Tricia Nixon was risque in a sleeveless gown at her Rose Garden wedding. Luci Baines Johnson, at age 19 a fresh convert to Catholicism, opted for a church ceremony but had a White House reception with a 13-tier cake.
On May 10, Jenna Bush will do it her way: privately in a casual ceremony on the family's Texas ranch, telling Vogue she'll wear beaded Oscar de la Renta.
Despite top secrecy since her engagement was announced in August, and mounting speculation over details, Bush's wedding with Henry Hager will blend into a lively and varied history of first family nuptials stretching back to Dolley Madison's sister Lucy in 1812.
Twenty-two presidential children have been married while their dads were in office, including nine at the White House. Grover Cleveland is the only president to be married at the residence, with Presidents John Tyler and Woodrow Wilson also taking brides while serving, but in ceremonies conducted elsewhere.
John Adams II, son of John Quincy Adams, beat out his two brothers in a "bachelor derby" for the hand of their flirty first cousin, a beauty named Mary Catherine Hellen, and was the only presidential son to marry at the Executive Mansion. The jilted sibs didn't attend.
Most weddings were the social events of their times, including the elaborate ceremony of Tricia Nixon to Edward Cox in 1971, the only White House wedding held in the Rose Garden and a big bump to her father's popularity as he smiled wide at her side and danced to "Thank Heaven for Little Girls."
"I was living at the White House with my parents. It felt very natural," Nixon Cox told The Associated Press in a recent interview. "I just basically was like all brides. You love the person that you're going to be marrying and that is what makes the moment."
Her sleeveless silk organdy gown with hand-clipped lace defied her usual little-girl look. It was by Priscilla of Boston and a step ahead fashion-wise. Priscilla herself escorted the gown to Washington in its own first-class plane seat.
While the Nixon-Cox wedding was broadcast live on television and the bride treated to the covers of Time and Life magazines, Bush's wedding in tiny Crawford, Texas, is expected to be low key and away from prying media eyes.
"This is going to be such a different kind of situation from Tricia Nixon's wedding," said Katherine Jellison, an associate professor history at Ohio University who chronicles the American obsession with marital pomp in a new book, "It's Our Day."
"Jenna's father is not running for re-election," she said. "The frivolity of a big White House wedding in the middle of an unpopular war would have used up what little political capital he has."
Bush is not the first presidential offspring to marry off the premises, and not the first Bush to keep the lid on. Her Aunt Dorothy, the president's sister, married quietly at Camp David in 1992 after divorcing her first husband.
Tricia Nixon's sister, Julie, opted for a small, private wedding with a presidential grandson, Dwight David Eisenhower II, after her father was elected but before his inauguration. Julie's 1968 ceremony at Manhattan's Marble Collegiate Church was the shortest in first family history at 15 minutes.
Other low-key presidential family weddings marked second or third marriages (Maureen Reagan) or were held away from the White House amid family tension (Maureen's half-sister, Patti Davis).
"The marriage of a presidential child is a very rare brief moment when a Republican can appreciate a Democrat and a Democrat can appreciate a Republican. You see the tear in Dad's eye," said Doug Wead, a former aide to the first President Bush and author of "All the Presidents' Children."
In the 19th century, the wedding of a president's daughter was sometimes considered a private, family affair. When President Monroe's 17-year-old daughter Maria Hester Monroe became the first child of a sitting chief executive to marry in the White House in 1820, the only press coverage was 34 words in a Washington paper.
There was much more interest by 1874, when President Ulysses S. Grant's daughter Nellie wed a young British diplomat, according to research in the 1960s by Ann Novotny and Wilbur Cross. And yet few dared to ask Cleveland a few years later about rumors of his impending marriage at age 49. He wed Frances Folsom, just shy of 22.
Maria Monroe's pushy, much older sister Eliza, who often functioned as first lady because of their mother's ill health, took over wedding planning and excluded the foreign diplomatic corps in an ongoing feud, angering the groom, junior White House aide Samuel L. Gouverneur, also a first cousin like Adams' bride eight years later.
Unlike Monroe, Bush seems firmly in charge of how she's going to get hitched, said Millie Martini Bratten, editor in chief of Brides magazine.
"How she chooses to reflect her own personality in this wedding will have an impact," Bratten said. "Many first daughters did not have a say."
The majority of first family weddings have been large and splashy.
Luci Baines Johnson, the younger daughter of President Lyndon Johnson, was married in 1966 to Patrick Nugent at the National Shrine of Immaculate Conception in Washington as 55 million people tuned in on TV. Her White House reception included a 300-pound cake decorated with swans. Her sister Lynda Bird Johnson was wed at the White House the following year.
About 1,000 invited guests joined Franklin Delano Roosevelt Jr. and socialite Ethel du Pont on their special day in Delaware in 1937, her very Republican family having spent years trying to defeat his very Democratic father. Bride and groom tried to bury the ceremony deep in the du Pont family compound, but 650,000 people lined nearby streets, prompting the governor to call out the National Guard, Wead said.
In 1906, another Roosevelt, Theodore's feisty firstborn Alice, steadfastly refused to have bridesmaids at her White House wedding to Nicholas Longworth _ Republican, Ohio congressman, playboy. Dubbed "Princess Alice," she didn't want to be upstaged during a ceremony that caused frenzy around the world and included a box of live snakes among the gifts, believed a remembrance of her pet snake as a girl.
Some women in the crush of guests wept at the sight of Alice, orange blossoms in her hair, an 18-foot train of silver brocade trailing behind her, as she appeared in the Grand Hallway on her father's arm, Wead wrote.
Nixon Cox _ 25 then and 62 now _ had 87-year-old Alice Roosevelt and other past first family brides at her wedding among 400 guests seated just after a rainstorm, prompting complaints from still-spunky Alice that her seat was still wet.
Nixon Cox said she still gets mail from people asking for mementos from that time in her life.
"Every wedding is beautiful, wherever it is," she said. "Any way is a good way if it reflects the love two people share."
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