Julia Tyler, a Very Controversial Woman in 1800s

Julia Tyler, a Very Controversial Woman in 1800s

Trista - January 23, 2020

Julia Tyler is a name that isn’t mentioned much in history but definitely has a place in the history books. She is known as one of the most scandalous first ladies in history. In fact, people state she is the most controversial first lady of the 1800s – even beating out Mary Todd Lincoln!

Julia Tyler was the second wife of John Tyler, the 10th President of the United States. She married the president near the end of his term after John’s first wife, Letitia Christian, died in 1842 during John’s early presidential term. At first, most people became excited about the new first lady… that is until they got to know her a bit better.

Julia Tyler, a Very Controversial Woman in 1800s
A picture of 1820s New York. Wikimedia.

35. Julia Tyler Lived In A World Where Women Were Oppressed, But She Remains Bold

It isn’t a secret; during the 1800s, women were thought of as weak. They needed men to take care of them, at least according to society. Because most women grew up being told this, it wasn’t hard for them to believe it throughout their lives. At least, most women continued to think that they needed a man because they are the weaker gender.

Some women, such as Julia Tyler, laughed at people who told her such statements. She didn’t think of herself – or any other woman – as weak. Instead, Julia saw herself as fabulous and bold. Eventually, she did start to see herself as different from other women.

Julia Tyler, a Very Controversial Woman in 1800s
Gardiner Manor House today. Blogspot.

34. Julia Tyler Lived A Life Of Privilege From Birth

From the time of her birth, nearly everyone in New York knew Julia. Born Julia Gardiner on one of the largest private islands in the United States, Gardiner Island, her father, David Gardiner, was a young politician aiming for a seat as a New York Senator.

During her childhood, Julia proved to be different from how people expected her to act. Because of her family’s high status, she got away with more than most girls her age. Of course, this only made her bolder and more robust.

Julia Tyler, a Very Controversial Woman in 1800s
John Tyler. Intelligent Collector.

33. Julia Didn’t Agree To Marry President Tyler Right Away

President John Tyler tried to ask for Julia’s courtship a couple of months before she agreed to start a relationship with the president. One reason for this is due to her interest in Tyler’s son, who told Julie he would divorce his wife for her. The other reason is because of Tyler’s age.

Tyler spent much time giving Julia everything she wanted as she continued to spend time with various other men. In the end, the sudden death of Julia’s father during the accidental Peacemaker explosion on board the Princeton brought the couple together.

Julia Tyler, a Very Controversial Woman in 1800s
Julia Tyler. Vintage Everyday.

32. Julia’s Older Brother Sued Her To Keep Her Away From Their Mother’s Inheritance

Julia’s father died years before their mother. While she received some of her inheritance upon her father’s death, her mother’s estate was valued at $180,000 in 1865 (nearly $3 million today). However, the relationships between her siblings became so strained because of her support for slavery, that her brother refused to share the inheritance.

Julia’s brother, David Gardiner, sued his sister so she could not touch most of their mother’s estate. He cited that Julia was unfit to handle the estate because of her “mental incapacity.” David won the case in 1867, removing Julia from her mother’s will.

Julia Tyler, a Very Controversial Woman in 1800s
John Tyler with his first wife Letitia Christian Tyler and second wife, Julia Gardiner Tyler. Pinterest

31. There Was A Large Age Gap Between Julia and John Tyler

President John Tyler asked Julia to marry him after his first wife died during this presidency. While it was normal for men to search for a new wife, especially if they had children after their wife died, many people felt that Julia wasn’t the best fit for Tyler. One of the biggest reasons for this is because of their large age gap.

When Tyler married Julia, he was 54 years old, and she was 24. In fact, Julia’s mother was nine years younger than Tyler. Furthermore, Tyler’s oldest daughter was five years older than her stepmother.

Julia Tyler, a Very Controversial Woman in 1800s
Map of the Confederate States of America. Maps of World.

30. Julia Became A Strong Confederate

Even though Julia received a northern upbringing with a family who didn’t support slavery, she supported the Confederacy after her marriage to President John Tyler. Residing in Virginia after Tyler’s presidency ended, she became a supporter of slavery.

From the start of the Civil War, Julia supported the Confederate states. Her husband passed away in 1862, and while she tried to stay at her home, the military forced her out. Therefore, Julia moved herself and her children back to New York in the early 1860s.

Julia Tyler, a Very Controversial Woman in 1800s
The White House as it appeared during the 1800s. Thoughtco.

