These Presidents Have All Felt the Sorrow of Losing a Child

Absolutely nothing can compare to the torture of having to bury a child. And while the experience can often be misunderstood, the bond and connection among those who have lost a child transcend all cultural and socioeconomic barriers. More than a few United States presidents understand the sentiment. Here are the presidents who have all felt the sorrow of losing a child. 

1. George H.W. Bush

George H.W. Bush

His daughter died of leukemia. | Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

  • His daughter Robin died of leukemia at 3 years old.

Although many children are able to overcome leukemia with today’s treatments, the 1950s were quite different. When the Bush family noticed their 3-year-old daughter’s drastic change in behavior, they quickly took her to a doctor who eventually diagnosed Robin with leukemia. He only gave her two weeks to live. Although Robin survived longer than those two weeks, she passed away a few days before her fourth birthday.

Next: Of six children, this president lost two as adults.

2. Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt

He was a father of six. | Hulton Archive/Getty Images

  • Two of his six children died as adults.

Between President Theodore Roosevelt’s two wives, he became the father of six children, all of whom grew into well-established adults. Despite a successful run as a soldier during both WWI and WWII, Roosevelt’s second son and Harvard graduate, Kermit, battled with alcoholism and depression. The diseases eventually led Kermit to commit suicide in 1943. Roosevelt’s youngest son, Teddy, was killed in combat in France on Bastille Day on July 14, 1918.

Next: This famous family kept a lot under wraps.

3. John F. Kennedy

John Fitzgerald Kennedy

The Kennedys lost two of their children prior to JFK’s presidency. | AFP/Stringer/Getty Images

  • JFK lost two of his four children.

Despite keeping it very much private, John and Jackie Kennedy lost two of their four children prior to their White House years. The couple’s first child, Arabella, was stillborn. In 1957 and 1960, the well-known Carolina and John Jr. were born. Lastly, Jackie gave birth to Patrick in August of 1963. Sadly, Patrick died of respiratory distress syndrome just 39 hours after his birth.

Next: Even at his old age, this president never wanted to bury his own daughter.

4. Ronald Reagan

Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan

His daughter preceded him in death. | Michael Evans/The White House/Getty Images

  • Ronald Reagan’s daughter, Maureen, died at 60.

No matter how old they may be, no parent wants to watch their child be buried. Prior to Ronald Reagan’s death in 2004, his oldest daughter, Maureen, died from a long battle with skin cancer in 2001. Maureen’s life work was to bring awareness and find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, of which former President Reagan became ill.

Next: The death of this young child was the result of an unknown disease.

 5. John Adams

John Adams portrait

His young daughter died of unknown reasons. | The White House Historical Association

  • Daughter Susanna died at 1 year old.

Although two of the Adams’ sons died of alcoholism in their adulthood, Susanna, John and Abigail Adams’ youngest daughter, would face her mortality at just 1 year old in 1767. Despite smallpox being the culprit of many deaths in young children, Susanna’s death was a result of an unknown disease. It’s rumored that Adams was unable to even speak of Susanna for many years after her death.

Next: Only one of this well-known president’s children survived him. 

6. Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson

He had two daughters who lived to adulthood. | Hulton Archive/Getty Images

  • Jefferson lost five of his six children.

Thomas Jefferson’s wife, Martha Skelton, gave birth to six children. Of the brood, only two of his daughters — Martha and Mary — would live to adulthood. Three of their children passed during infancy, followed by the fourth child dying of whooping cough at just 2 years old. Although Martha and Mary would grow into their adulthood, Martha died in 1782 from complications linked to childbirth.

Next: Known for his do-good run as president, this president dealt with tragedy. 

7. Abraham Lincoln

President Abraham Lincoln

One of his sons died from diphtheria. | Alexander Gardner/U.S. Library of Congress/Getty Images

  • Lincoln lost two of four children.

Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln brought four sons into the world, yet only one of them survived into adulthood. Robert, the oldest, would survive, but the younger boys wouldn’t share the same fate. Lincoln’s second-born, Eddie, died at just 3 years old from what is suspected to be diphtheria. Before the former president’s assassination in 1865, he would have to bury Willie, who died of a fever at a very young age.

Next: The struggle to move forward after his son’s death proved to be extremely difficult. 

8. Dwight Eisenhower


His youngest son lived to 91. | Fox Photos/Getty Images

  • He lost one son to scarlet fever.

Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower had two sons — Doud and John. The couple’s youngest son, John, lived to be 91-years-old, passing in 2013. The couple’s first-born son, Doud, affectionately known as “Ikky,” assumed a different fate. After catching scarlet fever, Ikky died in Mamie’s arm near the age of four.

Next: This president lost all of three of his children.

9. Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce portrait

His wife felt their family was cursed. | The White House Historical Association

  • All three of Pierce’s children died.

