Sunday, February 7, 2010

Lucy Webb Hayes and Her Four-Footed and Feathered Friends

The nearby photo of Lucy Webb Hayes, wearing the President’s hat while feeding pigeons on a cold, snowy morning, is one of the last ever taken of the former first lady. It has always been one of my favorites. This candid image would be considered common place in today’s casual world, but in the 19th century, such unassuming poses of women, particularly former first ladies, were much less common. Perhaps its appeal is that it represents a true reflection of who Lucy Webb Hayes was and how she lived her life.

Compassionate, cheerful, gracious, and possessed of a quiet confidence, Lucy showered kindness on family, friends, children, the sick, and the helpless. The same was true for animals - be they domestic or wild. It was always her way.

Upon Lucy’s arrival in Washington, society columnists commented on what changes she surely would make in her hair style, her dress, and her demeanor. But the First Lady remained unchanged - outwardly and inwardly. It wasn’t long before such questions were forgotten. Rather, Lucy’s warmth and kindness to all around her became the recurring topic in DC newspaper columns.

Gifts for Lucy poured in – a mockingbird, a Siamese cat, a turkey, a cow, and other feathered and four-footed creatures. They all found their place in the White House family. When Lucy learned that an owl had become trapped inside the unfinished Washington Monument, she asked that construction stop until it could be freed.

When the Hayeses returned to Ohio, their White House pets came with them. Their homecoming at Spiegel Grove brought more gifts of dogs, chickens, turkeys, and cats. Lucy welcomed and loved them all.

In his letters and diary, President Hayes often mentioned how children, servants, and animals responded to Lucy. He wrote, “All seemed to know her, and loved to be near her. The dogs would climb on her, the Jerseys would rush to her, the pigeons came at her call….How happy she was to see their glad welcome of her. I must preserve the pictures that show these things.”

Lucy's Jersey Cows at Spiegel Grove

Everyone was aware of Lucy’s love for animals and the affection they returned. Some weeks after her death, a Fremont teamster came up to President Hayes after Sunday services. He said, “There was a notable thing at [Lucy’s] funeral. I noticed it and many others [did]. The jerseys – her Jerseys – all came up as near to the funeral procession as they could get and stood in a row looking at it – standing still like soldiers in ranks until the funeral had all passed.”


Lori said...

What a beautiful tribute to Lucy. How lucky we are that so many Presidents and First Ladies were Ohioians.

Dan said...

That is a fantastic photo of Lucy. I have never seen it before. I love it!

Dan said...

That is a fantastic photo of Lucy. I love it!

Nancy said...

I'm an Ohio native but I never knew anything about Lucy Hayes. I would like to have known her, she sounds like a very great lady. This was a great article to introduce her and a wonderful photo to accompany it. Thanks so much for sharing.