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A Century Ago We Had a Lesbian First Lady

Rose Cleveland's letters to female lover are published
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 21, 2019 9:36 AM CDT
The graves of Rose Cleveland and Evangeline Simpson Whipple are seen in Bagni di Lucca, Italy, in 2015.   (Wikimedia)
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(Newser) – Pete Buttigieg thinks the US has already had its first gay president. Now researchers are pointing out a first lady who carried on a same-sex relationship—Grover Cleveland's sister, Rose Cleveland. As it was typical for a female relative to fill the role of first lady for a bachelor president, Rose stepped in for 14 months beginning in 1885 until her brother married. Years later, during the winter of 1889-90, she met the love of her life, widow Evangeline Simpson, according to a new book of Rose's love letters. Preserved after Simpson's 1930 death, the letters tell of a romantic relationship spanning almost 30 years until Rose's death in 1918, per the Washington Post. "My Eve! Ah, how I love you! It paralyzes me," Rose wrote to Simpson, who was 10 years her junior, in April 1890. "I am bold to say this" but "you are mine, and I am yours," she later added.

Book co-editor Lizzie Ehrenhalt notes Rose struggled to label what the two had, as "this was before there was a concept of sexual orientation." But Ehrenhalt says she's certain the relationship was sexual in nature; the Post quotes one letter that mentions "long rapturous embraces" that "carry us both in one to the summit of joy!" The couple bought property in Florida and lived together in Italy's Bagni di Lucca, where they're buried side by side. But their love was interrupted by Simpson's 1896 marriage to Bishop Henry Whipple, who died in 1901; read the full article at the Post for more on the chill that followed the wedding. The book's publication is timed with the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Riots—which occurred the same year that the Minnesota Historical Society opted to hide Rose's letters for nearly a decade, per the New York Daily News. (Read more first lady stories.)

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