James & Lucretia Garfield’s Love Story

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!

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James Abram Garfield in 1848, the year he turned seventeen.  He got along well with nearly everyone, had an outgoing personality, and enjoyed being the center of attention everywhere he went.  (Western Reserve Historical Society)

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.

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Lucretia Rudolph (right) with her siblings.  She had a very different upbringing than her future husband and was much quieter and more reserved.  (Western Reserve Historical Society)

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.

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Lucretia Rudolph and James Garfield (right side in front row) in a Greek class photo at the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute in 1853.  (Western Reserve Historical Society)

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.

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James Garfield and Lucretia Rudolph around the time of their engagement.  They married on November 11, 1858.  (Western Reserve Historical Society)

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.”

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James and Lucretia Garfield’s marriage produced seven children.  Their firstborn, daughter Eliza, and last born, son Edward, both died in childhood.  Their other five children-sons Harry, James R. Irvin, and Abram; and daughter Mollie-all survived to adulthood.  James’s mother, Eliza (see at far right in this image) lived with the family for many years as well, including during their tragically brief stay in the White House.  (Library of Congress)

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.” 

lucretiawith5children1911

Lucretia Rudolph Garfield (second from right) poses with her five surviving children in 1911, thirty years after her husband’s tragic death.  From left to right: Irvin Garfield; Mollie Garfield Stanley-Brown; Abram Garfield; Lucretia Rudolph Garfield; James R. Garfield; and Harry Garfield.  (Western Reserve Historical Society)

 

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

Dr. Willard Bliss: A Man of His Time?

“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.

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Dr. D. Willard Bliss (U.S. National Library of Medicine).

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.

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Patients in Ward K of the Armory Square Hospital in Washington, D.C. in 1865.  Dr. Willard Bliss was in charge of the Hospital for much of the Civil War.  (ghostsofdc.org)

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.

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Charles Guiteau shot President James A. Garfield on July 2, 1881.  The President endured extremely poor medical care–even by 1881 standards–at Dr. Bliss’s hands for the next 80 days.  (Wikipedia)

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.

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Imagined view of President Garfield’s death on September 19, 1881.  This view shows him surrounded by his cabinet and his wife and daughter crying at his side.  Dr. Bliss is to the President’s right with his hand on Garfield.  Behind and to Bliss’s right is Dr. Susan Edson, whom Mrs. Garfield hoped could help Bliss save her husband’s life.  (Wikipedia)

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 J. Guiteau

Charles Guiteau, the President’s assassin, argued that while he had shot Garfield, the doctors-not he-had killed the President.  (Wikipedia)

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

 

“The Vanishing First Lady”-or Am I?

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.

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Mrs. Lucretia Garfield, ca. 1881.  (Library of Congress)

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.

Engagement pic cropped

A young James Garfield and Lucretia Rudolph around the time of their engagement.  They married on November 11, 1858.  (Western Reserve Historical Society)

(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!

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Lucretia Rudolph Garfield in her later years, in a portrait by John Folinsbee.  This portrait hangs in the Garfield home at James A. Garfield National Historic Site in Mentor, Ohio.  (National Park Service)

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!

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Mrs. Lucretia Garfield (center, seated) surrounded by grandchildren on her Mentor, Ohio property.  (Lake County Historical Society)

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.

Very respectfully,

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.)

 

 

James A. Garfield: Man of Many Presidential Firsts

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.

James A. Garfield was a man of many presidential firsts!  This intense image of him is one of our favorites here at James A. Garfield NHS. (Library of Congress)

James A. Garfield was a man of many presidential firsts! This intense image of him is one of our favorites here at James A. Garfield NHS. (Library of Congress)

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.

Mrs. Lucretia Garfield was understandably concerned that history would forget or ignore her husband due to his short presidency.  By building the first presidential library, she ensured that James A. Garfield's memory and legacy would live forever.   (Library of Congress)

Mrs. Lucretia Garfield was understandably concerned that history would forget or ignore her husband due to his short presidency. By building the first presidential library, she ensured that James A. Garfield’s memory and legacy would live forever. (Library of Congress)

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

Political Satire and the 1880 Presidential Campaign

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.

