Pearls of Presidents (and First Ladies) Past

Presidents’ Day was originally meant to celebrate only one man, the first president of the United States. Known as Washington’s Birthday, it was observed on George’s actual birthday, February 22nd, in federal government offices starting in the 1880s. It was shifted to the third Monday in February in 1971. Because another beloved president, Abraham Lincoln, also had a February birthday (the 12th), it was only fitting to expand the holiday into a day of commemoration for all of America’s former presidents.

So, while we remember our stoic leaders of yesteryear, let’s also take a moment to look back at their wives (and, of course, the jewelry).

The most iconic first lady jewelry has to be a strand (or more!) of pearls. Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Kennedy and Barbara Bush, among others, favored a triple strand. Classic and understated, a fine pearl necklace was an elegant choice. Some of our first First Ladies, however, had even more creative tastes. Both Martha Washington and Mary Todd Lincoln were gifted impressive pearl jewelry from their stately husbands. 

Martha’s natural pearl dove brooch is now on view at the National Constitution Center. It is believed that George purchased it from a New York jeweler, Mr. M. Roberts, c.1789.

Mary’s pearl demi-parure of saltwater seed pearl necklace and pair of bracelets is also lovely. We are lucky that a photograph survives of her wearing the Tiffany & Co. suite, as well. Lincoln purchased the jewelry for $530, which at the time was considered shockingly extravagant spending, c.1861.

 Mary Todd Lincoln in her Tiffany & Co. pearl suite, in photographer Matthew Brady's Washington studio. 

Mary Todd Lincoln in her Tiffany & Co. pearl suite, in photographer Matthew Brady's Washington studio.