James Garfield and Joshua Chamberlain

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.


President James A. Garfield in 1881.  Like Chamberlain, he was an academic but felt compelled to fight for the Union during the Civil War.  (Library of Congress)

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.


Joshua L. Chamberlain during his time as president of Bowdoin College.  (Bowdoin College)

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.

James A. Garfield

A young James A. Garfield as a Union Brigadier General, ca. 1862-63.  He left the army at the end of 1863 to take a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.  (Library of Congress)

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.


Brigadier General Joshua L. Chamberlain.  Like Garfield, he left the life of a scholar to join the army.  Chamberlain became one of the Union’s most celebrated soldiers and received the Medal of Honor in 1893 for his actions at the battle of Gettysburg three decades earlier.  (Library of Congress)

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

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!


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.” 


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

Education Congressman, Education President (Part I)

In his Inaugural Address James Garfield said, “It is the high privilege and sacred duty of those now living to educate their successors, and fit them, by intelligence and virtue for the inheritance which awaits them.”

James Garfield thought about education all his life—as a student, a teacher, a father, and public official.  He used his positions of public trust to encourage and promote education for as many people, and in as many ways as he was able.

At age twenty-six, Garfield earned his degree from Williams College and returned to Ohio to teach at Western Reserve Eclectic Institute, where his higher education began. He was soon named Principal.  “Chapel lectures” or morning lectures were a well-established part of the school curriculum, and Garfield presented hundreds of them on a variety of topics, including education and teaching, books, methods of study and reading, physical geography, geology, history, the Bible, morals, current topics and life questions.  In a letter to a friend, Garfield described the ways he reorganized the school, “We have remodeled the government, published rules, published a new catalogue, and have…250 students (no primary), as orderly as clock-work, and all hard at work.”  Garfield was listed in the catalog of Western Reserve Eclectic Institute as “Professor and Principal and Lecturer” from 1856 to 1866.

WREI - Wikipedia Hiram College Archives

An early look at the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (now Hiram College).  James Garfield was a student here and later a teacher and the school’s principal.  (Hiram College Archives)

During the years Garfield’s name appeared at the top of the Eclectic’s catalog, he also married Lucretia Rudolph and started a family, served in the Ohio legislature, passed the state bar, and, when the Civil War began in 1861, raised the 42nd Ohio Infantry.  He served in the Union army until late 1863, when he took a seat in the U.S. House, representing Ohio’s 19th Congressional District.

Engagement pic cropped

James Garfield and Lucretia Rudolph around the time of their engagement.  Lucretia’s father, Zeb, was one of the founders of the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute, where the couple became close.  They married on November 11, 1858.  (Western Reserve Historical Society)

Garfield’s goal in leading the Eclectic Institute was to expand its offerings and elevate its standards, laying the foundations for it to become a fully accredited college.  That objective was achieved in 1867, when the school was chartered by the state as Hiram College.  Speaking to the last group of graduates of the Eclectic, Garfield identified five kinds of knowledge that he believed every student needed, and every college should help them master.

In order of importance, he said that first was “that knowledge necessary for the full development of our bodies and the preservation of our health.”  Second was an understanding of the principles of arts and industry (how things work). Third on the list was the knowledge necessary to a full comprehension of one’s rights and duties as a citizen.  Fourth was understanding the intellectual, moral, religious and aesthetic nature of man, and his relations to nature and civilization.  Finally, a complete education should provide the special and thorough knowledge required for a particular chosen profession.  Garfield had obviously thought deeply about what an education ought to be; his list of five kinds of knowledge stands up well to the test of time.  The order of importance he assigns, however, deviates significantly from the goals of modern education.

James Garfield’s papers reveal some of his very specific and firmly held ideas about teaching and learning.  Here are a few.

“I, for one, declare that no child of mine shall ever be compelled to study one hour, or to learn even the English alphabet, before he has deposited under his skin at least seven years of muscle and bone.”

Garfield children Brady portrait

James and Lucretia Garfield’s five surviving children: Mollie; James R.; Harry; Irvin; and Abram.  All four of the boys received fantastic educations at St. Paul’s boarding school in New Hampshire and their father’s alma mater, William College, in Massachusetts.  Mollie attending something along the lines of a “finishing school”before marrying Joseph Stanley-Brown when she was 21.  (Library of Congress)

“School committees would summarily dismiss the teacher who should have the good sense and courage to spend three days of each week with her pupils in the fields and woods, teaching them the names, peculiarities, and uses of rocks, trees, plants, and flowers, and the beautiful story of the animals, birds, and insects which fill the world with life and beauty.  They will applaud her for continuing to perpetrate that undefended and indefensible outrage upon the laws of physical and intellectual life which keeps little children sitting in silence, in a vain attempt to hold its [sic]mind to the words of a printed page, for six hours in a day…This practice kills by the savagery of slow torture.”

“I am well aware of the current notion that…a finished education is supposed to consist mainly of literary culture…This generation is beginning to understand that education should not be forever divorced from industry,–that the highest results can be reached only when science guides the hand of labor…Machinery is the chief implement with which civilization does its work; but the science of mechanics is impossible without mathematics.”

“I insist that it should be made an indispensable condition of graduation in every American college, that the student must understand the history of this continent since its discovery by Europeans; the origin and history of the United States, its constitution of government, the struggles through which it has passed, and the rights and duties of citizens who are to determine its destiny and share its glory.”