This image of Garfield and some of the scandals of his political career was entitled "It Makes Him Sick."  It appeared on the cover of the August 18, 1880 issue of Puck Magazine.  (Puck/University of Michigan)

This image of Garfield and some of the scandals of his era was entitled “It Makes Him Sick.” It appeared on the cover of the August 18, 1880 issue of Puck Magazine. (Puck/University of Michigan)

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.

Democratic candidate Winfield Scott Hancock was not spared the satirical treatment in 1880, either, as this Puck cartoon shows.  (Puck/University of Michigan)

Democratic candidate Winfield Scott Hancock was not spared the satirical treatment in 1880, either, as this Puck cartoon shows. (Puck/University of Michigan)

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.

This lengthy article satirized Mrs. Lucretia Garfield during the 1880 presidential campaign.  Was this really directed at her, or at her husband?  (Puck/University of Michigan)

This lengthy article satirized Mrs. Lucretia Garfield during the 1880 presidential campaign. Was this really directed at her, or at her husband? (Puck/University of Michigan)

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

Holidays with the Garfields

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.

James A. Garfield was a dedicated diarist and left behind many recollections of the holiday season.    (Library of Congress)

James A. Garfield was a dedicated diarist and left behind many recollections of the holiday season. (Library of Congress)

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.

The center of Garfield's life during the holidays was, of course, his wife, Lucretia Rudolph Garfield, and their children.   (Library of Congress)

The center of Garfield’s life during the holidays was, of course, his wife, Lucretia Rudolph Garfield, and their children. (Library of Congress)

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 Garfields had a large family consisting of five children and James's mother, Eliza Ballou Garfield.  In 1879, Lucretia's father, Zeb Rudolph, came to live with them as well.  (Library of Congress)

The Garfields had a large family consisting of five children that survived to adulthood and James’s mother, Eliza Ballou Garfield. In 1879, Lucretia’s father, Zeb Rudolph, came to live with them in their Mentor, Ohio home as well. (Library of Congress)

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. 

The Garfields purchased their home in Mentor, Ohio in 1876 and only spent a few holidays seasons here before James Garfield's presidency and death.  Mrs. Garfield owned the property the rest of her life and spent many holidays here with her children, grandchildren, and extended families.  We have no evidence or photos describing how they decorated the home (if at all) during the holiday season.  (NPS photo)

The Garfields purchased their home in Mentor, Ohio in 1876 and only spent a few holiday seasons here before James Garfield’s presidency and death. Mrs. Garfield owned the property the rest of her life and spent many holidays here with her children, grandchildren, and extended family. Unfortunately, we have no evidence or photos describing how or if they decorated the home during the holiday season. (NPS photo)

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

James A. Garfield and the Centennial Exposition of 1876, Part I

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.

Cover of Frank Leslie's Illustrated Historical Register of the Centennial Exposition, 1876.

Cover of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Historical Register of the Centennial Exposition, 1876.  (Wikipedia)

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 Crystal Palace, centerpiece of the Crystal Palace Exposition in London.  (

The Crystal Palace, centerpiece of the Crystal Palace Exposition in London. (Wikipedia)

The Paris Exposition of 1867. (

The Paris Exposition of 1867. (Wikipedia)

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.”

Congressman James A. Garfield, who attended the Centennial Exposition in August 1876.  (Wikipedia)

Congressman James A. Garfield, who attended the Centennial Exposition in August 1876. (Wikipedia)

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.

Image of the 1876 Centennial Exposition grounds in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Jim Davis Collection)

Image of the 1876 Centennial Exposition grounds in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Jim Davis Collection)

Map of the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.  (Jim Davis Collection)

Map of the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. (Jim Davis Collection)

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.”

