“My Dear Mrs. Garfield”: Condolence Letters to Lucretia Garfield After the President’s Death, Part I

A few years ago, while examining the papers of Lucretia Garfield at the Library of Congress, I came across hundreds of condolence letters to Mrs. Garfield. They came from people of all walks of life, and from many parts of the world. To read the letters is to be struck by the sentiments that are repeated over and over again. Writers were frequently sensible of intruding on Mrs. Garfield’s privacy. Phrases like the following appear repeatedly:

“My object in trespassing on your notice…”

“Pardon my intrusion…”

“I almost tremble at the thought of intruding upon your time…”

“Pardon the liberty I have taken in addressing you…”

“I beg you will pardon this unwarrantable liberty in addressing you…”

“I know it is wrong to trouble you in your great sorrow…”

“Hoping you will not deem it an impertinence…”

James A. Garfield, President of the United States for just 200 days in 1881.  He was the second president to be assassinated in office,, and his administration was the second-shortest in American history.  William Henry Harrison was president for just one month in 1841 before dying.(Library of Congress)

James A. Garfield, President of the United States for just 200 days in 1881. He was the second president to be assassinated in office, and his administration was the second-shortest in American history. William Henry Harrison was president for just one month in 1841 before dying.(Library of Congress)

Other themes that weave their way throughout the letters of condolence are President Garfield’s suffering, his fine character, and his eternal fame:

“Having lived for his country, died because of his firm convictions to duty and a

principle…”

“…for here their names [Lincoln’s and Garfield’s] were united in history…”

“…my great sorrow at the death of the Good, the Noble, and the Brave, the

Beloved President…”

“No one admired your noble husband more than myself…”

“…the name of Garfield [will be] to be a restraint on faction, and an incentive

to high and noble aims…”

“His sufferings have tried us all as in a fire, God grant we may come out

refined.”

“…he grew up to be a good man and always did his duty.”

“accept…[this] token of sympathy and sorrow for a good and great man…”

“We were satisfied with President Garfield and confident in the belief that his

administration would have given us peace and quiet.”

Of course, many contain strong spiritual or religious imagery and expressions of faith. Others ask for mementoes from the funerals, or for autographs of Mrs. Garfield, her husband, her daughter, and Grandma. Many letter writers offer Mrs. Garfield assistance, and others ask for her help.

Lucretia Rudolph Garfield was just 49 when her her husband died.  She lived another 37 years, dying in March 1918.  (Library of Congress)

Lucretia Rudolph Garfield was just 49 when her husband died. She lived another 37 years, dying in March 1918. (Library of Congress)

Here is a small sampling of the many letters received by Lucretia Garfield. For ease of reading, spelling and punctuation have been corrected.

Winfield, West Va.

Sep 24th 1881

Dear Mrs. Garfield,

This morning while reading one of the many accounts of our dear President’s heroism and noble forbearance in his long illness, together with the feelings I have for some time been trying to control, so overcame me that I thought I would write and tell you how very, very much I felt for you in your deep affliction. I am a little girl twelve years old but I think you will receive my heartfelt sympathy.

I have not offered a single prayer I believe since our President was first shot but that the first and foremost petition was for his recovery. But our Father’s will be done for He knows best. We know that our Dear President has gone from our love, to the love of God and his angels. My papa and mama do not know that I have written this but I felt I must do it.

Your sincere little friend

Josey McLean

Another girl, Violet Markam,* composed the following letter:

Tapton House

Chesterfield[England]

September 23rd 1881

May a little English girl tell Mrs. Garfield how sorry she is to hear of the good President’s death? I have read in the “Girl’s own paper” how good he was when he was a little boy, and how he grew up to be a good man and always did his duty. We are all so sorry for you here, and our Queen is very sorry for you too. I hope a wicked bad man won’t shoot her. I send you my love, though I don’t know you. A book of mine, “The Lame Prince” says love always consoles.

Violet Markham

Accepting God’s will is expressed in letter after letter.

