The U.S. President and First Lady With the Biggest Age Gap May Surprise You
What is it that keeps us so fascinated with first ladies? Maybe it’s their influence on the president, their public eye fashion, or their ability to enact change from the passenger seat. Either way, the age difference between President Donald Trump and his first lady Melania Trump got us thinking about the widest age gaps between presidents through the ages. Here’s our countdown, with some fun presidential marriage facts.
16. Calvin and Grace Coolidge: 7 years
Grace was 26 years old when she married Calvin Coolidge on Oct. 4, 1905. In the simple ceremony, Grace Coolidge wore gray and carried no flowers. Just a handful of relatives and friends attended the ceremony. In the White House, animal-lover Coolidge kept a pet raccoon named Rebecca.
Next: This couple threw a serious shindig for their wedding.
15. Chester and Ellen Arthur: 7 years
Ellen was 22 when she married Chester Alan Arthur on Oct. 29, 1859. Records indicate that the wedding reception was lavish, the rooms filled with hanging baskets, vases, and table bouquets of flowers, fruit baskets, and thousands of stewed, pickled, and raw oysters, lobster, and chicken salads, champagnes, brandy, whiskey, sherry, rum, and Curacao. Sounds like a party!
Next: This first lady gave some stringent standards for their engagement.
14. James K. and Sarah Polk: 8 years
Anecdotal tradition claims that the future Sarah Polk teased James K. Polk that she would marry him only after he had been elected to political office in his own right. At the completion of his service as Senate clerk, he was elected to the state legislature in 1823. They married on Jan. 1 the following year.
Next: This “negotiation” ended well for the president.
13. John Quincy and Louisa Adams: 8 years
Louisa Adams was the first first lady born outside of the United States. She was 22 when she married John Quincy Adams on July 26, 1797, in her birthplace of London, England. Shortly after their wedding, the couple had planned to sail to Lisbon, Portugal, so Adams could assume a new diplomatic mission. When they married, Adams was reassigned by his father (who had, at that point, been president of the United States for four months) to serve as minister to Prussia.
The wedding of the president’s son to a British-born subject attracted national press back in the United States. The Boston Independent Chronicle noted, “Young John Adams’ Negotiations have terminated in a Marriage Treaty with an English lady.”
Next: This first lady led a tragic life after her husband passed away.
12. Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln: 9 years
Mary Todd was 23 when she married Abraham Lincoln on Nov. 4, 1842. On Jan. 1, 1841, Abraham Lincoln broke his initial engagement to Mary Todd, several months after she accepted. For the first two years of their marriage, they lived at the Globe Tavern in Springfield. Deeply traumatized by her husband’s assassination, she showed signs of mental illness.
In 1875, her son Robert had her committed to the Bellevue Insane Asylum, in Batavia, Ill. She twice attempted suicide by taking what she believed to be the drugs laudanum and camphor — which the suspicious pharmacist had replaced with sugar. One of the nation’s first women lawyers, Myra Bradwell, filed an appeal on Lincoln’s behalf and after four months of confinement, the former first lady was released to the care of her sister Elizabeth Edwards in Springfield. Once a second trial on June 19, 1876, declared her sane, she moved to France.
Next: While not a book person, this first lady showed a sense of humor in her letters.
11. Rutherford B. and Lucy Hayes: 9 years
The former Lucy Webb married Rutherford Birchard Hayes on Dec. 30, 1852. The mother of Hayes, a friend of Webb’s mother, encouraged a match between the two. Hayes fell in love with Webb but wanted to make her more intellectual.
The president said that if she read more literature, practiced writing, and had more frequent and closer contact with cultivated and intellectual individuals, she would “enlarge herself to her fullest mental capacities.” Throughout her life, she wrote letters sparingly but often included self-deprecatory humor.
Next: This first lady became known as a fashionista.
10. James and Elizabeth Monroe: 10 years
When Elizabeth was 17 years old, she married James Monroe on Feb. 16, 1786. The couple took a honeymoon on Long Island and then lived in the first U.S. capital city of New York with her father.
Recognizing the importance placed on social behavior and appearance at the time, Elizabeth Monroe cultivated a persona that embodied the casualness of American customs while respecting old-world European protocol. It earned her the nickname “La Belle Americane.”
Next: This first lady lived in a state-of-the-art home before the White House.
