If Valentine’s Day has inspired you to propose, many of you will probably look to your fathers for guidance and inspiration. Far fewer will look to the Founding Fathers for that same guidance and inspiration. This is unfortunate, which is why we’re listing a few do’s and don’ts of proposing the presidential way.
When Grace Coolidge saw her future husband for the first time, he was half naked. While watering the flowers outside her house in Northampton, Mass., Grace glanced up through a neighbor’s window and saw a man shaving in his underwear and a hat. She laughed and quickly turned away, but Calvin had overheard her. The courtship began, and a year later, he popped the question—or rather, popped the declarative statement. He told her, “I am going to be married to you.” And that was that.
In 1842, John Tyler, Jr., fell hard for a buxom young socialite named Julia Gardiner. Unfortunately for him, he was at the end of a long line of suitors. Even worse? That line included his widowed father, President John Tyler.
Young John Tyler never really had a chance with Julia, but his father didn’t have an easy time, either. Julia refused the president’s hand in marriage several times, so he pulled out the big guns. In an effort to woo her, the elder Tyler invited Julia and her parents along on the maiden voyage of the Princeton, the most majestic ship in the U.S. Navy. Everything was going well until a cannon misfired and killed several people, including Julia’s father. When she heard the news, Julia fainted—right into the president’s arms. Upon waking up, she consented to marry him.
Once upon a time, a happily married lawyer named Oscar Folsom asked his close friend Grover Cleveland when he was finally going to settle down. Cleveland eyed Folsom’s daughter, Frances, and said, “I’m only waiting for my wife to grow up.”
When Frances was 11 years old, her father died in a horse-and-buggy accident. Cleveland took charge of her upbringing, befriending Folsom’s widow and paying for Frances’ education. He bought her first doll carriage and her first puppy, and she called him names like “Uncle Cleve” and “Stepfather.” They seemed a happy little family. So in 1885, when rumors began to circulate that the 49-year-old President Cleveland was finally taking a wife, most people assumed he was marrying his old friend, the widow Folsom. Not so. On June 2, 1886, Grover Cleveland wed 21-year-old Frances in the first presidential marriage ceremony ever held at the White House.
Jenny Drapkin is the Senior Editor of mental_floss magazine, where this article originally appeared.
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