Whatever your perspective, we’ve watched some capital (capitol?) controversy of late. I lightened up and dipped into history. Can you imagine “D.C. Housewives” as a reality show in the Jacksonian period? “Hotlanta Housewives”: watch out!
Tossing their hair and furiously flouncing their skirts, the wives of Washington, D.C., turned their backs on 29-year-old Peggy O’Neal Eaton in 1829. Theirs was the last stand of an era. The gentlemen of the Enlightenment—Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe—were fading into history. President Andrew Jackson’s frontier crowd, flush with whiskey and raw bravado, were taking over.
The rough-and-ready buckskin era suited Peggy, the daughter of a tavern owner and innkeeper. The rumors had swirled before she married John Timberlake at age fifteen: One swain killed himself over her, and two more fought a duel. When Timberlake sailed away with the Navy, his wife kept company with Senator John Eaton, a close friend of Andrew Jackson who later joined his Cabinet. The wagging tongues went flippity-flop when news of Timberlake’s death reached Washington.
Senator Eaton married the young widow, and official Washington society declared war. They turned up their noses at Jackson’s inauguration and ball. Peggy sailed on, gliding into Jackson’s first formal Cabinet dinner in a skimpily cut gown. The vice president refused to entertain the Eatons, but the secretary of state honored them with a party. The discord spread to the Congress and even foreign delegations. Fed up, Jackson asked the entire Cabinet to resign.
Helen of Troy had the face that launched a thousand ships, but Peggy Eaton had the reputation that ruined a hundred dinner parties.
Epilogue: Even at age sixty, Peggy Eaton managed to create waves. She married her granddaughter’s nineteen-year-old dancing master. He later fled to Italy with her fortune and her granddaughter.