Jessie Benton Frémont 1824–1902

Edward and Henry T. Anthony (active 1860–1901), after a photograph by the Mathew Brady Studio
Albumen silver print, c. 1865

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

The daughter of the influential Missouri senator Thomas Hart Benton, Jessie Benton Frémont inherited her father’s political acumen and his interest in the West. In 1841, the seventeen-year-old Jessie defied her family and eloped with the young military officer John C. Frémont. When he returned from expeditions into the West, she helped him draft the official reports that soon became vital guides for emigrants headed west.

Throughout their nearly fifty-year marriage, Jessie was a powerful advocate for her husband, defending his career when necessary and actively supporting his rise in politics. In 1856, while he was campaigning for president, she appeared in public alongside him, a first among candidate’s wives. She spent her life in the shadows of great men, yet she was effective in making herself heard. After her husband’s retirement, she supported the family as an author, selling short stories and sketches to popular periodicals.