The modern U.S. Department of Education owes much to James A. Garfield, who introduced an April 1866 bill in the House of Representatives to created a Federal Bureau of Education.  (U.S. Department of Education)

As a member of Congress, Garfield’s most significant achievement was passing a bill that created the first Federal Bureau of Education, a piece of legislation he introduced in April, 1866.  It provided for a Commissioner of Education who would be charged with collecting and disseminating information about education in the United States.  In arguing for this Bureau Garfield said, “In 1860 there were in the United States 115,224 common schools, 500,000 school officers, 150,241 teachers and 5,477,037 scholars; thus showing that more than six million people of the United States are directly engaged in the work of education.  Not only has this large proportion of our population been thus engaged, but the Congress of the United States has given fifty-three million acres of public lands to fourteen States and Territories of the Union for the support of schools.”  He made it clear that the purpose of the bureau was to gather information and statistics about schools across the nation, and share it with local and state educators.  It should discover the quality and effectiveness of schools for blacks and immigrants as compared to those for native-born whites. The Bureau was not involved in curriculum development or school management.

(Check back soon for Part II!)

-Joan Kapsch, Park Guide

Captain Henry of Geauga, Part I

Of all the soldiers that filled the ranks of the 42nd Ohio Volunteers, perhaps none had a more adventurous life than that of Captain Charles E. Henry. This is no easy assertion to make considering the regimental commander was future President James A. Garfield. Besides our twentieth President, there would be Colonel Lionel Sheldon, a congressman and territorial Governor, and Colonel Don Pardee, a United States Circuit Court judge. These are men of great distinction, but their lives were somewhat sedate when compared to that of Captain Henry.

Charles Henry was born in Bainbridge, Ohio, November 29, 1835. He was the seventh of nine children born to John and Polly Henry. He weighed in at a shade under five pounds, so tiny that his family had great doubts of his survival. Despite a harsh northeast Ohio winter, little Charlie persevered. As a young boy he would note that travelers stopping by for a visit would often give him a few pennies to save. Charles took the coins and buried them near the Henry home. Months later he would forget where the treasure was buried.

Charles E. Henry as he looked in 1900.  (From the book "Captain Henry of Geauga," by Frederick A. Henry)

Charles E. Henry as he looked in 1900. (From the book “Captain Henry of Geauga,” by Frederick A. Henry)

Henry quit school at age sixteen to take on full time work. The jobs included labor in the fields, making hoops for barrels and driving teams on road construction. In just several years he had saved five hundred dollars. With the accumulated wealth, Charles decided to enroll at Hiram College. He was quite proud of the fact that he could easily pay for tuition, room and board and books. In the fall of 1857 he started classes.

An early view of the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (now Hiram College) around the time Charles Henry was a student and James A. Garfield was the school's principal.  (Hiram College Archives)

An early view of the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (now Hiram College) around the time Charles Henry was a student and James A. Garfield was the school’s principal. (Hiram College Archives)

Within a short time Charles became friends with James A. Garfield, currently the college principal. Despite an age difference of four years the two men became well acquainted. A year later Garfield helped his new friend find a place for room and board. For that year’s term, Charles stayed at the home of Zeb Rudolph. Charles had a fine time there, making another friend in Joe Rudolph. The two would remain pals for the remainder of their lives.

In 1859 Charles began to teach school. His first assignment was in Auburn where the school directors told him he was hired due his large size (six feet tall) and his likely ability to whip the older boys when necessary. Henry was paid twenty dollars a month for the term. The directors were probably right in hiring Charles. There were no fights during the entire school term.

The year of 1860 was a significant one for Mr. Henry. Back at Hiram, he scheduled the most challenging classes he could find, including algebra, chemistry and German. He joined the Delphic Literary Society, sometimes donating his own books to the society library. Charles recalled a particular meeting where he made eye contact with one of the members of the Olive Branch, the only female society on campus. Her name was Sophia Williams; quiet a beauty in her day. Charles left the gathering early but was stopped in the street by one of his friends. Apparently Ms. Williams was miffed that Charles left and asked his friend to bring him back. The two sat together and talked, the beginning of a courtship that would later result in marriage.

By the spring of 1861, Henry was near graduation. He spent a lot of time doing military drills on the common. The attack on Fort Sumter had already taken place, prompting many of the Hiram boys to ready themselves for war. Some would drop out of school and enlist. Charles stayed the course and graduated on June 6, 1861. His commencement oration received high praise from Principal Garfield who lifted Charles off the ground and swung him around in admiration. They were now the best of friends.

For the next two months Charles Henry mulled over his future. He had an offer to teach the winter term at the Solon school district. Dr. David Shipherd, an old family friend wanted Charles to study medicine and take over his long established practice. While debating the offers, two visitors came to see the recent graduate. They were Lieutenant Colonel Garfield and Frederick Williams, a classmate of Charles. They were on their way to Hiram to recruit soldiers for the newly formed 42nd Ohio volunteer Infantry. They would not leave until Charles accompanied them. The meeting took place that evening and the first recruit to sign up was Private Henry. Company “A” soon held elections for officers. The vote for Lieutenant was hotly contested with Charles losing by a single vote. The next day he was appointed first sergeant.

James A. Garfield was principal of the "Eclectic" when he got to know Charles Henry.  Garfield was commander of the 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry when Henry enlisted.  (Library of Congress)

James A. Garfield was principal of the “Eclectic” when he got to know Charles Henry. Garfield was commander of the 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry when Henry enlisted. (Library of Congress)

The 42nd OVI saw action in Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi. They took part in General Grant’s Vicksburg campaign which ended with the siege of Vicksburg. Company “A” was at the thick of it in most of the battles. A significant number of Hiram boys were killed or wounded during their three years of service. On May 22, 1863 the 42nd received orders to storm the Rebel forts protecting Vicksburg. Lieutenant Henry (a recent promotion) led the advance of Company A through a narrow valley and up the steep hills. The Rebels blasted away at the Union soldiers. Lieutenant Henry took a bullet in his left foot which shattered a small bone. He managed to slide down the slope and painfully limped to the field hospital. He received treatment and a twenty day leave to recuperate.

