Rutherford B. Hayes and Lucy Webb’s wedding portrait (photo courtesy of Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library & Museums)
Ohio Life

Rutherford B. Hayes Marries Lucy Webb

On Dec. 30, 1852, the future president and first lady were wed in a simple ceremony at the home of the bride’s mother in Cincinnati.

Rutherford B. Hayes was on a trip back to his hometown of Delaware, Ohio, when he first made the acquaintance of Miss Lucy Webb on the campus of Ohio Wesleyan University in 1850. A chance encounter with Webb while serving as a groomsman that same year helped bring the two together. Five years after leaving the White House, Hayes shared the story of that day with a woman who took notice of the gold ring on his hand.

The article in the Jan. 7, 1886, edition of the Fremont Democratic Messenger reported that the former president replied, “Mrs. Hayes secured me with that.”

“We were bridesmaid and groomsman together at a wedding and when the cake was cut that ring was in my slice, and when I found it, of course I gave it to the bridesmaid Miss Lucy Webb,” the former president reportedly said. “When after a time she promised to marry me, she gave me back the ring and I have always worn it since.”

The couple married two years later, on Dec. 30, 1852, during a small ceremony attended by family and friends at the home of Webb’s mother in Cincinnati. In a Dec. 15, 1852, letter to his uncle Sardis Birchard, Hayes shared that the wedding date had been set.

“The day is fixed, if nothing occurs to change our plans, on Thursday the 30th, two weeks from tomorrow,” the letter reads. “Whether we are to have an evening or morning wedding, whether we are to run away to hide for a few days, or to hide at home, are unsettled questions.”

Hayes added that the event was to be a simple wedding, with “no extensive wedding arrangements, probably no tickets of invitation.”

Birchard made the trip to Cincinnati for his nephew’s wedding, joining Hayes’ older sister Fanny Platt and her 9-year-old daughter Laura, Lucy’s mother and two brothers as well as about 30 friends for the ceremony. Although Hayes’ mother, Sophia, was not able to travel to Cincinnati for the event, Ari Hoogenboom’s book Rutherford B. Hayes: Warrior and President notes that she shared her approval of her soon-to-be daughter-in-law with her son, telling him, “Your choice is mine, I shall welcome her to my heart as a beloved daughter.”

Eliza Davis, a friend of Lucy during their school years, was also in attendance. Her account of the event was detailed in Emily Apt Geer’s book First Lady: The Life of Lucy Webb Hayes. 

“The ‘radiant’ bride wore a white-figured satin dress, simply tailored with a full skirt pleated to a fitted bodice,” the book notes. “A floor-length veil, fastened with orange blossoms, accented the glistening blackness of her hair and slimness of her figure.”

Geer wrote that the day concluded when the couple boarded the 5 p.m. train for Columbus, where Hayes, “hoped to combine appearances before the Ohio Supreme Court with a pleasant honeymoon. Thus began 36 years of an exceptionally happy marriage.”