Presidential Biography: Lucy Webb Hayes

Lucy Webb Hayes was the wife of President Hayes and was the first practical temperance reformer of the White House. Information about her life and influences.

Lucy Webb Hayes, the wife of Rutherford B. Hayes, was perhaps one of the most widely known and universally popular President's wife the country has ever known. While she came to the Capitol well loved by many, Lucy remained a legend in Washington long after she left the White House.

Mrs. Hayes was well-known not only for her kindness, intelligence, and her humanitarian efforts, but also for her faithful support and service to her husband. Being accustomed to her life being spent before the public, Lucy fully identified herself with her Rutherford's administration to such a degree that his term in office cannot be remembered apart from her. She gave her every thought to the maintenance and advancement of her husband's position as President, and no act, no matter how insignificant it may have seemed, was considered by her as unimportant if it resulted in uplifting her husband in the eyes of the public.

Lucy Webb Hayes was born in 1831 the daughter of Dr. James Webb. Dr. Webb moved his family from North Carolina to Ohio where he sought to arrange for transportation to Liberia for slaves whom he and his father had liberated. Lucy was born in Chillicothe, Ohio, which was then the state's capitol. Lucy's mother was a woman of unusual strength of character and of deep religious convictions.

Lucy's father died of cholera in 1833, leaving Mrs. Webb alone to raise her family. Since her husband's fortune was vast, she was able to give her children every financial advantage. She moved the family to Delaware, in order to be near the Wesleyan University, where her sons were educated. She bought a cottage on the College grounds where she lived with her children. Her home became a gathering -place for the classmates of the brothers at holiday times.

Lucy studied with her brothers and recited the college instructors, and had the advantages of a training which prepared her for entrance into the Wesleyan Female College in Cincinnati. She entered Wesleyan Female College at the same time that her brothers began their studies in the medical college in the same place.

While vacationing at the Delaware Sulphur Springs, she met Rutherford B. Hayes, a native of Delaware. Mr. Hayes was a promising young lawyer who was living and working in Cincinnati. When they returned to the city, Rutherford became a regular visitor at the Friday evening receptions held at the college parlors. The two fell in love and in 1852 Lucy Webb married Rutherford B. Hayes.

During the Civil War her husband and all her brothers enlisted in the Union army and Lucy gave much time to nursing sick and wounded soldiers, both in her home and on the front lines. She spent two winters in camp and served in the hospital at Frederick City, Maryland.

She was an untiring worker in philanthropic and religious causes and while her husband was a member of Congress and then Governor of Ohio, Lucy devoted much time and talent to state charities. She was one of the organizers of the Ohio Soldiers' and Sailors' Orphans' Home.

In 1877 Benjamin Hayes took up the duties of President of the United States and Lucy became the First Lady. She enjoyed her position as First Lady and instituted many changes. Lucy determined that the White House should be a religious and temperance house so long as she remained in it. She stood firm in her convictions and did not serve liquor or wine at the White House, even at State Dinners. This was a startling innovation for Washington society, but Mrs. Hayes would not go against her conscience because of the sneers of society.

Nevertheless, Lucy was a great success as a hostess. She used her position as First Lady to bring pleasure to others. She was responsible for preserving the annual egg-rolling for children on Easter Monday. Congress had passed a law closing the Capitol grounds for the event because it was ruining the grass. Lucy then transferred the event to the White House lawns, where it is still held today.

At the close of Mr. Hayes administration, temperance people, presented Lucy with album of testimonials in recognition of her heroic position in the matter of wine drinking. She died on June 25, 1889.

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