Yet, she was, overall, pleased with the desk: “The writing table is really very beautiful and all the finishing very perfect…”
Yet, she was, overall, pleased with the desk: “The writing table is really very beautiful and all the finishing very perfect…”
On June 14, 1881, Joshua L. Chamberlain of Brunswick, Maine, wrote a letter to President James A. Garfield. The President’s wife, Lucretia Rudolph Garfield, had been ill with malaria for much of the spring, and Chamberlain offered this advice:
It has been suggested to me by a medical gentleman of much experience
that the best treatment Mrs. Garfield could have would be a summer on
the coast of Maine. Should that judgment commend itself to you I shall
be very glad if it may be in my power to aid in the selecting [of] a suitable
place, or in any way to contribute to your satisfaction in regard to the
Chamberlain, then president of his alma mater, Bowdoin College, also invited the President to attend Bowdoin’s commencement on July 14. It was public knowledge that Garfield was heading north in less than three weeks to speak at his own alma mater, Williams College in Massachusetts, and then enjoy a vacation. The President was more than ready for a little time away from the White House. He had only recently won a hard-fought political victory regarding patronage appointments with members of his own Republican Party, most notably Senator Roscoe Conkling of New York. His wife’s severe illness added to his worries and made his first few months as the nation’s twentieth president even more difficult.
Garfield never made it to Williams or his vacation. On July 2, 1881, as he walked through Washington, D.C.’s Baltimore and Potomac train station to board his train north, Charles Guiteau approached and shot him twice from behind. The first bullet grazed Garfield’s arm, but the second lodged in his back. Over the next eighty days, doctors unschooled in Listerian antisepsis and germ theories—or willfully ignoring them—poked and prodded Garfield with dirty fingers and instruments, introducing infection into his body. The President died on September 19, eighty days after Guiteau’s attack.
No evidence exists to suggest that Garfield and Chamberlain ever actually met one another. However, had they met, it seems likely that they would have liked one another a great deal. After all, the similarities between the two men were striking. They were close to the same age, with Chamberlain born in 1828 and Garfield in 1831. Both showed an early interest in religion and considered careers as clergymen. Chamberlain attended and graduated from Maine’s Bangor Theological Seminary, but never actually worked as a minister. Garfield did not attend a religious seminary, but did preach sermons as a lay minister in the Disciples of Christ denomination.
Chamberlain and Garfield both had successful careers as scholars at their alma maters before the Civil War, Chamberlain at Bowdoin and Garfield at Ohio’s Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (now Hiram College), which he attended before Williams. Both taught many different subjects and were proficient in several languages, including Greek and Latin. When the Civil War came and both were moved to volunteer for the Union, each determined to use books on military history and tactics to teach himself how to lead and fight. As Chamberlain told the Governor of Maine in a letter that could just as easily have been written by the Ohioan Garfield, “I have always been interested in military matters, and what I do not know in that line I know how to learn” (emphasis in original). Soon after, Lt. Col. Chamberlain was second in command of the 20th Maine Infantry. Garfield, a state senator at the time of the Fort Sumter attack, taught himself drill on the lawn of the Ohio Capitol Building before being assigned command of the 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry.
James Garfield saw action mostly in the western theater, Chamberlain in the east. During his service in the army, northeast Ohio Republicans elected Garfield to the U.S. House of Representatives, and Garfield left the army in December 1863 to go to Congress. Chamberlain remained in the army until war’s end, suffering numerous wounds that would affect him for the rest of his life. When the war ended, he was elected to four consecutive one-year terms as Maine’s governor. While Garfield enjoyed political success, though, Chamberlain’s ambitions to serve as a U.S. Senator were stymied. The Garfields and Chamberlains both endured the pain of losing children to early deaths, and both became sought-after speakers on the post-war lecture circuit.
Had Garfield survived Charles Guiteau’s assassination attempt, or had Guiteau never struck at all, perhaps Garfield and Chamberlain may have met at some point—maybe even on Garfield’s New England visit in July 1881. We can only guess, but knowing a little bit about their backgrounds and life experiences makes it a good bet that they could have been fast friends.
-Todd Arrington, Site Manager
March being “Women’s History Month,” it seems appropriate to say a little something about a woman whose name is more than likely unknown to most present-day Americans. She wasn’t a leader in the abolitionist movement or a suffragist. She gained no fame as an advocate of temperance. She was, though, a lifelong resident of the District of Columbia, and chronicled the Washington scene from the 1860s into the early 1880s.
Her name was Mary Clemmer Ames (1839-1884) and her book Ten Years in Washington, first published in 1874, is an engaging account of the notable buildings and agencies centered in the nation’s capital, and the people whose activities breathed life into them. Her descriptions of the many individuals, male and female, prominent and not, who set the social standards of the political class, or who did the everyday work of the federal bureaucracy, are intelligent, sympathetic, at times witty, and fully human portrayals.
This post will pay most attention to the commentary of Mrs. Clemmer that particularly illustrated the role of women of “Gilded Age” Washington. However, as James A. Garfield is inevitably the subject in some way of what you read on this page, what Mary Clemmer had to say about him will not be neglected.
Ten Years in Washington covers a wide variety of topics. There is a historical treatment of the designation of ten square miles of land given by the states of Maryland and Virginia for the establishment of the District. Mrs. Clemmer goes into great descriptive detail about the Capitol building, “the President’s House,” the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian. The inner workings of the U.S. Treasury, the Post Office and the Patent Office and other agencies are a prime focus of her writing. The State Department, the Army, the Navy, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Interior Department all came into view.
