Lucretia Garfield (née Rudolph)- The Intellectual
- April 19, 1832-March 13, 1918
- Tenure: 1881
- Children: Eliza, Harry, James, Mary, Irvin, Abram, Edward
- Relation to President: Wife
Early Life: Lucretia Rudolph was born to Zebulon and Arabella. Her family’s ancestry is well documented and shows she had origins from nations such as Poland and the Netherlands. She was well-educated for the time. Lucretia was a boarder at her first school, before joining an institution that her father had helped found. Lucretia took part in rigorous and wide-ranging subjects, enjoyed debating, illustrating and discussing women’s rights.
After graduating, Lucretia became a teacher.
Marriage: Lucretia had enjoyed a long correspondence with her former Greek teacher at the Eclectic Institute, James A. Garfield. Unfortunately for Lucretia, Garfield wasn’t exclusively speaking to her. He had a concurrent romance with a woman named Rebecca Selleck, as Lucretia learned when she attended his graduation.
Garfield and Lucretia initially agreed that she would give up work upon marriage. When it seemed that Garfield wouldn’t marry her, Lucretia continued to work. Garfield eventually proposed and Lucretia accepted, even though she believed he was proposing out of duty and not love. They wed in 1858.
Pre-Tenure: The Garfield marriage was not a happy one initially. They spent much time apart and Lucretia hated being stuck at home with his difficult mother. She admonished him for his lack of affection towards her. This culminated in Garfield having an affair while in New York. He regretted it and nearly immediately told his wife.
The death of their eldest child, Eliza, brought them together. Garfield became an attentive and loving husband, and they had six more children together. Unfortunately, they were further separated by the Civil War and Garfield becoming a Congressman. The Garfields finally lived together from 1869 onward after Lucretia and the children moved to DC. The intellectual and passionate Lucretia chafed under the social restrictions placed upon her as a woman. She nevertheless enjoyed DC and became a key confidante to her husband.
Lucretia was not thrilled about her husband becoming President but eventually admitted she wanted him to be the main choice. Garfield, for his part, said he’d only accept if Lucretia was alright with it. Lucretia reluctantly agreed. She quietly helped during the campaign and after the election, was a go-between for Garfield and the Stalwart faction of the Republican.
After Garfield finished his Oath of Office, he kissed his mother before his wife.
Tenure: Lucretia has the record for the second-shortest time as First Lady. She intended to invite musicians to the White House and serve alcohol, unlike her predecessor Lucy Hayes. Lucretia also hoped to redecorate the White House. Her diary, which survives, shows a very political and deeply intelligent woman. Lucretia was also an advocate of the traditional family.
In early May, Lucretia developed a severe case of malaria. It was so severe that it was widely thought that she would die. Garfield felt he could not focus on government affairs and instead cared for the children. It was decided that Lucretia would visit the seaside in order to regain some health. Garfield escorted her to the train station, where a young man named Charles Guiteau was waiting. Guiteau had been greeted by Lucretia at a White House reception only a few days before she was struck with illness. The young office seeker had liked Lucretia and was upset to see her so frail. Guiteau decided not to shoot Garfield that day.
Lucretia was at the seaside of New Jersey when news came of Garfield’s shooting. Even though she was still very sick, Lucretia rushed straight back to Washington. She remained devoted to him during his three months lingering between life and death. The press and public lauded Lucretia’s calm dignity and devotion. Despite still being weak from malaria, Lucretia continued to care for Garfield personally. She learned that the lone woman doctor on the team was being paid half the amount as the men and immediately ordered that it be rectified.
Lucretia and their daughter Mollie were at Garfield’s side when Garfield died.
Post-Tenure: Lucretia was widely praised for her conduct during the mourning period and funeral. A trust fund was set up for Lucretia and her children, as well as an annual pension as a presidential widow. Lucretia threw herself into raising her children and caring for her elderly father. She refused to allow them to speak to or pose for the press until the children were adults.
Once her father passed and her children had grown, Lucretia turned to her husband’s legacy. She created the first presidential library, helped build and design his memorial and the marble bust that would later sit in the Capitol.
