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Harriet Rebecca Lane

Image Harriet Rebecca Lane

Harriet Rebecca Lane Johnston (May 9, 1830 - July 3, 1903), niece of perpetual bachelor James Buchanan, acted as First Lady of the United States from 1857 to 1861.

Harriet Lane was the youngest child of Elliott Tole Lane, a merchant, and Jane Buchanan Lane. An orphan after the death of her father when she was 11 years old (her mother had died two years earlier), she requested that her favourite uncle, James Buchanan, be appointed her legal guardian.

Harriet was a popular hostess during the four years of the Buchanan presidency. While in the White House, she used her position to promote social causes, such as improving the living conditions of Native Americans in reservations. She also made a point of inviting artists and musicians to White House functions. For both her popularity and her advocacy work, she has been described as the first of the modern first ladies.

Buchanan often warned her against "rushing precipitately into matrimonial connections," and she waited until she was almost 36 to marry. She married Henry Elliott Johnston, a Baltimore banker. Within the next 18 years she lost her uncle, her two fine young sons, and her husband.

Thereafter she decided to live in Washington. She had acquired a sizable art collection, largely of European works, which she bequeathed to the government. Accepted after her death in 1903, it inspired an official of the Smithsonian Institution to call her First Lady of the National Collection of Fine Arts. In addition, she had dedicated a generous sum to endow a home for invalid children at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. It became a renowned pediatric facility; the Harriet Lane Outpatient Clinics serve thousands of children today, and the widely-used manual for pediatric house officers, The Harriet Lane Handbook, bears her name.

She is buried at Greenmount Cemetery, Baltimore, Maryland.

Last Modified 4/30/2015