Mrs. Ames had something to say about every mistress of the White House, whether she was the President’s wife or daughter (there is a highly complimentary portrayal of Martha Patterson, daughter of Andrew Johnson). Her portrayal of Sarah Polk includes the following:
Mrs. Polk, intellectually, was one of the most marked
women who ever presided in the White House. A lady of
the old school… her attainments were more than ordinary…
Never a politician, in a day when politics… were forbidden
grounds to women, she no less was thoroughly conversant
with all public affairs…
She was her husband’s private secretary, and, probably,
was the only lady of the White House who ever filled that
office. She took charge of his papers, he trusting entirely to
her memory and method for their safe keeping… [and when
needed] it was Sarah’s ever ready hand that laid it before his
Conjured by Mrs. Clemmer’s pen, Mrs. Grant, the then-current First Lady, was a worthy object of the respect and admiration of that generation of Americans.
Mrs. Grant’s morning receptions are very popular, and
deservedly so. This is not because the lady is in any sense
a good conversationalist, or has a fine tact in receiving, but
rather, I think, because she is thoroughly good-natured, and
for the time, at least, makes other people feel the same. At
any rate, there was never so little formality or so much
genuine sociability in the day-receptions at the White House
as at the present time.
Ten Years in Washington is full of interesting facts and anecdotes. Many of these illustrate the contributions and the plight of female federal workers. Here, in her chapters on the Treasury Department, Mrs. Ames lauds the ability of the women who performed their work so well:
“After the great Chicago fire in 1871, cases of money to the value of one hundred and sixty-four thousand, nine-hundred and ninety-seven dollars and ninety-eight cents, were sent to the United States Treasury for identification… All these charred treasures were placed in the hands of a committee of six ladies… What patience, practice, skill, were indispensable to the fulfillment of this task, it is not difficult to conjecture… After unpacking the money… the ladies separated each small piece with thin knives made for the purpose, then laying the blackened fragments on sheets of blotting paper, they decided by close scrutiny, the value, genuineness, and nature of the note. Magnifying glasses were provided, but seldom used…’”
Mrs. Ames identified the members of this committee of six as Mrs. M. J. Patterson, Miss Pearl, Mrs. Davis, Miss Shriner, Miss Wright, and Miss Powers. “The most noted case [Mrs. Patterson] ever worked on was that of the paymaster’s trunk,” that sank with the Robert Carter, in the Mississippi River.
“After lying three years in the bottom of the river, the steamer was raised, and the money, soaked, rotten and obliterated, given to Mrs. Patterson for identification. She saved one hundred and eighty-five thousand out of two hundred thousand dollars, and the express company, which was responsible for the original amount, presented her with five hundred dollars, as a recognition of her services.”
And yet, the familiar refrain best summed up in the old adage, “The more things change, the more they remain the same,” was as pertinent in the distant 1870s as it it today.
Of the forty-five ladies in the Internal Revenue Bureau,
there is but one, and she is fifty years of age, who has not
more than herself to support on the pittance which she is
paid. Nevertheless, whenever a spasmodic cry of
‘retrenchment’ is raised, three women are always dismissed
from office, to one man, although the men greatly out-
number the women, to say nothing of their being so much
Today’s crusaders for “equal rights for equal pay” have soul mates going back 140 years and more. There are connections between we, the living, and past generations of Americans. History is not bunk. The past is not entirely past. It is not dead.
For many years Mary Clemmer authored a column called, “A Woman’s Letter from Washington.” This journalistic exploit for the New York Independent encouraged her passion for description, and her interest in the common man and woman. Her delight in limning the social elite sprang from that same reportorial flare.
It then comes as no surprise that in the March 27, 1879 issue of that column she presented a word portrait of Congressman James Garfield that mixed reservation with admiration:
“In mental capacity, in fine, wide, intellectual culture, no Republican for the last decade has equaled, much less surpassed him… Were it possible to honor his moral purity as one must his intellectual acumen, he would be as grand in personal and political strength, that no whim of man, no passion of the hour, no mutation of party could depress, much less overthrow.”
A month later, Garfield learned of the column’s complex account of his character through a letter from a Boston, Massachusetts correspondent, Jeremiah Chaplin. According to Garfield’s diary entry for April 27, 1879, Chaplin quoted the column, which “criticizes me in a vague, unjust, and indefinite way.” Calling on Mrs. Ames a few days later, he left [Chaplin’s] letter “for her to read at leisure and to let me know what she meant by her language. She asked me to call on Wednesday evening to see her about it. I am curious to know what she will say.”
Two days later, Garfield called on Mrs. Clemmer at seven o’clock in the evening. “I had a strong conversation with her on the subject,” he wrote afterward. Did she remind him of the marital infidelities of which he had been accused some years earlier? Did he refute these as unjust? Did he invoke the current state of his relationship with his wife as his defense? Alas, the content of that conversation is not known.
What is known is that in 1882, the year after President Garfield’s assassination, a new edition of Ten Years in Washington appeared. It now featured, “A Full and Authentic History of the Life and Death of President James A. Garfield.”
Was the inclusion of the Garfield biography intended as a well-deserved homage to the late president whose character the author had once questioned, or, (more cynically) was it designed to boost new sales of the original book?
The biography includes passages on First Lady Lucretia Garfield, who, returning from her own convalescence at Long Branch, New Jersey
bravely took her place by her husband’s side, and
comforted and cheered him during his long and weary
fight for life. How grandly she rose to the occasion,
how tenderly she endured the weary weeks, always
wearing a cheerful face, while her heart was breaking
with its cruel load, the whole world knows. Her heroic
devotion to her husband grandly typified the loyal and
self-sacrificing spirit of wifehood, which finds no more
conspicuous illustration than in our American homes…
Cognizant of all that had occurred between 1879 and 1882, driven perhaps by the changed perspective that death brings, Mrs. Ames concluded in 1882 that, “President Garfield was large-framed, large-brained, and large-hearted.”
