Everybody loves a royal wedding. While the United States of America doesn’t have its own monarchy, the president and his clan are a little like a royal family. So the closest thing we get to a royal wedding in the United States is a White House wedding. The children of sitting presidents, as well as presidents’ closest friends, sometimes choose the White House as a wedding venue. In fact, the White House Historical Association reports that there have been 18 documented White House weddings over the years, beginning in 1812.
Read on to get the details on the most memorable — and extravagant — weddings that have taken place in the White House or on the White House grounds.
1. Lucy Payne Washington and Thomas Todd
- Date: March 29, 1812
- Claim to fame: The first of many White House weddings
The White House Historical Association reports that the very first wedding held at the White House took place on March 29, 1812. Lucy Payne Washington, the sister of Dolley Madison, married Supreme Court Justice Thomas Todd on the State Floor. The ceremony likely took place in the Blue Room.
Interestingly enough, Dolley had married James Madison in the parlor of the home that Lucy shared with her first husband. So perhaps Dolley was just returning the favor to her sister. Lucy had three bridesmaids, and Thomas three groomsmen. The wedding seems to have been small and somewhat spontaneous — unlike many White House weddings held in later years.
Next: This ceremony was the first of many White House weddings to cause a scandal.
2. Maria Hester Monroe and Samuel Lawrence Gouverneur
- Date: March 9, 1820
- Claim to fame: A murder that took place soon afterward
Mental Floss reports that the 1820 wedding of Maria Hester Monroe, daughter of James Monroe, took place just three years after the White House was rebuilt following its burning in the War of 1812. Maria’s older sister took charge of wedding planning. She invited just 42 friends and family members, offending Washington society in the process. A local newspaper needed only 34 words to report on the wedding. (No diplomats or reporters attended.)
The couple tried to make amends by scheduling a round of balls. As Mental Floss notes, the first took place nine days after the wedding at the home of naval hero Commodore Stephen Decatur. During the ball, Decatur accepted a challenge to a duel. The next Wednesday, he was shot and killed “on the field of honor.” According to Mental Floss, “the news shocked the country and plunged the capital into mourning, forcing the cancellation of all celebrations.”
Next: Not many White House weddings involve a scandalous love triangle, but this one did.
3. John Adams and Mary Catherine Hellen
- Date: February 25, 1828
- Claim to fame: A bizarre love triangle
Mental Floss reports that the son of John Quincy Adams, John Adams, remains the only presidential son to have married at the White House. Adams wed a woman named Mary Catherine Hellen, who the New England Historical Society reports chose the wrong Adams son. As the White House Historical Association reports, “Adams was not much like his scholarly, bookish relatives. He was expelled from Harvard for inciting a student riot and was skilled at fist fighting.”
Hellen, Louisa Adams’ niece, became a part of the Adams household when her father died. Mental Floss reports that a teenaged Hellen “became the object of affection—if not obsession—of the three Adams sons. She had already enthralled one brother and been engaged to another when, at age 17, Mary wed the youngest Adams in a small, quiet ceremony.” Louisa Adams didn’t approve of the match. Plus, George and Charles — the other sons — refused to attend the wedding.
Next: This was the only Roman Catholic marriage among White House weddings.
4. Mary Anne Lewis and Alphonse Pageot
- Date: November 29, 1832
- Claim to fame: The only Roman Catholic marriage ever held in the White House
Mary Ann Lewis married Alphonse Pageot in Andrew Jackson’s White House. The wedding remains notable not for its festivities, but for the religious domination represented at the ceremony. The White House Historical Association reports that the wedding was the “only Roman Catholic marriage ceremony ever held in the White House.” The couple reportedly held their ceremony in the East Room, and the cabinet was in attendance for the occasion.
Lewis was the daughter of William Berkeley Lewis, who was a quartermaster under General Andrew Jackson then Auditor of the Treasury when Jackson became president. His daughter married the French diplomat Alphonse Pageot at the White House. The Roman Catholic proceedings were unusual for the White House, just as Roman Catholicism isn’t common among presidents.
Next: While previous White House weddings took place in the blue room, this one had to move to the larger East Room.
5. Elizabeth Tyler and William Waller
- Date: January 31, 1842
- Claim to fame: A large showing of diplomats despite a rough political climate
The White House Historical Association reports that John Tyler’s daughter Elizabeth married at the White House on January 31, 1842. Her groom? William N. Waller, a family friend from Williamsburg, Virginia. When Elizabeth married, her father invited many political figures, both friend and foe, to extend an olive branch. So many diplomats attended that the wedding had to take place in the East Room instead of in the smaller Blue Room.
But Elizabeth’s wasn’t the only wedding that made headlines during Tyler’s presidency. As the White House Historical Association reports, “Tyler himself was married while president, following the death of his wife, but his June 1844 wedding to Julia Gardiner took place in New York. The bride was 24 and the groom 54. Many in the public raised eyebrows not only for the age difference but also for the all-too-short mourning period that preceded the wedding.”