Stereopticon of the exterior of Machine Hall at the 1876 Centennial Exposition.  (Jim Davis collection.)

Stereopticon of the exterior of Machine Hall at the 1876 Centennial Exposition. (Jim Davis collection.)

Stereopticon of the interior of Machinery Hall.  (Jim Davis collection.)

Stereopticon of the interior of Machinery Hall. (Jim Davis collection.)

Stereopticon of Memorial Hall with train in front of the building.  (Jim Davis collection.)

Stereopticon of Memorial Hall with train in front of the building. (Jim Davis collection.)

Stereopticon of the interior of Memorial Hall Art Gallery.  (Jim Davis collection.)

Stereopticon of the interior of Memorial Hall Art Gallery. (Jim Davis collection.)

(Check back soon for Part II!)

-Alan Gephardt, Park Rangerl

The First Lady and the Queen: Two Women Brought Together by Tragedy

In the 1880s two notable women shared a bond that resulted from personal tragedy. One was a Head of State, Queen Victoria of Great Britain; the other was the wife of the Head of State, the American First Lady, Lucretia Garfield. On the surface, their lives did not suggest that the two women had much in common, but a closer look at their early married lives and later actions as widows demonstrates that similar conditions produced similar responses to their roles as the spouses of notable men.

Lucretia Rudolph met James A. Garfield at the Geauga Seminary in Chesterland, Ohio. The friendship which began there blossomed into a courtship at the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (now Hiram College). A long engagement, and then marriage, followed. Both were 26 years old when they married in the home of Lucretia’s parents in Hiram on November 11, 1858. The first years of the Garfield marriage were difficult due to long separations; Lucretia later referred to these as “the dark years.” Garfield served in the Union army during the Civil War and was stricken more than once with illness; at one point he came home to recuperate. It was during this recovery in Ohio that their relationship finally began to improve and strengthen. In these early years of marriage, Lucretia bore first a girl, Eliza Arabella, and then a son, Harry. The death of “Little Trot,” and the birth of “the boy” drew Lucretia and her husband closer together.

This photo of James A. Garfield and Lucretia Rudolph was taken around the time of their engagement.  (Western Reserve Historical Society)

This photo of James A. Garfield and Lucretia Rudolph was taken around the time of their engagement. (Western Reserve Historical Society)

Likewise, some uncertainty plagued the heart of the young British Queen. Victoria was just 18 in June 1837 when she ascended to the throne of the United Kingdom. It was expected that Victoria would marry and produce an heir to the throne. The family hoped that she would marry her German-born cousin, Albert, Prince of Saxe-Coburg. Initially, Victoria did not want to marry Albert, but her feelings changed over time, and she confessed in her diary: “Oh, when I look in those lovely, lovely blue eyes, I feel they are those of an angel.” They married on February 10, 1840.

James and Lucretia had seven children; Victoria and Albert, nine. All of the children of Victoria and Albert lived into adulthood; five of the Garfield children did. However, all of these surviving children lived to see the early death of their father.

Prince Albert’s untimely death took place on December 14, 1861. He was just 42. He had long suffered from ill health. The exact cause of his death has been variously ascribed to typhoid fever or kidney failure. The Queen and five of their nine children were at Prince Albert’s bedside when he died. By the time of his death, Albert had become an indispensable support to the Queen. His death sent her into a deep mourning that lasted the rest of her life. Public grief resulted in the construction of many memorials to Albert, most notably Royal Albert Hall.

Prince Albert died in 1861 at the young age of 42, sending his wife into a deep mourning.  Queen Victoria never remarried and mourned her husband's death for the next 40 years.  (Wikepedia)

Prince Albert died in 1861 at the young age of 42, sending his wife into a deep mourning. Queen Victoria never remarried and mourned her husband’s death for the next 40 years. (Wikepedia)

The death of President Garfield in 1881 moved the Queen, who never ceased mourning the loss of her own husband. On September 25, 1881, the day before President Garfield’s massive funeral in Cleveland, Queen Victoria wrote a letter to Lucretia Garfield. “I have anxiously watched,” she wrote, “the long, and fear at times, painful sufferings of your valiant husband and shared in the fluctuations between hope and fear, the former of which decreased about two months ago, and greatly to preponderate over the latter- and above all I fell in deeply for you!” As a gesture of her deep sorrow for Mrs. Garfield and the people of the United States, the Queen sent a large wreath of white tuberose to the funeral. The wreath was placed on the President’s casket as his body lay in state in Washington, D.C. and during his funeral in Cleveland.

