1. Education

American First Ladies

Wives of the Presidents

By

Lucretia Garfield

Lucretia Garfield
Courtesy US Library of Congress
(April 19, 1832 - March 14, 1918)
Lucretia Randolph Garfield was a devoutly religious, shy, intellectual woman who preferred a simpler life than the social life typical of the White House; her husband James Garfield (president 1881) who had many affairs, was an anti-slavery politician who became a war hero. In their brief White House time, she presided over a rambunctious family and advised her husband. She became seriously ill, and then her husband was shot, dying two months later. She lived quietly until her death in 1918.

Ellen Herndon Arthur

Ellen Arthur
Courtesy US Library of Congress
(August 30, 1837 - January 12, 1880)
Ellen Lewis Herndon Arthur, wife of Chester Arthur (president 1881 - 1885), died in 1880 at age 42, suddenly, of pneumonia. While he permitted his sister to perform some of the duties of a First Lady, and to help raise his daughter, he was reluctant to let any woman seem to take his wife's place. He is known for placing fresh flowers in front of his wife's portrait every day of his presidency, and he died the year after his term ended.

Frances Folsom Cleveland

Frances Folsom Cleveland
Adapted from an image courtesy of the US Library of Congress
(July 21, 1864 - October 29, 1947)
Grover Cleveland was the law partner of Frances Clara Folsom's father; Cleveland had known her from her infancy, and helped manage her mother's finances and Frances' education when her father died. After Cleveland won the 1884 election, despite charges of having fathered an illegitimate child, he proposed to Frances, who accepted after she took a tour of Europe to have time to consider the proposal. She was America's youngest First Lady, and considerably popular. They had six children during, between, and after Grover Cleveland's two terms of office (1885 - 1889, 1893 - 1897). Grover Cleveland died in 1908 and Frances Folsom Cleveland married Thomas Jax Preston, Jr., in 1913.

Caroline Harrison

Caroline Harrison
Courtesy US Library of Congress
(October 1, 1832 - October 25, 1892)
Caroline Lavinia Scott Harrison (Carrie), wife of Benjamin Harrison (president 1885 - 1889), helped to found the Daughters of the American Revolution -- serving as its first president general -- and also helped open Johns Hopkins University to women students. Benjamin, grandson of President William Harrison, was a Civil War general and attorney. She oversaw a considerable renovation of the White House and established the custom of having special White House dinnerware. She died of tuberculosis which was first diagnosed in 1891. Her daughter, Mamie Harrison McKee, took over White House hostess duties for her father.

Mary Lord Harrison

Mary Lord Harrison
Courtesy US Library of Congress
(April 30, 1858 - January 5, 1948)
After the death of his first wife, and after he'd finished his presidency, Benjamin Harrison remarried in 1896. Mary Scott Lord Dimmick Harrison never served as a First Lady.

Ida McKinley

Ida Saxton McKinley
Courtesy US Library of Congress
(June 8, 1847 - May 6, 1907)
Ida Saxton McKinley was the daughter of a wealthy family and was well-educated, and had worked in her father's bank, beginning as a teller. Her husband, William McKinley (president 1897 - 1901), was a lawyer and later fought in the Civil War. In quick succession, her mother died, then two daughters, and then she was stricken with phlebitis, epilepsy, and depression. In the White House, she often sat next to her husband at state dinners, and he covered her face with a handkerchief during what were called euphemistically "fainting spells." When he was assassinated in 1901, she gathered strength to accompany her husband's body back to Ohio, and to see to the construction of a memorial.

Edith Roosevelt

Edith Roosevelt
Courtesy US Library of Congress
(August 6, 1861 - September 30, 1948)
Edith Kermit Carow Roosevelt was a childhood friend of Theodore Roosevelt, then saw him marry Alice Hathaway Lee. When he was a widower with a young daughter, Alice, they met again, and were married in 1886. They had five more children; Edith raised the six children while serving as First Lady when Theodore was president (1901 - 1909). She was the first First Lady to hire a social secretary. She helped manage the wedding of her stepdaughter, Alice, to Nicholas Longworth. After Roosevelt's death she remained active in politics, wrote books, and read widely.

Helen Taft

Helen Taft
Courtesy US Library of Congress
(June 2, 1861 - May 22, 1943)
Her father's law partner was Rutherford B. Hayes, and Helen Herron Taft was impressed with the idea of being married to a president. She urged her husband, William Howard Taft (president 1909 - 1913), in his political career, and supported him and his programs with speeches and public appearances. Soon after the inauguration, she suffered a stroke, and after a year of recovery, threw herself into active interests including industrial safety and women's education. She was the first First Lady to give interviews to the press. It was her idea to bring cherry trees to Washington, DC, and the mayor of Tokyo then gave 3,000 saplings to the city. She is one of two First Ladies buried at Arlington Cemetery.

Ellen Wilson

Ellen Wilson
Adapted from an image courtesy of the US Library of Congress
(May 15, 1860 - August 6, 1914)
Ellen Louise Axson Wilson, wife of Woodrow Wilson (president 1913 - 1921), was a painter with a career in her own right, and was also an active supporter of her husband and his political career. She actively supported housing legislation while a presidential spouse. In the second year of her husband's first term, she succumbed to kidney disease. Both Ellen and Woodrow Wilson had fathers who were Presbyterian ministers; Ellen's father and mother died when she was in her early twenties and she'd had to arrange for the care of her siblings.

Edith Wilson

Edith Wilson
Adapted from an image courtesy of the US Library of Congress
(October 15, 1872 - December 28, 1961)
After mourning his wife, Ellen, who died in his first term of office, Woodrow Wilson married Edith Bolling Galt on December 18, 1915. Widow of Norman Galt, a jeweler, she met the widowed president while she was being courted by his physician, and they married after a short courtship that was opposed by many of his advisors. She actively worked for women's participation in the war effort. When her husband was paralyzed by a stroke for some months in 1919, she actively worked to keep his illness from public view, until he recovered enough to work for his programs, especially the Versailles Treaty and the League of Nations. After his death in 1924, she promoted the Woodrow Wilson Foundation.

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