Lucy Webb Hayes
Legendary First Lady
Lucy Webb Hayes was the wife of U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes. In her 37 years of marriage to Mr. Hayes, Lucy developed a keen understanding of politics. Yet it was due to her intelligence, acts of kindness, temperance work, and charitable deeds, that she remained a legend in Washington long after she left the White House.
Lucy Webb Hayes was born in 1831 the daughter of Dr. James Webb and Maria Cook Hayes in Ohio. Lucy lost her father, however, at the age of two. When she was just entering her teens, the family moved to the town of Delaware to enroll her two sons in the Ohio Wesleyan University. Lucy, herself, a devout Christian, was educated at the Wesleyan Female College in Cincinnati where she graduated from at the age of eighteen.
In 1852 she married Rutherford B. Hayes and lived in Cincinnati until the Civil War began. Rutherford soon began to share his wife’s deeply religious opposition to slavery and he soon joined the Union army along with her brothers. Lucy gave much time to nursing sick and wounded soldiers, both in her home and on the front lines. She was affectionately known as “Mother Lucy” to the men of the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry who served under her husband’s command in the war. She spent two winters in camp and served in the hospital at Frederick City, Maryland.
Lucy was an untiring worker in humanitarian and religious causes and while her husband was a member of Congress and then Governor of Ohio, she devoted much time and talent to state charities, such as helping organize the Ohio Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphans’ Home.
In 1877 Benjamin Hayes took up the duties of President of the United States and Lucy entered her position as First Lady with confidence gained from her long and happy married life, her vast knowledge of politics, and her cheerful spirit.
Lucy was a woman of conviction who was a firm believer in temperance. She determined that the White House should be a religious and temperance house so long as she remained in it. She stood firm in her convictions and did not serve liquor or wine at the White House, even at State Dinners. This was a unexpected change for Washington society, but Mrs. Hayes would not go against her conscience because of the derision of the Washington elite. Lucy often received criticism for her stance on alcohol, yet she still became one of the best-loved First Ladies. Even though she didn’t not serve liquor at her parties, Lucy was considered a successful hostess. She often used her position as First Lady to bring pleasure to others.
Lucy Webb Hayes died on June 25, 1889. At her death flags were lowered to half-mast in many American communities in honor of the first lady who was considered the most “amiable, sincere, and most idolized woman in America”