Lucretia continued her intellectual pursuits and became interested in engineering. She joined a book club, spoke on the lecture circuit and designed her new California home. Lucretia also began corresponding with her successors and predecessors as First Lady. She distrusted Chester A. Arthur but supported Theodore Roosevelt. Lucretia would come to support Woodrow Wilson during WW1.
Lucretia died in 1918 and was buried beside her husband.
Appearance and Character: Lucretia was a brunette with brown eyes. She was deeply intellectual and academic, maybe even more so than her husband. Many issues took her interest, from women’s rights to architecture. She was also deeply religious. Whilst Lucretia did not appreciate just being a wife and mother, she took to those roles well and was devoted to her family. She was a fan of the traditional family and was wary of reform but still wanted to broaden her horizons.
Advocacy: Women’s rights and intellectualism
Ellen ‘Nell’ Arthur (née Herndon)- The Loved
- August 30, 1837-January 12, 1880
- Tenure: N/A
- Children: William, Chester, Ellen
- Relation to President: Wife
Early Life and Marriage: Ellen Herndon was born to William and Frances ‘Kit.’ Her father was a naval hero who wasn’t present at her birth and much of her life. As such, she became extremely close to her mother. The family lived in high-end DC. Nell’s father died during the sinking of SS Central America in 1857. Captain Herndon’s gallantry, evacuation of the survivors and going down with the ship made him a national hero. His widow and daughter were financially supported.
Nell was a popular fixture at social occasions. She was well known for her exceptionally beautiful soprano voice. In the 1850s, Nell’s cousin introduced her to his roommate, a young lawyer named Chester A. Arthur. Arthur was captivated by Nell’s voice. He proposed in 1858 and they were married in 1859.
Married Life and Death: Arthur and Nell enjoyed a happy marriage for the most part. They were known for their lavish social gatherings in New York and friendship with the Old Money families. Their house was furnished by Tiffany’s. Nell’s extensive social contacts assisted her husband’s fledgling political career.
There was strife when it came to their allegiances during the Civil War. Arthur was a high ranking Union official whilst Nell had some Confederate sympathies. She had family in the South and urged Arthur to use his political power to spring them from prison. Arthur did so, but there was tension between the couple. After the war, Nell continued to support her husband by accepting invitations such as the one to Jessie Grant’s White House wedding.
It wasn’t all rosy for Nell. The eldest Arthur child died suddenly as a toddler, devastating his parents. Her cherished mother died during a trip to France and Nell was forced to go there to take her mother’s remains back home. Her husband refused to make the trip with her, claiming to be too busy. Years later, her grandson revealed that Nell nearly separated from her husband- though we can take that with a pinch of salt, as she was dead long before he was born.
In 1880, Nell fell severely ill with pneumonia. Some sources say this was from waiting outside in the cold New York snow in improper footwear. Arthur rushed to his wife’s side but she died only two days after falling ill.
Arthur never got over the loss of Nell. He swore off remarrying, not that it stopped him from receiving proposals after he left the White House. Upon ascending to the presidency, he had fresh flowers placed in front of her portrait every day. Arthur also commissioned a stain glass window dedicated to her at a church he could see from his window.
Appearance and Character: Nell was a very pretty woman, very slim with brown hair and brown eyes. We know little of Nell’s character, but she seemed to be popular, cheerful and sociable. Arthur praised his wife’s character. She seemed to be family oriented- devastated by losing her son during a time of rife infant mortality and begging her husband to help her relations.
Mary McElroy (née Arthur)- The Winter Queen
- July 5, 1841–January 8, 1917
- Tenure: 1881-1885
- Children: Mary, William, Jessie, Charles
- Relation to President: Sister
Early Life and Marriage: Mary Arthur was born to William and Malvina. She was the youngest of the nine siblings and brother Chester was eleven years older than her as the fifth sibling. Mary received a rigorous education in Troy, New York, equal to the one received by a man.
She married a businessman named John McElroy in 1861. Very little is known about Mary and her life beyond that she helped raise her niece after sister-in-law Nell died. Mary encouraged Nell to pursue a music career in honour of her late mother’s pursuits.
