Why Ulysses S. Grant's Wife Always Posed in Profile

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Chances are, you probably haven’t spent a lot of time studying images of Julia Grant. But if you have, you’ve probably noticed that nearly all representations of Ulysses S. Grant’s wife were taken or painted from a side profile. That’s because Julia was born with a condition called “strabismus,” a disorder—more commonly known as "crossed eyes"—that prevents both eyes from lining up in the same direction. When she was younger, one of the best surgeons in the country offered to perform the simple operation that would fix them. Julia wasn’t keen on surgery, however, and declined.

Decades later, Julia changed her mind. “Now that my husband had become so famous I really thought it behooved me to try to look as well as possible,” she explained in her autobiography.

Her appearance bothered her so much that Julia was willing to overcome her fear of surgery. She consulted the same doctor who had offered to help her so many years earlier, but he informed her that it was too late to correct the condition. When General Grant found out his wife was trying to change her eyes, he asked why on earth she would consider such a thing. She explained her reasoning, saying, “Why, you are getting to be such a great man, and I am such a plain little wife. I thought if my eyes were as others are I might not be so very, very plain, Ulys; who knows?”

Grant was horrified. “Did I not see you and fall in love with you with these same eyes?” he asked. “I like them just as they are, and now, remember, you are not to interfere with them. They are mine, and let me tell you, Mrs. Grant, you had better not make any experiments, as I might not like you half so well with any other eyes.”

Though she put the idea of surgery to rest, from that point on, the First Lady was careful about how she posed for pictures.

[h/t The Personal Memoirs of Julia Dent Grant]

The Mental Floss Store Is Back!

Mental Floss Store
Mental Floss Store

You've been asking about it for months, and today we can finally confirm that the Mental Floss Store is back up and running! Simply head here to find dozens of T-shirts with all sorts of unique designs to choose from, whether you’re in the market for a pi pun, a risqué grammar joke, or something only your fellow bookworms will appreciate. You can even use your new Mental Floss shirt to teach your friends all about scurvy.

Mental Floss Store

If you’re just in the mood to express your love of all things Mental Floss, you can also get our darling little logo on phone cases, tote bags, mugs, baby bibs, and more.

Mental Floss Store

Head on over to the Mental Floss Store to see our entire collection. And if you use the code FLOSSERS at checkout by end of day Sunday, you'll get 20 percent off your order. 

Sign Up Today: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews, and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping newsletter!

What Is the Electoral College?

YouTube // CGP Grey
YouTube // CGP Grey

The Electoral College is a process used in the United States to elect our president. It was established in Article II of the U.S. Constitution.

It was created to address a series of technical and political problems that were present in the early days of our democracy—most notably, the issues of slow communications (it took tremendous time and effort to get vote tallies back to Washington from distant states) and of suffrage (the idea of a pure popular vote was a hard sell when you had Southern states containing large populations of enslaved African Americans and unenfranchised women). But we've been doing this national election thing for a couple hundred years, the suffrage issue is sorted out, and we have good telecommunications—so why do we still have the Electoral College? In a word: Federalism. In a few more words: The framers of our Constitution deliberately set up an indirect democracy.

There are lots of interesting arguments for and against the system. In the below video, YouTube educator C.G.P. Grey explains the issues inherent in the Electoral College. Take a look, and consider the question: Is this system really fair?