Hayes, “Lemonade” Lucy (1831–1889)

Lucille “Lucy” Ware Webb Hayes, popularly known as “Lemonade Lucy,” was President Rutherford Hayes's wife, a staunch abolitionist, feminist, and supporter of the temperance movement. She is considered one of the most popular first ladies in the history of the United States and a representative of the era of the “New Woman.”

Born in Chillicothe, Ohio, on August 28, 1831, the youngest of three children, to

Lucy Webb Hayes (1831–1889), wife of President Rutherford B. Hayes.

Lucy Webb Hayes (1831–1889), wife of President Rutherford B. Hayes. (Library of Congress)

Dr. James Webb and Maria Cook, Lucy Webb enjoyed a comfortable childhood despite her father's death from cholera when she was two. The attitudes of her grandfather Isaac Cook, a local judge and member of the state legislature, had a lasting effect on her, including his ideas about public education, temperance, and antislavery.

In 1844, the Webb family moved to Delaware, Ohio, where the teenaged Lucy attended school, took college courses at Ohio Wesleyan, and met a 24-year-old lawyer named Rutherford B. Hayes. She then enrolled at Cincinnati Wesleyan Female College. It was during this time that she embraced many of the feminist ideas of the time, believing that women were just as smart as men and should be seen as men's equals in most things and their superiors in others, and she internalized Methodism's emphasis on personal morality. Upon graduating from school in 1850, she renewed her friendship with Rutherford Hayes, and they were married two-and-a-half years later on December 30, 1852.

When the war started, Rutherford Hayes became a major in the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. The couple saw the war as a “holy and just cause,” although Lucy was critical of what she considered President Abraham Lincoln's foot-dragging on the slavery issue (Schneider and Schneider 126 ). Often joining her husband at various posts (he was quickly promoted to the rank of colonel and then brigadier general), Mrs. Hayes became popular among his troops for her “mothering.” In one famous incident, after tending to her husband's wounded arm for two weeks, she returned to Ohio by rail and noticed a group of wounded soldiers who were not given any room on the train. Commandeering a Pullman car, she made several wealthy patrons move so that the soldiers could have space. She mended soldiers’ uniforms, traveled rough roads, and was extremely vocal about Confederate mistreatment of Union soldiers. Despite battling her own rheumatism and the recent death of an infant, she proved to be Hayes's most valuable asset with his soldiers.

After the war, Rutherford Hayes used his military service as a springboard to a political career. In 1864, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Lucy, with her “Radical Republican” views, constantly had her husband's ear and was his main political advisor. One of her major concerns was the Freedman's Bureau's efforts to help former slaves, and she was concerned about Andrew Johnson's pragmatic attitude towards the former Confederacy.

In 1857, Lucy encouraged her husband to run for the office of governor of Ohio, which he won. While influencing legislation behind the scenes, she was extremely careful to act publicly in the traditional female role. Yet her influence could be seen in her husband's efforts to reform the welfare and prison institutions in the state. She raised private funds to establish the Home for Soldiers’ Orphans at Xenia, Ohio, and then lobbied to get the state to take over the expense of running it.

Even though Mrs. Hayes had rigid opinions on the issues of the day, the people of Ohio fell in love with her. As her husband wrote, “Lucy employs herself about the soldiers’ orphans . . . about the decoration of soldiers’ graves and about the deaf and dumb pupils at the Reform Farm for boys” (Schneider and Schneider 127). She was also very careful to not publicly contradict her husband's stance on woman suffrage, education, or other areas of equality. When individuals tried to get her on the record about such things, she avoided the questions by acting busy with something else, often using her children as props. She also publicly refused to participate in any temperance crusades, knowing such activity would hurt her husband's political career.

In 1872, Hayes lost his bid to become a U.S. senator, and the couple retired from public life for the next four years. Feeling slighted by President Ulysses Grant, they moved to Fremont, Ohio, until Rutherford could run for a third term as governor in 1875. Yet the Hayeses made plans for Rutherford to go beyond just being a governor, and in 1876 he accepted the Republican nomination for president.

