Ida McKinley

First Lady of the United States Ida Saxton McKinley, wife of William McKinley, 25th President of the United States, was First Lady from 1897 to 1901. She and her husband developed a unique way of coping with her epileptic seizures during her public appearances, and the love they shared during the early years of happiness endured through more than twenty years of illness. Image: Ida McKinley Photograph from the 1896 Presidential Campaign Early Years Ida Saxton was born June 8, 1847 in Canton, Ohio, the second of three children born to Katherine DeWalt and James Saxton, a prominent Canton banker. The Saxtons were a prominent family in Canton: Ida’s grandfather founded the Ohio Repository, the first newspaper in Canton, and…

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Lucretia Clay

Wife of U.S. Senator Henry Clay Lucretia Hart was born March 18, 1781 in Hagerstown, Maryland into a wealthy and socially prominent family. She moved to Kentucky with her parents in 1784. Henry Clay was born on April 12, 1777, in Hanover County, Virginia to a middle-class family. Clay studied for the bar with the eminent George Wythe [link], and at age 20, moved to Lexington, Kentucky, where he developed a thriving practice and met his future wife. Image: Lucretia and Henry Clay After a brief courtship, Lucretia Hart married Henry Clay April 11, 1799 at her family home in Lexington, Kentucky. Though Lucretia was not physically attractive, neither was Clay. Far more important were her family connections, which placed…

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Francis and Arabella Barlow

Romantic Legends of the Civil War Arabella Griffith married Francis Barlow the day after he enlisted in the Union Army. Francis was a well-established New York lawyer, while Arabella was 10 years his senior and a member of New York high society. The following year she joined him in service to the Union Army. Image: Arabella Griffith Barlow Arabella Wharton Griffith was a young woman of twenty-two years when she moved from rural New Jersey to New York City to work as a governess, a bold move for a woman of that time. Her vibrant personality soon caught the attention of a group of literary-minded socialites, artists and politicians. Diarist George Templeton Strong wrote that she was, “certainly the most…

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Civil War Widows

Women Who Lost Husbands in the Civil War Approximately 620,000 soldiers died in the American Civil War. The Union lost around 360,000 soldiers – 110,000 killed in combat; the Confederacy lost around 260,000 men – 93,000 killed in combat. Disease killed the rest. While not all of these soldiers were married, the War created an unprecedented number of young white widows, many of whom had been married for a very short time. Tintype of Union Widow Adelia Springer and her daughter For many Confederate widows, the war was an extremely close and personal experience, as battles and armies brought death, destruction and hardship into their states, their communities and sometimes their backyards. Many Confederate widows supported the Confederacy during the…

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Elizabeth Shaw Melville

Wife of Author Herman Melville Elizabeth Shaw Melville copied her husband’s works and edited his manuscripts when asked, before and after his death. She was devoted to the author, even when his behavior was erratic. Elizabeth Shaw was born June 13, 1822 in Boston, Massachusetts. She was the daughter of Elizabeth Knapp Shaw and Lemuel Shaw, Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court and an old friend of the Melville family. It seems that everyone called her Lizzie. Her siblings were all boys, John Oakes, Lemuel and Samuel Savage Shaw. Herman Melville (1819-1891) was not only a novelist and a poet, he was also an adventurer. In 1841, he signed on the whaler Acushnet, on a three-year whaling voyage. He…

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Helen Benson Garrison

Abolitionist and Wife of William Lloyd Garrison While her husband got all the glory, Helen Benson Garrison was an abolitionist in her own right. She raised funds for the American Anti-Slavery Society in many ways, particularly as a manager of the annual Boston Anti-Slavery Bazaar. Helen Benson was born on February 23, 1811 in Providence, Rhode Island to George and Sarah Thurber Benson. At the June session of the General Assembly, in 1790, an “Act to incorporate certain Persons by the Name of the Providence Society for promoting the Abolition of Slavery, for the Relief of Persons unlawfully held in Bondage, and for improving the Condition of the African Race” was passed. Helen’s father, George Benson, became an active member…

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Clara Harris Rathbone

Witness to the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln Clara Harris was an American socialite. Harris and her then fiance Henry Rathbone were the guests of President Lincoln and First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865, when John Wilkes Booth fatally shot the President. Early Years Clara Harris was born on September 9, 1834 in Albany, New York, one of four children of Senator Ira Harris and his first wife Louisa Tubbs Harris. Clara’s mother died 1845. On August 1, 1848, Ira Harris married widow Pauline Rathbone, who had two sons, Jared and Henry. From the ages of 13 and 11 respectively, Clara and Henry were raised in the same household. To their parents’ dismay, the two…

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Elizabeth Todd Edwards

Sister of Mary Todd Lincoln In October 1839, twenty-year-old Mary Todd moved to Springfield, Illinois to live with her older married sister Elizabeth Todd Edwards. As was the custom, Elizabeth served as Mary’s guardian. Despite their sometimes rocky relationship, Elizabeth rescued Mary Todd Lincoln from an insane asylum in 1875, and gave her a home. Image: Elizabeth Todd Edwards and Mary Todd Lincoln Elizabeth Todd was born in 1816 in Lexington, Kentucky. Her sister Mary was born on December 13, 1818. Their mother Eliza Parker Todd died of a post-birth bacterial infection in 1824. Fourteen months later, their father Robert Todd married Elizabeth Humphreys. Over the next 15 years, nine half-siblings joined the family. Mary did not get along with…

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Sarah Knox Taylor

Daughter of President Zachary Taylor Sarah Knox Taylor was the daughter of Zachary Taylor, a career military officer and future U.S. president (1849-4850). She met future Confederate president Jefferson Davis while living with her family at Fort Crawford in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. They wed in 1835, but the marriage was short-lived. Childhood Sarah Knox Taylor was born on March 6, 1814 Margaret Smith Taylor and future president Zachary Taylor. Her middle name and her nickname Knoxie originated from Fort Knox II in Vincennes, Indiana, where she was born. She had three sisters and a brother, and grew up in various military installations, receiving most of her education from her mother.

Margaret Taylor

Margaret Taylor was the wife of Zachary Taylor and the 13th official First Lady of the United States from March 4, 1849 through July 9, 1850. Although she supervised the running of the White House, she left the hostessing duties to her daughter Betty. The sudden and unexpected death of her husband abruptly ended her time as first lady. Childhood and Early Years Margaret ‘Peggy’ Smith was born in Calvert County, Maryland on September 21, 1788, the daughter of Walter Smith and Ann Mackall Smith. Her father was a prosperous Maryland tobacco planter and veteran officer of the Revolutionary War, and Peggy was raised in a large brick plantation house.