Actors Guild president Ronald Reagan to resolve the issue.


The pair wed in 1952 and forged a strong partnership.

Hulton Archive / Getty Images

The 1949 meeting morphed into dinner, which then transitioned into a relationship. The couple wed in 1952.

In “First Ladies,” historian Judy Woodruff said that Nancy was a protective and highly influential figure in her husband’s inner circle, adding, “It was a remarkable partnership. It was a strong marriage. Ronald and Nancy Reagan loved each other deeply.”


Barack Obama met his future wife at work — but Michelle was worried about dating a colleague at first.

Barack and Michelle Obama’s marriage would have never happened had she followed her initial instinct to avoid workplace romances.

Long before her time in the White House, Michelle was her future husband’s mentor at the law firm Sidley Austin LLP.


Colleagues noted their flirtatious relationship.

Mark Wilson / Getty ImagesBarack and Michelle Obama.

Ultimately, she decided to give him a chance.

According to “First Ladies,” historian Liza Mundy said that Obama was “taken” with his mentor and that colleagues “could tell that something was developing” based on the number of times they’d witness the young lawyer perched on Michelle’s desk in the late afternoon.


Michelle wasn’t too impressed with her future husband — at first.

Patrick Smith / Stringer / Getty ImagesBarack and Michelle Obama.

The first date didn’t get off to an auspicious start. According to David Mendell’s “Obama: From Promise to Power,” Michelle also thought Obama sounded “too good to be true” at first.

She was also unimpressed when he showed up to the date in a “bad sport jacket” with a “cigarette dangling from his mouth.”


She thought of Obama as ‘a good-looking, smooth-talking guy.’

Chip Somodevilla / Getty ImagesBarack and Michelle Obama.

“I thought: ‘Oh, here you go. Here’s this good-looking, smooth-talking guy. I’ve been down this road before,'” she told Mendell, according to the Washington Post.

Barack managed to win her over, though. They went out walking, and later caught a screening of Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing,”the Telegraph reported.


Now, the spot where the Obamas first kissed is marked with a plaque.

Scott Olson / Getty ImagesBarack and Michelle Obama.

At the end of the date, the couple reportedly had their first kiss outside a Baskin-Robbins at 53rd and South Dorchester in Chicago. The spot is now marked by a plaque commemorating the event, according to Atlas Obscura.

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