Yesterday a friend and I ventured out to Caldwell, New Jersey to visit the Grover Cleveland Birthplace. We were spurred on by a recent New York Times article extolling the virtues of seeing the presidential sites of our more forgotten leaders. It proved surprisingly easy to do; the trip entailed little more than an hour’s bus ride from the Port Authority. As I wrote about a few months back, Grover Cleveland was a good friend of James Roosevelt, FDR’s father. The 22nd and 24th president was born in Caldwell in 1837 and lived there for four years until the family relocated to the Empire State in the early 1840s. Cleveland’s father was a minister and served in numerous churches in Upstate New York, which was expanding in these years just after the completion of the Erie Canal.
Cleveland married the 21-year-old Frances Clara Folsom in the White House on July 2, 1886. The couple went on to have five kids. The media was not yet as intense as it would be during the Theodore Roosevelt Administration but the Cleveland kids, especially little Baby Ruth, captured the country’s imagination. Cleveland died in 1908 and the home in Caldwell opened as a historic site in 1913. That same year Frances–still just in her mid-40s–remarried. She and her husband were living in London when the Great War broke out a year later. The newlyweds returned to the United States. Frances was active in the Allied cause throughout the Great War, and indeed was involved in most of the issues of the period. She worked with Theodore Roosevelt on a Liberty Bond drive and became active in the Needlework Guild. Frances also opposed the vote for women, to the extent that she became president of the Princeton branch of the New Jersey Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage. She was vice-president of the state organization as well.
In February 1918 she signed her name to a petition urging the Wilson Administration to ban the production of beer and malt liquor. This initiative had the back of some 6,000,000 signatures. Their main argument was that cutting production of beers and malts would save precious grain for the war effort. There was merit to the argument. That same week representatives from the baking industry were meeting with the Federal Food Board. Herbert Hoover had recently authorized the twelve-ounce loaf, as opposed to the standard sixteen-ounce loaf, in response to the shortage of foodstuffs. The grain petition, as everyone knew, was also part of the wider strategy of the Temperance Movement. Indeed the initiative had the support of the WCTU, with whom Frances had a complicated relationship over the decades.
We tend to think of this stuff as ancient history and yet Frances Cleveland Preston lived until 1947. As my friend and I noted when talking to our tour guide yesterday, Frances and Grover Cleveland’s youngest child, died on 8 November 1995, twenty years ago today.
(bottom image/Library of Congress, permalink: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/ggb2005011955/)