White House Romances

It was a night of yes.

Yes to the White House masquerade. Yes to a private tour by President John Tyler himself. Yes to hearing the soft strings and lull of party conversation as they ventured further into the candlelit corridors.

It was a night of yes for Julia Gardiner until it wasn’t at all.

“No!” She couldn’t possibly have heard him right. President Tyler shouldn’t have— wouldn’t have asked for her hand in marriage. “No.”

A forceful shake of her head caused the tassel of her hat to slap him. “No.”

When Love Found The Tylers. . .

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Despite having her heart set on wooing a younger magnate such as the president’s son John Tyler Jr., “no” was not Julia’s final answer. The commander-in-chief agreed to give her, a lady of one and twenty years, time in which she might develop feelings for him, a fifty-two year-old widower.

Love letters between them crossed as much distance as age difference, considering the thirty-year gap.

Officially, they were unofficial where the gossip rags and cartoons were concerned. Even so, that didn’t stop publications from speculating when the pair excused themselves for a breath of fresh air at events.

A little over a year passed when President Tyler extended an invitation for a day on the Potomac. The Gardiners’ acceptance was the beginning of an afternoon of no for Julia. No to the world’s largest gun exploding after a tribute shot. No to shrapnel expiring her father as well as seven others. No to the overwhelming tragedy that led to John cradling a fainted Julia as he carried her to safety across the gangplank.

Then, a few weeks later, John finally received a yes to his long-standing proposal. Their love story is one of scandal and stolen moments. And their marriage, a fitting partnership which resulted in seven children and a second term.

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Forbidden Romance for the Harrisons . . .

Because they couldn’t wait for approval to be wed, William Harrison and Anna Symmes had to wait for her father to finally leave. They eloped while he was away on business in Cincinnati, and didn’t see the judge until two weeks later.

The unhappy reunion took place at a general’s farewell dinner. There, Judge John Cleves Symmes accosted his son-in-law, asking precisely how he planned to support his new wife.

Ever unsettled by the young soldier, Symmes wrote in his correspondence that, “If I knew what to make of Captain Harrison, I could easily make proper arrangements for his family, but he can neither bleed, plead, nor preach, and if he could plow, I should be satisfied.” 

Little did he know how marriage to Anna would inspire William to leave a legacy for the history books.

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How The Grants Were Matched. . .

“I want you to know him,” wrote Fred Dent to his sister, “he is pure gold.”


A fellow West Point student at the time, Ulysses S. Grant followed up the epistolary introduction with a visit to the Dent’s home, White Haven. There, Julia witnessed his kindness again and again. One such kindness was bestowed upon her when her canary died. “Ulys” took it upon himself to marshal officer friends to lay the bird to rest in an avian funeral service.

Of course, their romance was not without trials. Military orders dispatched Grant away from his Southern belle. Meanwhile, Julia received pressure from disapproving parents who measured him by his means rather than his manner. Still, love prevailed throughout family tension and long bouts of separation courtesy of the war.

From White Have to the White House, the Grants’ love story is pure gold.

For more stories of the historic hearts behind the oval office, please see How Presidents Met Their First Ladies from Reader’s Digest. Or read of their affection directly from the soulmates themselves at History.com’s Romantic-in-Chief: Presidential Love Letters. You’ll be glad you did.





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