Lucretia Garfield was so touched by this gesture and the Queen’s handwritten note that she sought to preserve the wreath (along with many other funeral flowers and artifacts) after the funeral. She sent it to Chicago to be preserved using a wax treatment. Today, visitors to James A. Garfield National Historic Site can see the wreath displayed in the Memorial Library vault.

Queen Victoria sent this floral wreath and a handwritten letter of sympathy to Lucretia Garfield after the president's death.  The wreath was on Garfield's casket throughout the lying in state and funeral.  Today, visitors to James A. Garfield National Historic Site see it in the Memorial Library vault.  (NPS photo)

Queen Victoria sent this floral wreath and a handwritten letter of sympathy to Lucretia Garfield after the president’s death. The wreath was on Garfield’s casket throughout the lying in state and funeral. Today, visitors to James A. Garfield National Historic Site see it in the Memorial Library vault. (NPS photo)

Ironically, the Queen and her husband were both 42 at the time of his death, and Mrs. Garfield and the President were both 49 when he died. Queen Victoria and Lucretia Garfield would each live nearly 40 years after their husbands’ deaths. The Garfield’s oldest child, Harry, was nearly eighteen, and their youngest, Abram, was almost nine when their father died. Princess Victoria was 20 years old at the time of her father’s death; the youngest princess, Beatrice, was just eight.

The Queen, monarch of one of the world’s richest empires, entered widowhood with the advantage of not having to worry about her family’s finances. Though she had more domestic help available to her to assist with her large family, as Queen she had the added burden of ruling the British Empire.

Queen Victoria around 1887, twenty-six years after her husband's death and six years after the death of President Garfield.  (Wikipedia)

Queen Victoria around 1887, twenty-six years after her husband’s death and six years after the death of President Garfield. (Wikipedia)

Conversely, though relieved of her public role, Lucretia Garfield was faced with the daunting task of providing her young family both emotional and financial support. She moved back to the Mentor home and competently managed the family farm while raising and guiding her young children. A public subscription fund was started for the Garfields which eventually raised around $350,000. These funds, which would equal about $8 million today, allowed Lucretia Garfield to make a number of improvements to her Mentor property and home, including constructing the Memorial Library.

For both women, preserving their husband’s memories was very important. Queen Victoria left untouched several of the rooms Prince Albert had used. For the rest of her life, she also had a set of his clothes placed on his bed every day. In her Mentor home, Lucretia Garfield decided to leave the President’s office (what she called “the General’s snuggery”) the way he had left it when they moved into the White House – with few exceptions. Her most meaningful change was this: she had the words “In Memoriam” carved into the wood over the fireplace. “In Memoriam,” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson was their favorite poem.

In a new addition to the home, Lucretia Garfield also went to work on cataloging and organizing her husband’s papers, which covered his nearly 20-year public career. The papers were eventually stored in the Memorial Library vault that still holds the Queen Victoria wreath. (Garfield’s papers, stored in the vault for about 50 years, now reside in the Library of Congress.)

