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April 20, 2017

16 Interesting Facts About Julia Gardiner Tyler, a Scandalous First Lady of the 1800s

Before the revolutionary Eleanor Roosevelt or the glamorous Jackie O, there was Julia Gardiner Tyler, the second wife of President John Tyler. Despite the fact she became First Lady in the 1800s - a stifling and oppressive era for women - Julia Gardiner Tyler was bold, brazen, and fabulous.

The wild side of Tyler's young bride was much gossiped about, but rather than letting the headlines dictate her life, Tyler dictated the headlines. She branded herself into the first celebrity First Lady through her opulent and dramatic lifestyle. She was the opposite of modesty in a time where women were meant to be modest to the core.

Wild stories about Julia Gardiner Tyler make her one of the most scandalous first ladies in history. She was a strong, independent woman who did what she wanted when she wanted. These facts about Julia Gardiner Tyler and her unconventional life might make her story even more interesting than that of her husband.

1. She Scandalously Posed In A Handbag Ad

In her youth, Julia Gardiner was known as a very attractive and spirited young woman. Since she came from a rich Long Island family, she was highly regarded as a prospective wife for societal big wigs. But Gardiner made the wrong kind of headlines in 1839, when she secretly posed in an advertisement for a middle-class clothing emporium. For an upper-class woman to model in a newspaper ad at all was completely inappropriate and unheard of at the time. Her parents whisked her away to Europe to avoid further damage to her reputation.

2. She Was Labeled 'The Rose Of Long Island' By A Secret Admirer

Adding to her scandalous reputation, someone anonymously wrote an ode in honor of Gardiner to the paper, which forever dubbed her "The Rose of Long Island." Again, this type of exposure of a woman in the news was unacceptable at the time. It was essentially the modern-day equivalent of getting your naked pictures hacked and released on the web.

3. She Had A Slew Of Suitors And Was A Known Flirt

Despite her reputation for scandal, Gardiner never had any trouble gaining the affection of prestigious men. Among her romantic dalliances were a German baron, a Belgian count, bachelor and future president James Buchanan, and married future president Millard Fillmore. Gardiner had game. She and her sister Margaret had so many suitors their father had to rent an extra room to entertain them.

Adding to her sex appeal was her reputation as a flirt. At the time, her explicit indications to potential suitors that she was interested in them was unheard of - and her parents were reportedly mortified by this.

4. She Refused To Marry John Tyler For Years

President John Tyler became infatuated with Gardiner almost immediately upon meeting her. He even chased her around the living room furniture in an attempt to kiss her. He first proposed at the White House Masquerade Ball in 1843, only five months after his previous wife had passed away.

Gardiner enjoyed flirting with the President, but found him to be too old for her (he was 30 years her senior.) Despite his position, Tyler was an unpopular president who had only took on the role after the death of William Henry Harrison. He was not especially rich, either, so her parents did not push her into the union. Tyler was undeterred, however, and continued to propose to Gardiner and publicly woo her for the next year.

5. She Survived An Explosion Onboard The USS Princeton

Gardiner and her family attended the christening of the USS Princeton in 1844, alongside the President and other big names in Washington. The ship boasted the largest cannons ever built on a boat, and the guns were ceremoniously blasted during the cruise. One such blast misfired and exploded on the ship, killing six passengers including Julia's father, David Gardiner.

Distraught over the death of her father, Julia Gardiner found support and kindness in John Tyler and finally fell in love. At least according to some versions of the story. David's death also made her family's financial situation precarious, and the marriage now offered her the most stable option to maintain her status.

6. She Initially Was Interested In John Tyler's Son

When the Gardiner family was first invited to dinner at the White House, Julia Gardiner had her eye on John Tyler Jr., the President's son, a handsome flirt who wrote her poetry. She continued a flirtation with him for some time despite the fact he was married. He planned to divorce his wife, but Gardiner eventually moved on to greener (or rather, grayer) pastures in the way of his father. When Gardiner initially met the President, it was as a prospective daughter-in-law.

7. She Secretly Eloped With The President

Imagine the scandal today if a recently widowed sitting president up and eloped in secret with a woman 30 years his junior. That's exactly what happened in 1844 and people (reasonably) went nuts. Tyler and his new missus rationalized their secret nuptials by saying they were mourning Gardiner's recently deceased father. Only 12 guests attended the ceremony at the Church of the Ascension in New York, but news broke almost immediately. Huge crowds gathered to catch a glimpse of the newlyweds, and reactions were understandably mixed.