He was six feet tall in height and was a splendid picture
of a man. His personal character and habits were clean and
pure, and his home life at Mentor or Washington as
simply delightful. … In a word, James A. Garfield was a
man physically, intellectually, and morally who was an
honor to his country and … no more imperishable name
will ever adorn our country’s annals.
It was not long after this writing that Mary Clemmer herself died at the age of 45, only a year after her 1883 marriage to Edmund Hudson, editor of the Army and Navy Register. Her earlier marriage to Daniel Ames ended in divorce in 1874, the same year in which Ten Years in Washington was first published.
Death came early to Mary Clemmer Ames Hudson, but she has left behind a wonderful chronicle of Gilded Age Washington.
-Alan Gephardt, Park Ranger
What began as a marriage in November 1858 “based on the cold stern word duty,” turned into a 19th century love story.
James Garfield and Lucretia Rudolph probably should have never married. They were of very different upbringings ~ and temperament.
Born in a log cabin in November 1831, James was the baby of the family, the youngest of the Garfield children, the one who was doted upon. He was precocious and busy as a toddler. His mother sang to him, held him on her lap and hugged him, and told him that he would grow up to be someone special. He grew to be charming, with a good sense of humor, and loved to be the center of attention!
Lucretia was born five months later, the eldest of the four Rudolph children. She had chores and responsibilities ~ and was taught the virtue of “self-government” by her mother. Neither of her parents openly showed much affection; she didn’t ever remember being kissed by her father. Despite growing up in this rather serious household, she knew she was loved. However, her nature was more quiet, shy, reserved, and some thought, “cold.” She could express her thoughts and desires to her diary or in letters, but struggled with showing her emotions in person.
The two crossed paths in school. Both families emphasized the importance of education and sent their adolescent James and Lucretia off to the Geauga Seminary in Chester Township, OH. It was a co-educational (high) school where they both received the same classical courses ~ and lived away from home for the first time. Lucretia roomed with other girls on the third floor of the school. James found lodging with other boarders nearby. They were just classmates, but Lucretia noticed the tall, blue-eyed, “strange genius” who had the look of “an overgrown, uncombed, unwashed, boy.” They both had other love interests.
Fate brought them together a second time: in the fall of 1851 at the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute in Hiram, OH. This co-educational college, started by Lucretia’s father and other elders of their Disciples of Christ Church, is where their interest in one another grew. Their Greek teacher became ill and James, far ahead of the other students, was asked to take over the class. He began to notice the petite, delicate, pretty girl with the dark, deep-set eyes. They both had intelligent, curious minds and loved learning, literature, and reading.
Their courtship officially began when James sent Lucretia the first of what would become 1,200 letters the two shared during their relationship. He visited Niagara Falls in 1853 and wanted to convey his impressions to Miss Rudolph. They shared their first kiss in 1854. The courtship endured many ups and downs due to their very different personalities and expectations. James wasn’t sure that Lucretia was the right woman for him, that she was passionate enough for his nature.
They finally decided to “try a life in union” during a buggy ride in the spring of 1858 and married on November 11 at the Rudolph home in Hiram. At her family’s suggestion, the bride even sent an invitation to her groom (to be sure that he showed up)! The newlyweds didn’t have enough money for a honeymoon or their own house, and instead moved into a rooming house near the Hiram college. They always had someone living with them.
Separations soon put a strain on their marriage. Due to his many jobs and duties, James was away from home for long absences ~ but also wanted to be away. He wasn’t yet truly prepared to be a husband and father. Even the birth of their first child in 1860 didn’t keep her restless, somewhat selfish, father home. James and Lucretia called these the “Dark Years.” During their first five years of marriage, they were only together 20 weeks.
Lucretia was trying to be “the best little wife and mother she could be,” but she admitted that her reserved personality was also to blame for their grim situation. She showed her diary to James and he read about her true emotions for him. They needed each other – they made each other better.
Many factors contributed to them drawing closer together: the importance of family brought home to James during the Civil War, the birth and loss of children, a regrettable affair for which James sought Lucretia’s forgiveness and guidance, a Grand Tour together, their mutual interests, their strong religious faith. His political career allowed them to spend more time together as a family during sessions of Congress when he moved them all to Washington with him. He became a “family man.”
Lucretia noted that “the forces drawing the two of us together were stronger than the differences pulling us apart.” When President James Garfield died in 1881, the two were close to celebrating their 23rd wedding anniversary. They were an established married couple who spent much time together as their children were growing up. They were supportive partners ~ Lucretia was her husband’s most important political confidant and fierce ally. They wrote about their loneliness for one another when apart ~ and of a new-found devotion to one another.
James to Lucretia – December 1867:
“We no longer love because we ought to, but because we do. Were I free to choose out of all the world the sharer of my heart and home and life, I would fly to you and ask you to be mine as you are.”
Lucretia to James – September 1870:
“…I stopped amazed to find myself sitting by our fireside, the loved and loving wife, …lifted up from the confusions and out from the entanglements…I felt that we are not living on the same plain [sic] as heretofore, that we are scarcely the same beings, but like conquering sovereigns we live in high isolation, wedded in heart and soul and life.”
Postscript: “Dearest Crete” kept the letters from her “Darling Jamie” and shared them with her adult children to show the progression of the Garfields’ marriage. She wanted them to understand the metamorphosis of the relationship and depth of their love.
