Washington Historian Remembers Harriet Lane, the Greatest First Lady
WASHINGTON DC: She was the first White House Hostess to be called "First Lady." Enough said.
"Harriet Lane was a century ahead of her time," says Washington Historian and Biographer Milton Stern. "She used her intelligence, political skills, charm and beauty to push legislation through Congress when she was only twenty-seven years old."
She was the niece of America's Bachelor President and his official hostess in Lancaster, London and Washington. Anyone who met her was instantly enamored. Queen Victoria bestowed upon her the title "Honorary Ambassadress." The Washington press corps proclaimed her "Our Democratic Queen," and the Chippewa named her "the Great Mother of the Indians." U.S. Naval and Coast Guard ships were named after her and still are. Songs were written about her, and women dressed like her. She was the most admired woman in the country and established a style of entertaining never before seen in the White House. She was the first of her kind to be an advocate for social causes: hospital and prison reform and the plight of the American Indians. And only she could get away with beating the Prince of Wales at bowling, which she taught him in the first place!
Her world was guided by tragedy and death, yet she lived every day to the fullest. She conducted herself with grace and dignity and dedicated her life to the perpetuation of the memories of those dearest to her heart and the social welfare of all Americans, especially children.
Although no monument has been dedicated in her memory, her legacy and generosity live on in Baltimore and Washington through the establishment of the Johns Hopkins Pediatric and Teaching Hospital, St. Albans School for Boys, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the President James Buchanan Monument in Meridian Hill Park.
No Washington guest list was complete without her, as a society columnist wrote, "There is no more elegant figure in the official and social gatherings during the social season than the niece of President James Buchanan."
More than twenty years after her death, she was named one of the most memorable women in American History, but more than 100 years after her death, few remember America's greatest First Lady.
Milton Stern is the author of "Harriet Lane, America's First Lady" (www.harrietlane.net), the first extensive biography of President James Buchanan's niece. Due to his thorough research of Harriet Lane's life, he has been interviewed on numerous radio programs and is considered the definitive expert on the life of Harriet Lane.
"Unfortunately for Lane, she was the niece of a chief executive who was wrongfully blamed for events that had been unfolding since the drafting of the Constitution," Stern says. "His position as the fifteenth President, who was followed by America's greatest President, Abraham Lincoln, made him the scapegoat. Few realize that Lincoln supported Buchanan's policies in regard to South Carolina's secession from the Union until Fort Sumter was attacked, and Buchanan supported Lincoln's during the entire Civil War."
When asked why he wrote Harriet Lane's biography, Stern said, "She was an inspiration not only to American women, but also all Americans, as she devoted her entire life to social causes and for the betterment of this great country. Americans still benefit from her generosity."
Milton Stern is also the author of "America's Bachelor President and the First Lady" and the Executive Editor of "SelfPublisher News" (www.selfpublishernews.com). He resides in Washington, DC, with his toy parti-poodle, Serena Rose Elizabeth Montgomery. His next book, "On Tuesdays, They Played Mah Jongg" (www.mahjongg.us), will be released in the fall.