8. She Was 30 Years Younger Than John Tyler

When Gardiner married Tyler in 1844, she was 24 and he was 54. To put that in perspective, her own mother was nine years younger than Tyler, and Tyler's first daughter was five years older than Gardiner. While Gardiner was initially turned off by their age gap, her youthfulness delighted Tyler. He was a soft-spoken traditional Southern man while she was an energetic and wild pot-stirrer, and apparently opposites eventually attracted.

9. Her Step-Daughters Hated Her

Despite the fascination surrounding the new First Lady, not everyone was keen to jump on the Julia train. John Tyler's three oldest daughters from his first marriage initially loathed their new step-mom. Tyler had previously stated he had no plans to remarry, and they viewed the sudden marriage as an insult to the memory of their mother.

While Mary and Elizabeth Tyler eventually warmed to Gardiner, Letitia Tyler never did. Gardiner took over hostess duties that were previously hers, and had a close emotional bond with Letitia's estranged husband.

10. She Adopted Royal Traditions In The White House - Including Ladies-In-Waiting

Though her time in the White House was brief (less than a year) Julia Gardiner made the most of it. Inspired by her time in Europe, Julia adopted many royal traditions for herself. One included her ladies-in-waiting, or as she called them, her "vestal virgins." The group of women, who all wore matching white dresses, surrounded Queen Julia when she held parties or hosted guests. Julia herself often donned elaborate gowns and headpieces, and referred to her time as First Lady as her "auspicious reign."

11. She Was The First Photographed First Lady

Gardiner was good-looking and she wanted everyone to know it. She posed for oil paintings and had copies of her likeness dispersed and sold, making herself the first "celebrity" first-lady. So when photography first became accessible she eagerly posed in the studio of photographer Edward Anthony.

Despite being the first photographed First Lady, her photo was not dispersed or mainstream as her portraits were. It's surmised this is because her painting portrayed her as plumper and therefore showed her in a more flattering light. So, basically the old school version of Photoshop.

12. She Arranged For The Newspaper To Write Only Nice Things About Her

Gardiner was so determined to make a name for herself that in addition to selling engraved copies of her face to the public, she basically ghost-wrote newspaper articles about how pretty she was.

Gardiner struck a deal with reporter FW Thompson of The New York Herald, promising him full access to all of her social events so long as he wrote rave reviews of her looks, style, and parties. Thompson did just that, referring to Gardiner as the "Presidentress" or "The President's Bride" and writing mainly about her glowing features rather than her social affairs. These pieces were so over-the-top it's possible some of the articles were actually written by Gardiner's brother, Thompson's close friend, as pro-Julia propaganda.

13. She Rode Around In A Coach With Eight Arabian Horses And Loved Making A Grand Entrance

Never one for subtlety, Mrs. Tyler knew how to make an entrance. She frequently rode around Washington in a specialty coach pulled by eight white Arabian horses. For her first public stroll, she decided she needed an Italian greyhound by her side, so she imported one from the consul in Naples. She even once showed up late to a ship christening at the Naval Yard, wanting to ensure a fabulous entrance with lots of attention.

14. Polka Dances Were Named After Her

Gardiner was well known for her love of dancing. She frequently held lavish White House soirees where guests would dance the polka and pop bottles and bottles of champagne. Gardiner was of course known for dancing a bit too closely with people who weren't her husband, the president. And when she was asked for permission to use her name on sheet music known as "The Julia Waltzes" she of course agreed and set about publicizing this information.

15. She Was A Staunch Confederate

Despite her Northern origins, Gardiner had grown up in the lap of luxury. So after her stint in the White House, she had no problem adjusting to life on Tyler's Virginia plantation as a Southern belle. While Julia wasn't heavily involved in politics, she arguably had more of an influence on the president than any First Lady before her. She was a big proponent of the annexation of Texas, and her sway over Tyler (and others) in this matter made her the first First Lady to appear in a political cartoon.

Gardiner fiercely supported the confederacy, even after her husband's death in 1862. Unfortunately, she also spoke in favor of slavery, publishing an article in response to British abolitionist women in 1853. The article was not a defense of slavery, but rather a criticism of Britain's hypocrisy on the practice and involvement in American affairs. But growing up with slave labor as she did, Gardiner likely didn't view slavery as morally wrong.

16. She Temporarily Went Broke

After years of living in the clouds, Gardiner abruptly faced reality with the Civil War and the death of her husband. She moved back to the Staten Island home of her mother, and with mounting debts was forced to sell her Virginia estate.

Despite financial hardship she kept up relationships in Washington and continued to bolster her public image, labeling herself "Mrs. Ex-President Tyler." Ever a force to be reckoned with, she eventually managed to lobby for federal jobs for her two sons and a widow's pension for herself and future First Ladies, allowing her to live comfortably for the decade preceding her death in 1889.

(This original article was written by Elle Tharp and published on Ranker)



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