-Debbie Weinkamer, Lead Volunteer
“If I can’t save him, no one can,” stated the overconfident Dr. Willard Bliss after the July 2, 1881 shooting of President James A. Garfield. What drove Dr. Bliss to decide that he was the only one who could save the president? What drives anyone to believe they stand above everyone else? Why didn’t he consult with the leading surgeons of the time? How did he manage to position himself above other doctors who had more knowledge and connections with the Garfield family? It is not my purpose to determine if Dr. Bliss was negligent in his service to President Garfield; history has already determined that. He believed in his abilities above all else, and positioned himself within the situation to be in control.
Doctor (his actual first name!) Willard Bliss grew up not far from James Garfield , and the two appear to have known one another as youngsters. Bliss graduated from the Cleveland Medical College in 1849 or 1850, then married and moved to the Grand Rapids, Michigan area where he joined the local medical community.
At the start of the Civil War in April 1861, Dr. Bliss offered his services to the Union cause. He was assigned as regimental surgeon of the Third Michigan Volunteer Infantry. After the first battle of Bull Run (July 21, 1861), Bliss and his brother Dr. Z.E. Bliss received a letter of praise from the staff of the 3rd Michigan for their actions during the battle. In May 1862, Willard Bliss was placed in charge of the Armory Square Hospital in Washington, D.C., a large facility with over 1,000 beds. Armory Square Hospital received some of the most severely injured soldiers from the many bloody battles in Virginia. Bliss served the rest of the war in this position.
There is no clear record of Bliss having treated President Abraham Lincoln after he was shot by John Wilkes Booth on April 14, 1865. It appears that Bliss’s presence at the Petersen House (across the street from Ford’s Theater and where Lincoln was carried after he was shot) was requested by Dr. Charles Leale, one of the first doctors on the scene after the shooting. In his post-assassination reports, Dr. Leale wrote that he “sent for the Surgeon General, J.K. Barnes, the family physician Robert K. Stone and the Commander of the Armory Square Hospital, D.W. Bliss.” Robert Todd Lincoln, Abraham and Mary Lincoln’s eldest son, may have actually met Dr. Bliss at his father’s deathbed.
How did Bliss position himself above everyone else after President Garfield’s shooting sixteen years later, in July 1881? Dr. Smith Townsend was the first doctor to arrive on the scene after the shooting, followed by Dr. Charles Purvis. While these doctors were treating the President, Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln, just forty or so feet away from Garfield when assassin Charles Guiteau attacked, called for Dr. Bliss. Historical evidence suggests Robert Todd Lincoln also knew of the childhood connection between Garfield and Bliss. Whether it was that connection or his service at the Armory and at Lincoln’s deathbed that led him to call for Bliss, Robert Lincoln’s decision would have lasting effects on history.
Was Bliss the best doctor for the job? The end result suggests not, but judging the outcome based on twenty-first century medical standards is hardly fair.
As soon as Dr. Bliss arrived on the scene at the Baltimore & Potomac Railroad station just minutes after the shooting, he took charge-not a surprise based on his position and prior military experience. He continued to insist on his own medical preeminence after the President was moved to the White House.
There were many factors involved in him becoming the President’s primary physician. First, he was called to the scene by Lincoln. Robert Todd Lincoln made this decision because he knew Dr. Bliss. Once at the White House, Dr. Bliss refused to allow anyone to see the President without his approval–including the Garfield family physician. He carefully chose with whom he would consult, mostly doctors who agreed with him about the case. He “fired” all the other doctors who had been assisting, telling them that their services were no longer needed or relegating them to nursing duties. He did this in the name of the President. In fact, neither James Garfield nor any member of his family ever requested that Bliss be the primary physician.
Dr. Bliss’s excising of the other physicians from the case carefully removed anyone questioning his authority. Despite Bliss’s objection, First Lady Lucretia Garfield did manage to bring in two doctors she trusted to try to aid in the President’s care. These were Dr. Susan Edson and Dr. Silas Boynton (the President’s own cousin), both of whom stayed at the President’s side even as Dr. Bliss ignored them and refused to listen to their medical opinions about President Garfield’s condition and care.
Throughout this period, the painful probing of Garfield’s wound with unwashed fingers and instruments continued, even as the President became noticeable weaker on many days. Despite his patient’s failing health, Dr. Bliss’s arrogance continued to grow. The procedures that Dr. Townsend—the first doctor on the scene–had used (unsterilized equipment and dirty hands) were common in the United States during this period. Many American doctors of the day failed to believe in the unseen germs that Joseph Lister had proven were present. The fact that “80% of operations (were) plagued by hospital gangrene and a nearly 50% mortality rate” had little effect on Bliss’s thinking or treatment. Doctors continued to unnecessarily probe the wound until “his initial wound, a 3 inch deep harmless wound, was turned into a 20 inch long contaminated wound oozing more pus each day.” It was infection introduced by Bliss and other doctors that killed the President on September 19, 1881, 80 days after the shooting.
Did other doctors think Bliss was the best surgeon for the job of treating President Garfield? Certainly Edson and Boynton did not, and there were others that tried to speak up but to no avail. What is clear is that Bliss’s arrogance played a significant role–and was perhaps the deciding factor– in the President’s demise.
Even Garfield’s autopsy was viewed by some as a cover up, with medical statements about his death that were not true. The original cause of death was listed as rupturing of a blood vessel injured by the gunshot. In fact, his death was caused by a heart attack resulting from the infection introduced by his doctors. This autopsy should have been an independent investigation into the cause of death, but many of the doctors present had attended to the wounded president–including Bliss, which surely skewed the outcome. This would hide the poor treatment Garfield received from his doctors.