Hostess and After: Chester Arthur initially used other women, such as sister Regina, to assist him in the White House. He eventually invited Mary to stay as he wished for his daughter to also join him. Thus began Mary’s unconventional role as unofficial hostess.
Mary preferred reading and books, but found herself receiving guests and hosting functions. She soon discovered herself to be at ease and was praised as a modest, warm host. Mary enjoyed attending the theatre and hosting gatherings privately. She did eventually return to Albany.
Mary then returned for another social season. She broke convention in several ways, increasing the size of events and adding extra hostesses to assist her. Mary did not seek publicity and just wanted to get on with it. Her husband and four children would often stay in the White House.
She enjoyed horse riding and learnt French. On one occasion, she was put in an open top carriage with some friends. When they were drenched by some hoses, most of the women ran to change but Mary burst out laughing. Her popularity was so great that thousands jammed in to open houses in order to meet the hostess. Mary did not involve herself in any particular charities and was cautious about avoiding politics.
Initially, Mary lived quite quietly after her brother left the White House. She travelled to Ireland with her nephew in order to explore their family heritage and create a historic site. Mary organised her brother’s funeral and became legal guardian of her niece Nell. She also promoted her brother’s legacy.
Mary became active in supporting African-American rights. She invited activist Booker T. Washington to address a university and also take tea in her home- the latter being shocking for that era. Interestingly, Mary opposed women’s suffrage and became a prominent member of the Albany Association Opposed to Suffrage.
Mary died in 1917.
Appearance and Character: Mary was a very short and slim woman with pale skin, blue eyes and light brown hair. She was described as a cautious, intelligent and practical young woman. Though she was new to being a hostess, Mary was found to be lively and talented in the role. She cared for her orphaned niece and ensured her brother’s legacy was protected.
Advocacy: Civil rights and organisations
Rose Cleveland- The Bookworm Bachelorette
- June 13, 1846-November 22, 1918
- Tenure: 1885-1886
- Children: None
- Relation to President: Sister
Early Life: Rose was born to Richard and Ann Cleveland. She was the youngest of the nine children, her brother Grover was the fifth eldest and nine years older than her. Rose was educated in upstate New York and then worked as a teacher to support herself and her widowed mother.
Rose was a very intellectual woman with a deep interest in history and literature in particular. She enjoyed teaching and lectures. Rose also adored the theatre and was friends with many in the entertainment world. Whilst she strictly adhered to social etiquette, she privately revealed that she chafed under Victorian era restrictions.
Hostess and After: Rose took the role of hostess as a favour to her brother. She admitted to practicing Greek and Latin as she stood in the receiving lines at occasions. Rose was a blue stocking who much preferred lectures over gatherings. She wrote books during her time as hostess and earned a decent amount.
There is no doubt she was probably pleased to see her brother married off.
Rose went off to Chicago after Cleveland married Frances Folsom. Her royalties, plus writing and teaching, allowed her to live in relative comfort. She then lived in New York and Florida. At that time, Rose began a relationship with a woman named Evangeline, a woman fifteen years her junior. Surviving letters show their devotion and passion, but Evangeline married a much older reverend in 1895.
The two met once again after Evangeline was widowed. Rose and Evangeline both moved to Europe and settled in Italy. Evangeline fell ill with the Spanish Flu and Rose cared for her. Whilst Evangeline survived, Rose died. She was buried in a church in Italy and Evangeline would join her twelve years later.
Appearance and Character: Rose was a handsome woman with wavy brown hair and thin build. She was a deeply intelligent, academic and bright woman with an interest in academia. Whilst Rose was not a social butterfly, she took the job as a favour to her brother. She did have some anti-Catholic views.
Advocacy: Literature, history and academics.
Frances Cleveland (née Folsom)- The Baby
- July 21, 1864-October 19, 1947
- Tenure: 1886-1889/1893-1897
- Children: Ruth, Esther, Marion, Richard, Francis
- Relation to President: Wife
Early Life: Frances Folsom was born to Oscar and Emma. Her father’s best friend and partner was a man named Grover Cleveland. He bought her a pram and became devoted to the child. Frances had just turned nine when her father died in an accident. Another sister had already died, leaving Emma and Frances alone.
