Born in Hampton, New Hampshire, the daughter of Reverend Jesse Appleton, a Congregationalist minister, and Elizabeth Means-Appleton, Jane was a petite, frail, shy, melancholy figure. She was the third of their six children. After the death of her father, who had served as president of Bowdoin College not long before Franklin enrolled there, she moved at age 13 into the mansion of her wealthy maternal grandparents in Amherst. While going to school in Keene, New Hampshire, she discovered at a young age her interest in literature.
Jane was a slender girl, estimated to be 5'4" and only around 100 pounds. She was always quiet and prone to deep depressions, relying heavily on the help of others, specifically her aunt through marriage Abigail Kent Means and most importantly her older sister, Mary Appleton Aiken. Pierce allowed Jane to visit her sister as much as needed and her aunt often acted as a political wife for him when Jane could not.
How she met Pierce, a young lawyer with political ambitions, is unknown, but her brother-in-law Alpheus S. Packard was one of Pierce's instructors at Bowdoin. It is assumed that they met through this Bowdoin association. Franklin, almost 30, married Jane, 28, on November 19, 1834, at the bride's maternal grandparents' home in Amherst, New Hampshire. Jane's family was opposed to the union due to Pierce's political ambitions. The Reverend Silas Aiken, Jane's brother-in-law, conducted the small ceremony. The couple honeymooned six days at the boardinghouse of Sophia Southurt near Washington, D.C..
In 1836, their first son, Franklin Jr died just three days after his birth. Franklin Pierce was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives by the time they married and became a U.S. Senator in 1837. She was forced to become the political wife she never wanted to be. Jane hated life in Washington, D.C., and encouraged her husband to resign his Senate seat and return to New Hampshire, which he did in 1842. She blamed politics for all the troubles in her life including the death of her child and Franklin's excessive alcohol consumption. Service in the Mexican-American War brought him the rank of Brigadier General and local fame as a hero. He returned home safely, and for four more years the Pierces lived quietly at Concord, New Hampshire. Unfortunately their son Frank passed from typhus a year later, causing stress for the entire family and leading to health issues for Jane. In 1842, President James K. Polk offered Franklin the U.S. attorney post, however due to Jane's objection, he turned it down. A senate seat and New Hampshire governor was also offered, and again he turned it down for family reasons.
In 1852, the Democratic Party made Pierce their candidate for president; Jane fainted at the news. When he took her to Newport for a respite, 11-year-old Benny wrote to her: "I hope he won't be elected for I should not like to be at Washington and I know you would not either." But the President-elect convinced his wife that his office would be an asset for Benny's success in life.
The Pierces apparently had genuine affection for each other, but they quarreled often—preferring private life, she opposed his decision to run for president—and gradually they drifted apart. When Benny was killed in a train accident before the swearing-in on January 6, 1853, Jane believed that God was displeased with her husband's political ambitions. On March 4, the presidential inauguration took place and Jane was not present for the ceremony. She distanced herself during her husband's presidency, wrapped in melancholia after losing every one of her young children. She never recovered from the tragedy.
For nearly two years, she remained in the upstairs living quarters of the White House, spending her days writing maudlin letters to her dead son. She left the social chores to her aunt Abby Kent-Means and her close friend Varina Davis, wife of War Secretary Jefferson Davis. Pierce made her first official appearance as First Lady at a New Year's Day reception in 1855 and thereafter served as White House hostess intermittently.
She died of tuberculosis at Andover, Massachusetts, on December 2, 1863. She was buried at Old North Cemetery in Concord, New Hampshire; her husband was interred there beside her in 1869.
The Pierces had three children, all of whom died young:Franklin Pierce, Jr. (February 2–4, 1836)
Franklin "Frank" Robert Pierce (1839 – 1843) – died at age four from epidemic typhus.
Benjamin Pierce (April 13, 1841 – January 16, 1853) – Two months before Franklin Pierce's inauguration as president, a tragedy occurred as the family traveled by train from Andover, Massachusetts, to Concord, New Hampshire to attend a family friend's funeral. Minutes after departure, their passenger car broke loose from the train and rolled down an embankment. The only fatality was Benjamin Pierce.