Franklin Pierce’s wife, Jane, was deeply opposed to his political career pursuits, and because of those, she believed their family was cursed. Their first child, Franklin Pierce, Jr., died just three days after being born in 1836. The couple’s second child, Frank Robert Pierce, died at just four-years-old from epidemic typhus. Lastly, and perhaps even more tragically, the couple’s third son, Benjamin, was killed in a devastating railway accident just two months before Pierce’s inauguration.

Next: Burying your 42-year-old son is the last thing this father wanted to do. 

10. Martin Van Buren

Martin Van Buren

His wife died when their children were young. | National Archives/Getty Images

  • Martin Jr. died as an adult.

Former President Martin Van Buren‘s wife Hannah died while the couple’s four sons were still young children. Although Van Buren regretted not spending more time with his children during their growing-up years, they were all very involved in their father’s political career. At just 42-years-old, Martin Jr. died from complications associated with a longtime illness.

Next: Of his six children, this president lost half of them.

11. Zachary Taylor

President Zachary Taylor

He had six children. | National Archive/Getty Images

  • Taylor lost three daughters.

Of former President Zachary Taylor’s six children, he lost three. According to reports, two of Taylor’s very young daughters, Octavia and Margaret, succumbed to malaria. As his other children continued to grow into adults, his second-oldest daughter Sarah died of malaria (her second battle with the disease) at 21-years-old.

Next: His first-born didn’t survive past one year.

12. Franklin Roosevelt

United States president Franklin Delano Roosevelt

He also had six children. | Central Press/Getty Images

  • Roosevelt’s first-born son died

Former President Franklin Roosevelt and wife Eleanor had six children. For the most part, Roosevelt’s children would go on to lead very successful lives. Some attended ivy league schools, served as soldiers in the WWII, and even became high-ranking military officers. However, the original Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr. died before his first birthday.

Next: Diphtheria took his daughter, and this president felt that it ripped him apart. 

13. James Garfield

James Garfield official portrait

He had seven children. | The White House Historical Association

  • His first-born daughter, Eliza, and youngest son, Edward, both died.

Of Garfield’s seven children, only five would survive into adulthood. The former president’s first-born child and daughter Eliza, nicknamed Trot, died in infancy from diphtheria. Garfield expressed deep regret for not properly bidding his daughter farewell before leaving for a business trip. He said that the loss was “as if the fabric of my life were torn to atoms and scattered in the winds.” His last-born son, Edward, also passed in infancy.

Next: The candy bar “Baby Ruth” was named after this president’s late daughter.

14. Grover Cleveland

Grover Cleveland

His daughter died of diphtheria. | National Archive/Newsmakers/Getty Images

  • His 12-year-old daughter, Ruth, died.

Grover Cleveland and his wife Frances Folsom welcomed their first child and daughter Ruth into the world on October 3, 1891. Even back then, the media went cuckoo over the Cleveland’s first-born. As time unfolded, it became quickly evident that Ruth was not the healthiest of children. Sadly, at the age of 12-years-old, Ruth died of diphtheria — a bacterial disease that wreaks havoc on the heart and nervous system.

Interesting fact: Originally, the famous candy bar “Baby Ruth” was said to be named after Ruth Cleveland.

Next: Addictions led to the death of one of his children, but two others died as well. 

15. John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams, 6th president of the US

One of his sons committed suicide. | Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons

  • Adams lost three children.

John Quincy Adams was rather unsupported by his wife, Louisa, throughout his political endeavors — and certainly more so after the death of their son George. The couple was well aware of George’s addictions to opium, but his suicide was a devastating blow. Adams’ son, John Adams II, also died at just 31 years old. The couple also lost their daughter, Louisa, to an illness at just 1 year old.

Next: Another host of tragedies for another president. 

16. Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson, seventeenth President of the United States

He had six children. | National Archive/Newsmakers/Getty Images

  • Johnson lost two adult children.

Andrew Johnson, the nation’s 17th president, felt the sorrow of losing two of his six adult children. The first of whom was Charles, his oldest child. Charles was killed in 1863 when he was bucked from a horse. Johnson’s second son, Robert, eventually succumbed to alcohol-related complications.

Next: Of 15 children, this president lost five. 

17. John Tyler

John Tyler portrait

He was married twice. | The White House Historical Association

  • Five of his 15 children died.

John Tyler was married twice, and between those two wives, he fathered 15 children — eight with this first wife Letitia, seven with his second wife Julia. Tyler’s first-born child Mary died at 32-years-old, his third child Anne died at birth, his sixth born daughter Elizabeth died at 26, and his seventh born child Alice died at 27. From his second marriage, his eleventh daughter Julia died at just 23.

Next: It’s unclear what caused this president to lose five children. 

18. William Henry Harrison

William H Harrison

He and his wife had 10 children. | Hulton Archive/Getty Images

  • Harrison lost five children.

William Harrison and his wife Anna had 10 children, but sadly, many of them passed away before Harrison ever made it into the White House — five to be exact. In fact, only two of his children lived to be 40 years old. It’s unclear what were the exact causes of each of their deaths.

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