The First Ladies of Gracie Mansion

1942 – Present Day

(And as noted with asterisk (*), their respective children who lived there)

There have been eleven New York mayors over the last 75 years. Ten have lived in Gracie Mansion since the LaGuardias moved in on May 26, 1942. Mayor Michael Bloomberg opted not to move in and Edward Koch was single and lived thereas a bachelor. Another named William O’Dwyer was resident with two wives following the untimely death of his first, Catherine O’Lenihan, within a year of their arrival. This section introduces these ten First Ladies who have each shaped the history of both the Mansion and the city they served–a model that remains in lively force today.

Chirlane McCray

Mayor Bill de Blasio
(b. 1961 )

Years in Office: 2014 – Present
Time in Mansion: 2014 – Present
Spouse: Chirlane McCray (b.1954 )
Children: Chiara* (b. 1995 ), Dante* (b. 1998 )


NYC First Lady Chirlane McCray
M. Appleton, Photo Unit

Chirlane McCray (b. 1954) met her husband Bill de Blasio in 1991, when they were both working in City Hall for Mayor Dinkins. At the time de Blasio was an aide to a deputy mayor and McCray was a speechwriter. When de Blasio was elected Mayor, the family (which included their 16 year-old son, Dante, a Brooklyn Technical High School student, and 19 year-old daughter, Chiara, a junior enrolled at Santa Clara University) moved from Park Slope, Brooklyn into Gracie Mansion. Their private rooms there were returned to their residential use after 12 years functioning above all as museum galleries.

A graduate of Wellesley College, Chirlane is a writer, poet, editor and communications professional with a special interest and involvement in public affairs. She holds an honorary Doctor of Science degree from the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy.


NYC First Lady Chirlane McCray
M. Appleton, Photo Unit

As First Lady of New York City, Chirlane has redefined the role of First Lady, managing a robust portfolio to advance an ambitious agenda in support of all New Yorkers.

She created ThriveNYC, the most comprehensive mental health plan of any city or state in the nation, and she is recognized nationally as a powerful champion for mental health reform.

Additionally, Chirlane spearheads the CitiesThrive Coalition of mayors, with representation from more than 150 cities from all 50 states, advocating for a more integrated and better-funded behavioral health system.

As Chair of the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, she brings together government, philanthropy, and the private sector to work on some of the most pressing issues of our time, including mental health, youth employment, and immigration.

The First Lady’s other duties are extensive.
As co-chair of the Commission on Gender Equity, she is a persistent voice for creating a 50-50 city and world. In partnership with NYPD Commissioner Jimmy O’Neill, she leads the Domestic Violence Task Force.

And in 2015, with her signature, New York City became the first city in the country to join the United Nations Women’s Safe Cities Global Initiative.

She is passionate about public service and leverages her platform in innovative ways to bring change where it is needed.

Former Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Ms. McCray during a visit to an early childhood development center in Brooklyn
AP Photo/Kathy Willens, Pool

Chirlane believes that art is not a luxury and works closely with NYC’s Department of Cultural Affairs on dynamic projects with partners like the Public Art Fund and the Studio Museum in Harlem. She oversees the Gracie Mansion Conservancy and is intent on making sure that the programming, installations and exhibits are more accessible to the public at the same time that hey better reflect the rich history and many cultures that define the modern city. In 2016, she launched the Gracie Book Club.

Among her many awards and accolades, she was honored as the 2017 Change Champion by the National Council for Behavioral Health and recently received the BWA Health award for her leadership in NYC from the Black Women’s Agenda, a national, 40-year-old nonprofit that promotes the well-being of African-American women and their families.

The first lady of New York met Kate Middleton with a firm handshake and welcomed her to Northside Center for child development. The duchess met the children outside the Harlem center. Kate and her husband Prince William are on a 3 day official trip in US. December 2014
James Keivom/New York Daily News

First Lady Chirlane McCray launching NYC Well
Michael Appleton, Photo Unit

Chirlane has transformed the traditional responsibilities of First Lady, working in close partnership with her husband and becoming the first in her position to address a U.S. Conference of Mayors annual meeting, testify before the New York City Council, and serve as commencement speaker for a major college or university.