29. Julia Adopted Ladies In Waiting During Her Time As First Lady

Julia quickly moved into the White House after her marriage to John Tyler. While many people thought she would struggle to become the First Lady, she put these rumors to rest fast. It didn’t take long for Julia to start adopting First Lady traditions.

Not only did Julia do what people expected her to do, but she used her time in Europe as a way to adopt other duties as a First Lady. One of the traditions she started was Ladies in Waiting. These ladies wore matching dresses and stood around her during parties and other social events.

Julia Tyler, a Very Controversial Woman in 1800s
Elaborate dressed during the 1800s. Bust.

28. Julia Treated Herself Like A Queen And Wanted Other People To Do The Same

One reason Julia enjoyed her responsibilities as a First Lady is because she felt like royalty. Julia always wanted to become a royal, and this dream became more critical after she lived in Europe for several years and saw how the royal family lived.

Julia often referred to herself as “Queen Julia” in front of visitors at the White House. She wore the most elaborate clothing, jewelry, and even headpieces that often reminded people of a crown. Also though she didn’t spend a lot of time as First Lady, she always referred to that time as her “auspicious reign.”

Julia Tyler, a Very Controversial Woman in 1800s
Julia Tyler portrait. Washingtonian.

27. Julia Was The First Photographed First Lady

You have seen several pictures of the first ladies, from George Washington’s wife, Martha, to the present first lady. However, most first ladies during the 1700 and early 1800s were not photographed, they had their portrait painted. Julia Tyler became the first wife of a president to have her picture taken.

While Julia posed for oil paintings as well, she knew she was beautiful, and she wanted people to know this. She wanted people to remember her for her looks and not just her reputation. She requested photographer Edward Anthony and dispersed her photograph. However, people still wanted her portrait over a picture.

Julia Tyler, a Very Controversial Woman in 1800s
1800s handbag advertisement. Ranker.

26. Julia Posed For A Handbag Ad

As a spirited young woman, Julia looked for various adventures. One of these adventures led her in hot water with New York society because she advertised a handbag. Most women saw this as a problem because she was a Gardiner – an upper-class lady.

As an upper-class lady, Julia shouldn’t spend her time advertising for a lower social class. In fact, she shouldn’t waste her time on advertisements at all. This is a job for another woman, one that doesn’t have such high social standards.

Julia Tyler, a Very Controversial Woman in 1800s
Illustration of Europe during the 19th century. Spiegel online.

25. Julia’s Parents Shipped Her To Europe After The Advertisement Scandal

It is a true scandal in the 1800s New York Society: an upper-class woman advertising handbags for the middle class. New York society scoffed at the advertisement, and Julia’s parents, especially her New York Senator father, couldn’t believe his eyes as he saw the ad.

Not only could Julia damage her reputation, but the status of her whole family. Her parents wouldn’t have this, and they didn’t want their daughter dealing with the outburst of the ad. Therefore, they sent Julia to Europe until everything boiled over.

Julia Tyler, a Very Controversial Woman in 1800s
A post about Julia Gardiner Tyler explaining the controversy. Facebook.

24. Many People Didn’t Like Julia’s New Found Power

The president is considered the most powerful man in the United States. People believed this more during the 1800s. While his wife wasn’t as powerful, most people thought of the first lady as the most powerful woman in America. This is one reason why people shivered at the thought of Julia as a first lady.

Julia always had a lot of power as her family held enormous power in high society. However, marrying the president gave her more power than she could ever imagine. Many people told the president that he had made an enormous mistake giving Julia so much power.

Julia Tyler, a Very Controversial Woman in 1800s
Illustration of Julia Tyler. WordPress.

23. Julia Tyler Became The First Lady To Receive A Widow’s Pension

After the death of her husband in 1862 and the Civil War, Julia lost everything but her children. Temporarily living with her mother, she started to put her life back together. The first step Julia took was to reach financial freedom again.

Not only did Julia get her two sons into federal jobs, but she managed to get Congress to agree to her widow’s pension from her husband’s presidency. Julia became the first former first lady to receive a widow’s pension and left the door open for future first ladies.

Julia Tyler, a Very Controversial Woman in 1800s
Polka dancing was popular during the 1800s, especially for the higher social class. Central Home.

22. People Named Polka Dances After Julia

As a socialite, Julia spent much time at dances. She also hosted a lot of dances at the White House during her eight months as First Lady. Therefore, it never surprised anyone that people started naming polka dances after her.

One of the biggest dances Julia became known for was dancing too close to men whom she did not marry. While this did not become a popular dance, one person named a polka dance, “The Julia Waltzes.” She became so elated about this dance, and she let everyone know they named it after her.