The presidential election of 1876 was one of the closest in U.S. history. In fact, it was so close that the outcome remained unknown for months. While Samuel J. Tilden won the popular vote, there was some dispute regarding the electoral votes. In what became known as the Compromise of 1877, certain Democrats in Congress, mostly southerners, agreed to award 20 disputed electoral votes to Hayes in exchange for an end to military occupation of the South, thus effectively ending Reconstruction, leading to the social and economic abuses of African Americans there.

President Hayes had a difficult time in office while Lucy fulfilled her role as first lady with greater success than did her husband in his position. Many saw the first lady as a representative of the “New Woman.” She was modest and careful to maintain a middle-class appearance by accepting the limits of her “sphere,” yet she also had a public persona. While her husband was constantly under political attack, Lucy was beloved throughout the United States. Journalist Mary Clemmer Ames coined the term first lady to describe her. Yet she was not above some criticism, mostly relating to her refusal to serve liquor at events in the White House. While she did not advocate or publicly comment on prohibition, the Woman's Christian Temperance Union applauded her actions and commissioned a full-length painting of her, which still hangs in the president's residence. She felt that the president and his family should be moral examples for the rest of the nation. In other words, she lived her Methodist faith. For this stance, she earned the nickname “Lemonade Lucy.” In accordance with her religious beliefs, she also banned dancing, billiards, and card-playing on the premises. Despite any criticism she received she tried to maintain a serene appearance, which many felt at times she paid for in the form of almost crippling headaches.

Similar to women of her class, Lucy entered the social reform arena of the Gilded Age New Woman. Lucy was extremely involved in various charities and good works, such as supporting and helping out at nearby Hampton College, the national Deaf Mute College, decorating Civil War soldier's graves, and pushing for the completion of the Washington Monument. Keeping in touch with the soldiers in her husband's former regiment, she became known as “Mother Lucy.” Surprisingly, her longest lasting and most famous legacy during her time at Pennsylvania Avenue was the annual Easter-egg-rolling party.

While Lucy continued to have her husband's ear and remained active in reform, their four years in the White House were a bit of a disappointment. With Congress equally divided, Rutherford Hayes made himself a lame duck by announcing before he arrived in Washington that he would not seek a second term. He struggled to restore the power lost during the Grant administration's years of corruption and decline. With federal troops removed from the South, the Hayeses hoped that through conciliation they could achieve harmony with the former Confederacy. Lucy became his main ambassador. The Richmond Dispatch noted, “Mrs. Hayes has won the admiration of people wherever she has been” (Schneider and Schneider 130

One of the few accomplishments that Rutherford Hayes could take pride in was his attempt to break up the spoils system and end much of the corruption that had marked the previous administration. The president also tried to address the nation's monetary policy. Farmers wanted soft money or a silver standard. Trying to lessen the economic difficulties, Hayes used what little political capital he had to push through the Bland-Allison Act, which called for the government to purchase at least $2 million of silver every month.

Upon leaving the White House in 1881, Lucy received numerous tributes and requests for public appearances, particularly by temperance organizations, all of which she rejected. She continued to serve as president of the Methodist Episcopal Woman's Home Missionary Society and remained active in other local activities.

On June 25, 1889, she died of a stroke. The entire nation grieved the loss of the first lady. While she tried to walk the tightrope of feminine domesticity, she often referred to her husband's political career as “ours,” and many commented that the wrong Hayes had been elected. With her public appearances and college education, she changed the role and expectations of the president's wife forever. It is little wonder that President Benjamin Harrison claimed upon her death that she was “most idolized woman in America” (Holloway 34 ).

Trevor Jason Soderstrum

See also: Abolitionism ; Bland, Richard P. (1835–1899) ; New Woman ; Prohibition (1919–1933) ; Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU)


Holloway, Laura Carter. The Ladies of the White House, or, In the Home of the Presidents: Being a Complete History of the Social and Domestic Lives of the Presidents from Washington to the Present Time. New York: Bradley, 1882.

“Lucy Ware Webb Hayes.” White House website. http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/first-ladies/lucyhayes . Accessed January 4, 2013.

Schneider, Dorothy, and Carl J. Schneider. First Ladies: A Biographical Dictionary. 3rd ed. New York: Facts on File, January 2010.