Lucretia Rudolph Garfield was just 49 when her her husband died.  She lived another 37 years, dying in March 1918.  This photo was taken around 1881, the year in which she was briefly First Lady and in which her husband was assassinated.  (Library of Congress)

Lucretia Rudolph Garfield was just 49 when her her husband died. She lived another 37 years, dying in March 1918. This photo was taken around 1881, the year in which she was briefly First Lady and in which her husband was assassinated. (Library of Congress)

After President Garfield died, his wife and others began to work on a proper memorial to serve as his final resting place in Cleveland’s Lake View Cemetery. A large fundraising campaign ensued that eventually raised $135,000 to build the massive and beautiful Garfield Memorial, dedicated on Memorial Day 1890. Mollie Garfield, the only surviving daughter of the couple, wrote this in her diary after her father’s death: “It is something really beautiful to see how much the people had gotten to love Papa through his sickness.  He would be deeply touched.” The President’s remains were moved into the Memorial, and Lucretia’s remains were placed by his side following her death on March 13, 1918.

When Prince Albert died in 1861, he was entombed in the Frogmore Royal Mausoleum in Windsor, Berkshire, England. Queen Victoria joined him there after her death on January 22, 1901.

Prince Albert and Queen Victoria lie together in the masoleum at Frogmore.  Other British royals are buried and entombed here as well.  (www.telegraph.co.uk)

Prince Albert and Queen Victoria’s remains lie together in the Royal Mausoleum at Frogmore. Other British royals are buried and entombed here as well. (www.telegraph.co.uk)

In the prime of life, few are prepared for the death of a spouse. Mrs. Garfield and Queen Victoria, though, met the challenges that faced them. In their private lives as widows, they raised their young, fatherless children by themselves; they devoted themselves to keeping the memories of their husbands alive for themselves, their families, and the public; and they both mourned the loss of their beloved husbands for the rest of their lives.

James and Lucretia Garfield's remains lie together in the Garfield Monument in Cleveland's Lake View Cemetery.  The urns in front hold the remains of their daughter, Mollie, and her husband, Joseph Stanley-Brown.  (www.midwestguest.com)

James and Lucretia Garfield’s remains lie together in the Garfield Monument in Cleveland’s Lake View Cemetery. The urns in front hold the remains of their daughter, Mollie, and her husband, Joseph Stanley-Brown, who had been Garfield’s private secretary during his 1880 campaign and his 200-day presidency. (www.midwestguest.com)

-Rebecca Hayward, Volunteer

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

Is it not true that whenever someone dies, those who survive recall that person in life, remember some incident involving their own interaction with the deceased, and offer some compliment and kind words? These remembrances and kindnesses are offered in person and also in writing. So it was when James Abram Garfield died.

At a time when “the President” was not seen or reported on to the the degree that is seen today, and when Congress was the more influential branch of the federal government, the writers of these letters accord great respect for office Mrs. Garfield’s husband held, as well as for the man himself.

This image shows Lucretia Garfield (seated, center left) with her children and mother-in-law on the porch of the family's Mentor, Ohio home.  The empty chair symbolizes the loss of James A. Garfield, which was of course deeply felt by the family, but by the country as well.  (Lake County Historical Society)

This image shows Lucretia Garfield (seated, center left) with her children and mother-in-law on the porch of the family’s Mentor, Ohio home. The empty chair symbolizes the loss of James A. Garfield, which was of course deeply felt by the family, but by the country as well. (Lake County Historical Society)

Among those who wrote to Mrs. Garfield were three men who each had unique experiences of her husband. Their letters follow.

Mrs. J.A. Garfield

About three years ago, a gentleman came into the store where I was employed, and asked me if I could fit him to a hat. I told him I could. I put one on a size larger than he wore. Then he wanted to be fitted to a silk hat, but I told him I could not as I had none large enough, but could have one made for him. After taking the shape of his head, I held up his conform, and made the remark, “You have a very large head; the same size of Daniel Webster, and it is so regular and well-shaped, I cannot keep speaking to you about it; with that head, you are capable of doing anything you undertake, and of occupying any position in the world. You are a ten talent man.”