Next: Abraham Lincoln had a hand in one of the most spontaneous White House weddings.
6. Elizabeth Sheets and James Chandler
- Date: March 1862
- Claim to fame: Orchestrated by Abraham Lincoln himself
The White House Historical Association reports that not all White House weddings involved couples that the president knew well. In fact, “Abraham Lincoln was credited with seeing to the marriage in the White House of a couple he did not know.” According to a story that appear in a newspaper published in 1906, a young woman named Elizabeth Amanda Sheets wanted to marry a man named James Chandler. But her parents would not consent.
The couple got a Virginia marriage license and went to Washington. They’d been told they could marry in a public building there. They went to the White House, where, the story goes, Lincoln answered the door. The president took them to the East Room and summoned a Baptist minister. The couple married before the president, Mrs. Lincoln, and a few other witnesses. The Lincolns served them dinner, toasted them with punch, and asked them to stay over. The next day, the couple went home (to forgiving parents) with the news that they’d been “married in the White House.”
Next: A president cried all the way through his daughter’s White House wedding.
7. Nellie Grant and Algernon Sartoris
- Date: May 21, 1874
- Claim to fame: The first “really grand” affair among White House weddings
Ulysses and Julia Grant had reservations about their daughter’s marriage. They felt that Nellie was young and headstrong. And they didn’t like that her fiance was English — and a singer. Yet the president and his wife threw their daughter what the White House Historical Association characterizes as “the first really grand White House wedding.” The Grants redecorated the East Room for the occasion. They built new columns, added gold leaf accents, and hung elaborate French chandeliers. They also hung a bell of pink roses in the East Room.
Nellie wore a lace veil, a crown of white orchids and orange blossoms from the White House conservatory, and a white satin dress with a six-foot train. Army and Navy officers formed a double row down the Cross Hall to the altar. 250 guests watched Nellie and her eight bridesmaids, all in white, descend the Grand Staircase, to the most elaborate celebration in White House history. The Washington Times notes that Ulysses Grant reportedly wept through the entire ceremony.
Next: In one of the most memorable White House weddings, the president himself tied the knot.
8. Grover Cleveland and Frances Folsom
- Date: June 2, 1886
- Claim to fame: Extravagant floral decorations
In 1886, President Grover Cleveland married Frances Folsom in one of the most memorable White House weddings. The White House Historical Association reports that the romance between the president and his former ward had captivated the American imagination. The 49-year-old Cleveland — who loved the White House conservatories — wanted extensive floral decorations for his wedding to the 21-year-old Folsom.
For the wedding, the East Room featured banks of palms and hearths full of flowers. In the Cross Hall, columns were draped with garlands of greenery and decorated with Union shields of red, white, and blue roses, carnations, and immortelles. In the Blue Room, the hearth featured red begonias and a border of centaureas. Over the mantel, pansies formed the initials “C” and “F.” The chandelier boasted roses and smilax, and palms bordered the room.
Next: This was one of the most interesting White House weddings based simply on who the bride and groom were.
9. Alice Lee Roosevelt and Nicholas Longworth
- Date: February 17, 1906
- Claim to fame: A wedding coordinator named Ike Hoover
In 1906, Alice Lee Roosevelt, the daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt, married Nicholas Longworth in the East Room. The New York Times characterizes Longworth as a “chaser of women and whiskey who was 14 years older than Alice.” He made an interesting counterpoint to a first daughter who inherited her daughter’s impetuosity and stubbornness. But crucially, he had enough money to make Alice independent of her father and stepmother.
The Times reports that the couple married “in a ceremony coordinated by an usher with the weirdly forward-looking name of Ike Hoover.” The White House Historical Association reports, “The wedding was almost a national event, with crowds of thousands packed outside in the streets and Lafayette Park.” As Mental Floss reports, “Alice refused to have bridesmaids, who might have detracted attention from the 22-year-old bride and her wedding dress with its 18-foot-long train of silver brocade.”
Next: Americans traveled hundreds of miles on the occasion of this wedding.
10. Jessie Woodrow Wilson and Francis Bowes Sayre
- Date: November 25, 1913
- Claim to fame: Americans visited from hundreds of miles away to see the bride
In November 1913, Jessie Woodrow Wilson, daughter of President and Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, married Francis Bowes Sayre in the East Room. According to the Old Photo Archive, “There was such a fascination with the Wilson family that people came from hundreds of miles away to stand outside in hopes of catching a glimpse of the bride.”
As a newspaper article at the time noted, “The entire affair was very simple, as had been requested by the bride, and the number of guests was rather small — distressingly so to many persons in official and social circles of Washington who had expected to receive invitations but were disappointed.” Wilson wore a gown of ivory satin, trimmed in “old and rare” lace. And the newspaper added, “Coming right in the midst of the chrysanthemum season, this was made a chrysanthemum wedding and that flower was used most profusely in adorning the White House.”