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Donna Hanover

Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani
(b.1944)
Years in Office: 1994-2001
Time in Mansion: Eight years
Children: Andrew Giuliani* (b. 1986 ), Caroline Giuliani* (b.1989)


Donna Hanover
Jim Spellman/WireImage

Donna Kofnovec Hanover (b. 1950) and Rudy Giuliani wed in 1984. Donna, a graduate of Stanford University and the Columbia School of Journalism, became the second career woman to serve as First Lady.

In 1993, Donna actively campaigned for her husband, appearing in his television ads as wife and mother. After Giuliani’s election and the family’s move into Gracie Mansion, she spoke about how she sought to juggle the demands of her career and her responsibilities as First Lady. Underpinning all of that was being a mother to their two children: Andrew and Caroline.

Donna ably and professionally fulfilled these concurrent roles as journalist and political wife. She promoted various health and educational causes around the city and was active in civic life. She was Honorary Chairperson of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, one of her favorite charities. At the same time, she was a features reporter for local Channel 5 morning show, Good Day New York, and rotating anchor on their Good Day Sunday program. In addition, she was a co- anchor on the national cable Food Network’s Food News and Views program. In 1996, she branched out into acting, appearing in a number of films and in episodes of Law and Order. She also worked as an adjunct professor at New York University’s Department of Journalism.

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, daughter Caroline, son Andrew, wife Donna Hanover and their dog, Goalie, take a break from their ballgame on the lawn of Gracie Mansion.
Richard Corkery/NY Daily News Archive

Joyce Burrows Dinkins

Mayor David N. Dinkins
(b. 1927)
Years in Office: 1990-1993
Time in Mansion: Four years
Children: David Dinkins Jr. (b.1954), Donna Dinkins-Hoggard (b.1957)


David and Joyce Dinkins

Joyce Burrows (b. 1930) met David Dinkins when they were both students at Howard University. She majored in sociology and planned to become a social worker. They married after her graduation in 1953 and a year later son David, Jr. was born, followed in three years by daughter Donna.

Although Joyce had always considered herself a private person, she was an active campaigner for her husband. When he was elected, she left her position as coordinator of the State Department of Taxation and Finance Lower Manhattan office. As the first African- American First Lady, Joyce informed the press that she planned to devote herself full-time to this role and would find a meaningful project where she could make a difference.

David and Joyce Dinkins at Gracie Mansion’s Entrance
Ron Galella LTD


She found such a project when, in 1991 when she established and participated in “Reading is Recreation,” a citywide literacy program for public school children. The program included visits by first grade classes to Gracie Mansion, where Joyce would read aloud to them and talk about books. She also invited authors, illustrators, and local celebrities to share their favorite children’s books with the students.

In addition, the First Lady visited and supported day care centers, worked at a soup kitchen, and campaigned for adult literacy. She was a long-time member of the Board of Directors of the Episcopal Charities of New York.

Canon Frederick Williams, the rector of the Church of the Intercession in Harlem where the Dinkins family have been members for decades, said Mrs. Dinkins was everyone’s favorite aunt, “She’s got a brain of her own and is very strong and very quiet…We have a First Lady, and we have a grand lady!”

Mayor David Dinkins and Joyce Dinkins with Winnie and Nelson Mandela at Gracie Mansion, June 23, 1990
New York Municipal Archives

Mary Ingerman Beame

Mayor Abraham D. Beame
(March 20, 1906 – February 10, 2001)
Years in Office: 1974-1977
Time in Mansion: Four years
Children: Edmond (1931-1999), Bernard aka Buddy (1936-2011)


Mary Ingerman Beame

Mary Ingerman (1907-1995) and Mayor Beame were five-time grandparents and had been married 46 years when they moved into Gracie Mansion. They first met as teenagers at the University Settlement House on the Lower East Side. After marrying, they moved into a house in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and rented a beach house in Queens, where they stayed until they moved to Gracie Mansion. With its chandeliers, the official residence seemed too grand. They brought some of their own furniture, got rid of the modern art favored by the Lindsay family, and hired a cook expert in blintzes and other Jewish cuisine.

Mary saw herself as the opposite of her husband. He is a “perfectionist. I am not a perfectionist…I’m not a worrier and he is. …I have always had that outlook on life; that things will come out all right. The First Lady thought that her husband had sought public office a little late in life. Her preference would have been to take it somewhat easy, travel, and spend time with the grandchildren. Asked what her husband would do if he weren’t mayor of New York, Mary responded, “He’d sit home and think about being mayor.”