Charles Guiteau, the president’s mentally disturbed assassin, stated on the opening day of his murder trial “General Garfield died from malpractice, according to his own physician, he was not fatally shot. The doctors who mistreated him ought to bear the odium of his death, and not his assailant.” Though the jury didn’t buy it and eventually convicted Guiteau and sentenced him to death, his statement that “I did not kill the president; the doctors did that. I merely shot at him,” was one of the few lucid things he said during his two-month trial. Today, most historians and doctors agree with Guiteau’s assessment that botched medical treatment led by Dr. Willard Bliss killed President James A. Garfield.
-Mark A. Lombardi, Volunteer
First Lady Lucretia Garfield lived for 36 years after her husband, President James A. Garfield, was assassinated in 1881 by Charles Guiteau. During that time, she became a beloved figure in America, though she shunned publicity. She created the first Presidential Memorial Library and became the matriarch of a large, close-knit and affectionate family. Debbie Weinkamer, who portrays Lucretia, is a Garfield researcher, first-person living historian, and the Lead Volunteer at James A. Garfield National Historic Site in Mentor, Ohio. Here she presents how Lucretia would speak for herself in answering the critics if she had the chance. Not always self-assured, except in the company of friends and family, nevertheless, Lucretia had always met adversity head on, facing her responsibilities.
I appreciate this opportunity to write to you in order to clear up some misconceptions about me. Many of you have not heard much about me since my husband’s assassination and death in 1881. Even the newspapers have called me the “Vanishing First Lady” and “Discreet Crete.” I must admit: I have ducked all publicity, for I feel that in no way am I personally famous. The name I bear is honored and honorable, but I am just an ordinary woman devoted to her husband and children.
I did enjoy my husband’s rise to prominence in politics, contrary to many historians’ opinions of me. At the beginning of his political career, I wrote to him that, “I feel so much anxiety for you that your public career be never marked by the blight of a misdirected step. I want you to be great and good.” I was one of his most-trusted confidants and advisors. I didn’t expect him to be nominated for President in the political climate of 1876-1880, but thought that his time would eventually come. However, after he received the “dark horse” nomination at the 1880 Republican Convention in Chicago, I wanted him to win the election – even though I knew that it would bring political difficulties to my husband and a terrible responsibility to our entire family.
My quiet, shy nature made me very reluctant to take over the social duties of First Lady, even though I had been a Congressman’s wife for 17 years and had lived in Washington with my husband and family during sessions of Congress since 1869. However, I was very fortunate to receive the good advice and assistance of my friend Harriet Blaine, wife of my husband’s Secretary of State and “an experienced Washington grande dame.” I came to rely on her fine judgment regarding many etiquette matters, including how to establish my calling hours at the Executive Mansion, and effective ways to handle newspaper correspondents and petty criticisms.
(Here, I must pause to reveal some interesting correspondence regarding the Blaines…In April 1875, I received a letter from my husband concerning a rumor that when James Blaine was getting married to Harriet, the couple’s “warm blood led them to anticipate the nuptial ceremony,” and their first child was born about six months after their marriage. My husband asked, would this fact “have weight with the people in the Presidential Campaign?” [Mr. Blaine was being considered by some for the presidency.]
I replied, “It was a queer piece of gossip you gave me of Mr. Blaine. I scarcely believe it. But if it is true, it ought not to affect the voters very much unless it would have been considered more honorable by the majority to have abandoned the woman—seduced. My opinion of Mr. Blaine would be rather heightened than otherwise by the truth of such a story: for it would show him not entirely selfish and heartless.”)
During his brief presidency, my husband paid me the best compliments a political wife can receive: that I was discreet and wise, that my “role as his partner in the presidential enterprise was essential to him,” and that I “rose up to every occasion.”
I have led a quiet, yet social, life since that terrible tragedy in 1881. I created a “country estate” from my farm property in Mentor, Ohio and embarked on several building projects. A “Memorial Library” addition was built onto the back of the farmhouse, complete with a fire-proof vault to hold my husband’s papers from his public career (and more than 1,200 letters shared between us). I’ve been told that it may inspire others to create presidential libraries one day!
My children have completed college, married, and now have children of their own. I am so pleased to say that they have grown up to be distinguished citizens in their own right. We all gather at the Mentor farm every summer, and I can be found wintering in South Pasadena, California. I love to travel to New York City for the opera season and to visit my 16 grandchildren at least once a year.
I try to keep well-informed of science, cultural, and political events, both at home and abroad. I have co-founded a ladies’ literary group (based on one that my husband and I attended in Washington) called the Miscellany Club, where monthly meetings are held in members’ homes and we take turns speaking on subjects related to a year-long topic, like “American History.” I often correspond with my oldest sons about political matters, which can get quite interesting since one is aligned with Woodrow Wilson and the other with Theodore Roosevelt!
My five children have been a continual joy and inspiration to me. And with the memory of my dear Husband and our little ones who didn’t stay with us very long…I have had a remarkable life. For does not life grow richer as the years go by? Even our losses lead us into wider fields and nobler thoughts.
Lucretia R. Garfield
-Debbie Weinkamer, Lead Volunteer
(This article originally appeared at http://kennethackerman.com/guest-blogger-debbie-weinkamer-on-lucretia-garfield-the-vanishing-first-lady-or-am-i/ on March 30, 2012.)
Who was the first President depicted on a postage stamp? George Washington
Who was the first President born a United States citizen? Martin Van Buren
Who was the first President to be left handed? James Garfield??
That’s right. Eight Presidents are known to be left-handed, and James A. Garfield was the first. In fact, President Garfield holds quite a number of presidential firsts.