The twenty days leave turned into several months before Lieutenant Henry was able to report for duty. Upon his return he received orders to report to Baton Rouge, Louisiana where he would be appointed Assistant Provost Marshall. His new boss would be Colonel Don Pardee, temporarily detached from the 42nd OVI. Though not well acquainted, the two men became fast friends. The Provost Marshall’s office had a wide variety of duties to perform including keeping the peace among the residents, trying military cases and making sure the occupying army did not get too out of control. Charles made a thorough study of the law, soon acting as representation for soldiers on trial. He was not a practicing attorney but learned how to prepare an adequate defense.

Henry became adept at identifying ladies of the community who were actively involved in smuggling. After signing an oath of loyalty to the Union these women went to the area druggists and bought illegal medical supplies for sick Confederates hiding out in the country. The ladies sewed small bags inside their dresses and would load up for a visit outside town. Charles developed a knack for eyeing the ladies and recognizing strange bulges in their clothes. Most of the women he stopped were carrying contraband and wound up paying heavy fines.

Company A of the 42nd Ohio, the regiment in which Charles Henry served.   (Hiram College Archives)

Company A of the 42nd Ohio, the regiment in which Charles Henry served. (Hiram College Archives)

As an advocate for people brought to court on charges, Charles began collecting some steady fees. He and a friend represented a druggist accused of smuggling. They got him a reduced sentence and received $600 in payment. At one point a Union general ordered Henry to legally marry any freed slaves who wanted a license. Before he was relieved of duty he performed nearly 2,500 weddings. He was a popular man in Baton Rouge during his one year of service. Upon his departure a local newspaper would write, “We regret we are compelled to announce the speedy departure of our friend, Lieutenant Charles Henry. The Judge is one of those genial souls whose loss the community at large will regret.”

Charles left for home where he was mustered out of the army and brevetted to the rank of Captain. A month later he married the pretty girl from the Olive Branch Society, Sophia Williams. After a honeymoon at Niagara Falls, Charles returned to Baton Rouge where he acted as an independent advocate for soldiers and civilians. In just a few months he earned $3,000, enough to buy a one hundred acre farm in Bainbridge. Business was booming for him, enough to bring Sophia to Baton Rouge. She was not a fan of the sweltering temperature, but the Henrys stayed for a while to build up their savings.

The 42nd Ohio, including Charles Henry, saw heavy action in the fighting around Vicksburg, Mississippi. (Library of Congress)

The 42nd Ohio, including Charles Henry, saw heavy action in the fighting around Vicksburg, Mississippi. (Library of Congress)

Eventually they returned to Bainbridge where Charles put away the law books and took up farming. He threw himself into the work but the results were not promising. For some reason he never took to farming. He did not make money no matter how hard he tried to succeed. In 1867, he supplemented his income by becoming the local postmaster. This worked for two years until the job was eliminated. He then wrote a letter to old friend (now Congressman) James A. Garfield, asking for a postal clerk position with the railroad. In short order Charles got a job with the rail line from Cleveland to Youngstown to Sharon, Pennsylvania. He manned the rail car five days a week, sorting letters and newspapers and filling mailbags.

Several months later Charles proved his value to the railroad. A group of tough guys boarded his train, carrying roosters on their way to a cock fight. On the return trip the men were obviously drunk and harassing the passengers. Though not part of his duties Charles confronted the men, grabbed several and threw them off the train. This action would benefit him in later years.

(Check back soon for Part II of this article!)

-Scott Longert, Park Guide

John Rudolph: The Forgotten Son

During the course of the Civil War thousands of families sent their sons off to battle. It was fairly common for a mother and father to send two or three boys to the fight, increasing the odds that one or more would not return home. The Rudolph family of Hiram, Ohio saw both their sons, John and Joe, enter the Union army. Joe sought immediate adventure by joining the infantry while John, being the older and probably wiser, found a job with the Ohio Quartermaster Corps. Already the father of two young children, John’s position as wagon master kept him away from any duty at the front. Driving supply wagons seemed like a good idea to increase one’s chances of staying alive.

John Rudolph was born in 1835, the second child of Zeb and Arabella Rudolph. The family had a farm in Garrettsville, Ohio where John had some schooling and did his part clearing fields and harvesting crops. In 1850 the Rudolphs moved to nearby Hiram where John and his older sister Lucretia had the opportunity to get a better education.

Ellen, Joseph, John, and Lucretia Rudolph (later Garfield) pose for this photo.  Few photos of John exist.  (Lake County Historical Society)

Siblings Ellen, Joseph, John, and Lucretia Rudolph (later Garfield) pose for this photo. Few photos of John exist. (Lake County Historical Society)

There is little information about John’s activities in Hiram; however we do know in 1856 he married Martha Lane and set off on an adventure west to Iowa. Why he left his family and tried homesteading so far away is open to conjecture. Possibly he lived in his father’s shadow and decided he wanted to be his own man. Zeb was a big player in Hiram, one of the founders of the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (later Hiram College), a preacher, farmer, and carpenter. There may not have been room for John.

While in Iowa, a daughter, Adelaide, was born. The Rudolphs did not stay long in the Hawkeye State, moving east to the small town of Princeton, Illinois. The most prominent resident of Princeton was Owen Lovejoy, a congressman and close friend of Abraham Lincoln. (Over the years the town would be home to a diverse group of residents, including actor Richard Widmark and musician Keith Knudson, longtime drummer for the Doobie Brothers.)

John had apparently given up farming, taking a job as a clerk. A short time later a second child, Gilbert, was born. By 1861 the Rudolphs were back in Hiram during which time the Civil War began. John, like most of the Hiram boys, had the option of joining the 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry (OVI), the regiment of his brother-in-law, Lieutenant Colonel James. A. Garfield. Instead, in June of 1862 he chose to go the safer route, answering an advertisement to drive wagons for the Ohio Quartermaster Corps. He must have had a great deal of skill with horses and wagons that led him to the job of wagon master. Here he would be in command of drivers and supplies vital to the Union army.