As First Lady, she oversaw the busy household and was conscientious about visiting hospitalized senior citizens and attending charitable luncheons. While she attended numerous fashion shows in her official role, she opted personally for bargains from such New York retail institutions as Bolton’s and Loehmann’s. Mary formed the Jennie Levine Cancer League in memory of a namesake friend who had died of cancer. The National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education named her Woman of the Year.

Mr. and Mrs. Abe Beame with Princess Margaret

Mayor Abraham D. Beame and Mary Ingerman Beame during Victory Night, November 1973

Mary Anne Harrison Lindsay

Mayor John V. Lindsay
(November 24, 1921 – December 19, 2000)
Years in Office: 1966-1973
Time in Mansion: Eight years
Children: Katharine Lindsay Lake*(1950 –), Margaret Lindsay Picotte (1953 –), Anne Randolph Lindsay (1955-2013), John Lindsay Jr * (1960 –)


Mary Lindsay at a Lawn Party at Gracie
La Guardia and Wagner Archives

During the 1960s, Mary Anne Harrison (1926-2004) and her husband John were New York’s Kennedys: sophisticated, sporty, and smooth. Calling herself “a tiger protecting the lair,” Mary made the family a priority. When John became mayor she renovated Gracie Mansion with bright, contemporary colors, and asked her mother (then president of the Garden Club of America) to redesign the flowerbeds

Mr. and Mrs. John Lindsay

Mr. and Mrs. John Lindsay
New York Municipal Archives

Initially Mary thought she would devote herself to being a homemaker. ”I thought it would be glorious,” she said to The Post. ”Nothing to do but clean and be a good housewife. Instead, I was bored to death.” She soon got a job at a nearby nursery school until her first child, Katharine, was born. She described their days at Gracie Mansion as ”beginning with chaos, ending with chaos and with a slight climactic middle.”

With energy, toughness, and class, Mary met both the demands of motherhood and the rigors of campaigning as her husband won three terms as congressman and two terms as mayor. One of Mayor Lindsay’s supporters called her a “political force more powerful than patronage.”

 

John Lindsay with his family
Bill Meurer/New York Daily News

Susan Edwards Wagner

Mayor Robert F. Wagner Jr.
(April 20, 1910 – February 12, 1991)
Years in Office: 1954-1965
Time in Mansion: Twelve years
Children: Robert Ferdinand Wagner III* (1944-1993), Duncan* (1947–)


Mary Lindsay at a Lawn Party at Gracie
La Guardia and Wagner Archives

Susan E. Edwards (1910-1964), like most of the mayors’ wives until then, said that her job was “to lessen the strain and provide more leisure time” for her husband. However, at the time that the family moved into the mayoral residence she had the added responsibility of caring for two sons, Robert, Jr., age 10, and Duncan Edwards, age 7, and protecting them from being spoiled under the spotlight.

She also served on the board of directors of the Greater New York Councils, the Boy Scouts of America, The Girl Scouts, Lenox Hill Neighborhood Association, The Leake and Watts Home, and the Carroll Club.

As she believed that the mayor’s house belonged to the people of New York City, she threw open its doors to many philanthropic and civic groups and to tours for school children and others. Susan attended many of these functions, perhaps four a week, and occasionally served as tour guide.

Despite restrictions on where visitors might wander, some found their way upstairs into the family living quarters. “Sometimes I have to get dressed in a closet,” she once remarked. She had to contend with souvenir hunters who would lift small items like her lipstick, the mayor’s pipes and an occasional vase.

This constant intrusion led her to undertake the privately-funded commission of a new public wing in 1963.

Sadly due to cancer, she did not live to see its completion during Mayor Wagner’s last term. Opened in September of 1966, it was named in her posthumous honor as the Susan E. Wagner Wing by the succeeding Mayor Lindsay and affords both more space for public functions and more privacy for Gracie’s continuum of official residents.