(But first, a presidential last: Garfield was the last President to be born in a log cabin. Orange Township, Ohio, could have been considered the American frontier when Garfield was born there in 1831. The modern village of Moreland Hills now makes up this part of the old township, and maintains a replica cabin as Garfield’s birthplace.)
Garfield was the first, and to-date only, sitting member of the U.S. House of Representatives to be elected President. He was a long-serving member of the House, completing nine terms representing Ohio’s 19th Congressional District before resigning to become President. Garfield was also a U.S. Senator-elect for Ohio at the time, making him the only man in U.S. history to be a sitting Representative, Senator-elect, and President-elect at the same time!
Garfield is the first, and again the only, President to be a clergyman. Prior to embarking on a career in politics, young Garfield was a lay minister of the Disciples of Christ.
He was the first President to successfully use a front-porch campaign strategy. As was customary for a politician at the time, Garfield spent the 1880 Presidential Campaign tending to his private affairs. In his case, this was a 150-acre farm in Mentor, Ohio, where he lived with his wife and five children. Garfield’s reputation for public speaking preceded him, encouraging 17,000 visitors to travel to his home to hear him talk. Not wanting to be rude, Garfield would stand on his front-porch to speak to the dozens, or sometimes hundreds, of visitors assembled on his lawn nearly every day during that summer and fall.
During one of these speeches, Garfield became the first President to have campaigned in two languages when he spoke to a group of German-Americans using their native tongue.
At his inauguration on March 4, 1881, President Garfield accomplishes three more firsts. He was the first President to review the Inaugural Parade from in front of the White House. At the inauguration itself, Garfield became the first President to have his mother be in attendance. Outgoing President Hayes gave up his seat so that Eliza Garfield could sit next to her son. (President Garfield’s first action after completing the Oath of Office was to bend down and give his dear mother a kiss on the cheek.) Later that night, President Garfield’s Inaugural Ball became the first public event to be held at the Smithsonian Institution’s newly constructed Arts and Industries Building.
Garfield’s presidency ended after just 200 days. He succumbed to an infection from a gunshot wound and shoddy medical care (no, not first, but second assassinated President, after Abraham Lincoln). His death, at 49 years of age, made him the first President to die before age 50.
Following her husband’s death, Mrs. Lucretia Garfield contributed her own Presidential first. In a desire to make sure that her husband was not lost to history and forgotten, she initiated a project to gather as many of Garfield’s Presidential papers as possible. Prior to this exercise, Presidential papers were considered to be private property of the men who held the office. Upon leaving the presidency, they would gift some papers to friends, maybe even destroy many others. By bringing the Garfield papers together into one collection, Lucretia set the precedent for future Presidents- in a manner of speaking, the Garfield collection was the first Presidential library.
Lucretia’s desire to put together a collection of her late husband’s work, and the mere recognition of President Garfield’s ‘firsts’ have ensured that her fears did not come true. President James A. Garfield continues to be remembered, admired, and studied.
-Benjamin Frayser, Volunteer
There’s no denying that the internet and social media play a prominent role in the way we access news today, and the type of news we choose to follow. This is especially true when it comes to politics and modern presidential campaigns. With this seemingly endless stream of information, there is no shortage of criticism and humor directed at politicians. Whether it’s good or bad, most Americans have likely even come to expect it!
So what about presidential campaigns of the 19th century? Did such witty criticism of the nation’s potential commander-in-chief exist then, too? The answer is, of course, a resounding “yes.” While Americans of the day certainly were not inundated with updates via Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media site (there weren’t even radios for inquisitive citizens to gather information from), that doesn’t mean humor was absent from political campaigns of the period.
Humorous criticism has always been a staple of political campaigns, in varying degrees of seriousness, and there was no lack of it in James Garfield’s successful campaign of 1880. The most prominent satirical periodical of the day was Puck Magazine, and Garfield often found himself on the receiving end of the publication’s commentary and political cartoons during his campaign. From Credit Mobilier to DeGolyer Pavement and the “salary grab” of 1873, Garfield’s congressional career provided ample ammunition for journalists of the day to criticize.
Simultaneously, Garfield’s opponent was not immune from critics. Democratic candidate Winfield Scott Hancock was just as frequently at the center of the magazine’s jokes, despite the fact that it was generally more sympathetic to the Democratic Party. Yet while I found the comics and commentary poking fun at the two candidates to be rather even, while combing through editions of the magazine from the 1880 campaign I stumbled upon something a bit more unusual.
While I expected to see the presidential candidates lambasted, I was not expecting to see anything targeting their spouses. Yet that’s exactly what I found in the July 21, 1880 edition. Starting with Mrs. Garfield, the writers at Puck weave an intricate story of a woman more impressive than even her husband! Of course upon closer examination it’s less about her actual accomplishments and more a grossly exaggerated fiction of the soon-to-be First Lady. From holding four patents for boiling potatoes, to entering West Point at the age of 71 (!) – only to subsequently give up her military duties to marry James Garfield at the age of 74 – the magazine creates the image of a comically overambitious woman.
The reason behind this exaggeration and why Puck chose to portray Mrs. Garfield in such a light is unclear, though perhaps it becomes clearer after reading the magazine’s description of Mrs. Hancock. Whereas Mrs. Garfield’s life and accomplishments were impossibly unrealistic, Mrs. Hancock is presented as possessing qualities “quite important enough, in a quiet, unobtrusive and domestic way to set a noble example to the women and children of the universe.” Unlike Mrs. Garfield, whose accomplishments have “shaken the world to its foundation,” Mrs. Hancock is presented to the readers as the epitome of a virtuous American woman. Setting a noble example, Puck sees Mrs. Hancock as the more suitable of the two to fulfill the duties of First Lady, as she provides the American public with a character to which any woman would aspire.
