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Letitia Christian Tyler, born Letitia Christian (November 12, 1790-September 10, 1842), first wife of John Tyler, was First Lady of the United States from 1841 until her death. Letitia Tyler had been confined to an invalid's chair for two years when her husband unexpectedly became President. Nobody had thought of that possibility when he took his oath of office as Vice President on March 4, 1841; indeed, he had planned to fill his undemanding duties from his home in Williamsburg, Virginia where his wife was most comfortable, her Bible, prayer book, and knitting at her side. Born on a Tidewater Virginia plantation on November 12, 1790, Letitia had no formal education, but learned all the skills of managing a plantation, rearing a family, and presiding over a home that would be John Tyler's refuge during an active political life. They were married on March 29, 1813, his twenty-third birthday. Thereafter, whether he served in Congress or as Governor of Virginia, she attended to domestic duties. Only once did she join him for the winter social season in Washington, DC. Of the eight children she bore, seven survived; but after a stroke in 1839 she was left a cripple often keeping to herself in her private room of the White House, but she was still spoken of fondly by her daughter-in-law Priscilla as being "still beautiful now in her declining years." In that second-floor bedroom at the White House, Letitia Tyler kept her quiet but pivotal role in family activities. She did not take part in the social affairs of the administration. Her married daughters had their own homes; the others were too young for the full responsibility of official entertaining. The president's daughter-in-law, Priscilla Cooper Tyler assumed the position of White House hostess at the age of 24. Letitia was beloved and admired by her large extended family and prompted her daughter-in-law Priscilla to remember her as being "the most entirely unselfish person you can imagine...Notwithstanding her very delicate health, mother attends to and regulates all the household affairs and all so quietly that you can't tell when she does it." The first President's wife to die in the White House, Letitia Tyler died peacefully in her sleep on September 10, 1842 surrounded by her loving family and friends. She was taken to Virginia for burial at the plantation of her birth.


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