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President William Howard Taft and his sons, Robert, right, and Charles Phelps. (Bettmann / Corbis)

When the Country's Founding Father is Your Founding Father

The descendants of American presidents are the athletic trainers, lawyers, salesmen and executives of everyday life

Mary Leigh Pell Whitmer Fairfield, Connecticut

Mary Leigh Pell Whitmer
(Courtesy of Nicholas Inman)

Mary Leigh Pell Whitmer, 78, did not know that she was a great-great-great-granddaughter of Martin Van Buren until her teenage years. Whitmer’s father, Walden Pell, was tight-lipped and reserved about his ancestry. But on family vacations to Long Island, her grandmother Ellen Van Buren Morris Pell would tell quirky stories about the eighth president that had been passed down through generations. One “Granny Story,” as Whitmer calls them, involved President Van Buren being chastised by a clergyman for wearing a woolly cloth on his head in church one chilly morning. From her grandmother, Whitmer also received a pair of pearl earrings made from the president’s cuff links.

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