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Matrimonial States of the Union

By Sarah Booth Conroy
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 30, 1990

Historians often ponderously note that when Congress is out of town presidents of the United States do such things as embark on military adventures, fire or hire people and generally run amok.

Historians sometimes are not properly concerned with the really vital facts people want to know. They have left it to the Chronicler to disclose that presidents-to-be often marry in the dark of Congress and the light of the holiday season. Seven chose January, five November and, for good measure, three more December.

All this comes up because of current exhibits in the Washington area's two presidential house museums, Woodrow Wilson House and Mount Vernon.

The Ladies of Mount Vernon, whose curator Christine Meadows understands the importance of these facts, have been moved to note that the current George shares with the first George more than a name. George Washington and Martha Dandridge Custis and George Bush and Barbara Pierce were married 186 years apart on the last day of Christmas, Jan. 6. The Washingtons married in 1759, the Bushes in 1945.

Edith Bolling Galt and Woodrow Wilson were married on Dec. 18, 1915. Woodrow Wilson House is celebrating the 75th wedding anniversary with an exhibit of their international wedding gifts, based on the gold-embossed "Wedding Gifts -- Edith Bolling Wilson" registry. Curator Jim DeMersman, with Claire Deegan Murphy, put together the exhibit, the museum's first in a long time.

Through Feb. 28, the historic house is showing these gifts: two Louis Comfort Tiffany vases, a Japanese bowl, a silver desk set from the resident commissioner of the Philippines, a silver loving cup from the Virginia congressional delegation, a C.K. Berryman cartoon, "Cupid Outside the White House," art nouveau silver and pottery, a bit of gold nugget left over from her wedding band, and a Florentine alabaster lamp.

DeMersman notes that White House Chief Usher Ike Hoover related in his memoirs that he didn't deem it necessary to register some gifts: "Soaps of every description, perfumes, brooms, brushes and dusters, pieces of furniture, candy by the crates and cakes in large box lots, much handwork of good housewives, a barrel of sugared popcorn and enough fruit and vegetables to open up a large market ..."

A real crown pigeon of New Guinea feather from Edith Wilson's trousseau hat has survived to be shown as have the president's cutaway coat and gray-striped trousers.

Visitors can also inspect the marriage license (cost in cash, $1), the 30 signatures of witnesses and a sample of the 5,000 official engraved wedding announcements.

Mount Vernon Ladies, who usually like to point out that Christmas was no big deal in the 18th century, this year have relented to show a holiday feast for 14 people in the dining room and an 18th-century company breakfast in the family dining room. The exhibit closes next Sunday.

Martha Washington celebrated Twelfth Night -- their wedding anniversary -- by often baking her Great Cake, suitably decorated. Here's the way her granddaughter Martha Parke Custis recorded the recipe (with ingredients, punctation and spelling more appropriate to her time than this):

Take 40 eggs and divide the whites from the yolks & beat them to a froth then work 4 pounds of butter to a cream & put the whites of eggs to it a Spoon full at a time till it is well work'd then put 4 pounds of sugar finely powderd to it in the same manner then put in the Youlks of eggs & five pounds of flower & 5 pounds of fruit. 2 hours will bake it add to it half an ounce of mace & nutmeg half a pint of wine & some frensh brandy.

Those are not the only presidential parties who lighted up the feast days with wedding candles.

Also joining lives in time to celebrate Christmas together: Lucy Ware Webb and Rutherford B. Hayes on Dec. 30, 1852; and Edith Kermit Carow and Theodore Roosevelt on Dec. 2, 1886.

Two began a new year with a new marriage. Martha Wayles Skelton, who regrettably did not live to make it to the White House, married Thomas Jefferson on Jan. 1, 1772. Sarah Childress married James Knox Polk on Jan. 1, 1824.

Rachel Donelson, another presidential wife of fragile life, married Andrew Jackson twice, because, it was said, her first divorce turned out not to be final. The first was on Aug. 18, 1791, the second on Jan. 17, 1794. Jane Wyman, the only wife of a future president to divorce him, married Ronald Reagan on Jan. 24, 1940. Ida Saxton and William McKinley tied the knot on Jan. 25, 1871.

Marrying in the Thanksgiving month were Anna Tuthill Symmes to William Henry Harrison on Nov. 25, 1795; Jane Means Appleton to Franklin Pierce on Nov. 10, 1834; Mary Todd to Abraham Lincoln on Nov. 4, 1842; Lucretia Rudolph to James A. Garfield on Nov. 11, 1858; and Lady Bird Taylor to Lyndon Baines Johnson on Nov. 17, 1934.

And if you wonder why the Chronicler cares, she and Chronos were married on Dec. 31, 1949.

Happy anniversary to the Bushes and all who join together in the dark of the year!

© Copyright 1990 The Washington Post Company

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