Priscilla Cooper Tyler

Priscilla Cooper Tyler

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Elizabeth Priscilla Cooper Tyler (June 14, 1816 – December 29, 1889) was the daughter in law of John Tyler
John Tyler
John Tyler was the tenth President of the United States . A native of Virginia, Tyler served as a state legislator, governor, U.S. representative, and U.S. senator before being elected Vice President . He was the first to succeed to the office of President following the death of a predecessor...

, the tenth President of the United States
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

. She served as official White House hostess and official First Lady of the United States
First Lady of the United States
First Lady of the United States is the title of the hostess of the White House. Because this position is traditionally filled by the wife of the president of the United States, the title is most often applied to the wife of a sitting president. The current first lady is Michelle Obama.-Current:The...

 from September 10, 1842 to June 26, 1844, the second of Tyler's three First Ladies.

Background and early life

Priscilla Cooper was born in New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

 in 1816. Her father Thomas Apthorpe Cooper
Thomas Apthorpe Cooper
Thomas Apthorpe Cooper was an actor. He received a good education, and, on the death of his father, was adopted by Thomas Holcroft and William Godwin. His first appearance on the stage was with Stephen Kemble's company in Edinburgh, and later he acted at Covent Garden, London, with great success...

 was a successful stage actor and producer. Her mother Mary Fairlee Cooper was a New York socialite
A socialite is a person who participates in social activities and spends a significant amount of time entertaining and being entertained at fashionable upper-class events....

. Priscilla began to work as an actress at the age of 17. Thomas Apthorpe Cooper achieved great success in the theater business and they lived in a grand house on Broadway
Broadway theatre
Broadway theatre, commonly called simply Broadway, refers to theatrical performances presented in one of the 40 professional theatres with 500 or more seats located in the Theatre District centered along Broadway, and in Lincoln Center, in Manhattan in New York City...

. The family's fortunes were reversed during the Panic of 1837
Panic of 1837
The Panic of 1837 was a financial crisis or market correction in the United States built on a speculative fever. The end of the Second Bank of the United States had produced a period of runaway inflation, but on May 10, 1837 in New York City, every bank began to accept payment only in specie ,...

. The family lost their house and at one point were reduced to subsisting on radish
The radish is an edible root vegetable of the Brassicaceae family that was domesticated in Europe, in pre-Roman times. They are grown and consumed throughout the world. Radishes have numerous varieties, varying in size, color and duration of required cultivation time...

es and strawberries.

While playing Desdemona
Desdemona (Othello)
Desdemona is a character in William Shakespeare's play Othello . Shakespeare's Desdemona is a Venetian beauty who enrages and disappoints her father, a Venetian senator, when she elopes with Othello, a man several years her senior. When her husband is deployed to Cyprus in the service of the...

 in a production of Othello
The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in approximately 1603, and based on the Italian short story "Un Capitano Moro" by Cinthio, a disciple of Boccaccio, first published in 1565...

in Richmond, Virginia
Richmond, Virginia
Richmond is the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia, in the United States. It is an independent city and not part of any county. Richmond is the center of the Richmond Metropolitan Statistical Area and the Greater Richmond area...

 she met Robert Tyler
Robert Tyler
Robert Tyler was the eldest son of United States President John Tyler and Letitia Christian Tyler. He served as the Confederate Register of the Treasury during the American Civil War He also served as his father's private secretary during his administration. Afterwards, he served as the editor...

, the eldest son of wealthy plantation owner and former US Senator John Tyler. In Victorian
Victorian era
The Victorian era of British history was the period of Queen Victoria's reign from 20 June 1837 until her death on 22 January 1901. It was a long period of peace, prosperity, refined sensibilities and national self-confidence...

 America, acting was considered a scandalous profession and actresses had little social standing. The addition of the Cooper's financial woes seemed to conspire to make any match between the two unlikely. Despite their social differences, the couple wed in Bristol, Pennsylvania
Bristol, Pennsylvania
Bristol is a borough in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, northeast of Philadelphia opposite Burlington, N.J. on the Delaware River. Bristol was first incorporated in 1720. Although its charter was revised in 1905, the original charter remains in effect, making Bristol one of the older boroughs in...

 on September 12, 1839.
John and Letitia Tyler warmly welcomed her into the Tyler family.

John Tyler was the successful candidate for the Vice-Presidency in the 1840 election. After the sudden death of President William Henry Harrison
William Henry Harrison
William Henry Harrison was the ninth President of the United States , an American military officer and politician, and the first president to die in office. He was 68 years, 23 days old when elected, the oldest president elected until Ronald Reagan in 1980, and last President to be born before the...

 just one month after taking office, John Tyler became President of the United States.

White House hostess

By the time John Tyler assumed the Presidency, his wife Letitia was a semi-invalid. She asked Priscilla to assist her in her duties as White House hostess. When Mrs. Tyler died on September 10, 1842, the President asked Priscilla to assume the duties of White House hostess and First Lady
First Lady
First Lady or First Gentlemanis the unofficial title used in some countries for the spouse of an elected head of state.It is not normally used to refer to the spouse or partner of a prime minister; the husband or wife of the British Prime Minister is usually informally referred to as prime...

. Priscilla was described as extroverted, attractive, intelligent, and witty. She was also the first woman acting as First Lady to travel with the President as an official member of the Presidential party.

When Robert Tyler moved to Philadelphia in 1844, Priscilla passed her duties as hostess of the White House to the President's new wife, Julia Gardiner Tyler
Julia Gardiner Tyler
Julia Gardiner Tyler , second wife of John Tyler, was First Lady of the United States from June 26, 1844, to March 4, 1845.-Early life:...


Later years

The Tylers resided in Philadelphia for 16 years. Robert practiced law and was active in the Democratic Party. When the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

 broke out in 1861,
Robert and Priscilla declared loyalty to the Confederacy
Confederate States of America
The Confederate States of America was a government set up from 1861 to 1865 by 11 Southern slave states of the United States of America that had declared their secession from the U.S...

. They moved to Richmond where Robert took a post as the register of the Confederate Treasury.

After the war, Robert became the editor of the Mail and Advertiser newspaper in Montgomery, Alabama
Montgomery, Alabama
Montgomery is the capital of the U.S. state of Alabama, and is the county seat of Montgomery County. It is located on the Alabama River southeast of the center of the state, in the Gulf Coastal Plain. As of the 2010 census, Montgomery had a population of 205,764 making it the second-largest city...

. Priscilla remained in Montgomery after Robert's death in 1877. She spent the last twelve years of her life there. The personal papers of the Tyler family, including Priscilla Cooper Tyler, are held by the Special Collections Research Center at the College of William and Mary
College of William and Mary
The College of William & Mary in Virginia is a public research university located in Williamsburg, Virginia, United States...