Sep 23

But oh! How sad today. The heavens weep and our tears fall over our dear departed Leader, but our loss is his gain. And Dear Mrs. Garfield … let us prove faithful & true to our Heavenly Father. Then we shall have a joyful meeting with Jesus & our dear friends in glory the beautiful home God has prepared for his people.

May God lead, bless, & protect you as a family

Yours with much love

Hattie E. Woodard

Please forgive me if I have done wrong in writing to you. I am a poor country woman.

Mrs. A. A. Woodard

Talbotton Ga

Sept 20. 1881

Mrs. James A. Garfield

My Dear Madam

I sympathize very deeply with you & family in the loss of your noble great and good husband, General James Abram Garfield – but we have a great consolation in the belief that our loss is his eternal gain, for he was a good man, & loved the “meek & lowly Jesus.” I prayed often while he was sick for his recovery but the good Lord has taken him home, where we hope to meet him.

With highest regards &

Best wishes for yourself

I am your Obedient Servant

A.P. Watts, an Ex Confederate Soldier

The next letter, written on September 24, two days before Mr. Garfield’s Cleveland funeral, expressed the hope that had the President lived, reconciliation between the North and the South might have been achieved.

Mrs. Garfield and family,

…Coming from a section politically opposed to your late husband, we hope that you may the more fully recognize our deep sorrow and that our offering [a floral tribute] may be none the less acceptable and that it may in a small way bring the people of the two sections closer and more intimate, which we had fondly hoped would be one of the results of your good husband’s administration.

Again assuring you of our deep regret we are

Very Respectfully

Lounsbery, Hidden & Campbell

This letter was sent to Mrs. Garfield from Chiltern Hills school in England.

This letter was sent to Mrs. Garfield from Chiltern Hills, a school in southeast England, and concerned the Garfields’ daughter Mollie.  (Library of Congress)

Mrs. Garfield’s correspondents also offered assistance. Annie L. Watson, a teacher at Chiltern Hills, a school located in southeast England, suggested that Mollie Garfield be sent there to resume a normal life.

Chiltern Hills

Sept 23rd 1881

My dear Mrs. Garfield

At this moment when our thoughts are so much with you and yet so powerless to give you any evidence of our sympathy, it seemed to open the way yesterday when a member of my family said, “I wish Mrs. Garfield’s daughter could come here so that we might try to comfort her” and the wish was reflected on the faces of those around.

I determined to write and ask you to gratify it as soon as you could entertain the thought, and as trip is a long one, allow your daughter to be my guest up to the Christmas holidays. I have a lovely party of young girls about her own age, and daughters of my own also but little older.

The daily routine of our life is such that it would be the means of exciting a quieting influence after such trying scenes as she has been called upon to go through at this time of her life – and pursuits that will have a cheering influence, surrounded too by girls of her own age…

Should your daughter not feel inclined to come alone, it will afford me pleasure to include Miss Rockwell in my invitation, having a large house surrounded by attractive grounds…

By the same mail I send a copy of the prospectus of the school, giving also the names of friends who are of the same social standing as myself….Hoping you accept this letter as a token of our deep feelings in this your great trial – and allow us in any way to minister to your comfort. Believe me very sincerely yours

Annie L. Watson

Page two of the Chiltern Hills letter to Lucretia Garfield.  (Library of Congress)

Page two of the Chiltern Hills letter to Lucretia Garfield. (Library of Congress)

Condolences were sometimes accompanied by pleas for Mrs. Garfield’s assistance, some of which made discreet references to the fund that was collected in 1881 for the support of the Garfield family.

Oct 21st /81

Mrs. Garfield

Dear Madam, I wish to ask your assistance for a poor afflicted woman near us who, in September lost her husband with Consumption… He was a very industrious hard working man… and provided for a family of eight children…until… he died, leaving thirty acres of land with a mortgage of eight hundred dollars upon it. Mrs. Clark is a most excellent woman and mother, a good manager. If this mortgage could be paid her friends think there would be a possibility of keeping her children together.

