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Rutherford B. Hayes: Family Life

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Reflecting Lucy’s spirit, the Hayes White House was lively and informal. A superb contralto who accompanied herself on the guitar, Lucy filled the executive mansion with music. Vocalists and instrumentalists performed popular, folk, and classical music. On Sunday evenings, Lucy led a “sing” in the upstairs library. Carl Schurz often played the piano while friends from Ohio, members of the cabinet and Congress, and even Gen. William T. Sherman sang gospel songs. Among the steady stream of visitors was Thomas A. Edison, who demonstrated his latest invention, the phonograph, until 3:30 A.M. for the President, Lucy, and their guests. When the couple celebrated Christmas, they included everyone who worked in the White House. Fanny and Scott, their two youngest children, distributed presents to all the employees. The White House was often full of guests—indeed so full that one of their three older boys, upon returning home from college, had to sleep in a bathtub. The Hayeses most memorable social event occurred on December 30, 1877, when, surrounded by relatives, close friends, and the White House staff, they celebrated their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary and repeated their marriage vows.

There were, of course, formal entertainments which, despite the absence of wine and liquor, were lavish affairs. Lucy was not entirely comfortable at state dinners, which were too formal even with the Hayeses presiding. She did loosen up traditional New Year's receptions and formal levees (about once a month during the Winter social season) by inviting a bevy of young women from Ohio and elsewhere to put guests at ease. Among them was a future first lady, Helen Herron, who later married William Howard Taft. Lucy was accused of being a matchmaker and indeed two of her young friends did meet their husbands while visiting the White House.

The Hayes White House was western in its friendliness, good humor, openness, and unpretentiousness. Lucy inaugurated "informal" Saturday afternoon (3 to 5 P.M.) receptions in January 1878, with everyone "on an equal footing, the ladies generally appearing in street costume and always retaining their bonnets." During the winter, Lucy was always at home for her friends in Washington. William and Ida McKinley often dropped in and spent the evening in the Red Parlor with Lucy, surrounded by her young lady guests. With the house full of young people, "fun and frolic reigned all day and well into the night."

Citation Information

Consulting Editor

Ari Hoogenboom

Professor Hoogenboom is a professor emeritus of history at Brooklyn College, The City University of New York (CUNY). His writings include:

Rutherford B. Hayes: "One of the Good Colonels" (McWhiney Foundation Press, 1999)

Rutherford B. Hayes: Warrior and President (University Press of Kansas, 1995)

The Presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes (part of the American Presidency Series, University Press of Kansas, 1988)

Outlawing the Spoils: A History of the Civil Service Reform Movement, 1865–1883 (University of Illinois Press, 1961)