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Jane Means Appleton Pierce (March
12, 1806 – December 2, 1863), wife of U.S. President Franklin
Pierce, was First
Lady of the United States from
1853 to 1857.
Life and Marriage
Born in Hampton,
New Hampshire, the daughter of Reverend Jesse
Appleton, a Congregationalist minister,
and Elizabeth Means-Appleton, Jane was a petite, frail, shy, melancholy
figure. After the death of her father, who had served as president of Bowdoin
College not long before
Franklin enrolled there, she at age 13 moved into the mansion of her wealthy
maternal grandparents in Amherst.
How she met Pierce, a young lawyer with political ambitions, is unknown, but
her brother-in-law Alpheus S. Packard was one of Pierce's instructors at
Bowdoin. Franklin, aged almost 30, married Jane, aged 28, on November 19,
1834, at the home of the bride's maternal grandparents in Amherst,
New Hampshire. Theirs was a small wedding, conducted by another
brother-in-law of Jane, the Reverend Silas Aiken. The couple honeymooned six
days at the boardinghouse of Sophia Southurt near Washington,
The Pierces had three children, all of whom died at young ages:
- Franklin Pierce, Jr. (b/d
1836) - died three days after birth.
- Frank Robert Pierce (1839-1843)
- died at the age of four from epidemic
Benjamin Pierce (April
13, 1841-January 16, 1853) - Two months before Pierce's inauguration as
president, a tragedy occurred as the family traveled by train from Andover,
Massachusetts, to Concord,
New Hampshire, where they had planned to attend the funeral of a family
friend. Minutes after departure, their passenger car broke loose from the
train and rolled down an embankment. The only fatality was Bennie Pierce.
Pierce was a member of the U.S.
House of Representatives by the
time they married, and became aU.S.
Senator in 1837. Mrs. Pierce
hated life in Washington, D.C., and encouraged Pierce to resign his Senate
seat and return to New
Hampshire, which he did in 1842.
Service in the Mexican-American
War brought Pierce the rank of Brigadier
General and local fame as a
hero. He returned home safely, and for four more years the Pierces lived
quietly at Concord,
New Hampshire, in the happiest period of their lives, where Jane watched
her son Benjamin "Benny" grow up.
Lady of the United States
In 1852, the Democratic
Party made Pierce their
candidate for President. His wife fainted at the news. When Pierce took her to Newport for
a respite, eleven-year-old Benny wrote to her: "I hope he won't be elected for
I should not like to be at Washington and I know you would not either." But
the President-elect convinced Jane that his office would be an asset for
Benny's success in life.
The Pierces apparently had genuine affection for one another, but quarreled
often and gradually drifted apart. She opposed Pierce's decision to run for
president, for she much preferred private life. When her son Bennie was killed
in a train accident before Pierce was sworn in as President, she believed God
was displeased with her husband's political ambitions. After
the deaths of her children, Mrs. Pierce was overcome with melancholia and
distanced herself during her husband's presidency. She never recovered from
the tragedy. For nearly two years, she remained in the upstairs living
quarters of the White House, spending her days writing maudlin letters to her
dead son. She left the social chores to her aunt Abby Kent-Means and her close
Davis, wife of War Secretary Jefferson
Davis. Mrs. Pierce made her first official appearance as First Lady at a
New Year's Day reception in 1855 and thereafter served as White House hostess
Pierce died of tuberculosis at Andover,
Massachusetts, on December 2, 1863. She was buried at Old North Cemetery
New Hampshire, and her husband was also interred there beside her in 1869.