The Grandest White House Weddings in History

It’s official: there will soon be a wedding reception in the White House.

President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden recently confirmed they will host a celebratory soirée at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for their granddaughter, Naomi Biden, and her soon-to-be-husband Peter Neal, on November 19. “The first family, the couple, and their parents are still in the planning stages of all of the wedding festivities and look forward to announcing further details in the coming months,” the East Wing communications director Elizabeth Alexander said.

Anything involving weddings qualifies as joyous news, but this one especially so: the American public hasn’t had a presidential family member mark their marriage in Washington D.C. for around 15 years (Jenna Bush Hager, daughter of George W. Bush and Laura Bush, had a 600-person reception in June 2008). Yet, throughout history, many White House weddings have been held in the East Wing.

An illustration depicting Grover Cleveland’s wedding in 1886.

DEA / ICAS94

In 1812, Lucy Payne Washington (sister of First Lady Dolley Madison) became the first person to wed at the then-called “Presidential Mansion” when she married Supreme Court Associate Justice Thomas Todd. Over the next several decades, the Monroe, Quincy Adams, Jackson, Tyler, and Grant administrations also held their fair share of ceremonies for their children and relatives. (“The East Room has been repaired and decorated for the occasion,” the New York Times wrote matter-of-factly about Nellie Grant’s marriage in May 1874. “The number of invitations issued has been limited and will not exceed 300 in all.”)

It was President Grover Cleveland himself, however, who had the buzziest White House wedding of the 19th century when he married Frances Folsom in the Blue Room in June 1886. The bride wore a dress of “corded ivory satin, heavy enough to stand without a woman in it,” according to the New York Times’s full-page spread of the affair at the time. The gown was complete with a 15-foot train and orange-flower embroidery. Afterwards, they held a reception in a state dining room. The talk of the event was the floral centerpiece made to look like a ship, where “scarlet blossoms and bits of coral stood for seals and rocks, and the banks were made of Jacqueminots,” reported the Times.