Born: May 9, 1830 at Franklin County, Pennsylvania
Died: July 3, 1903 (aged 73) at Narragansett, Rhode Island
Spouse: Henry Elliott Johnston (m. 1866 – 1884)
Children: She had 2 children
First Lady of the United States (1857 – 1861)
Facts about Harriet Lane
She is the niece of bachelor U.S. President James Buchanan, acted as first lady from 1857 – 1861 while her uncle served in office. She had an art collection based on European works which she left to the US government. Though she had been pursued by banker Henry Johnston since her teens, she did not marry him until she was 35, a year and a half before her uncle’s death.
She was the first First Lady to be regularly referred to as “”First Lady””, and perhaps the first First Lady to become a pop culture icon – she wore scandalously low-cut gowns, her hair and clothing styles set trends, and thousands of parents named their daughters after her.
Harriet Lane was the first First Lady to regularly invite artists, musicians, authors, and other non-political celebrities to White House functions, and she spoke often about the deplorable living conditions on Indian reservations, making her the first First Lady to take on a favored social cause.
Both their children died in their teens of rheumatic fever. She dedicated a generous sum to endow a home for invalid children at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. In her will she left a very large collection of art that she acquired from all over the world to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.
Harriet Lane Childhood
Harriet Lane’s family was from Franklin County, Pennsylvania. She was the youngest child of Elliott Tole Lane, a merchant, and Jane Ann Buchanan Lane. She lost her mother when she was 9; when her father’s death 2 years later made her an orphan, she requested that her favorite uncle, James Buchanan, be appointed her legal guardian.
Buchanan, an unmarried Democratic senator from Pennsylvania, indulged his niece and her sister, enrolling them in boarding schools in Charles Town, Virginia (later for two years at the Georgetown Visitation Monastery in the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C.) By this time, Buchanan was Secretary of State, and he introduced her to fashionable circles as he had promised.
In 1854, she joined him in London, where he was minister to the Court of St. James’s. Queen Victoria gave “”dear Miss Lane”” the rank of ambassador’s wife; admiring suitors gave her the fame of a beauty. In appearance “”Hal”” Lane was of medium height, with masses of light, almost golden-colored hair.
Where is Harriet Lane buried?
At Harriet Lane Johnston’s funeral, services were conducted by Bishop Satterlee and Canon DeVries of the Washington National Cathedral. She was buried in Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore, Maryland, her grave marked with a Celtic cross like the Peace Cross on the cathedral close.
How did Harriet Lane die?
She died at 73 years old from cancer, and was laid to rest next to her husband and their two sons.