As Oscar Folsom had not provided a will, Cleveland was made executor and inheritor of his assets. Frances was well educated and managed to graduate high school despite dropping out after a broken engagement. She particularly enjoyed and excelled at photography
Marriage: It is unknown exactly when Cleveland took a romantic interest in Frances but he proposed to her when she was nearly 21. This came as a surprise to many, especially as most thought Cleveland planned to propose to Emma Folsom- up to days before the wedding. Emma herself thought she was the intended fiancée and was upset. Eventually, Frances agreed to the match. Cleveland and the White House organised a long trip to Europe for the Folsoms so that Frances would learn how to be a hostess.
Frances married Cleveland in a White House ceremony in 1886.
Tenure: Frances was immediately thrust into the role of First Lady. The 21 year-old was an immediate popular sensation and was mobbed by admirers wherever she went. Souvenir coins were made in her image and she was forever in popular magazines of the time. Her hairstyle and clothing were copied by girls around the country, though some women’s groups requested that she stop wearing her neckline low and bearing her shoulders. Frances did not do that.
The young woman found her image on everything you could imagine from cigar boxes to perfumes. Congress attempted to pass a law to prevent this, but it failed. Meanwhile, Frances continued to be a huge attraction. She bucked protocol by holding Saturday morning events so that working class women could visit. Frances would greet them as she would anyone else. She encouraged the education and work of women and provided an example by rarely drinking alcohol. Frances supported college education for women and was a keen advocate for poor orphans, especially African-Americans. She helped found an orphanage for them after finding starving girls eating from bins.
Cleveland lost the 1888 election. Frances reportedly told staff to keep the house the way it was, as she believed they’d be back in four years.
She was right and the team returned after an 1892 victory. Unfortunately, the poor economy meant that both Clevelands became rather more unpopular. Cleveland believed women had no place in politics so Frances followed his direction. When the President had a cancerous lump removed from his mouth, Frances helped to mislead the press.
There was also increased attention in Frances’ children. One day, she watched in horror as a group of tourists overwhelmed the nannies and picked up the infants themselves.
Post-Tenure: Between the two administrations, Frances gave birth to the first Cleveland child. The pair lived a quiet life in NYC.
After the Clevelands left for the second time, they settled in New Jersey after the former President took a job at Princeton. Frances focused on raising their children. She is the only First Lady thus far to have children after she left office.
Frances was widowed in 1908 at the age of forty four. She took the remaining children on a trip to Europe. Upon returning to the US, Frances advocated for Professor Thomas Preston to take over Wells College, in which she served as trustee. Frances became close to him and they married in 1913. The two moved to London but returned in 1815 after war broke out.
Upon her return, Frances joined the National Security League. This was a pro-war group who advocated strongly for preparing the country for conflict. Unfortunately, Frances went a bit far when she openly disparaged German-Americans and called for indoctrinating children in school. She was forced to resign. Frances did not believe women had the intelligence to vote and was President of the Princeton Chapter of the New Jersey Association Opposed to Woman’s Suffrage.
In later years, Frances was a part of the Needlework Guild of America and the Campfire Girls. She was misdiagnosed with impending blindness and stocked up on braille material, before giving it to a blind Native American after discovering she would be fine.
Frances died in 1947. She was married to Cleveland for 22 years and Preston for 34. Cleveland and Frances are buried together at Princeton Cemetery.
Appearance and Character: Frances was a pretty woman who was relatively tall with black hair and dark blue eyes. She has a unique hairstyle where curled strands were cut at the neck. Frances was a bright woman who simultaneously believed in educating women and that they weren’t intelligent enough to be educated. She was deeply supportive of poor African-Americans but had a xenophobic view of German-Americans. Frances opened doors for women in music, college education and working class girls. Her views on war were a little extreme.
Advocacy: Women’s education, women in music, children and orphans.
Caroline Harrison (née Scott)- The Renovator
- October 1, 1832-October 25, 1892
- Tenure: 1889-1892
- Children: Russell, Mary, Daughter
- Relation to President: Wife
Early Life: Caroline Scott was born to John and Mary. Her father was a professor who had been fired from Miami University for opposing slavery and is also believed to have harboured runaway slaves. The family moved to Cincinnati so he could teach at a college there. When there, John Scott opened up a girls’ school so that his daughters would receive an equal education. Scott put an emphasis on education and books were numerous in the household.