Mayor and Mrs., Wagner with their two children, Robert and Duncan, in Gracie Mansion, 1954
La Guardia and Wagner Archives

Susan E. Wagner, Senator, John F. Kennedy Jr. and Mayor Robert F. Wagner Jr. 1960
La Guardia and Wagner Archives

Mayor and Mrs. Wagner with Princess Grace and Prince Rainier (fifth person unidentified)
La Guardia and Wagner Archives

Elizabeth Agnes McLaughlin Impellitteri

Mayor Vincent R. Impellitteri
(February 4, 1900 – January 29, 1987)
Years in Office: Acting August 1950 – December 1950
(75 days); elected 1951-1953
Time in Mansion: Three years, 5 months
Children: None


Elizabeth Impellitteri
New York Municipal Archives

Elizabeth Agnes McLaughlin (1903-1967) better known as Betty, left her job as secretary in a downtown law office to work on her husband’s campaign speeches. Betty, who was a tall blonde, known for her wide smile and chic clothing bought at mass-market prices, became a magnet for photographers. An active volunteer for charitable causes before becoming First Lady, Betty carried out her pledge to continue her volunteer work while at Gracie. She made public appearances in behalf of museums, opened relief drives and charity benefits, helped dedicate the new A.S.P.C.A. Shelter and new hospital rooms, and presided at parties for handicapped children. While serving as honorary chairman of the New York Heart Association, she welcomed over 100 volunteers to a lawn party at the Mansion. The President of the Heart Association said that she had done more for charity than any other First Lady. As a couple, Mayor Impellitteri and his wife kept a low profile and entertained rarely – although they did host the annual Conference of Mayors in 1952, when the First Lady greeted more than 1,000 guests.

While the Impellitteris did not make many changes to the residence and brought few of their personal furnishings, they did introduce Gracie Mansion’s first television set. After her time as First Lady, Betty opened her own public relations firm specializing in health care and philanthropy.

 

 

 

 

Vincent Impellitteri with wife Betty emerging from voting booth.
Mastic Moriches Shirley Public Library

Elizabeth “Sloan” Laurenson O’Dwyer

Mayor O’Dwyer returning from his honeymoon with bride Sloane Simpson
New York Municipal Archives

Soon after O’Dwyer’s election for a second term in 1949, he married Elizabeth “Sloan” Laurenson (1916-1996), a fashion consultant and former model. This union of the a middle-aged Irish-born mayor to a beautiful 33- year old Texas society woman became fodder for the tabloids and led to a Life magazine cover on May 29, 1950.

Sloan brought a sense of order and elegance to Gracie Mansion. She immediately set to work organizing the first major decoration of the residence, borrowing Irish paintings from the Metropolitan Museum, reorganizing the seating so that guests could sit close to the mayor, and utilizing her own silver service when she learned there was none.

However, her time at the mansion was short-lived. Less than a year into his second term, Mayor O’Dwyer was forced out by a police corruption scandal. The couple moved to Mexico, where he had been appointed by President Harry Truman as Ambassador. Unfortunately their marriage ended in annulment and divorce just three years later in 1953.

Catherine O’Lenihan O’Dwyer

Mayor William O’Dwyer 
(July 11, 1890 – November 24, 1964)
Years in Office: 1946-1950 (resigned)
Time in Mansion: Four Years
Children: None


Sloan Laurenson O’Dwyer at the Gracie Mansion’s house staircase
New York Municipal Archives

William O’Dwyer moved into Gracie Mansion with his first wife Catherine O’Lenihan (1916-1946,) who was known as Kitty. Due to declining health , she could not participate in political and social activities held in the Mansion and died at the end of his first year in office.

Sloan Laurenson O’Dwyer Life Magazine Cover, May 29 1950 Credit: LIFE
copyright Time, Inc.

Marie Fisher LaGuardia

LaGuardia and Wagner Archives
Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia
(December 11, 1882 – September 20, 1947)
Years in Office : 1934-1945
Time in Mansion : Two years 4 months
Children : Fioretta Thea (1920-1921), Eric* (1930 –), Jean* (1928-1962)


Marie LaGuardia and Fiorello LaGuardia in Gracie Mansion’s dining room.

Marie Fisher (1985-1984) was 18 and just out of high school when she began working as a secretary to Fiorello LaGuardia at his law firm. She continued as his secretary and became his assistant when he was a
Congressman from 1923-33. When LaGuardia’s first wife, Thea, died in 1921, Marie took care of their home and became the family
spokeswoman. Eight years later, they wed and Marie stopped working in his office in order to dedicate herself to his political career.

