ELIZA MONROE HAY II
THE FIRST DAUGHTER TO SUBSTITUTE FOR A FIRST LADY
Eliza Monroe Hay, together with her husband attorney Joseph Hay, lived in the White House for the entire eight years of President Monroe’s two-term presidency (1817-1825).
Eliza, like Elizabeth, her mother, was a stylish and beautiful woman. Additionally, she was described as more animated and more exciting than First Lady Monroe. The daughter previously had acquired the reputation of being at once a difficult and formidable person, and yet at the same time rather flighty. Her years at Mme Campan’s school in Paris left her with exaggerated notions of her own importance – she could never let anyone forget that she had been a classmate of Hortense Beauharnais, who was both Napoleon’s step-daughter and later Queen of Holland. “…indeed, it was once unkindly, but not inaptly, said of (Eliza) that she could have been truly happy if she had married a Marshal of the Empire.” (1)
Almost immediately after President Monroe’s first inauguration, Elizabeth began to rely upon her daughter to fulfill social commitments. Almost immediately the First Lady delegated the reception of social callers to the White House to Eliza. Elizabeth’s dependency increased during the second term when she was increasingly troubled by illness. (2) In Spring 1821, Mrs. Monroe was very sick, and the younger Monroe daughter, Maria Hester Gouverneur had fled the executive mansion after a row with Eliza, her older sister. This “left Eliza the unquestioned mistress of the White House.” (3)
As a Surrogate First Lady, Mrs. Hay was self-disciplined, capable, and charming. But also quirky and volatile. In the summer of 1820 with their mother too ill, Eliza took care of all the arrangements for Maria’s White House wedding. Samuel Gouverneur, the president’s private secretary whom Eliza disliked intensely, was the groom. But Eliza was in charge of the invitation list, and subsequently was widely criticized for trimming the number of invitees for the greatly anticipated event to a mere forty-four. Fortunately, the slight to many of Washington’s political elite apparently did not affect President Monroe’s presidency. (4)
In summation, the astute Louisa Catherine Adams, the wife of Monroe’s Secretary of State tartly described Eliza as ‘full of agreeables and disagreeables, so accomplished and ill bred, so proud and so mean.” Her “love for scandal left no reputation safe in her hands.” (5)
- 1. Ammon, Harry: Jams Monroe. The Quest for National Identity (Charlottesville: The University of Virginia Press, 1990) 405-7.
- Deppisch, Ludwig M: The Health of the First Ladies. Medical Histories from Martha Washington to Michelle Obama (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2015) 39.
- Unger, Harlow Giles: The Last Founding Father. James Monroe an a Nation’s Call to Greatness (Philadelphia: Da Capo Press, 2009) 302.
- Ibid. 298-303.
- Ibid. 303.