James A. Garfield, shown here as a Brigadier General, was the first commander of the 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry and the brother-in-law of John Rudoplh.  (Library of Congress)

James A. Garfield, shown here as a Brigadier General, was the first commander of the 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry and the brother-in-law of John Rudolph. (Library of Congress)

That same month, Private Rudolph led twelve supply wagons to eastern Tennessee, then on to the Cumberland Gap on the border of Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee. Union General George Morgan and his troops were holding the major passageway, but were in desperate need of food. Among the regiments at the gap were the 42nd OVI and John’s brother, Joe Rudolph. It is not recorded but quite likely the two brothers had a chance to visit for a brief moment. If they did, it was the last time the two would ever see each other.

After the journey to Cumberland Gap, John became seriously ill. High fever, severe diarrhea and bouts of delirium set in. He was sent to the army hospital in Lexington, Kentucky. Further examination revealed typhoid fever for which there was no effective treatment. During the course of the war thousands of soldiers on both sides were struck down with typhoid, usually dying within four to six weeks. Many of the soldiers drank tainted water which carried the deadly bacteria. John’s time was short.

The Rudolphs soon received word of John’s illness. His mother Arabella and sister Lucretia made their way to the hospital in Lexington. Martha Rudolph was unable to travel due to the imminent birth of twin boys, Louis and Ernest. While she reluctantly stayed home with her four children, John gave up the fight and died on August 12, 1862. He had been in the Quartermaster Corps a total of three months. His mother brought the body home for burial in Hiram. This scenario was unfortunately played out with families all over the country. Thousands of children were raised in the post-Civil War days without the benefit of a father.

Martha Rudolph chose to stay in Hiram where her children had aunts and uncles and cousins all around. Nearly ten years after John’s death she applied for a widow’s pension with the federal government. She had assistance from Congressman James A. Garfield and Hiram College President Burke Hinsdale. The request went to the Committee on Invalid Pensions for consideration and vote. On April 23, 1872 the petition was read to the committee. A congressman from Maryland asked for an explanation of the request. It was revealed that John was never mustered in the army. At the time of John’s service, wagon masters were considered part of the army and subject to the benefits of a soldier. However in September of 1862 the army changed its stance and no longer recognized wagon masters as regular army. John’s death prevented him from mustering in to military service. The matter was further discussed but due to additional objections the petition was tabled.

Congressman Garfield was present for the committee hearings. He remained silent for the proceedings, which was contrary to his usual participation. Due to his relationship with the petitioner, it is likely he decided not to voice his opinion. Perhaps there was politics in play. The Congressman who objected to the pension request was a Democrat; Garfield, of course, was a Republican. Whether or not that was the case, the petition was moved to indefinite postponement.

Senator George Edmunds, Republican of Vermont, worked behind the scenes with Representative James A. Garfield to see that John Rudolph's widow receive a pension after his death.  (Library of Congress)

Senator George Edmunds, Republican of Vermont, worked behind the scenes with Representative James A. Garfield to see that John Rudolph’s widow received a pension after his death. (Library of Congress)

At a later date, Senator George Edmunds, a Republican from Vermont and an old friend of Garfield, introduced a resolution to reconsider the pension request. Edmunds stated, “Some additional evidence has been furnished which may change the complexion of the case.” Who furnished this evidence and why was Senator Edmunds involved? Possibly the congressman from Hiram had called in a few favors behind the scenes? A vote was taken and the resolution was passed.

Within days the Committee on Invalid Pensions brought the Rudolph pension request back to the floor. Senator Daniel Pratt reported the new evidence satisfied the committee that Martha Rudolph was entitled to her request. On June 1, 1872 both the House and Senate voted to grant a pension of eight dollars monthly to John’s widow. In addition, she would receive two dollars monthly for each child until they were adults. The record stated, “That the name of Martha G. Rudolph widow of John Rudolph be placed on the rolls to receive the pension now provided by law for the widows of enlisted men who died in the service and in the line of duty.”

Martha and her children remained close to the Rudolph and Garfield families. Whenever Congressman Garfield left Washington and took a train to the Hiram area, usually one of John Rudolph’s boys would pick him up at the depot. They may have owed him a small debt of gratitude for the “evidence” that cleared the way for their mother‘s pension. Regardless of how the pension was granted, one thing is for certain; John Rudolph earned it.

Thanks to Dan Reigle of the Cincinnati Civil War Roundtable for locating the pension papers for John Rudolph.

Thanks to Bill Stark

Rudolph pension files from the National Archives, Washington D.C.

-Scott Longert, Park Guide

The “Fine Times” of James A. Garfield’s Education, Part II

To obtain an actual degree, Garfield’s first inclination was to attend Bethany College because of its affiliation with the Disciples of Christ. However, in the spirit of opening up his mind to new ideas he settled on Williams College in Massachusetts and moved there with his Hiram friend and former teacher Charles Wilber in the summer of 1854. Williams was nonsectarian but still strongly religious, like the Eclectic. But unlike Hiram, religious sentiment was more Calvinist, and the New England atmosphere seemed exotic compared to Garfield’s rustic life in Ohio. Despite his cultural differences, though, he eventually won the acceptance of his New England classmates, who gave him the nickname “Gar”. His education at the Eclectic qualified him as a junior at Williams and he once again buried himself in his studies.

It was there, at Williams, that Garfield finally found an appropriate academic niche for his abilities: he performed well and would receive some accolades for his achievements, but he never outpaced the other students like he had in Chester or Hiram. Allan Peskin writes in his authoritative biography Garfield: “Students and teachers alike regarded him as a good, but not brilliant student, who stood well in the upper half of his class, but never seriously challenged his better-trained colleagues.” Just reading his comparatively sparse journal entries during his time in Massachusetts gives one the feeling that Garfield was too focused on his studies to write regularly. But none of this is meant to imply that Garfield performed poorly – in fact, he learned and accomplished much at Williams. He was considered by some classmates as one of the most capable debaters the college had ever seen; he was elected president of one of the main literary societies at the school; he even found himself chosen as the editor of a college publication, the Williams Quarterly. His knack for languages expanded to include German and Hebrew, and he came to enjoy studying the natural sciences even more. At Williams, Garfield discovered that he not only had a natural ability to learn easily, but that he also had the drive and work ethic to match it when that natural ability by itself was not enough to keep up with his peers.