Julia Tyler, a Very Controversial Woman in 1800s
Julia Gardiner Tyler. Wikimedia.

21. Julia Received The Name “The Rose Of Long Island”

When you read the title “The Rose of Long Island,” you won’t think of this as scandalous. A rose is a beautiful flower that most women love. However, during Julia’s lifetime, having a secret admirer call you this in the newspaper is anything but superb – it’s unacceptable.

The secret admirer, no one knows who published his ode to Julia. While the secret admirer did not receive any scandal, Julia received many dirty looks and had to deal with the gossip. A man calling out a woman in the newspaper is similar to posing nude on the internet today.

Julia Tyler, a Very Controversial Woman in 1800s
Women during the 1800s needed to worry about their reputation. Kate Tattersall Adventures.

20. Julia Never Worried About Her Reputation

From her early years, Julia held a reputation that most women did not want during the mid-1800s. This is more true for women who lived luxurious lifestyle. Most women spent their time reading articles about how they should act, but not Julia. She acted how she wanted to act.

While Julia wanted people to read good things about her in the newspaper, she hardly ever worried about how other people saw her around town. In fact, most of the time, Julia thought people talked badly about her because they were jealous of her beauty.

Julia Tyler, a Very Controversial Woman in 1800s
Julia Tyler. Alchetron.

19. Julia’s Stepchildren Couldn’t Stand Her

After Julia married the president, many people started to see her in a different light. The upper-class women that once despised the way Julia acted began to believe she settled down and started to treat her with more respect. However, not everyone felt this way. John Tyler’s children couldn’t stand their new mother.

Tyler, who had told his children he wouldn’t remarry, viewed the quick marriage as a slap in the face to their mother. While the two youngest daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, started to like their new stepmom, the oldest daughter, Letitia, never cared for her.

Julia Tyler, a Very Controversial Woman in 1800s
John Tyler, Julia’s husband. Politico.

18. Many Historians Feel Julia Tyler Was Narcissistic

One factor about Julia Tyler that people understand when they get to know her is that she had a lot of self-confidence. However, much of her confidence was unrealistic. Julia didn’t just think she was one of the most beautiful women in America; she knew this as a fact. She also stated this as a fact.

Julia cared deeply about her looks, just like most high society women during the 1800s. But, many historians believe that Julia’s self-image became so unrealistic that she showed signs of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Julia Tyler, a Very Controversial Woman in 1800s
Illustration of Julia Gardiner Tyler. Vintage Everyday.

17. Many People Believed Julia Was A Flirt

Women needed to act reserved in 1800s America. They couldn’t ask a man out; a mad needed to court them. While a woman could flirt, it wasn’t something that people taught them to do. Women of upper society shouldn’t flirt as this was something that women in lower social classes did.

But, Julia never let this social class stop her from doing anything, including flirting. As a beautiful high-class woman, Julia loved the recognition she received from various men – and she had no problem returning the attention.

Julia Tyler, a Very Controversial Woman in 1800s
Abolitionist Harriet Jacobs. The Daily Beast.

16. Abolitionist Harriet Jacobs Responded To Julia’s Support For Slavery

Julia, who lived through the Civil War, defended slavery during the 1850s when she wrote “The Women of England vs. the Women of America.” Julia wrote this title in response to the “Stafford House Address,” which petitioned against slavery.

While many abolitionists became angry with Julia’s work, the person who made her frustration well-known was Harriet Jacobs. Born a slave, Jacobs understood slavery firsthand and wrote an essay that she published in the New York Tribune in response to Julia’s piece.

Julia Tyler, a Very Controversial Woman in 1800s
President John Tyler. Wikimedia.

15. Julia Became More Interested In John Tyler’s Son Than John Tyler

Because Julia’s father had a senator’s seat, President John Tyler invited the whole family to dinner at the White House. During this visit, Julia became interested in John Tyler, Jr., who flirted with Julia. Even though Tyler Jr. had a family of his own, he planned to divorce his wife for Julia.

Once the plans started to get underway for the divorce, Julia’s relationship began to change with the elder John Tyler. After the death of his wife, President Tyler started to secure a relationship with Julia, who began to feel a bit forced into the relationship.

Julia Tyler, a Very Controversial Woman in 1800s
John Tyler in 1861. Wikimedia

14. Some Historians Feel Julia Needed To Marry John Tyler

When President John Tyler first met Julia, his first wife was alive and well. Unfortunately, a few months later, Tyler’s wife passed away, and he quickly turned to Julia as his next interest. While Julia remained more interested in John Tyler Jr., at that moment, this feeling suddenly changed.