Gracie Mansion became the Mayor’s official home in 1942, the first year of LaGuardia’s third and final term. The LaGuardia family moved into the house with the modest furniture from their apartment on East 109th Street and began an enduring tradition.

Marie outlived her husband by 37 years. During this time she was active in fund raising for the Red Cross, and organizations fighting cancer, polio, and muscular dystrophy. She lent her name to candidates and civic groups, and faithfully appeared at the naming of various New York venues that would bear her late husband’s name.

 

 

 

 

Marie and Fiorello LaGuardia voting in 1941.
LaGuardia and Wagner Archives

There is little question that my grandmother was a major influence in the life of her husband. He was her mentor and boss until the relationship turned romantic, many years later. She was his confidante and the rock of stability upon which he leaned his entire adult life. Together they became a political force that carried them from East Harlem to Washington, D.C. and ultimately to City Hall.

Marie Fisher LaGuardia was born in the Bronx in 1895. She was the eldest of two daughters of German parents, Albertina and George Fisher.
Albertina had emigrated from Karlsruhe, Germany in 1880 and she taught classes in machine operation. George Fisher was an iron worker who worked on the Tribune Building. He died when Marie was 6 years old and she and her sister Elsie grew up in the Bronx, raised by Albertina who continued teaching and took in boarders. Both sisters started working in their teens, as was expected of them.


Mayor LaGuardia casting his role for Governor Lehman as family looks on, 1938
LaGuardia and Wagner Archives

Marie went to work as a secretary following her graduation from high school in 1915, at age 19. She began working in a law firm where she was randomly assigned to be Fiorello’s secretary. For the following 14 years, she worked as LaGuardia’s secretary, until they were married in 1929. In those intervening 14 years, with her indispensable assistance, Fiorello launched his political career, beginning as Deputy Attorney General for New York State, then as Congressman from lower Manhattan and East Harlem districts. She was recognized for her political savvy and efficiency in the office, and was a central figure in all his campaigns. She managed his congressional offices in both Washington, D.C. and New York City. By all accounts their relationship during these years was never romantic. Fiorello fell deeply in love with a woman from Trieste, Italy who worked in the garment trade. Thea Almerigotti and Fiorello were married in 1918 and their first child, Fioretta, was born in 1920.

It was in this period that Marie became one of Fiorello’s closest confidantes, offering comfort and stability during one of the great tragedies of his life. Both Thea and Fioretta became ill with tuberculosis and died within months of each other in 1921. This is the dark chapter in his life, when Fiorello took a leave of absence and went to Cuba with his close friend, the artist Attilio Picirilli. Marie held the congressional offices together and served as constituent liaison and family spokesperson. It was a transformational time for both. Upon his return, his focus turned increasingly to issues of housing quality and overcrowding in immigrant communities in lower Manhattan, where he and Thea had lived. With Marie’s support and encouragement, Fiorello channeled his grief into policy agendas on housing reform and improving public health. When he first campaigned for Mayor in 1929, he would often speak of the deplorable conditions in housing that led to the loss of his first wife and child.

Marie and Fiorello began the first campaign for the mayoralty together in 1929, shortly after they married, ultimately succeeding in 1933. They moved into 1274 Fifth Avenue, just around the corner from his congressional office on 109th Street, with their two children, Eric and Jean. The family lived there happily until 1942 when they moved to Gracie Mansion as the first family to reside in the official mayoral residence (1942-45).

As Marie became a wife and mother, she was less involved with the daily management of Fiorello’s office life, but remained active in a number of local and national causes, including the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU), the March of Dimes, and the Red Cross. Her
principal interests were her family and ensuring the legacy of her husband. She was known as an excellent cook and great hostess, having
received and entertained officials and dignitaries from around the world as First Lady of New York City. The move to Gracie Mansion took place shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack and the years there were focused on the war effort. With the advent of WWII she spearheaded rationing efforts at the Mansion, received First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt regularly, who co-chaired of the Office of Civil Defense with Fiorello, and hosted General Eisenhower in June, 1945 upon his triumphant return to the US following the defeat of Nazi Germany.

Written and illustrated by Dr. Katherine LaGuardia, who is the granddaughter of Mayor LaGuardia and Marie Fisher LaGuardia,  and whose father Eric LaGuardia was one of Gracie Mansion’s first residents along with his parents and sister Jean Marie.