He then asked me twice if I knew his name. I told him I did not; well you can imagine my surprise, when he gave his name as Gen. Garfield of Ohio, and wished to know mine. He then told me he had just come from Maine, and felt a little blue over the defeat of the Republicans. I being a brother mason tried to cheer him up a little, by assuring him that the State of Massachusetts would go Republican…

He took me by the hand and said, “I am happy to have met you…” In the evening I carried him his hat, which he was very much pleased with. He then invited me to ride with him in his carriage to Faneuil Hall, where he was to address the Young Republicans of the State of Mass. And it was an able speech (as usual). On leaving him, he made me a promise, that if he ever came to Boston, he would call and see me. And I did look forward with so much pleasure when I might meet with him again… It would have been a privilege to have presented him with as good a silk hat as I make; for I so valued his Friendship and thought so much of his greeting to me, a stranger and a salesman.

Robinson's notation of James A. Garfield's hat size, as mentioned in his condelence letter to Mrs. Garfield.  (Library of Congress)

A.M. Robinson’s notation of James A. Garfield’s hat size, as mentioned in his condelence letter to Mrs. Garfield. (Library of Congress)

…I considered it such an honor to have met so great and good a man. I little thought then that he would be President or the fate that awaited him… I never shall forget him.

A. M. Robinson

Boston, Oct. 19th 1881

(Notation on the reverse blank side of the page: “Gen. Garfield size 7 5/8 Full”)

The Reverend Peter P. Cooney, a Roman Catholic priest recalled for Mrs. Garfield his introduction to General Garfield during the Civil War and the pleasure of their meeting again in the White House a few days after the President’s inauguration on March 4, 1881.

Dear Madam:

I beg leave to send you lines of condolence to the afflicted wife of him whom I have always held in the highest esteem – Jas. A. Garfield – late President of the United States, & whose virtues & merit I tried to express in an address delivered in South Bend, Ind., Sept. 26th, 1881 – the day appointed for his obsequies.

… It is now, Dear Madam, just one month since he died; & what a month of affliction & sorrow it must been to you! But God’s holy will must be done.

It is nearly nineteen years since I formed the acquaintance of Gen. Garfield. Until his inauguration as President, I never met him but once, viz. – at one of the meetings of the “Society of the Army of the Cumberland,” held in Cleveland. I then had only a few minutes conversation with him. But I always watched his Course, with much anxiety & pleasure.

And when he was inaugurated as President of the United States – to the great delight of his countrymen, I made it my duty to be present at Washington on that occasion – to share in his & your delight. I tried to get an audience with him, on Saturday, March 5th – but I could not on account of the Crowd that sought admittance to the “White House.” I waited then, until Tuesday, March the 8th, when I was more successful. I [then] had the pleasure of Congratulating Gen. Garfield & yourself in the large parlor of the President’s Mansion. You will perhaps recall the Circumstances on account of the peculiarity of my dress, compared with the others.

The President, after warmly shaking my hand, turned to you & said, “This is Rev. Father Cooney who was Chaplain, when I was Chief of Staff with Gen. Rosecrans.”

Lithography of Chaplain Cooney conducting a mass for the Army of the Cumberland during the Civil War.  Cooney was a chaplain during the time Gen. James A. Garfield was the Army of the Cumberland's chief of staff.  (Library of Congress)

Lithography of Chaplain P.P. Cooney conducting a mass for the Army of the Cumberland during the Civil War. Cooney was a chaplain during the time Gen. James A. Garfield was the Army of the Cumberland’s chief of staff. (Library of Congress)

Little did we then think that we would be called upon, so soon, to mourn his irreparable loss. But I hope your loss is his gain.

That day I will fondly cherish, as one of the pleasant memories of my life. Oh! How fleeting are the pleasures of this life. But, have Confidence in God. He will protect & Console you in the midst of your affliction, & aid you in rearing your children who inherit his name & fame.

The glory of being the wife of such a husband falls to the lot of but few women in this world.

I send you a printed copy of my address & the comments of the South Bend Tribune, whose editor was an officer in the army of the Cumberland, and therefore who knew Gen. Garfield well. I know it will be gratifying to you to read what others say of one you loved so sincerely. Notre Dame University is just two miles from South Bend.