Before people knew it, President Tyler started courting the 21-year-old Julia. While he was about 30 years older than Julia, the courtship turned into a proposal during one of the dance balls at the White House. Many historians believe Julia’s mother pressured her to marry President Tyler.

Julia Tyler, a Very Controversial Woman in 1800s
Illustration of the USS Princeton explosion. Wikimedia.

13. Julia Lived Through The Explosion Where She Lost Her Father

Before Tyler proposed to Julia, the couple boarded the Princeton ship with Julia’s father and sister. During the voyage, the naval gun on board the vessel, known as the Peacemaker, exploded, killing several members on board. While President Tyler, Julia, and her sister lived through the accidental explosion, Julia’s father died.

The explosion and the loss of her father, whom she adored, devastated Julia. President Tyler did what he could to comfort Julia, which drew the couple a bit closer. In fact, some people believe that Julia decided to accept Tyler’s proposal for marriage a few months later because of his support after the explosion.

Julia Tyler, a Very Controversial Woman in 1800s
USS Chesapeake. USNI News.

12. Julia Always Made A Grand Entrance

Julia Tyler became known for many scandals during her lifetime, and one reason for this is because of how she treated herself. She needed to make sure that she had a grand entrance because, well, no one was as beautiful as Julia. Therefore, everyone needed to know that she came to the event.

Julia rode around town in a coach with eight Arabian horses. She also imported an Italian Greyhound for her first stroll as First Lady. Sometimes Julia showed up late to significant events, such as the ship christening at the Naval Yard to ensure people talked about her entrance.

Julia Tyler, a Very Controversial Woman in 1800s
Julia and her family always entertained men who stopped by to meet her. historicalemporium.com.

11. Julia Enjoyed The Company Of Men

Julia is known as a social butterfly, especially when it comes to men. Even when her reputation started to take a turn for the worst, at least according to 19th-century society, Julia never struggled to find a suitor – or a few. Some of the men she found herself in a relationship with included a Belgian count, future president James Buchanan, and a German baron.

Julia, along with her sister Margaret, brought men over to their home so often that their father needed to rent an extra room for their entertainment. Of course, this didn’t help Julia’s social reputation, but this never seemed to bother her.

Julia Tyler, a Very Controversial Woman in 1800s
Julia Tyler 2009 – W coin. PCGS.

10. Julia Temporarily Lost All Her Money

Julia’s husband, John Tyler, died on January 18, 1862, right at the start of the Civil War. At the time, the family continued to live on their Virginia plantation and support the Confederacy. After John’s death, Julia needed to move herself and her children back to New York and live with her mother.

Julia tried to pick up the pieces of her life, but the Civil War made this tough for everyone. Without a penny to her name, Julia had to sell her Virginia home, but couldn’t keep any of the money due to her incredible debt.

Julia Tyler, a Very Controversial Woman in 1800s
The New York Herald from 1854. University of Florida Digital Collections.

9. Julia Struck A Deal With A New York Herald Reporter

Julia became tired of the newspapers saying nasty things about her. She wanted people to read something nice about her, but reporters only wrote about the gossip or social mistakes she made. Therefore, Julia took matters into her own hands and struck a deal with New York Herald reporter FW Thompson.

Julia told Thompson that he would receive exclusive access to all her social gathers if he did one thing – wrote excellent statements about her is the newspaper. Specifically, she told Thompson to write about how flawless she looked, dressed, and how well she partied. In his articles, Thompson started referring to Julia as “Presidentress” or “The President’s Bride.”

Julia Tyler, a Very Controversial Woman in 1800s
Fashion during the Victorian Era. Wikimedia

8. Julia Didn’t Always Wear Clothing Approved By Society

It seems that if Julia could break a rule, at least on the social spectrum, she did it. She never really showed any worry about what other people thought, especially people who just gossiped in high society.

While Julia enjoyed wearing big, fancy dresses, she didn’t worry about if the upper part lacked some fabric or if more skin showed than it should. She enjoyed the sleeveless dresses and didn’t worry about wearing a shawl, which made people look twice when she walked down the street. Julia also wore jewelry that didn’t always fit in her high society, but Julia never seemed to mind the looks of other women.

Julia Tyler, a Very Controversial Woman in 1800s
1800s newspaper. Leonard Auction.