Mr. Clark was a great Garfield man. He named his baby James Garfield but a few weeks before he died. And now Mrs. Garfield, would you…, [from] your great abundance that a great and sorrowing nation has so bountifully supplied [you] with – help this poor woman in her hour of sorrow and affliction?

I am your obedient servant,

Mrs. Mary Stiles

The condolence letters written to Lucretia Garfield tell us something the state of the nation in 1881, and the reaction from other nations. Though a terrible assault on the President had robbed the American people of the service of a “good” and “great” man, a devout people must acknowledge a just, wise, and ultimately merciful God. Many writers claimed to see in James Garfield the hope of a nation putting to rest decades-long hatreds. Still others associated personal calamities with the national tragedy. All responded with genuine compassion for Mrs. Garfield and her family. The Garfields’ grief was the nation’s grief, and their own. As at later times in history, so it was in 1881, as Americans and people the world over searched for understanding, compassion, and faith in the midst of the incomprehensible murder of President James A. Garfield.

*In later life, Violet Rosa Markham (1872-1959) became a writer, social reformer and administrator. During World War I, she was a member of the Executive Committee of the National Relief Fund, established to alleviate distress caused by the war. She was a vocal opponent of women’s suffrage. Among her friends were future Canadian Prime Minister, Mackenzie King, and John Buchan, the author of The 39 Steps, which was made into a film, by Alfred Hitchcock. 

As a young girl of nine years old, Violet Markham wrote a heartfelt sympathy letter to Lucretia Garfield.  Later in life, she became a vocal social reformer in Great Britian.  (Wikipedia.com)

As a young girl of nine years old, Violet Markham wrote a heartfelt sympathy letter to Lucretia Garfield. Later in life, she became a vocal social reformer in Great Britian. (Wikipedia.com)

 

In Part II of this blog, the condolences of three men who lives had been touched by James Garfield’s will be offered.

 

-Alan Gephardt, Park Ranger

The U.S. Department of the Interior and Secretaries of the Interior from Ohio

As you pull into our driveway, one of the first things you probably notice is the sign that says “James A. Garfield National Historic Site; National Park Service/U.S. Department of the Interior.” Chances are, if you have been to another National Park, you have probably seen a similar entrance sign there, too. You might then wonder, “Well, is this site part of the National Park Service or the U.S. Department of the Interior?”  The short answer is “both.”

The National Park Service (www.nps.gov) is an agency of the United States Department of the Interior. The Department of the Interior (www.doi.gov) is our “parent” Cabinet-level, Executive Branch department, which oversees the Service. (You are probably harkening back to your high school or college government class right now.)

The Arrowhead is the official insignia of the National Park Service, the U.S. Department of the Interior agency that administers James A. Garfield National Historic Site and all of the National Parks across the nation.  There are currently 401 sites in all 50 states and in several U.S. territories as well.  (NPS image)

The Arrowhead is the official insignia of the National Park Service, the U.S. Department of the Interior agency that administers James A. Garfield National Historic Site and all of the National Parks across the nation. There are currently 401 sites in all 50 states and in several U.S. territories as well. (NPS image)

The Department of the Interior is one of the 15 departments of the Executive Branch, which comprise the President’s Cabinet.  Of the current fifteen Cabinet departments, the Department of the Interior is the fourth oldest, behind the Department of State (1789); the Department of the Treasury (1789); and the Department of Justice (1789).  The Department of the Interior was established on March 3, 1849, and is responsible for relations with American Indian tribes, the preservation and maintenance of public lands and certain natural resources, and the preservation of the nation’s historical and cultural treasures, among other duties.  Unlike the United States, the Interior Departments of many other nations are primarily law enforcement-based, much like our Department of Homeland Security.

