With Valentine's Day and Presidents' Day around the corner, we looked in our vault for some presidential love stories. We often think of presidents and First Ladies as stodgy old men and women. But they too were once young, and the stories of how these power couples first got together show a human side to the presidency.
When Georgie Met Martha
In 1758 Martha Dandridge Curtis was 27 and recently widowed, and a very wealthy woman. That year George Washington, also 27 and already a colonel in the Virginia militia (and not at all wealthy) met Martha via the Virginia high-society social scene and proceeded to court her. Courtship was quick, and they were married in January 1759, in what at the time was viewed as a marriage of convenience. They were, however, happily married for 41 years. (Note: The marriage took place at the plantation that Martha owned, in what was called the “White House.”)
When Harry Met Bessie
In 1890, when they were both small children, Harry Truman met Bess Wallace at the Baptist Church in Independence, Missouri. They were both attending Sunday school. He was six; she was five. Truman later wrote of their first meeting: “We made a number of new acquaintances, and I became interested in one in particular. She had golden curls and has, to this day, the most beautiful blue eyes. We went to Sunday school, public school from the fifth grade through high school, graduated in the same class, and marched down life’s road together. For me she still has the blue eyes and golden hair of yesteryear.” Bess and Harry were married in 1919.
When Lyndie Met Lady Bird
Lyndon Baines Johnson met Claudia “Lady Bird” Taylor in 1934, a few weeks after she’d graduated from the University of Texas. Johnson was a 26-year-old aide to Texas congressman Richard Kleberg, and was in Austin, Texas, on business. They went on a single breakfast date, at the end of which Johnson proposed marriage. She said she’d think about it. He returned to Washington, and sent her letters and telegrams every day until he returned to Austin 10 weeks later, when she accepted. “Sometimes,” she later wrote about her husband, “Lyndon simply takes your breath away.”
When Richie Met Pattie
Thelma “Pat” Ryan graduated from the University of Southern California in 1937 at the age of 25. She got a job as a high school teacher in Whittier, a small town not far from Los Angeles, and became a member of the amateur theatrical group the Whittier Community Players. In 1938 Richard Nixon, a 26-year-old lawyer who had just opened a firm in nearby La Habra, joined the theater group, thinking that acquiring acting skills would help him in the courtroom. In their first performance, Nixon was cast opposite Ryan. He asked her out, and asked her to marry him on their first date. They were married three years later.
When Ronald Met Nancy
Ronald Reagan wrote in his autobiography that he first met Nancy Davis when she came to him for help. He was president of the Screen Actors Guild, and she couldn’t get a job acting in movies because another Nancy Davis’s name had shown up on the Hollywood blacklist of alleged communists. But according to Jon Weiner’s book Professors, Politics, and Pop, SAG records show that Nancy’s blacklist problem occurred in 1953, a year after the Reagans were married. So how did they meet? Reagan biographer Anne Edwards says that in 1949 Nancy, who had just become an MGM contract player, told a friend of Reagan’s that she wanted to meet him. The friend invited the two to a small dinner party, and the rest is history.
When Georgie Met Laura
Joe and Jan O’Neill lived in Midland, Texas, and were childhood friends of Laura Welch. In 1975 another childhood friend, George W. Bush, came back to Midland after being away for a few years. The O’Neills bugged Laura to go out with George, but she didn’t want to. She later said that the O’Neills were only trying to get them together “because we were the only two people from that era in Midland who were still single.” She finally agreed to meet him at a backyard barbecue in 1977, when she was 30 and he was 31. George was smitten; Laura was, too. They were married three months later.
When Barry Met Michelle
In 1989 Michelle Robinson was working at a Chicago law firm when she was assigned to mentor a summer associate from Harvard with a “strange name”: Barack Obama. Not long after, Barack, 27, asked Michelle, 25, on a date. She later admitted that she was reluctant to date one of the few black men at the large firm because it seemed “tacky.” Robinson finally relented, and after dating for several months, she suggested they get married. He wasn’t interested. One night in 1991, during dinner at a Chicago restaurant, she brought it up again. Again, he said no. But when dessert showed up, there was an engagement ring in a box on one of the plates. They were married in 1992.