7. Julia Ghostwrote Articles In Newspapers About Her Beauty

Julia wasn’t a stranger to the papers in her area. Reporters sometimes followed her around so they could get the next story of this scandalous woman. Before she held the power of First Lady, Julia couldn’t say much to the reporters. In fact, she had to let them write what they wanted about her.

However, after she married the president, this all changed – at least for a short period of time, she held the position, which was under one year. One way Julia got the newspapers to say something nice about her is by writing articles under a different name. In these articles, she was usually wrong about her beauty.

Julia Tyler, a Very Controversial Woman in 1800s
A quote by Julia Gardiner Tyler. AZ quotes.

6. Julia Eloped With President John Tyler

Julia and John’s relationship received much criticism. Part of this is because of Julia’s history in the newspapers. The other part is because of their 30-year age difference. This might be the reason that the couple decided to elope when they married.

Only 12 guests attended the couple’s wedding ceremony at the New York Church of the Ascension, but this didn’t keep people quiet, and the news quickly spread about their marriage. While some people celebrated the couple’s wedding, other people didn’t support their union.

Julia Tyler, a Very Controversial Woman in 1800s
Illustration of a church during the 19th century. Vintage Everyday.

5. Society Had Mixed Feelings About President Tyler’s Marriage To Julia

There are many reasons why some people didn’t support President Tyler’s marriage to Julia. While some of this is because of Julia’s controversial past, another reason is because of the couple’s age difference. Julia was 30 years younger than her new husband. In fact, he had a daughter that was older than Julia.

Another reason many people scowled at their marriage was because of their reasoning. The couple stated that they quickly decided to get married in a small ceremony to help Julia through her grief after her father’s sudden death during the Peacemaker explosion.

Julia Tyler, a Very Controversial Woman in 1800s
President John Tyler. Politico.

4. Julia Loved Her Duties As First Lady

While Julia couldn’t stay out of the public gossip pages before she married President Tyler, she seemed to get a better handle on how to act socially once she married. Many people speculate this happened because she made herself rather busy hosting balls and other events.

Living the fancy life wasn’t new to Julia, so moving into the White House didn’t bother her. What bothered her was the realization that she married a much older man, who never planned on becoming president. Julia had to use her energy to help her tired husband make it through the last year of his presidency.

Julia Tyler, a Very Controversial Woman in 1800s
Sherwood Forest, where John and Julia lived after leaving the White House. Wikimedia.

3. The Tyler Family Moved To Sherwood Forest After Leaving The White House

John Tyler, who became president when William Henry Harrison died 32 days after becoming the 9th President of the United States, never tried to become president after his term ended. Part of this is because Tyler never cared to become president in the first place. The other part is because his health started to decline.

The family moved to Sherwood Forest Plantation in Charles City County, Virginia, after Tyler’s presidency ended. Julia quickly found a new role as a former first lady and ran the family’s plantation house.

Julia Tyler, a Very Controversial Woman in 1800s
Plantation life. Blogspot.

2. Julia Became Accustomed To The Southern Lifestyle

Julia grew up in a northern free state, and she quickly became accustomed to plantation life. While some people feel this is because she compared slaves to the hired help her family had throughout her life, many people think it is because she simply enjoyed having things done for her.

Julia managed the plantation in a way that allowed her to live a leisurely lifestyle. Though she never thought of slavery before, she grew to understand the institution and support it. She openly wrote about her support for slavery in newspapers.

Julia Tyler, a Very Controversial Woman in 1800s
Christmas Ornament of Julia Tyler. White House Historical Society/Etsy.

1. No Matter What People Thought, Julia Was Always Well-Liked

While many people don’t think of Julia Tyler when talking about historical first ladies, she remains one of the most well-liked first ladies in history. Even when she lived, Julia had a lot of friends and even some fans. People, especially young women, liked how she walked by the beat of her own drum and looked up to her.

Today, Julia continues to gain the interest of minds all around the United States. In fact, the more people read about her, the more they want to know about her. There are many historians who are looking into the details of Julia’s life.


How did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Julia Gardiner Tyler was One of the U.S. Colorful Leading Woman”. History Collection. D.G. Hewitt. March 18, 2019.

“16 Facts About Julia Tyler, The Most Controversial First Lady of the 1800s.” Ellie Tharp. Ranker.

“Why Julia Tyler is Known as the Most Scandalous First Lady in American History.” Helen Flatley, Vintage News. February 2019.

“Julia Tyler: American First Lady.” Betty Boyd Caroli, Britannica. October 2019.

“America’s First Ladies #10 – Julia Gardiner Tyler.” Ancestral Findings.