Garfield chose to attend Williams in order to broaden his intellectual horizons in the very different culture and atmosphere of New England.  Here he was regarded as a good but not exceptional student, but his love of learning was cultivated as he had hoped it would be.  (Williams College)

Garfield chose to attend Williams in order to broaden his intellectual horizons in the very different culture and atmosphere of New England. Here he was regarded as a good but not exceptional student, but his love of learning was cultivated as he had hoped it would be. (Williams College)

In later years Garfield would recall the exact beginning of his intellectual life: witnessing an address in Williamstown by the essayist and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson. Arguably, though, his intellectual calling had begun earlier when he found that he loved being a student. He would return to Hiram in 1856 as a full-time teacher and then school president the following year. But his academic side carried on beyond that role as well and would influence virtually every aspect of his life and career. During the Civil War, Garfield had no official military training but recognized his own strength as a quick learner, so he read biographies on Napoleon and studied every book on military tactics he could find. As Chief of Staff of the Army of the Cumberland he spurred the West Point-trained General Rosecrans to action before the Tullahoma Campaign with a lengthy, essay-like report that logically listed point-by-point every reason the army should attack the enemy.

In Congress, he was a firm ally of education, saying in a speech in 1879: “If… we allow our youth to grow up in ignorance, this Republic will end in disastrous failure.” He proposed the bill for the creation of the federal Department of Education (which passed and formed in 1867), supported the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute after the Civil War for the education of blacks, was a regular visitor to the Library of Congress, and introduced a bill to provide military education in colleges (a forerunner to ROTC, which ultimately did not receive enough interest to pass). Ainsworth Spofford, the head of the Library of Congress for over 30 years, recalled Garfield being one of the most frequent users of the collection there. It was also in Congress that Garfield developed a unique proof of the Pythagorean theorem still used by some today.

Ainsworth Rand Spofford was the Librarian of Congress from 1864 to 1897.  He recalled Congressman James A. Garfield as one of the most frequent visitors to the Library of Congress during Spofford's long tenure.  (Library of Congress)

Ainsworth Rand Spofford was the Librarian of Congress from 1864 to 1897. He recalled Congressman James A. Garfield as one of the most frequent visitors to the Library of Congress during Spofford’s long tenure. (Library of Congress)

Learning was a big part of Garfield family life. Academics and books gave James and Lucretia an additional common bond early on in their courtship, and she would continue to be an intellectual counterpart to her husband throughout their marriage. Naturally he took a scientific approach to farming in Mentor – his diaries mention different experiments with soil, crops, and irrigation. He was also very interested in the progress of his children’s education. He was confused why his oldest sons did not share the same love of education that he had, noting in his diary that “the mind naturally hungers and thirsts for knowledge.” Before their move to the Mentor home, he had decided to send Harry and Jim to a private school, believing the public schools to be too crowded and the students overworked; Mollie would stay home to learn “something of books” and housekeeping. In December 1874, he wrote happily in his diary “Harry and Jimmy have this Winter awaked to the love of reading.” Garfield continued to help with their studies and all five of his children who lived to adulthood had very successful lives of their own.

The Mentor house itself stands as proof of the President’s love for reading and learning. Nearly every room of the house has at least a few books in it, and this seems pretty exact to how it appeared when Garfield lived there as well. A reporter wrote that “His real pleasure seems to be when poring over his books.” Another visitor to the house in the late 1870s wrote:

“..you can go nowhere in the general’s home without coming face to face with books. They confront you in the hall when you enter, in the parlor and the sitting room, in the dining-room, and even in the bath-room, where documents and speeches are corded up like firewood.”

Mrs. Lucretia Garfield added the Memorial Library to her Mentor home in 1895-96, several years after her husband's assassination.  The room was designed to memorialize her husband for her family and the nation while also preserving his sizeable book collection.  This library is considered the birthplace of the presidential library idea.  (National Park Service)

Mrs. Lucretia Garfield added the Memorial Library to her Mentor home in 1885-86, several years after her husband’s assassination. The room was designed to memorialize her husband for her family and the nation while also preserving his sizeable book collection. This library is considered the birthplace of the presidential library idea. (National Park Service)

Even his Inaugural Address discussed the importance of education in a government that derives its power from its citizens. Garfield started to prepare his speech by studying the Inaugural Addresses of his predecessors. In his own Address, he pointed out the alarming percentage of illiteracy indicated by the recent census and announced what he believed to be the cure: “For the North and South alike there is but one remedy. All the constitutional power of the nation and of the States and all the volunteer forces of the people should be surrendered to meet this danger by the savory influence of universal education.” Stating that their children will one day be the inheritors of their government, he added “It is the high privilege and sacred duty of those now living to educate their successors and fit them, by intelligence and virtue, for the inheritance which awaits them. In this beneficent work sections and races should be forgotten and partisanship should be unknown.” For Garfield, education and intelligence were not just ways of allowing one individual to “rise above the herd” – education for everyone, regardless of race or class, provided the surest foundation for the perpetuation of the nation itself. Learning offered the means for which Garfield was able to live a successful life, and it is little surprise that he believed that to be the surest way for others as well.

Due to his assassination,  we will never know where his scholastic calling would have called him next, or if he would have been successful in his plans for the Presidency. But his statements during his Inauguration as President of the United States act as an appropriate summation of how academics and education had influenced Garfield’s own life. Perhaps most fitting of all, later that evening the Inaugural Ball was held not in a temporary structure as many balls before, but in the new Smithsonian Museum.

