Francis Folsom was born on July 24th 1864 to Oscar and Emma Folsom. Oscar Folsom was a lawyer partnered with New Jersey born Grover Cleveland. Oscar Folsom was also a wild man who enjoyed racing his carriage, a hobby that cost him his life in 1873 when he crashed his carriage just before Francis's 11th birthday. Despite the loss of her father, Francis Folsom was well cared for by her mother's family and by Grover Cleveland who acted as a guardian for the young woman. In 1882 Cleveland helped Francis attend Wells College one of the first colleges for women in New York State. At Wells she took courses in an eclectic mix of the humanities and corresponded with Cleveland who was climbing the political ladder, moving from Mayor of Buffalo to Governor of New York with an eye on the presidency. In the 1884 election Grover Cleveland narrowly defeated James G. Blaine and by spring of 1885, the same year she graduated from Wells College, Cleveland asked Francis Folsom to marry him.
Cleveland was a private man who didn't want his young bride to be hounded by the newspapers and took precautions in order to keep the press away from Francis as she toured Europe and prepared for married life. The intrigue surrounding Cleveland and his bachelorhood was fodder for the tabloids and many suspected he intended to marry Francis's mother Emma. Thus, when it was revealed that Cleveland would marry Francis, a woman twenty years his junior the press went into a frenzy and she became an instant celebrity. This was only exacerbated by the private nature of the Cleveland-Folsom wedding which featured the couple's immediate family, a few friends, and members of Cleveland's cabinet to whom he hand wrote the invitations. The wedding was so anticipated that when it was announced that Francis and Grover Cleveland were officially wed the entire city of Washington D.C. erupted in a cacophony of church bells, ship horns, and cheers as people celebrated the marriage.
Because of her age, attractiveness, and improvements to camera technology, Francis Folsom became the most visibly recognizable First Lady ever. Women copied her style, and as a young woman she broke significantly from past styles of dress, exposing her shoulders and arms in photographs. With so many women paying attention to Francis Folsom her image became an incredible marketing tool and advertisers used her image to sell sewing machines, medicines, and eventually her husband attempt at reelection in 1888 a move that sparked the Republican party to use Caroline Harrison's image in their advertisements.
|Taken from the National First Ladies Library|