The official seal of the United States Department of the Interior.  (doi.gov)

The official seal of the United States Department of the Interior.   We’re far from neutral, of course, but we think this is by far the best-looking seal of any federal department!(doi.gov)

Our current Secretary is The Honorable Sally Jewell, who took office in April 2013. Secretary Jewell is the 51st Secretary of the Interior since the Department’s creation. Secretary Jewell hails from the State of Washington, which follows the tradition of the Secretary of the Interior being from a western state. The previous four Secretaries-Ken Salazar, Dirk Kempthorne, Gail Norton, and Bruce Babbitt-were from Colorado, Idaho, Colorado, and Arizona, respectively. The last Secretary of the Interior from a state east of the Mississippi River was Secretary Donald Hodel, a Virginian, who served during the second term of President Ronald Reagan from 1985-89.

In addition to James A. Garfield NHS being a part of the Department of the Interior, there is another significant Garfield tie to the Department. Often, the Rangers or Volunteers will be asked if any of the President and Mrs. Garfield’s children entered public service. The answer is yes, as the second oldest son, James Rudolph Garfield served in three appointed positions within the federal government, including serving as the 23rd Secretary of the Interior under President Theodore Roosevelt. Secretary Garfield served during the final two years of President Roosevelt’s administration, and was the second leader of our Department during that Presidency.  (James R.’s older brother, Harry A. Garfield, served the American people as head of the Federal Fuel Administration during World War One.  His youngest brother, Abram, served as a member of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts from 1925-30.)

James Rudolph Garfield, second son of James and Lucretia Garfield and the 23rd Secretary of the Interior, serving from 1907-1909.  Secretary Garfield once hosted President Theodore Roosevelt at his Mentor, Ohio family home.  (wikipedia.com)

James Rudolph Garfield, second son of James and Lucretia Garfield and the 23rd Secretary of the Interior, serving from 1907-1909. Secretary Garfield once hosted President Theodore Roosevelt at his Mentor, Ohio family home. (wikipedia.com)

Secretary Garfield was not the only Secretary of the Interior to come from Ohio. In fact, the first Secretary of the Interior, Thomas Ewing, was a graduate of Ohio University and a lawyer in southern Ohio. Secretary Ewing served as Secretary for about 16 months under President Zachary Taylor. He was also a United States Senator (twice), and Secretary of the Treasury for Presidents William Henry Harrison and John Tyler. Following the Civil War, Secretary Ewing had an opportunity to serve as a Cabinet Secretary for a third time, as he was nominated to serve as the Secretary of War for President Andrew Johnson, but the Senate refused to take action on their former colleague.

One other note about Secretary Ewing is that he was the foster father to General William Tecumseh Sherman and Senator John Sherman. I mention this because of the recognition we give to those two of the brothers Sherman at the Site. There, of course, is a portrait of General Sherman in the Memorial Library, hung on the wall above the bookcases to the right, as soon as you walk in. The portrait of General Sherman is to the left of the portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte, and two portraits to the left of Otto Von Bismarck. With regards to John Sherman, who served as Secretary of the Treasury under President Rutherford B. Hayes and who would go on to serve as Secretary of State for President William McKinley, then-Congressman James A. Garfield nominated him on the first ballot at the 1880 Republican National Convention to be the Republican nominee for President of the United States.  Of course, Secretary Sherman did not receive the Republican nomination that year as the deadlocked convention eventually (on the 36th ballot) turned to Garfield himself.

John Sherman (brother of famed Civil War General William T. Sherman) had been an Ohio Congressman and Senator before becoming Secretary of the Treasury under President Rutherford B. Hayes.  Congressman James A. Garfield nominated Sherman for President in 1880; Garfield himself ended up as the Republican nominee that year.  Sherman returned to the U.S. Senate and was also Secretary of State for a year under President William McKinley.    (wikipedia.com)

John Sherman (brother of famed Civil War General William T. Sherman) had been an Ohio Congressman and Senator before becoming Secretary of the Treasury under President Rutherford B. Hayes. Congressman James A. Garfield nominated Sherman for President in 1880; Garfield himself ended up as the Republican nominee that year. Sherman returned to the U.S. Senate and was also Secretary of State for a year under President William McKinley. (wikipedia.com)

