Lucy Webb was born in 1831 in Chillicothe, Ohio, the daughter of Dr. James Webb and Maria Cook Webb. Her father died when she was two, after traveling to Kentucky to free slaves he had recently inherited. He was infected during a cholera epidemic while there.
When Lucy was entering her teens, her mother relocated the family to Delaware, Ohio, so that her two older brothers could study at Wesleyan College. During a couple of visits to the school, Lucy greatly impressed professors there with her unusual intelligence, and they invited her to attend classes, even though it was an all-male college. Fifteen-year-old Lucy first met young Hayes at a popular swimming hole on the campus, but there was a nine-year age difference between them. He later recalled that he found her "bright-eyed, sunny-hearted, and not quite old enough to fall in love with."
After her brothers graduated, the Webb family relocated to Cincinnati, where the young men could go on to medical school. Lucy, meanwhile, finished her own education at nearby Wesleyan Female College, graduating at the age of eighteen.
The fiercely abolitionist Lucy helped convince lawyer Rutherford Hayes to defend runaway slaves. She married Hayes and often followed him to the battle sites of the Civil War. she also accompanied her brother Joe, a doctor, to battlefield hospitals where she helped him tend to the wounded. She was nicknamed "Mother Lucy" by grateful soldiers.
Hayes served two terms as governor of Ohio after that, and as first lady of Ohio, Lucy regularly visited with orphans and war veterans and was a force for "improvement of schools, prisons, and mental asylums. She worked hard for state funding for an orphanage for children whose parents had been killed in the war.
The Hayeses served in Washington for one term, from 1877 to 1881. Lucy went to work to improve education for disadvantaged youngsters and pushed for completion of the Washington Monument after construction had been delayed for lack of funds. Presidential social occasions were lively and informal, although alcohol was banned from them. Apart from the fact that the president and first lady were teetotalers, he didn't want to offend supporters of temperance, many of whom were Republicans. Lucy Hayes supported the ban on alcohol out of respect for her Methodist upbringing. No matter what the reason, Washington society wasn't too pleased to find the bars closed, and Mrs. Hayes became know as "Lemonade Lucy." After one of her parties, a guest reported that "the water flowed like champagne."
After the Hayes administration ended in 1881, Lucy and Rud went back to Fremont, Ohio. It was the second time they had retired from public life, but this time it was for good. They remained active in the cause of education, and Lucy continued in her role as president of the Methodist Woman's Home Missionary Society, which gave shelter to homeless women. She remained quite active in the cause of education and helping homeless women until her death in 1889. She was buried at Spiegel Grove. Her husband died four years later and was buried next to her.
Lucy Webb Hayes was a spirited woman, but her Political activism remained subdued—which was perhaps a sign of the times. Although her influence on her husband and her personal views on issues remained behind the scenes, she was a visible presence in the cause of education and public service.
As first lady, Lucy Hayes was an active supporter for improved schooling for the less advantaged. She promoted the National Deaf Mute College as well as education for Native Americans, Hispanics, and African Americans, and she continued to be involved with these causes throughout her life.
She was well known as a good singer, and her love of animals was almost legendary. The executive mansion became home to several dogs, birds, and cats, including a Siamese that is believed to have been the first ever brought into the United States. Among many social occasions, the Hayeses celebrated their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary with a lavish party, and Easter egg hunts on the presidential lawn became an annual event after Lucy staged the first one.
Husband: Rutherford Hayes