Jane Means Appleton Pierce
Biography: In looks and in pathetic destiny young Jane Means
Appleton resembled the heroine of a Victorian novel. The gentle dignity
of her face reflected her sensitive, retiring personality and physical
weakness. Her father had died--he was a Congregational minister, the
Reverend Jesse Appletoin, president of Bowdoin College--and her mother
had taken the family to Amherst, New Hampshire. And Jane met a Bowdoin
graduate, a young lawyer with political ambitions, Franklin Pierce.
Although he was immediately devoted to Jane, they did not marry until she
was 28 -- surprising in that day of early marriages. Her family opposed
the match; moreover, she always did her best to discourage his interest
in politics. The death of a three-day-old son, the arrival of a new
baby, and Jane's dislike of Washington counted heavily in his decision to
retire at the apparent height of his career, as United States Senator, in
1842. Little Frank Robert, the second son, died the next year of typhus.
Service in the Mexican War brought Pierce the rank of brigadier and local
fame as a hero. He returned home safely, and for four years the Pierces
lived quietly at Concord, New Hampshire, in the happiest period of their
lives. With attentive pleasure Jane watched her son Benjamin growing up.
Then, in 1852, the Democratic Party made Pierce their candidate for
President. His wife fainted at the news. When he took her to Newport
for a respite, Benny wrote to her: "I hope he won't be elected for I
should not like to be at Washington and I know you would not either."
But the President-elect convinced Jane that his office would be an asset
for Benny's success in life.
On a journey by train, January 6, 1853, their car was derailed and Benny
killed before their eyes. The whole nation shared the parents' grief.
The inauguration on March 4 took place without an inaugural ball and
without the presence of Mrs. Pierce. She joined her hsuband later that
month, but any pleasure the White House might have brought her was gone.
From this loss she never recovered fully. Other events deepened the
somber mood of the new administration: Mrs. Fillmore's death in March,
that of Vice President Rufus King in April.
Always devout, Jane Pierce turned for solace to prayer. She had to force
herself to meet the social obligations inherent in the role of First
Lady. Fortunately she had the companionship and help of a girlhood
friend, now her aunt by marriage, Abigail Kent Means. Mrs. Robert E. Lee
wrote in a private letter: "I have known many of the ladies of the White
House, none more truly excellent than the afflicted wife of President
Pierce. Her health was a bar to any great effort on her part to meet the
expectations of the public in her high position but she was a refined,
extremely religious and well educated lady."
With retirement, the Pierces made a prolonged trip abroad in search of
health for the invalid--she carried Benny's Bible throughout the
journey. The quest was unsuccessful, so the couple came home to New
Hampshire to be near family and friends until Jane's death in 1863. She
was buried near Benny's grave.