Please present my condolence to the good mother of the late President. She will doubtless find much consolation in the thought that she was the mother of such a son.

With deep esteem & compassion, I am, Dear Mrs. Garfield, your humble servant.

P. P. Cooney, C.S.C.*

Notre Dame, Ind., Oct. 19th, 1881

* The Reverend Peter P. Cooney was born in Roscommon County, Ireland in 1822, and educated at Notre Dame University in Indiana, and St. Mary’s Seminary, Baltimore. Ordained in 1857, he became Chaplain of the 35th regiment, Indiana Volunteers. He was pastor of St. Patrick’s in South Bend from 1865-1871 and then served in various missions. He died in 1905. The initials C.S.C. stand for “Congragatio a Sancta Cruce” – in English, “Congregation of the Holy Cross.” This order, which founded Notre Dame University, is popularly known as the Holy Cross Fathers.

Chaplain P.P. Cooney during the Civil War.  He wrote a heartfelt letter of condolence to Mrs. Garfield after President Garfield's death.  (Library of Congress)

Catholic Chaplain Peter P. Cooney during the Civil War. He wrote a heartfelt letter of condolence to Mrs. Garfield after President Garfield’s death. (Library of Congress)

Recalling with evident pride and in great detail his correspondence with candidate Garfield, Rodolphus Bard, conjures up the campaigns of 1860 and 1880 in the following letter to Mrs. Garfield.

Mrs. Lucretia R. Garfield, Mentor, O

Respected Friend,

Please accept renewed assurances of our tender regard, and sympathy with yourself and family, in the almost overwhelming sorrow and affliction, through which you have been called to pass, and which comes with such crushing weight to all of our hearts in the death and sufferings of your beloved husband, our deeply lamented President James A. Garfield.

My very pleasant though limited acquaintance with him commenced in 1859, while still a resident of my native state, Ohio, and it was my privilege to attend the meeting at Kent, O when he was nominated for state senate. And afterwards, with two brothers to attend school at Hiram, and need I refer to the fact that such was the influence of that great, good man over the students (as teacher and Christian gentleman) that the diaries kept by the brothers are all aglow with kindly thoughts and inspirations received, while at Hiram.

I am proud to say that ever since Gen. G. entered the political field I have watched his career with the deepest interest, and was therefore not surprised at his nomination at Chicago. I had been impressed with the fact long before that the Almighty was not lavish with his gifts of such men to the world, and especially in political life, in our legislative halls.

It afforded me great pleasure to renew my acquaintance with him last year, and to contribute what little influence I could to secure his election, and among the mementos I most highly prize are form letters I received from him (which I shall have framed and keep for my children in memory of him) two of which were in relation to an incident in his life at Hiram that occurred during the Lincoln campaign in 1860, in which Gen. Garfield became master of ceremonies and made a grand success of what others had failed to perform.

I refer to the pole raising at a mass meeting at Hiram, Aug. 30, 1860. And I wish to say that this act, should it find a place in his biography, as I trust you will permit it to do – must forever form a golden link between the names of our martyred presidents, Lincoln and Garfield.

The interior of the Garfield Monument in Cleveland's Lake View Cemetery.  This monument is the final resting place of President James A. Garfield, who death led to so many condolence letters to Lucretia Garfield.  Mrs. Garfield joined her husband in this monument after her death in March 1918.  (www.brentdurken.com)

The interior of the Garfield Monument in Cleveland’s Lake View Cemetery. This monument is the final resting place of President James A. Garfield, who death led to so many condolence letters to Lucretia Garfield. Mrs. Garfield joined her husband in this monument after her death in March 1918. (www.brentdurken.com)

Herewith I enclose the article, and as I love and desire to see his name honored and perpetuated, as it will be through all time, growing brighter as the ages roll, may I not have the kindly assurance from you that this which he hath done may be recorded also for a memorial of him, As you will see by his appended letter, he remembered well the circumstance, and this letter was the last one he wrote before his trip to New York in July 1880, as he told me on his return home when passing through Meadville. He also spoke of the article to Hon. S. B. Dick our congressman & to the Hon. E. B. Taylor in a kindly manner, and they in turn to me. Would add, that last summer when at Hiram it was proposed to erect a Garfield pole on the 21st of last Aug. (Prof. Barber having sent me a poster. I wrote to him & also to Gen. Garfield asking or suggesting that they fix the date for the 30th, which would make it just 20 years from the Lincoln pole raising, and to make a grand affair of it. I received from Gen. Garfield in reply a kindly letter as follows.