So why the criticism of Mrs. Garfield? Was there something particularly loathsome about her character that prompted the editors at Puck to attack her? Looking through other sources of the time, from Cleveland’s Plain Dealer to The New York Times, Lucretia Garfield is notably absent from any criticism related to her husband, and is even referred to as a “quiet, thoughtful, and refined woman” by the Times. Using a little leeway, perhaps it’s not that Puck is not actually ridiculing her, but rather using her as a way to poke fun at her husband and his rise from “canal boy” to presidential candidate.
However, that is just my conclusion. Whether the authors of this humorous article were truly looking to mock Mrs. Garfield, or to find an alternative way to satirize her husband, we may never know. The one conclusion we can draw is that political satire is certainly not new to American political campaigns or candidates. Whether Lucretia Garfield deserved to bear the brunt of this joke or not is almost irrelevant, as this article clearly illustrates that satire was becoming a prominent voice in American politics, and anyone was fair game.
-James Brundage, Museum Technician
The Holiday Season (Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day) means different things to different people. Some will devoutly observe the sanctimony of the holidays; others will conduct personal reflections on the changing year. Often, these will be mixed with cherished opportunities to spend time with family and friends.
Though some traditions and customs may have changed over the years, James A. Garfield also observed the holiday season, celebrating with family and friends and reflecting on his accomplishments throughout the past year.
An avid diarist throughout the majority of his life, Garfield often wrote details of his thoughts on the holidays each year. Reviewing these diary entries reveals many things both interesting and a little surprising.
New Year’s Day appears to be of more importance to Garfield than did Christmas and Thanksgiving. He spent many New Year’s Days evaluating the previous year’s achievements and looking at opportunities for personal improvement.
Wednesday, December 31, 1851 – I have perhaps done as well during the past year as could have been expected, but I can do better next time- let me try.
Monday, December 31, 1877 – The year has been an eventful one in many ways, particularly in the line of my public and private life. I shall be curious to see whether it is the culmination of my strength, for I have reached the top of the ridge according to the ordinary calculations of human life.
On some years he included personal reflections that were quite somber.
Thursday, December 31, 1857 – I feel that I am not so good a man in heart as I once was. Perhaps the business of living is the business of growing hardened to many things in life…I fear that my heart does not pray as it ought. Oh my God, may the sins of this closing year be blotted from the great book of thy remembrance, and my soul be fitted for heaven.
Friday, January 1, 1875 – I fear (the past) two years have taken away something from my cheerfulness and buoyancy of spirit. I shall try to resist the shadows and court the sunshine.
However, Garfield was not always melancholy around New Year’s Day. He also enjoyed the social opportunities of the holiday. As a young man, he noted New Year’s Eve, 1849, was spent at Chagrin Falls, Ohio. It should not be too hard to imagine 18-year old James celebrating the holiday as young men are likely to- by laughing with friends and chatting with pretty girls.
Perhaps his oddest holiday season came in 1858, when he spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve in intellectual debate with renowned traveling debater William Denton on the proposition that life on Earth exists not by direct, creative power but by progressive development. Each gave 20 half-hour speeches in Chagrin Falls between December 27 and 31. Both men claimed victory in the debate, but the experience won Garfield considerable experience, confidence, and local acclaim.
As for Christmas holidays, Garfield does not record much thought on the day in his diary. As a young man, he typically spent the day at school or church in the morning, then with family in the evening.
Friday, December 25, 1857 – Classes as usual. But few are gone away ‘to Christmas’. Spent the evening at (future father-in-law) Brother (Zebulon) Rudolph’s. A very pleasant time. Read The Culprit Fay to the company.
As his family life evolved, Garfield wrote frequently of the joy he found in spending time with his wife and children.
Friday, December 25, 1874 – …at an early hour we listened to the exclamations of delight from the children at the presents which has been distributed during the night…I am glad to notice that Harry and Jimmy have…awakened to the love of reading.
Saturday, December 25, 1875 – Spent the day home with the children, who were delighted with their Christmas Gifts. Crete (Lucretia) and I joined them in their games and made a very pleasant day of it…I did hope to get away to New York for a part of this vacation, but I enjoy being at home more than ever before. I am glad this is so, although it probably indicates the advance of old age.
Sunday, December 24, 1876 – Attended church with Mother, Crete, Mollie, Irvin and Miss Mays. In the evening attended to the Christmas things and read from (Alfred Lord Tennyson’s) In Memoriam.
Monday, December 25, 1876 – I read to Crete and Miss Mays poems from…In Memoriam which relate to Christmas…their beauties grow upon me at each reading. I have, for many years, sung “Ring out, Wild Bells” to a rude air…which Crete is good enough to say is excellent music.
The holidays were not always so serene for Garfield though. As a prominent attorney and U.S. Congressman, other affairs frequently kept him busy and away from home. In 1873 Garfield traveled to Boston on Christmas Eve to take and review testimony for a court case over disputed land in the city. He spent Christmas Day there in preparation for the trial. A few years later, in 1879, Garfield was in New York for New Year’s Eve, and longing for home.
Thursday, January 1, 1879 – I am homesick as a boy to be with the dear ones (at home) today.
Indeed, Garfield’s favorite way to spend the holidays was with his family and friends.
Thursday, December 31, 1857 – This evening we went to Bro. Rudolph’s with Crete…we read (George D.) Prentice’s Closing Year. How thrilling!!
Wednesday, December 31, 1873 – Sat up with Crete and watched the old year out.
