Presidents' Day: Post-Valentine's Day facts about our presidents' love lives

Happy Valentine's Day, Mr. President. Marilyn Monroe sings a sultry 'Happy Birthday' to John F. Kennedy.
Happy Valentine's Day, Mr. President. Marilyn Monroe sings a sultry 'Happy Birthday' to John F. Kennedy. Courtesy YouTube

This year, Presidents' Day happens to come as the hangover to Valentine's Day weekend — a final day to rest up and remember (or forget) Valentine's 2014. Which got us thinking — how much do we know about our Presidents' romantic lives?

For many years, reporters covering the White House had a tacit agreement with the politicians they covered: romantic trysts and personal infidelities were out of bounds, not to be reported. But that's changed in recent years, even in France, where the press corps is famously unconcerned with its politicians' private lives.  The country has recently weathered a national scandal after its President was caught between two first ladies.

So, this Presidents Day, we offer a few irreverent facts about our former Presidents and their love lives. 

Affairs of state

John F. Kennedy is arguably the most notorious President when it comes to extramarital affairs. Women he allegedly slept with while in the White House include actress Marlene Dietrich.  She said he made a clumsy pass at her when she was 60 years old and that they slept together before a one-woman show she was performing in Washington.

JFK was alleged to have affairs with many others, including Judith Campbell Exner, White House intern Mimi Alford, and German spy Ellen Rometsch, among them.

But the most famous of JFK's alleged relationships was Marilyn Monroe.  Her rendition of  "Happy Birthday" has become an iconic symbol of their attraction to one another:

Marilyn Monroe's happy birthday song

Of course, Kennedy is not the only U.S. President to have reportedly been involved in extra-marital affairs. A quick round-up of past presidential infidelities include: 

  • President Bill Clinton's tryst with intern Monica Lewinsky was perhaps the most public acknowledgement in U.S. history. You can relive the embarrassing apology on the internet. It's hard to say anything that hasn't already been poured over in the Clinton- Lewinsky affair, but one somewhat forgotten sideline moment amidst the lewd details was Lewinsky's move to what was then fledgling reality T.V. — with prank comedian Tom Green
  • Franklin Roosevelt reportedly had an affair with his wife's assistant, Lucy Mercer, with their relationship lasting for decades. It began during World War I and Mercer was even president in Warm Springs, Georgia when the president eventually died during his fourth term in office.
  • Lyndon Johnson allegedly had an affair with Alice Glass while he was a young congressman. Glass was already allegedly the mistress of the publisher of a local newspaper.
  • Jimmy Carter confused the nation by confessing in a Playboy magazine interview to committing adultery — in his heart, by looking at women other than his wife with lust. It was a reference to his Christian beliefs, but caused a scandal and almost cost him the 1976 election. Watch Carter address his statement in a debate:

Jimmy Carter on his Playboy interview

Presidential elopes, libidos and other odd ends

A young Andrew Jackson married his wife, Rachel Jackson, before she'd divorced her first husband,  in the first reported case of pre-presidential bigamy. It also became one of the first instances of a president's personal life becoming political cannon-fodder. In the election of 1828, Jackson and his wife were smeared by their opponents as adulterers. 

After his wife died from a stroke in the White House, President John Tyler eloped with wealthy New York scion Julia Gardiner. He was 54 at the time and she was 21, but they'd actually known each other for several years beforehand. Tyler had reportedly assisted Julia — then 19 — after her father was killed in a freak accident on a boat along the Potomac aboard the U.S.S Princeton. From the History Channel's website:

During the voyage, the Princeton fired off its new cannons in salute as it sailed past George Washington's former home at Mt. Vernon. At the time, Tyler was below deck raising a toast. The cannon exploded on its third volley, killing Julia's father and several others, including members of Tyler's cabinet. Tyler rushed up to the top deck just in time to catch Julia as she fainted at the news of her father's death. After the ship docked, Tyler whisked Julia off to safety in his arms. Thereafter, her admiration for him developed into love and, in 1844, they were married. 

 Tyler also holds the record for the most Presidential progeny, fathering 15 during his two marriages. 

Grace Coolidge, wife of Calvin,  mocked her husband's libido during a Presidential visit, according to a story recorded by biographer Carl Sferrazza Anthony. Read the story, as told on the site Neatorama:

"The couple once visited a chicken farm in Maryland, where the first lady witnessed a rooster copulating with a hen. Upon asking the farmer if the rooster did that often, Grace was informed that he did it several times a day. 'Tell that to the president,' she responded, and the farmer did just that. 'To the same hen?' Calvin inquired. 'No, Mr. President,' said the red-faced farmer. 'Tell that to Mrs. Coolidge,' said the president."

Bachelors for life

Only three presidents were ever married while in office: John Tyler, Grover Cleveland and Woodrow Wilson.

Cleveland was also one of only two presidents to be elected while still a bachelor, and wasn't particularly impressed with the family-oriented customs of the White House at first: 

"I must go to dinner," he wrote a friend, "but I wish it was to eat a pickled herring a Swiss cheese and a chop at Louis' instead of the French stuff I shall find."

He eventually became the only President to get married at the White House, to the daughter of a friend who was 27 years younger than him. In fact, before he married Frances Folsom, he was her legal guardian. Her father, Oscar Folsom had been one of Cleveland's legal partners. He died when France was 11. Ten years later, she was married to Cleveland — which was a bit shocking to a public that had expected him to marry her mother.

The other bachelor-in-chief, James Buchanan, was never married. He was briefly engaged to Anna Caroline Coleman, the wealthy daughter of an iron manufacturer, when he was 27. She broke off the engagement for unknown reasons and died shortly thereafter, apparently from a suspected drug overdose. 

Buchanan did have a very close relationship with Alabama Senator William Rufus King, a man whom he lived with for over a decade. That wasn't uncommon for that era, but a letter written to Ms. Roosevelt after King left to become ambassador to France has led to a lot speculation about Buchanan's sexuality:

"I am now solitary and alone, having no companion in the house with me. I have gone a wooing to several gentlemen, but have not succeeded with any one of them. I feel that it is not good for man to be alone; and should not be astonished to find myself married to some old maid who can nurse me when I am sick provide good dinners for me when I am well, and not expect from me any very ardent or romantic affection."

Despite all of the torrid tumult and rumor surrounding the private lives within the White House, it looks like there's still some room for love — check out Michelle Obama's Valentine's Day tweet to her presidential hubby:

Michelle's tweet

This story has been updated.

Sources include: The White House Historical Association, the New York Post, UPI, Robert Caro, Jezebel, Gawker, the Grio, Neatorama, ABC News

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