Fact Sheet On
First Ladies of Alabama

Read the following about some of Alabama's First Ladies. Note how some of the First Ladies were unique by being the "first" in some way.

Alabama's first First Lady was the former Mary Holman Freeman, wife of Alabama's first governor, William Wyatt Bibb.

Alabama's third First Lady, Mrs. Israel Pickens, (the former Martha Orilla Lenoir) was known for her love of fashions. She even assisted in designing some of her own gowns. Mrs. Pickens was also the first First Lady to die while her husband was governor. She died of malaria at the age of 31.

Sarah Haynsworth Gayle (Mrs. John Gayle) was the first First Lady after the capital was relocated in Tuscaloosa in 1826. Mrs. Gayle also was hostess of Francis Scott Key when he was sent to Alabama in 1833 as an ambassador representing the United States Government.

Sarah Ann Mason, wife of Governor Joshua Lanier Martin, was the first First Lady after the capital was moved to Montgomery in 1846. Mrs. Martin's sister, Mary Gilliam, was previously married to Joshua Lanier Martin and it was sometime after her sister's death that Sarah Ann later married Mr. Martin.

Immediately after turning sixteen, Felicia Steptoe Pickett, became First Lady upon her marriage to 39 year-old Governor Reuben Chapman. (1847-49)

As a leading lawyer of his day, Governor George S. Houston (1874-1878) was said to have discussed matters with his wife, Margaret Irvine Houston, before arguing a case.

Laura Parker Henderson of Montgomery was active in women's clubs and in the Missionary Auxiliary of the Episcopal Church. She was noted for her participation as a Four-Minute Speaker (a person giving brief patriotic speeches for the war effort) in World War I. Mrs. Henderson served as First Lady when her husband, Charles Henderson, was governor from 1915-1919.

There has been more than one Governor's Mansion in Montgomery. The first First Lady to occupy the first official Governor's Mansion on South Perry Street (purchased in 1911) was Lizzie Kirkland (Mrs. Emmett O'Neal). Mrs. Gordon Persons, the former Alice Boyd McKeithen, was the first goveror's wife to occupy the current Goveror's Mansion located on South Perry Street.

Dixie Bibb Graves had the unique opportunity to become Alabama's first female United States Senator when she was named by her husband, Bibb Graves, to fill a vacancy in the United States Senate. She replaced Hugo Black who was appointed to the United States Supreme Court.

The distinction of being elected Alabama's first and only female governor belongs to Lurleen Burns Wallace, the first wife of former Governor George C. Wallace. Lurleen Wallace died of cancer in May, 1968, after serving 17 months in office.

Cornelia Ellis, second wife of Governor George C. Wallace, was a race car driver and world champion water skier. She is the niece of former Governor James E. (Big Jim) Folsom, Sr.

Being the First Lady, Lori Allen Siegelman, wife of governor Don Siegelman, continued her professional career as a therapist during her husband's governorship. Supporting her husband in every way possible, Mrs. Siegelman was quoted in the Montgomery Advertiser as saying, "I want to be a lot of support for my husband. And I want to be someone who's going to keep him healthy. And I want to be a great Mom."

As first lady Patsy Adams, wife of former U.S. Congressman Bob Riley, re-opened the Governor's Mansion to tour groups. She has expressed a keen interest in educational programs for Alabama's young people.

For more information contact the:
Alabama Department of Archives and History
Attention: Curator of Education
P.O. Box 300100
Montgomery Al, 36130-0100


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Updated: September 18, 2008