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White House - 'First Ladies' And Presidents' Widows

( Originally Published 1908 )

THERE have been twenty-six Presidents, but as there were sometimes two or three "First Ladies" in a single administration, the number of the mistresses and hostesses of the White House is thirty-two.

These include nineteen wives as follows: Mrs. Washing-ton, Mrs. John Adams, Mrs. Dolly Madison, Mrs. Monroe, Mrs. John Quincy Adams, Mrs. John Tyler (President Tyler's first wife, an invalid), Mrs. John Tyler (President Tyler's second wife), Mrs. Polk, Mrs. Zachary Taylor (an invalid), Mrs. Millard Fillmore, Mrs. Franklin Pierce, Mrs. Abraham Lincoln, Mrs. Andrew Johnson (an invalid), Mrs. U. S. Grant, Mrs. Rutherford B. Hayes, Mrs. Grover Cleveland, Mrs. Benjamin Harrison, Mrs. McKinley and Mrs. Roosevelt.

The six Presidents' daughters and granddaughters who acted as "First Ladies" were : Mrs. Martha Jefferson Randolph, granddaughter of Thomas Jefferson; Mrs. Letitia Tyler Semple, President Tyler's daughter; Mrs. Bliss, President Taylor's daughter; Miss Abigail Fillmore, President Fillmore's daughter; Mrs. Martha Patterson, President Johnson's daughter ; Mrs. Mary Harrison McKee, President Harrison's daughter.

The three daughters-in-law of the President who per-formed the duties of White House hostesses were : Mrs. Abram Van Buren, wife of Martin Van Buren's son; Mrs. Robert Tyler, wife of President Tyler's son, and President W. H. Harrison's daughter-in-law, Mrs. Jane F. Harrison.

The two sisters of Presidents. who filled the post of White House mistresses were : Mrs. McElroy, President Arthur's sister, and Miss Rose Cleveland, President Cleveland's sister.

The two nieces of Chief Executives who reigned at the White House were: President Jackson's niece, Mrs. Donelson, and President Buchanan's niece, Miss Harriet Lane.

In this chapter, then, and the three that follow it, will be found facts relating to the official life of not only Presidents' wives, but also of those relatives of the Chief Executives who performed the duties of "First Lady." The present chapter, too, contains the facts relating to the widows of the Presidents, including information about the three living Presidential widows, namely: Mrs. Garfield, the second Mrs. Benjamin Harrison and Mrs. Cleveland.

Presidents Who Married Widows

Four of our twenty-six Presidents married widows as follows : Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Jackson.

President Jackson's wife is of particular interest. She died just before he came to the White House, and his mourning: for her influenced all his remaining years. A pathetic incident of Jackson's love for his wife is related by his private secretary, Mr. Trist, who tells of his experience thus :

"One evening after I parted with him for the night revolving over the directions he had given about some letters I was to prepare, one point occurred on which I was not perfectly satisfied as to what those directions had been. As the letters were to be sent off early in the morning, I returned to his chamber door, and tapping gently, in order not to wake him if he had got to sleep, my tap was answered by `come in,'.

"He was undressed, but not yet in bed, as I had supposed he must be by that time. He was sitting at a little table, with his wife's miniature,a very large one, then for the first time seen by me before him, propped up against some books; and between him and the picture lay an open book, which bore the marks of long use.

"This book, as I afterwards learned, was her prayer-book.The miniature he always wore next to his heart, suspended round his neck by a strong black cord . The last thing he did every night, before lying down to rest, was to read in that book with that picture under his eyes."

Three Living Widows of the Presidents

In nearly every case, the wife of each President outlived her husband. Among the few notable exceptions this rule may be mentioned Franklin Pierce, who outlived his wife six years. John Adams outlived his wife ; so did Andrew Jackson.

While there is not a single surviving ex-President of the United States, three women still live who have shared the life and struggle of former rulers of the nation. The three living widows of ex-Presidents are Mrs. James A. Garfield, the second Mrs. Benjamin Harrison, and Mrs. Grover Cleveland.

Mrs. Garfield Living in Pasadena

In Pasadena, Cal., Mrs. James A. Garfield, widow of one of the three martyred Presidents, has her home. The press of that city says that there she spends her time "in the midst of idyllic surroundings." She spends most of her time sewing and reading. "She is a sweet and gracious woman, gentle and kindly and always ready to speak of the trumphs of her husband."

"Of all the persons of national fame who live in this region," writes a press correspondent in Pasadena, Cal., "Mrs. Lucretia Randolph Garfield is perhaps held in greatest reverence and regard by the people of the nation as a type of the best qualities of American womanhood.

"In her beautiful but modest home in Pasadena, she is passing the evening of her life with her brother and sister-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Randolph, as her companions.

"Some three years ago Mrs. Garfield selected Pasadena as her place of residence, and has spent almost all of her time there since. She lives a secluded but happy life, venturing seldom into the outside world, rarely attending any. social affair,save those which serve to gather old-time friends at her home.

"Without affectation, and with sweetness of disposition and graciousness of character, she upholds the dignity of her position, and, at the same time has won the sincere affection of her neighbors, even those who know her only as they occasionally catch a passing glimpse of her on the rare occasions when she leaves her own place.

"The same qualities that President Garfield once described as the requirements of a happy home, and which he found in his own, prevail in this Pasadena home. `Six things', he said, `are requisite to create a happy home. Integrity must be the architect, and tidiness the upholsterer. It must be warmed by affection, and lighted up with cheerfulness. Industry must be the ventilator, renewing the atmosphere and bringing in fresh salubrity every day; while over all, as the protecting canopy and glory, nothing will suffice but the blessing of the Almighty'."