-T.J. Todd, Visitor Use Assistant

(Thanks to Jennifer Morrow of the Hiram College Archives for her generous assistance.)

“The Most Important Political Change We Have Known”: James A. Garfield, Slavery, and Justice in the Civil War Era, Part I

In the last year-and-a-half, a new book, Destiny of the Republic, has been published regarding the incident for which this late nineteenth century president is remembered by most Americans, if he is remembered at all: his assassination. But there is much more to James A. Garfield than the manner of his death. Born into poverty with no material advantages, he harnessed his broad intellect and natural curiosity to become a well-educated and cultured individual. He was a preacher, a teacher, a college president, an Ohio state senator, a Civil War general, a member of the United States House of Representatives for seventeen years, and the twentieth President of the United States.

Though he never called himself an "abolitionist," Garfield felt strongly enough about the evils of slavery and the preservation of the Union to volunteer for the Union army in mid-1861.  This image shows him as a Brigadier General.  (Original photo by Mathew Brady)

Though he never called himself an “abolitionist,” Garfield felt strongly enough about the evils of slavery and the preservation of the Union to volunteer for the Union army in mid-1861. This image shows him as a Brigadier General; he was a Major General when he left the army to take a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives at the end of 1863.  (Original photo by Mathew Brady)

The majority of James A. Garfield’s political career was spent in the House of Representatives. Over the course of seventeen years, from 1863-1880, he grew in influence and responsibility. Congressman Garfield had decided views on the economic issues of his day, was a proponent of scientific investigation, and supported a national bureau of education. He also supported the civil and political rights of African-Americans even as those rights were being curtailed in the South. Still, though his public statements about blacks have the ring of a genuine humanitarian concern, it is also true that he had political objectives that coincided with the sincere support for the civil and political rights of blacks that he expressed right into his presidency. At the same time, it is also clear that he shared attitudes about race that were common in his day.

James Garfield’s earliest comments regarding African-Americans, and specifically slavery, appear in his diaries of the 1850s when he was a young man in his twenties. It is important to note that at this time his views on slavery and politics were thoroughly influenced by his religious affiliation, the Disciples of Christ. Many Disciples contended that no one who was concerned with politics could be a Christian, a conviction Garfield adopted when he became a member of the sect at age nineteen in 1850. On numerous occasions he spoke of his disdain for politics as contrary to being a Christian. For example, he wrote on Thursday, September 5, 1850, “I have engaged to support the following proposition, viz., Christians have no right to participate in human governments!” And after hearing a sermon about slavery in October that year, he read essays on the relationship of slavery to Christian thought. He concluded that, “the simple relation of master and slave is not unchristian.”

Also in October 1850, James Garfield heard Congressman Joshua R. Giddings denounce the recently adopted Fugitive Slave Law at a public gathering in his Ohio district. Giddings’ abolitionist views were well known in the Western Reserve, but again, reflecting his discomfort with politics at this time in his life, Garfield “could not help but consider that the cause for which he was laboring was a carnal one.”  In other words, slavery was a concern of this world and therefore not a concern of a true Christian.

Ohio Representative Joshua R. Giddings was a vocal abolitionist.  He once resigned from the U.S. House of Representatives when that body censured him for supporting the freedom of slaves who had rebelled aboard the slave ship Creole.  His constitutents promptly voted him back into office.  (Ohio Historical Society)

Ohio Representative Joshua R. Giddings was a vocal abolitionist. He once resigned from the U.S. House of Representatives when that body censured him for supporting the freedom of slaves who had rebelled aboard the slave ship “Creole.”  His constitutents promptly voted him back into office. (Ohio Historical Society)

Within a few short years, James Garfield’s views on politics and slavery had changed. Study, experience and intellectual maturity “gradually and somewhat painfully shook [him] loose from some of his smugly-held beliefs.”  In 1855, while he was a student at Williams College in Massachusetts, Garfield heard two abolitionist lecturers whose attacks on slavery completely altered his views: “I have been instructed tonight on the political condition of our country, and from this time forward I shall hope to know more about its movements and interests.”

He was now convinced that slavery must not be allowed to spread into the new territories acquired after the Mexican War. In his youthful enthusiasm he confided to his diary that, “At such hours as this, I feel like throwing the whole current of my life into the work of opposing this giant evil. I don’t know but the religion of Christ demands such action.”  He also wrote, “I am sometimes led to think that our people are not yet fit for Liberty, nor worthy of it, but ‘Let come what may come.’ Slavery has had its day, or at any rate is fast having it.”  What a reversal in his view of politics and Christianity.


During the Civil War, Garfield’s military service convinced him that the institution of slavery was politically and morally bankrupt. Particularly disturbing to him was the bigotry in the Union army that he witnessed first-hand. Writing from Pittsburg, Tennessee to his friend J. Harry Rhodes, in May 1862, he expressed his disgust with army politics and the “conspiracy among the leading officers, especially those of the regular army to taboo the whole question of anti-slavery and throw as much discredit upon it as upon treason. The purpose is seen clearly both in their words and actions.  I find myself coming nearer and nearer to downright abolitionism.”