The other two Secretaries of the Interior to come from Ohio are our Department’s 10th and 11th Secretaries, respectively. Our Department’s 10th Secretary was Jacob Dolson Cox. Secretary Cox has, as of late, become a person I have become interested in conducting more research about. In a recent presentation about the State Senate tenure of James A. Garfield, I mentioned quite a bit about Secretary Cox. Secretary Cox and President Garfield were roommates in the home of the Chairman of the Ohio Republican Central Committee while they served in the State Senate as Members whose respective districts were side-by-side. He, like Garfield, would receive command of a Volunteer Infantry unit, when they were commissioned as officers in the summer of 1861 by Governor William Denison. Following the Civil War, Cox would serve as Secretary of the Interior for a little over a year-and-a-half for President Ulysses S. Grant. Much like Garfield, who would call for civil service reform during his brief presidency, Cox left his position as Interior Secretary because those who wanted positions filled via political patronage had the ear of President Grant, and the President would not support Cox’s reform efforts within the Department. Secretary Cox would come out once again to enter public life beginning in 1876, when he ran for Congress, and would serve one term – and be re-united with his very close friend, Congressman James A. Garfield.

Jacob D. Cox was a friend of James A. Garfield and served as Secretary of the Interior for a time under President Ulysses S. Grant.  He had also served as a member of the Ohio State Senate (with Garfield), as Union general during the Civil War, and as Governor of Ohio.  (wikipedia.com)

Jacob D. Cox was a friend of James A. Garfield and served as Secretary of the Interior for a time under President Ulysses S. Grant. He had also served as a member of the Ohio State Senate (with Garfield), as a Union general during the Civil War, and as Governor of Ohio. (wikipedia.com)

Finally, the last of the Secretaries of the Interior from the State of Ohio is our 11th Secretary, Columbus Delano. Secretary Delano succeeded Secretary Cox, and served in President Grant’s administration from 1870 – 1875. One of the major accomplishments of Secretary Delano’s was the establishment of Yellowstone National Park (www.nps.gov/yell) in 1872. As has been discussed, the issue of patronage permeated throughout the political landscape since the days of President Andrew Jackson. It has been argued by historians that President Grant’s administration may have been one of the most corrupt ever – especially with the amount of patronage jobs doled out. Thus, this created a situation where political reward was ever-present throughout the 8 years of the Grant presidency. With that said, although the first steps to preserve the natural wonder of Yellowstone were taken, the American people were not well-served by Secretary Delano.

Secretary Delano ended up resigning his post as Interior Secretary because of certain misdeeds that occurred within the Department, including the awarding of contracts to the Secretary’s son, as well as DOI employees in the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Patent Office profiting at the expense of the American people.

Columbus Delano, Secretary of the Interior from 1870-1875.  His tenure was marred by scandal within the Interior Department, and President Grant eventually forced him to resign.  (Library of Congress)

Columbus Delano, Secretary of the Interior from 1870-1875. His tenure was marred by scandal within the Interior Department, and President Grant eventually forced him to resign. (Library of Congress)

All four secretaries were buried in Ohio, including Mentor’s own Secretary James R. Garfield. Secretary Garfield and his wife Helen are buried in Mentor at Mentor Municipal Cemetery.  Since Secretary Garfield, including Secretary Hodel, six Secretaries have come from the eastern half of the United States.

While three of the Secretaries discussed were waist-deep in issues related to political patronage, it must be clearly stated that the Department of the Interior today is a highly professional organization made up of uniformed and non-uniformed employees and volunteers. Due to the civil service reforms proposed by President Garfield and later instituted by President Chester A. Arthur, the issue of political patronage with regards to the handing out of jobs and politics dictating official actions were mitigated through the passage of the Pendleton Act of 1883 and the Hatch Act of 1939.

-Andrew Mizsak, Site Volunteer