9. Ronald and Nancy Reagan: 11 years
Nancy and Ronald Reagan married on March 6, 1952, when she was 30 years old. After a honeymoon at the Mission Inn in Riverside, Calif., and Phoenix, Ariz., the Reagans eventually settled in a modern home in the Pacific Palisades section of Los Angeles. General Electric, for whom Reagan then served as national spokesman, built and outfitted the house with all of the company’s latest technology. Nancy Reagan’s godmother was the actress Alla Nazimova.
Next: After her husband died, this first lady took up some of her own causes.
8. John F. and Jacqueline Kennedy: 12 years
The Kennedys married Sept. 12, 1953. Jackie Kennedy became politically active after her husband’s assassination in 1963. She successfully sought President Lyndon Johnson’s support for several measures, including the revitalization of Pennsylvania Avenue. She later involved herself in the creation of the John F. Kennedy Library and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
The former first lady also led an effort to halt the potential damage in Venice posed by rising water levels, and attempted to broker better diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cambodia.
Next: This president had it bad for his teacher.
7. Millard and Abigail Fillmore: 13 years
Abigail was 30 years old when she married Millard Fillmore on Feb. 5, 1826. In 1819, Abigail Fillmore originally met her husband when he came to enroll at the New Hope Academy. Before that, he had only rudimentary frontier-school lessons in arithmetic, reading, and writing. Because he previously served as an indentured servant in farming, accounting, chopping wood for lumber, and making cloth, he lacked a continuous education. She helped him learn and they studied together.
When his family moved and they later became separated, Millard Fillmore realized he had fallen in love with his teacher. The pair kept in touch by letter for three years before they eventually reunited.
Next: This courtship became something of a scandal, at the time.
6. Woodrow and Edith Wilson: 15 years
Woodrow Wilson married Edith Bolling Galt when he was already president, on Dec. 18, 1915. His first wife of 29 years, the former Ellen Axson, died the year before. Edith Wilson then met the president while he was still officially in mourning for his first wife, which made their romance a bit of a scandal. Edith Wilson later became known as the “secret president” for handling many of Woodrow Wilson’s duties after he became partially paralyzed by a stroke in 1919.
Next: Rumors tried to take down this first lady’s character.
5. James and Dolley Madison: 17 years
James Madison remained a bachelor throughout the Revolutionary War and beyond, marrying the former Dolley Payne Todd on Sept. 15, 1794, when she was 26. During the 1808 election, Federalist newspapers in Baltimore and Boston implied Madison had intimate relations with President Jefferson as a way of attacking her character. Her popularity later prevailed during the 1812 election.
Next: This first lady doesn’t have much interest in the job.
4. Donald and Melania Trump: 24 years
The former Melanija Knavs, the daughter of a former Communist party member, grew up in Slovenia and dropped out of design school to become a model. She met Donald Trump at a party in 1998. They later married at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in 2005.
A quiet person who keeps her own counsel, Melania Trump opted to remain in New York City while her young son, Barron, finished out the school year. In her place, Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump moved her office into the White House and subsequently made many public appearances the first lady would normally take on.
Next: The next president’s wife didn’t live in the White House, but we’ll count it anyway.
3. Benjamin and Mary Scott Lord Harrison: 25 years
While not technically a first lady, the former Mary Scott Lord Dimmick married Benjamin Harrison on April 6, 1896, three years after he left office. Dimmick was 37 at the time of the wedding. She was also the niece of Caroline Harrison, the president’s first wife.
Next: This president met his future wife when she still wore diapers.
2. Grover and Frances Cleveland: 28 years
Grover Cleveland and the former Frances Folson held the only presidential wedding ever on the White House grounds on June 2, 1886. She was the daughter of one of Cleveland’s good friends. According to William DeGregorio’s The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents, “Cleveland at 27 met his future wife shortly after she was born. He took an avuncular interest in the child, buying her a baby carriage and otherwise doting on her as she grew up.”
Next: The age gap wins the top slot.
1. John and Julia Tyler: 30 years
John Tyler takes the prize for largest presidential age gap, at 30 years. He remains the first president ever married in office, when he wed the former Julia Gardiner on June 26, 1844. The Gardiner family went into mourning after what they called the “elopement” of the couple, having held a small ceremony with only 12 guests.
The new presidential bride became the object of enormous public fascination, turning out crowds of thousands to see her. A two-hour White House wedding reception took place on June 28, 1844, with a wedding cake displayed in the Blue Room.
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