The passage of the first Confiscation Act by Congress in 1861 permitted the Union Army to take fleeing slaves under its protection. However, many Union generals, particularly those who were Democrats, refused to honor this provision, which angered James Garfield. In 1862, he pointedly rebuked what he termed “the haughty tyranny of proslavery officers.” He wrote, “Not long ago my commanding general sent me an order to have my camp searched for a fugitive slave. I sent back word that if generals wished to disobey an express law of Congress, which is also an order from the War Department, they must do it themselves for no soldier or officer under my command should take part in such disobedience…”

The First Confiscation Act (1861) permitted Union troops to seize any property-including slaves-that were being used to support the Confederacy.  This 1862 image shows escaped slaves working for wages for the Union army near Yorktown, Virginia.  (Library of Congress)

The First Confiscation Act (1861) permitted Union troops to seize any property-including slaves-that were being used to support the Confederacy. This 1862 image shows escaped slaves working for wages for the Union army near Yorktown, Virginia. (Library of Congress)

Garfield’s humanity in regard to a slave he encountered in the field is eloquently recalled in The Garfield Orbit, by Margaret Leech and Harry Brown. Shortly after the battle of Middle Creek, Kentucky, in early 1862, “a Negro boy was brought to Colonel Garfield – an odd figure, dressed in Confederate uniform and fully armed and equipped. The servant of a Virginia colonel, Jim Rollins had slipped away near the close of the fight and come to the Union commander to give himself up. Garfield was touched by his trust. His thinking was changing… He was coming to believe that the war to save the Union would inevitably carry nationwide emancipation in its train. It added personal warmth to Garfield’s intellectual conclusion that he stood to this Negro boy as the representative of protection and freedom.”

Though Garfield was troubled by how Union officers treated African-Americans, he was equally aware of the dilemma of what to do with Negro camp followers, especially women and children. The men could be employed as Teamsters or drilled to become soldiers. But with the surrounding country being, in Garfield’s words, “devastated and destitute,” he was “totally unable to see how its people and especially the Negroes will escape actual starvation. Thousands have been abandoned by their masters, who… now cruelly turn them out to perish or become a burden which this army cannot safely assume. We should be obliged to duplicate our rations in less than two months if we took them up to feed and protect. It is one of the saddest pictures I ever witnessed… I wish the government would try some plan of alleviation.”

It is clear that James Garfield responded with compassion to the plight of the enslaved people. The political angling that surrounded them, the circumstances that called into question their survival and his inability to render them aid frustrated him.

In uniform and in Congress, Garfield supported enlisting blacks to the Union Army. He did not give great weight to the fear that such enlistees could lead to slave insurrections. Such a result might indeed lead to bloodshed, “but it is not in my heart to lay a feather’s weight in the way of our Black Americans if they choose to strike…” If the slaves rebelled, that would be all the better in undermining the Confederacy.

As a Union officer, James A. Garfield supported the enlistment of black soldiers such as these from Company E, 4th United States Colored Troops.  Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation permitted blacks to join the Union army and navy, and nearly 200,000 eventually served.  (Dickinson College, www.housedivided.dickinson.edu)

As a Union officer, James A. Garfield supported the enlistment of black soldiers such as these from Company E, 4th United States Colored Troops. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation permitted blacks to join the Union army and navy, and nearly 200,000 eventually served. (Dickinson College, http://www.housedivided.dickinson.edu)

In October 1863, Congressman-elect Garfield accompanied Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase to a rally in Baltimore, which called for the unconditional abolition of slavery in Maryland. In a letter to his wife Lucretia, he described finding “15,000 to 20,000 people assembled on Monument Square and the speakers – many of them lifelong slaveholders – made the square bold issue” for ending the peculiar institution in the Old Line state.”He continued, “I was never more delighted and astonished, and when I spoke to them the same words I would address to our people …and hearing their long applause, I felt as if the political millennium had come.”

(check back later in February 2013 for Part II of this post)

-Alan Gephardt, Park Ranger

The “Fine Times” of James A. Garfield’s Education, Part I

Touring James Garfield’s home today, one would have to try hard to overlook the fact that education and learning were important facets to the President’s life. His principal’s desk from the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute, the portraits of writers that Garfield respected such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and William Shakespeare, the books that are visible in nearly every single room – his Mentor home is full of reminders of Garfield’s fondness for learning new things. In fact, intellectualism had one of the most lasting effects on his entire life, even beyond his years as a teacher and school principal. His academic foundation and love for learning would help guide him through most events in his life, from his service in the Union Army to the very day of his inauguration as President.

Garfield in his early teens did not seem on track for the life of an educated man. He had attended district schooling at least semi-regularly and had been instructed in the subjects most students studied in the mid-19th century: reading, writing, arithmetic, and geography, as well as a few other topics if the instructor had studied and cared to teach them. He seemed to have a great fondness for reading and learning, but he was from a poor family and at the time seemed devoted to becoming a sailor. Stacking the deck against Garfield even further, there was a belief among some in the Western Reserve that excessive reading, particularly of novels, was a sort of abnormality, and some argued even a cause or sign of mental illness. Fortunately his mother Eliza and his older brother Thomas apparently did not agree, and while James was recovering from an illness acquired from working on the canal he was persuaded to try school at the nearby Geauga Seminary in Chester. The money that Garfield’s mother and brother were able to scrape together in order for James to attend school at the Seminary amounted to $17 – close to their total savings up to that point. A dollar went a lot further back then than it does today but it did not go that far, and Garfield would finish the term with a grand total of six cents.

Eliza Garfield and her children.  James (back row at right) would receive much help in funding his education from his mother and his brother, Thomas (back row at left).  [Library of Congress]

Eliza Garfield and her children. James (back row at right) would receive much help in funding his education from his mother and his brother, Thomas (back row at left). [Library of Congress]

James Garfield discovered at Geauga Seminary that he was a natural student. Apparently instruction there was not all that much different from the district schools he had attended previously – in fact, by most accounts Geauga Seminary was fairly second-rate. Earlier in life he had walked out of one district school due to a particularly weak teacher, and during his first term at Geauga he wrote home requesting his grammar book as a reference to help correct his teacher’s mistakes. Overall, though, the Seminary was a step up in his education and Garfield enjoyed his studies enough to forget his passion for sailing. The library was small with about 150 books but it was larger than what he was used to at that time. And some of the books were in Greek, likely Garfield’s first exposure to the language that would become one of his favorite subjects. He found that he excelled in algebra, at least compared to his classmates who mostly dropped out of the class by the end of the term. He also took a liking to “natural philosophy” which was that era’s name for the natural sciences. He seemed to enjoy the way science provided an answer to many everyday occurrences that one could witness firsthand.

