Presidential candidates are single, as...

THREE DEMOCRATIC

November 30, 1991|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

THREE DEMOCRATIC presidential candidates are single, as Susan Baer pointed out in this paper recently.

They are Jerry Brown, who used to squire pop singer Linda Ronstadt; Sen. Bob Kerrey, who used to squire movie star Debra Winger, and Gov. Doug Wilder, who squires zillionaire socialite Patricia Kluge.

Should one become president, he would be the first eligible bachelor to enter the White House since Grover Cleveland in 1884. Cleveland was also elected again later, in 1892, but by then he had wed. Woodrow Wilson was widowed in 1914, re-married in 1915, before being re-elected in 1916.

The only true and enduring bachelor president we ever had was James Buchanan. When he became president in 1857, he chose his 26-year-old niece, Harriet Lane, to be the official White House hostess.

In her era, she was the hostess with the mostest on the ball. There wasn't that much competition. The First Lady before her, Jane Pierce, was known as "the shadow in the White House." Before her, Abigail Fillmore was a failure. Before her, Margaret Taylor didn't even go to White House receptions. Before her, Sarah Polk was known as "the Puritan from Tennessee."

Harriet was a beauty who had learned about social pace-setting and sophistication as her uncle's "official hostess" at the U.S. embassy in London when he was ambassador. She knew Louis Napoleon and Disraeli and Tennyson. At 26 she had "the aplomb of a woman of 50," according to a contemporary. She was the most cosmopolitan figure in the White House between Louisa Adams and Jackie Kennedy.

She threw swell bashes there, which was an important element of government as the nation divided in two. That she could get a senator from Massachusetts and governor of South Carolina to dine together may have delayed the Civil War a little.

Well, maybe not, but she had her impact. Buchanan tried out ideas on her and accepted her advice on patronage and some policies.

After his presidency, she continued her influence. She married a Maryland banker and established one of the few true American salons of that day in her Baltimore town house on West Monument.

She was a patron of artists and a collector. When she died in 1903, she left her treasures to the federal government, with the proviso that they would be used as the basis for a national collection. After a legal scrap, this was done.

Long before 1903, her two teen-age sons died. This tragedy led her to establish a clinic solely for the treatment of invalid children of all races -- a daring social and medical initiative in a conservative, Southern-oriented city in the early days of specialized medicine.

She left a fortune to that Harriet Lane Home and to Johns Hopkins Medical School, which took over the clinic and made it one of the first and most prestigious centers of pediatric research, training and care in the world.

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