The family returned to Oxford, Ohio when Caroline was sixteen. Her father opened a girls’ college and her mother joined as Matron. Caroline not only learned the skills of a housewife, but music, literature and arts. She was a particular fan of literature. Caroline was a teacher in Kentucky for a while.
Marriage: Caroline met a young man named Benjamin Harrison in Cincinnati. He later left his college there and moved to Oxford for school in order to be closer to Caroline. Harrison was a deeply serious man with a strictly religious father, whereas Caroline was fun and jovial. Despite Harrison’s father’s objections, the two went out dancing. After Caroline’s return from Kentucky, the two wed.
Pre-Tenure: Harrison and Caroline moved to Indianapolis where he set up a law practice. This was difficult, as there was little money and Caroline was pregnant. She briefly returned to Ohio in order to give birth with her mother by her side. Unfortunately, soon after returning home, the Harrison house burned down. Caroline’s second pregnancy in 1858 was also stressful, as Harrison was always busy with work.
Harrison served in the Civil War for the Union whilst Caroline worked for charitable causes. Their letters were filled with love and served to mend their relationship. Harrison got involved with politics after the war ended and found his star rising. Caroline continued to be involved with charity, learned china painting and hosted parties. Their home was the centre of social activity in Indianapolis. She continued with her love of the arts and gardening. The family, however, remained poor.
Harrison won the 1888 election and the family went to DC.
Tenure and Death: Caroline’s charm, wit and energy helped take the edge off her husband’s dour personality. Unfortunately, Caroline suffered from illness so did not attend many social occasions. She used Congressional funds to refurbish the White House to her liking. Caroline made china painting popular, became president of the Daughters of the American Revolution and added more to the conservatory. She was approached by Johns Hopkins for funding but refused unless they admitted women, which they did. Caroline also introduced the first White House Christmas tree.
In 1891, Caroline fell ill with tuberculosis. She became deeply depressed. Unfortunately, tuberculosis was not something Caroline could beat. She spent summer 1892 away in order to boost her health but that failed. Caroline died in October 1892 at only 60.
After Caroline died and his time in the White House ended, Harrison married her niece- and their children’s cousin- Mary Lord Dimmick.
Appearance and Character: Caroline was a petite lady with brown hair and brown eyes. She was said to be very pretty when she was young before ill health took over. As a person, Caroline was kind, warm, intelligent, civic-minded and artistic. She enjoyed being part of organisations, being charitable and anything to do with the arts. Caroline was very open-minded about women’s rights and insisted that Johns Hopkins accept women if they wanted her money. She raised her children whilst her husband was working or at war.
Advocacy: Several issues, mainly the arts and community organisations
Mary McKee (née Harrison)- The Estranged
- April 3, 1858-October 28, 1930
- Tenure: 1892-1893
- Children: Benjamin, Mary
- Relation to President: Daughter
Early Life: Mary Harrison was born to Benjamin and Caroline. She was their second child and only living daughter- a sister was born and died in 1861. Mary was educated in public schools in Indianapolis.
She met her husband, James McKee, in Indianapolis. They had two children.
Hostess and After: Mary and her family moved into the White House for the last few months of her father’s term. Little is known about her time beyond that she assisted in hosting duties.
In 1896, Benjamin Harrison married Mary Lord Dimmick. Mary was Caroline Harrison’s niece and served as her social secretary. This also made her Mary and Russell Harrison’s cousin. She was actually a month younger than Mary McKee. Russell and Mary were horrified with their father marrying their cousin and a woman twenty-five years his junior. They did not attend the wedding. Whilst Russell eventually reconciled with her father, Mary never saw him again. She arrived too late to see him before he died.
Appearance and Character: Mary had a youthful face with dark eyes. We know little of her character, but she seemed to care enough about her father to serve as his hostess. She clearly held a grudge as evidenced by her reaction to the marriage of her father and her cousin. Nevertheless, Mary attempted to see Harrison before he died.