Sunday, December 31, 1876 – After dinner read to the children from Audubon concerning the wild turkey, its character and habits. In the evening…read Tennyson’s New Year’s and Christmas Poems until near midnight. The clock struck the new year before we went to sleep.
Thursday, November 29, 1877 – Spend the day at home…read, wrote, played with the children and enjoyed our home Thanksgiving.
Wednesday, December 24, 1879 – spent several hours with Crete and the boys (Harry and Jimmy) getting Christmas things for the children and our friends.
Friday, December 24, 1880 – …the whole family was ready at six-ten (in the morning) to meet the dear boys (Harry and Jimmy, returning home from boarding school), who bounded in at 6.15 joyful and joy giving.
Even though Garfield wrote about his holiday experiences some 150 years ago, it is clear many traditions and customs never get old and change.
-Benjamin Frayser, Volunteer
Several months back, while searching the internet for information on stereopticons, I stumbled on a collection of images from the 1876 Centennial Exposition, contributed online by Mr. Jim Davis, of Texas. The images are a joy to see, and several are included in this article, together with drawings published in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Historical Register of the Centennial Exposition. Having Mr. Davis’s images at hand, locating a facsimile copy of the Leslie book, and knowing that James Garfield visited the Centennial with his family and some friends, it struck me that a blog article was in the making.
Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Historical Register of the Centennial Exposition called the Philadelphia event the “most stupendous and successful competitive exposition that the world ever saw.” Not that the American Centennial was anything new. Other Expositions grabbed the attentions and the imaginations of people all over the globe, including those held at Paris, Dublin, and Vienna.
The mania for these exhibitions, also known as expositions, or “expos,” began in 1851, with the Crystal Palace Exposition in London. Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s consort, labored to make the Crystal Palace Exposition reflect “the advancement of industry,” and an event that would highlight “the interests of the laboring people,” while also demonstrating the material affluence and social well-being of English society. Other expositions held in Paris in 1867, in Vienna in 1873, and in several states of the United States were all similarly forward-looking affairs.
In the same way, the American Centennial project was meant to showcase material progress in the United States, but perhaps as important was its original purpose to help heal a society recently torn apart by civil war. Through the celebration of one hundred years of nationhood, the United States would reexamine its moral, social, and political principles.
The idea of a Centennial celebration, appealed to many people, but it was not universally embraced. James Garfield was an early skeptic. In a diary entry of December 13, 1872, he wrote,
“Congress has been drawn into this scheme unconsciously and is almost now committed to make large appropriations for that celebration. Perhaps we ought to do it, but it ought to have been done in a more open and avowed manner.”
On May 5, 1874, Garfield said that he was “some troubled about this question, but on the whole think we ought not to incur the expense [$3,000,000].” He also disliked the proposed international aspect of the Centennial, which he called “a great mistake and will result in disaster and failure.” Eliminate that feature, Garfield wrote, “make it a national celebration, [and] I shall be glad to see it go forward.”
As Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, Garfield may have been irked by the international aspect of the centennial as an unaffordable expense. Like so many major undertakings by government in more recent history, the Centennial also became for a time the hostage of partisan and sectional political matters, as is seen in James Garfield’s diary.
On January 10, 1876, he noted that a bill was pending before Congress to grant a general amnesty to former Confederates, allowing them to hold public office. This was controversial. For the first time since the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment, “rebel” leaders could occupy seats in the House and Senate.
Pennsylvania Congressman William D. Kelley made a speech that offered a quid pro quo – passage of the amnesty in exchange for an appropriation for the Centennial. Garfield thought that such a deal “greatly decreased” the chances for an appropriation for the Centennial. An attack by a southern Congressman on the Centennial, “on the ground of its being unconstitutional,” bothered him too. The Centennial might not be affordable, but it was constitutional!
Despite the political maneuverings to which the Centennial was prey, it did proceed, with a mere $500,000 appropriation by Congress. (The bulk of the funding was raised by other means.) Dozens of nations were invited to participate, and dozens did. These included England, France, Austria, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Japan, China, Russia, Brazil, Egypt, and Australia. Hundreds of laborers worked on the construction of its buildings and grounds, and these included many Japanese, Turkish, and Russian workers. The American Centennial was indeed an international affair.
Upon its completion, the physical plant of the Exposition covered 230 acres of ground at Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. It was said that the “average visitor…could not help but be awed by the sheer size of everything.” President Grant opened the Centennial on May 10, 1876. Congressman Garfield was at the opening, though he missed the President’s remarks:
“At seven o’clock Crete and I drove to the City to do a little shopping, but most of the stores were closed and the processions that filled the streets made it difficult to move. The sky is overcast and some rain is falling while we are in the city. We returned at 9 o’clock and after breakfast went to the Centennial. Old Probabilities promised us a fair day and it came. We sat on the stand in front of the Art Hall and witnessed the imposing ceremonies of the opening of the Exposition. … Nearly one hundred thousand people witnessed the ceremonies. But more than the sight of crowds and of titled officials, I was impressed by the grandeur of the human voice when the thousand trained singers rendered in solemn and beautiful music Whittier’s [Centennial] hymn… Crete and I went to the Art Gallery… [then] through the crowd to Machinery Hall… Just at the door we met the President with [the] Empress of Brazil on his arm, followed by the Emperor and Mrs. Grant.”
Garfield concluded the diary entry of May 10, 1876 with a comment that reflected the growing industrial power of the United States in the 1870s: “We then spent an hour in Machinery Hall, where the United States will doubtless make relatively the best exhibition.”
(Check back soon for Part II!)
-Alan Gephardt, Park Rangerl