Next: The newspapers didn’t see this White House wedding coming.
11. Eleanor Randolph Wilson and William Gibbs McAdoo
- Date: May 7, 1914
- Claim to fame: The 27-year age difference between the bride and groom
Woodrow Wilson’s family actually became one of the few to host two White House weddings. Eleanor Randolph Wilson married William Gibbs McAdoo in the Blue Room. According to White House Weddings, the occasion marked the seventh White House wedding of a president’s child.
The couple first met when McAdoo was a guest of Woodrow Wilson’s at the governor’s mansion in New Jersey. But they were an unlikely couple. After Woodrow Wilson became president, McAdoo was the Secretary of the Treasury. The 50-year-old grandfather was also a widower with six children. Nellie Wilson, on the other hand, was 23. She often stayed at dances until early in the morning. The press speculated about each of Nellie’s dancing partners. But the newspapers missed the significance of the treasury secretary’s frequent visits to the White House.
Next: This celebration occurred as White House weddings became less popular.
12. Harry Hopkins and Louise Gill Macy
- Date: July 30, 1942
- Claim to fame: Occurred as White House weddings became less popular
In July 1942, Harry Hopkins, assistant to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, married Louise Gill Macy in the Second Floor Oval Room. (At the time, the room functioned as the president’s study.) As the FDR Presidential Library notes, it was the first White House wedding in 24 years. The most recent one had been between Woodrow Wilson’s niece Alice Wilson and Isaac Stuart McElroy, Jr., in 1918.
In fact, Smithsonian Magazine reports that White House weddings became “much less common in the second half of the twentieth century. The publication adds, “After three happened in the 1910s, the next wedding was that of Harry Hopkins — President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s assistant and one of only two non-Presidential family members to get married at the White House — got married in FDR’s study in 1942.”
Next: This is one of the most famous White House weddings in American history.
13. Lynda Bird Johnson and Charles Spittal Robb
- Date: December 9, 1967
- Claim to fame: A tight timeframe and grand decorations
One of the more famous White House weddings took place in 1967. That year, Lynda Bird Johnson married Charles Spittal Robb in the East Room. The White House Historical Association reports that Robb later became governor of Virginia and a United States senator from Virginia. But The Washington Times notes that the couple met when Robb worked as an aide in the White House.
Vogue reports that for the wedding, the White House staff converted the East Room into a wedding chapel, “complete with grand topiaries and a post-nuptial saber arch.” White House Weddings reports that the date for the wedding had to be carefully chosen. And not for the usual reasons pertaining to the logistics of White House weddings. “Robb would be leaving for the war in Vietnam, and there needed to be time for the couple to have at least a few weeks together. The date of December 9, 1967 was chosen.”
Next: This celebration numbers among the most extravagant White House weddings.
14. Tricia Nixon and Edward Finch Cox
- Date: June 12, 1971
- Claim to fame: A seven-foot wedding cake
Mental Floss reports that Tricia Nixon’s 1971 wedding to Edward Cox was “the most sumptuous” of the White House weddings that have taken place so far. The publication notes that it was also the first outdoor White House wedding. In fact, the festivities took place in the Rose Garden between rain showers.
The 350-pound wedding cake baked for the occasion reportedly reached seven feet tall in order to feed all the guests. That included the 600 journalists in attendance. The wedding dress that Tricia wore made its way to the White House under the watch of the designer and a group of Secret Service agents. The gown even had its own first-class seat on the flight to D.C. The wedding was highly publicized, and Nixon appeared in her wedding dress in Time magazine twice. But the day after the wedding, with the happy couple honeymooning at Camp David, The New York Times broke the news of the Pentagon Papers.
Next: A teenaged Chelsea Clinton was a bridesmaid at this wedding.
15. Anthony Rodham and Nicole Boxer
- Date: May 28, 1994
- Claim to fame: Chelsea Clinton served as a bridesmaid
In 1994, Anthony Rodham, the younger brother of Hillary Rodham Clinton, married Nicole Boxer in the first White House wedding in 23 years. 250 guests attended the ceremony in the Rose Garden, and a spokesman for Hillary Clinton described Bill Clinton as “gleeful” during the celebrations. The Clintons’ daughter, Chelsea, then just 14 years old, served as a bridesmaid. After the ceremony, the guests moved to the First Lady’s garden, ate dinner in the State Dining Room, and enjoyed dancing in the East Room.
As Letitia Baldridge, former social secretary to Jacqueline Kennedy, tells The New York Times, there are numerous benefits of White House weddings — and a few drawbacks. “You have a first-class, wonderful well-dressed staff that carries out all the catering. You have the White House florist.” Baldrige added, “You have the social secretary’s office, all of them raring to go, eager to make things beautiful.” One thing that couples forego when they wed at the White House? Privacy.
Written by Jess Bolluyt