Grover Cleveland and Oscar Folsom were law partners and best friends. They shared many enthusiasms, one of whom apparently was a woman named Maria Crofts Halpin. When Miss Halpin bore a child whom she named “Oscar Folsom Cleveland” Grover Cleveland did not shy from doing the right thing. He stepped forward and assumed responsibility for the child’s support because he was the only bachelor among the several men who had been involved with the young woman.
When Folsom died in a carriage accident in 1875, Grover Cleveland again did the right thing and became executor of his estate and ward for Folsom’s eleven-year-old daughter Frances. He had known Frankie since she was a baby, and had bought a baby carriage for her when she was born. Cleveland doted on the girl and remained close friends with her mother. After Frances entered Wells College, Cleveland received Mrs. Folsom’s permission to privately court her daughter and he filled her dormitory room with flowers.
During the close presidential election of 1884, Cleveland weathered revelations that he had fathered a child out of wedlock (Ma, Ma, Where’s My Pa?). Once the bachelor president got into office, speculation about his marriage prospects quickly focused on Mrs. Folsom. The press was certain when Emma Folsom left for Europe with her daughter in late 1885 that she was off to buy her wedding trousseau, and they besieged the ship when the Folsoms returned to New York on May 27, 1886.
The next day, the White House issued a brief statement: the president was not engaged to Mrs. Folsom, but to her daughter, Frances.
A week later the 49-year-old president exchanged wedding vows with 21-year-old Frances, who became the youngest first lady in U.S. history and the first bride to be married in the White House.
The portly President, who had worked a regular day before the wedding, donned a tuxedo and white bowtie to take his vows. His beautiful young bride wore an ivory dress made of such stiff satin that it could stand up by itself.
The Blue Room of the White House was festooned in flowers, and John Philip Sousa led the Marine Band in a quartette that he had composed, initially entitled “Student of Love”, but which the president had changed to the one word, “Quartette.” At the request of the couple, the traditional “honor, love and obey” portion of Frances’ marriage vows was replaced with the words “honor, love and keep.”
It was a small but elegant event. The guest list was limited to family, close friends, plus cabinet officers and their wives. Journalists were barred from the wedding (except for a last minute glimpse at the floral displays).
The President was said to have not displayed affection to his bride during the wedding ceremony and did not even kiss her at the end, but mother and daughter embraced and wept together before the President whisked her off to a six-day honeymoon in the resort town of Deer Park, Maryland.