Regarding Mrs. Garfield's fortitude at the time of the death of the martyred President, one press despatch published the day following Garfield's death, said :

"Mrs. Garfield bore the trying ordeal with great fortitude, and exhibited unprecedented courage. She gave way to no paroxysms of grief, and after death became evident, she quietly withdrew to her own room. There she sat, a heart broken widow, full of grief, with too much Christian courage to exhibit it to those around her. She was, of course, laboring under a terrible strain, and, despite her efforts, tears flowed from her eyes, and her lips became drawn in her noble attempt to bear the burden with which she had been afflicted. Miss Mollie (the President's daughter) was, naturally, greatly affected, and bursts of tears flowed from her eyes, notwithstanding her noble effort to follow the example of her mother."

Mrs. Benjamin Harrison Living in Indianapolis

Mrs. Benjamin Harrison was not actually a lady of the White House, for her distinguished husband had retired from public life before he wedded the beautiful Mrs. Mary Dimmick, the favorite niece of the first wife of the President. So records a newspaper report of today which continues :

"She became a member of the Harrison household prior to his election to the Presidency, and after his inauguration she took a prominent part in all the activities of social Washington. The first wife, Mrs. Mary Scott Harrison, was an invalid during a large part of Mr. Harrison's stay at the White House, and much of the social duty devolved upon Mrs. Dimmick. She cared for it with complete success. When, four years after his passing from the White House, Mr. Harrison announced his purpose to remarry, there was general pleasure and heartiest good-will expressed all over the country. A woman of rare beauty and charm, Mrs. Harrison is very popular, both in Indianapolis, where she had her home, and in Tuxedo, N. Y., where she spends much of her time."

In the parlor of the Harrison home in Indianapolis, March 6, 1901, in a casket draped with a banner of the Legion of Honor, lay the earthly shell of the man and statesman, Gen. Benjamin Harrison. Into this room came the woman whom the still, cold mortal there had made a widow. She came to be alone with him, probably for the last time. The rest of that day and the next he would be claimed by the representatives of the city, State and nation. While she stood in the darkened chamber, by the bier of her dead, the door opened without noise, and a bent form, still shivering after exposure to the chill air of the morning, entered. He was a grizzled, gray old soldier, in a faded uniform. Unaware of another living presence, he shuffled to the casket, leaned over the still face, tears streaming down his wrinkled cheeks. "Colonel," he whispered hoarsely, touching the bloodless hand on the dead leader's coató"Colonel."

Just then there was a gentle tugging at his sleeve, and a soft voice said, "I am Mrs. Harrison. You are welcome." P> "Do pardon my intrusion," said the old soldier drawing his coat-sleeve across his eyes." I felt I couldn' t Iive out the few years left to me unless I saw my old Colonel alone, like this, just once more. I marched with him, from Atlanta to the sea, and I've come one hundred miles from home to give him a last salute." As he slowly retreated he raised his hand, soldier-like, to his brow. The old man belonged to the Seventieth Indiana Volunteers, which was led by Harrison in Sherman's famous campaign in Georgia,a regiment which was given the place of honor in the parade at Washington at Harrison's inauguration.

Mrs. Cleveland Living in Princeton

Mrs. Grover Cleveland has only lately been made the widow of a President. The whole life of this lovable woman; says one present-day report, "since her girlhood days, radiated around the life of the only man the Democrats have succeeded in putting in the White House in half a century of effort." They were wedded in the White House during the first term of the New Yorker. For the remaining three years of his term Mrs. Cleveland presided "with a charm and dignity that were irresistible. and that gave her, perhaps, more thorough popularity than any woman of the many who have held the title of `First Lady' of the land." For four years more, in private life, Mrs. Cleveland continued to hold a place in the affections of the people, and in 1892 the vote of the people carried Grover Cleveland back into the chair of Washington. Mrs. Cleveland returned to her old place. Her triumphs of the first term were abundantly repeated, and when once more the pair retired to private life to take their home in beautiful "Westlands," their Princeton abode, "Mrs. Cleveland remained a beautiful memory to the Nation that had loved her."

Pensions Drawn by Presidents' Widows

Seven widows of. Presidents have been awarded pensions by the Government. Of these seven pensioned ladies of the White House, only one is still living, Mrs. Garfield. The remaining six were : Mrs. W. H. Harrison, the second Mrs. Tyler, Mrs. Polk, Mrs. Lincoln, Mrs. Grant and Mrs. McKinley.

The first time a pension was ever suggested for the widow of an ex-President was, we are told, when William H. Harrison died one month after his inauguration. The death of Harrison peculiarly appealed to the sentiment of the Nation, and Mrs. Harrison was voted outright $25,000. Even this sum was not extravagant, for she had to live on it for the twenty-three years she survived her husband.

The second Mrs. Tyler, who married the President during his stay in office, occupied the White House eight months. When the former President died in 1862, it was found that he had left his widow so poorly provided for that Government help became imperative. Therefor, a pension of $5,000 yearly was granted, which Mrs. Tyler continued to draw until her death twenty-seven years later.

The remaining Presidents' widows who were pensioned were : Mrs. Lincoln, to whom Congress soon after her husband's death voted to pay $25,000 and later a yearly pension of $5,000; Mrs. Grant, who received $5,000 a year, and Mrs. McKinley the same pension. Mrs. Polk also received $5,000 a year. Mrs. Garfield receives the same amount and "no money from Uncle Sam's treasury is paid more cheerfully by the American people."

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