AKA Harriet Rebecca Lane
Birthplace: Stony Batter, PA
Location of death: Narragansett, RI
Cause of death: Cancer - unspecified
Remains: Buried, Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore, MD
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: First Lady, Relative
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Niece of US President James Buchanan
Harriet Lane was America's First Lady during the administration of lifelong bachelor President James Buchanan. Her mother died when she was nine, her father when she was 11, and the orphaned girl was remanded to the custody of her mother's brother, the future President Buchanan. He oversaw the remainder of her childhood, sending her to a prestigious private school in Washington while he was a Senator.
Always considered very attractive, Miss Lane had no shortage of suitors, but her loving uncle warned her against "rushing precipitately into matrimonial connexions". In her early twenties she joined Buchanan at his diplomatic post in London, where she acted as an ambassador's wife at official functions. When he was elected President in 1856, she lived in the White House, performing the social duties of a First Lady, and during the Buchanan administration she was thought to be his closest confidante.
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. She 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. At an 1860 White House concert, the featured performance was the premiere of "Listen to the Mockingbird", a composition dedicated to the First Lady, which, according to news accounts of the time, was soon whistled, sang, and played throughout the city. Her popularity was also helped by her youth and cheerful, outgoing nature, in striking contrast to perpetually grieving previous First Lady, Jane Pierce.
When Buchanan left the White House, he and his niece retired to his estate near Lancaster, Pennsylvania. 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. Both their children died in their teens of rheumatic fever, and in their memory Henry and Harriet Lane Johnston left a generous endowment to Johns Hopkins University, establishing the Harriet Lane Home for Invalid Children. Now known as the Johns Hopkins Children's Center, this institution has long published The Harriet Lane Handbook, considered the definitive guidebook for physicians in pediatric residency.
Two other women who were not wives of the President also served as American First Ladies: Dolley Madison, the wife of President James Madison, handled ceremonial duties for the long-widowed President Thomas Jefferson, and Mary Arthur McElroy, the sister of President Chester A. Arthur, handled his White House social calendar when he was widowed shortly before assuming office.
Father: Elliott Tole Lane (merchant, b. 1783, d. 1841)
Mother: Elizabeth Jane Buchanan Lane (sister of James Buchanan, b. 1793, m. 1830, d. 1839)
Brother: James Buchanan Lane (b. 16-Nov-1814, d. 18-Jan-1863)
Brother: Thomas Newton Lane (b. 1817, d. 1835)
Brother: Joseph Stark Lane (b. 1820, d. 1822)
Brother: Elliott Eskridge Lane (President Buchanan's secretary, b. 1823, d. Apr-1857)
Sister: Mary Elizabeth Speer Lane Baker (b. circa 1826, d. 1855)
Brother: William Edward Lane (b. 1833, d. 1834)
Husband: Henry Elliot Johnston (banker, m. 11-Jan-1866, d. 1884 pneumonia)
Son: James Buchanan Johnston (b. 1866, d. 25-Mar-1881 rheumatic fever)
Son: Henry Elliot Johnston (b. 1869, d. 30-Oct-1882 rheumatic fever)
High School: Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School, Washington, DC (1848)
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