Mentor, O. Aug. 14, 1880

My Dear Sir

Yours of the 12th inst. is received. I wish your suggestion could be carried out, and the pole raising fixed for the 30th inst. instead of the 21st. I fear however, that it may now be too late, but as you have written there you will soon know.

Your suggestion is an excellent one, and I shall be glad if it prevails.

Very Truly Yours

J.A. Garfield

You will see from his first and second letters on this subject, and from the fact when I furnished him a copy of the enclosed article before he left New York, with the permission to use as he saw fit, and from the fact that the Cleveland Herald obtained it from Mentor and published it just as started for New York, all goes to show that he thought kindly of and appreciated the record of the Hiram incident of 1860.

The thought has just occurred to me that whereas Gen. Garfield was deeply interested in Hiram College and that should Prof. Hinsdale complete the Biography of the Gen. that he could use the enclosed article to advantage, in that connection – and also use it as a cornerstone on which to establish a Memorial Hall as an enduring monument to the memory of our martyred Presidents – Garfield and Lincoln. For here their names were united in history, and in death they were not divided. For the friends of both (and they are legion) to raise an enduring monument on this spot made sacred 21 years ago, would seem to be a fitting thing to do. For here as elsewhere, though often attempted – the enemy could never spike his guns. Please excuse me for addressing you at such length and in such a familiar way, but I assure you, as I was proud of, and deeply interested in the promotion of, and eminence to which Gen. Garfield attained, and while we mingle our tears in sadness over his untimely death, I also feel a deep interest in all that goes on record, and that will enter into history concerning this great scholar, soldier, and statesman, and desire that his name in history may shine the brighter, even though I may be permitted to add but “one flower to the chaplet.”

Having lived for his country, died because of his firm convictions of duty, and a principle, leaving the impress of a noble Christian life upon a world acknowledging his greatness & goodness; His name [?] is secure. What grander conquest?

Noticing by the Cleveland papers today that you would have a few of the flowers from the Catafalque to distribute among friends. Will I as to [sic] much to request that a few small flowers be sent me as a memento, to be kept in memory with the Generals [sic] letters I now have. Again asking your pardon, and assuring you of our sympathy and high regard

I am with great respect, Yours, etc.

Rodophus Bard

Meadville, Pa. Oct. 17, 1881

Like the assassination of President Kennedy fifty years ago, President Garfield’s assassination continued to resonate for individual Americans into the next generation, as seen in this letter, sent to the former First Lady by John H. Schauk.

April 22, 1904

Dear Mrs. Garfield

The rare beauty of the enclosed poem makes one wish that you might see it… It is from the pen and poetic soul of the late D. L. Paine, an editorial writer of Indianapolis, who always thought his friends admired his poems only because they loved him. He therefore had none of them preserved in permanent form.

A friend rescued this and a few others…

Most respectfully and truly yours

John H. Shauck

At Elberon

If through the portals opening toward the light

E’er walked a man in armor clean and bright

That man, untrammeled, outward passed last night

From Elberon.

Firm-lipped, clear-eyed, clean-souled, he met his fate

Leaving behind no rancor and no hate,

And strode, high-browed, undaunted through the gate

At Elberon.

In deeds resplendent and in honor bright,

In high example shining as the light

He lives immortal, he who died last night

At Elberon.

Sept. 20, 1881.

-Alan Gephardt, Park Ranger

“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