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Exhibit honors life of former first lady, Buffalo native Frances Folsom Cleveland

Ashley Hirtzel

A celebration of the 150th birthday of Frances Folsom Cleveland, an exhibit is now on display at the Robert H. Jackson U.S. Courthouse. The display highlights the life and legacy of the former first lady, who was a Buffalo native.

Mark Evans, Vice President of the Association for a Buffalo Presidential Center, says Frances Folsom Cleveland was born at 168 Edward Street in Buffalo in 1864.

“Tragedy struck her family just shortly after her 11th birthday when her father Oscar was killed in a carriage accident. Grover Cleveland was Oscar’s law partner. He had been named executor of the will and he looked after Frances education and the family’s finances. Frances and her mother, because of financial reasons had to stay with relatives in Minnesota, Michigan and Medina, New York before returning to Buffalo,” said Evans. 

Years later, 21-year-old Frances Folsom fell in love and married 49-year-old former President Grover Cleveland in the White House in 1886. Folsom Cleveland's age at the time of the wedding attracted considerable international attention and to this day, she remains the youngest first lady in the U.S. history. 

Credit Ashley Hirtzel / WBFO
Frances Folsom Cleveland Memorabilia

Folsom Cleveland continued to attract the nation’s attention by being an advocate for women’s education, as well as being the mother of the child officially dubbed “Baby Ruth.” Evans says Folsom Cleveland’s youth and lively spirit helped set the tone for first ladies that succeeded her.

“She was one of our first young first lady’s. The previous ones had been elderly and had not been involved in public life at all,” said Evans.

The exhibit features vintage collectibles such as cigar boxes, quilts, and sewing novelties that were printed with Folsom Cleveland’s portrait. The face of the Buffalo native was often used on memorabilia in the 1800s without her permission.

Credit Ashley Hirtzel / WBFO
Grandson of Grover Cleveland and Frances Folsom Cleveland, George Cleveland.

Grandson of Grover Cleveland and Frances Folsom Cleveland, George Cleveland. He says the display means a great deal to him and his family.

“Buffalo was so important to her not just because she was born here and raised here, but she loved it here, as well as when she went to college just outside of town. It means a lot that Buffalo has come together to have this display inside this beautiful new courthouse,” said Cleveland.

The collection will be on display at the U.S. Courthouse in downtown Buffalo weekdays until September 3.