James Garfield did not merely coast through his two years at the Geauga Seminary. “Studying” is probably the single most common word found in his somewhat sparse journal entries from this time period. He was also working hard outside of the classroom to help supplement his perpetually diminishing funds, often chopping wood and teaching district school during his time off. Undoubtedly aiding Garfield’s work ethic was the simple fact that he loved what he was doing – school was fun. Entries such as “School as usual. Fine times.” and “Studying. Fine times.” appear frequently in his diary between 1849 and 1850. On November 29, 1849, while wrapping up his first term Garfield wrote in his diary “Studying some. The thoughts of parting rend my heart. We soon must say adieu.”

From Geauga Seminary, Garfield decided to test himself further by enrolling at the new Western Reserve Eclectic Institute in Hiram, Ohio. A part of this decision was based on the fact that he did not know what he wanted to do with his life: he mostly disliked teaching children in the district schools, and while he was a capable carpenter the profession never seemed to keep his interest for long. On the other hand, he viewed a college education (or at least an advanced education) as the best way to lift himself up beyond the “herd”. The Geauga school seemed to have done much for his confidence, at least. Thomas Munnell, the teacher of Latin at the Eclectic, remembered the following about James Garfield, shortly after he first enrolled at the school in the fall of 1851:

“When he arrived he had studied a little of Latin grammar, but had done nothing in the way of translating. I had no class to suit him in elementary Latin, one being behind him, and another far in advance. He resolved at once to overtake the advanced class, provided I would hear his recitation after class hours, which I readily agreed to do.” (History of Hiram College, 1850-1900 by F.M. Green). Garfield’s self-confidence was apparently well-placed, as he was asked to give the valedictory address his first year at the Eclectic.

The Western Reserve Eclectic Institute in 1858.  Originally a one-building school, "the Eclectic" became Hiram College in 1867.  (Hiram College Archives/Wikipedia)

The Western Reserve Eclectic Institute in 1858. Originally a one-building school, “the Eclectic” became Hiram College in 1867. (Hiram College Archives/Wikipedia)

Money was again a concern at the Eclectic. During the first term he had just enough saved up from teaching and carpentry work that he was able to pay his way. His second term he worked as a janitor for the school (sweeping, ringing the bell, and building fires for heat) and in between terms he again worked as a teacher. Besides monetary concerns, every year James and his fellow students had to deal with crowded housing. Most housing at the Eclectic was provided by the community itself, which was fairly small, and it was a problem finding enough space for the 300-500 students each year. Zeb Rudolph, Garfield’s future father-in-law, often had ten students in his seven-room Hiram house. The institution attempted to build boarding houses but the option was apparently never popular with the students and the structures were sold just a few years later.

Garfield immersed himself in his studies at the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute. He studied and attended lectures on a variety of topics, but the major courses for him early on were Greek and Latin (his two favorites), trigonometry, and “Sacred History”, which was a required course every morning that taught the Bible. The suggested curriculum was rather flexible and students took classes based more on their own needs or personal interests. Surprisingly, the Eclectic did not even have an official library until 1854, with the Bible being the only book that belonged to the institute up to that point. Extracurricular learning helped make up for the lack of a library, particularly the student-organized literary and debating societies. James Garfield actually helped lead the organization of one of these lecturing and debating groups himself, which was called the Philomathean Society. The school placed an emphasis on religious studies, being founded by the Disciples of Christ faith, but it was not strictly a theology school – a variety of classes were offered (hence the name “Eclectic”) and the school was nonsectarian.

Garfield did so well as a student that by 1853 he was listed in the catalogue as “Teacher in the English Department and of the Ancient Languages.” He also taught classes outside of these topics, including geometry and penmanship. James Garfield was a very talented scholar and had worked incredibly hard, but his sudden rise to teaching at the Eclectic can also be explained by the size of the faculty there: on average, the academy only had 5 full-time instructors and the Eclectic students, many of which taught at district schools between terms, were occasionally asked to help teach. The rapid change from student to teacher was impressive nonetheless, though.

The Eclectic seems to have improved his confidence even more – he was excelling in his classes, speaking regularly at the debating societies, preaching at Disciples of Christ meetings, and now even teaching at the school. He also began trying his hand at courting while at the Eclectic, eventually beginning a relationship with a fellow student who he would later marry in 1858, Lucretia Rudolph. They had met at the Geauga Seminary, but it was in Hiram that they grew close. Early on their letters to one another were, naturally, scholarly – books and the classics were common topics.

Garfield's Greek class at the Eclectic, 1853.  Garfield (far right) is seated next his student(and future wife) Lucretia Rudolph.  (Lake County Historical Society)

Garfield’s Greek class at the Eclectic, 1853. Garfield (far right) is seated next to his student(and future wife) Lucretia Rudolph. (Lake County Historical Society)

In 1854, James Garfield once again decided that he needed something more with his education. While the Eclectic was a step up from previous schools he had attended and offered a variety of classes that suited some of his academic needs, it was at this time more of an academy or preparatory school than a college and would not confer degrees until it became Hiram College in 1867 (also, due to the school’s primary department some of the students there were as young as 10). Arguably it was not just the absence of a degree, though, that made Garfield feel he needed more. He was so outstanding in his studies that after spending three years there he had outgrown the school. The classes were engaging and roughly the equivalent of college-level material, but by this time he had largely stopped attending and was teaching full time instead. He felt he had some purpose in life beyond what he was currently doing, though he was not sure what it was. Garfield decided to continue his education and work for that college degree.

(check back soon for Part II of this post)

T.J. Todd, Visitor Use Assistant