Yet, she was, overall, pleased with the desk: “The writing table is really very beautiful and all the finishing very perfect…”
Yet, she was, overall, pleased with the desk: “The writing table is really very beautiful and all the finishing very perfect…”
On June 14, 1881, Joshua L. Chamberlain of Brunswick, Maine, wrote a letter to President James A. Garfield. The President’s wife, Lucretia Rudolph Garfield, had been ill with malaria for much of the spring, and Chamberlain offered this advice:
It has been suggested to me by a medical gentleman of much experience
that the best treatment Mrs. Garfield could have would be a summer on
the coast of Maine. Should that judgment commend itself to you I shall
be very glad if it may be in my power to aid in the selecting [of] a suitable
place, or in any way to contribute to your satisfaction in regard to the
Chamberlain, then president of his alma mater, Bowdoin College, also invited the President to attend Bowdoin’s commencement on July 14. It was public knowledge that Garfield was heading north in less than three weeks to speak at his own alma mater, Williams College in Massachusetts, and then enjoy a vacation. The President was more than ready for a little time away from the White House. He had only recently won a hard-fought political victory regarding patronage appointments with members of his own Republican Party, most notably Senator Roscoe Conkling of New York. His wife’s severe illness added to his worries and made his first few months as the nation’s twentieth president even more difficult.
Garfield never made it to Williams or his vacation. On July 2, 1881, as he walked through Washington, D.C.’s Baltimore and Potomac train station to board his train north, Charles Guiteau approached and shot him twice from behind. The first bullet grazed Garfield’s arm, but the second lodged in his back. Over the next eighty days, doctors unschooled in Listerian antisepsis and germ theories—or willfully ignoring them—poked and prodded Garfield with dirty fingers and instruments, introducing infection into his body. The President died on September 19, eighty days after Guiteau’s attack.
No evidence exists to suggest that Garfield and Chamberlain ever actually met one another. However, had they met, it seems likely that they would have liked one another a great deal. After all, the similarities between the two men were striking. They were close to the same age, with Chamberlain born in 1828 and Garfield in 1831. Both showed an early interest in religion and considered careers as clergymen. Chamberlain attended and graduated from Maine’s Bangor Theological Seminary, but never actually worked as a minister. Garfield did not attend a religious seminary, but did preach sermons as a lay minister in the Disciples of Christ denomination.
Chamberlain and Garfield both had successful careers as scholars at their alma maters before the Civil War, Chamberlain at Bowdoin and Garfield at Ohio’s Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (now Hiram College), which he attended before Williams. Both taught many different subjects and were proficient in several languages, including Greek and Latin. When the Civil War came and both were moved to volunteer for the Union, each determined to use books on military history and tactics to teach himself how to lead and fight. As Chamberlain told the Governor of Maine in a letter that could just as easily have been written by the Ohioan Garfield, “I have always been interested in military matters, and what I do not know in that line I know how to learn” (emphasis in original). Soon after, Lt. Col. Chamberlain was second in command of the 20th Maine Infantry. Garfield, a state senator at the time of the Fort Sumter attack, taught himself drill on the lawn of the Ohio Capitol Building before being assigned command of the 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry.
James Garfield saw action mostly in the western theater, Chamberlain in the east. During his service in the army, northeast Ohio Republicans elected Garfield to the U.S. House of Representatives, and Garfield left the army in December 1863 to go to Congress. Chamberlain remained in the army until war’s end, suffering numerous wounds that would affect him for the rest of his life. When the war ended, he was elected to four consecutive one-year terms as Maine’s governor. While Garfield enjoyed political success, though, Chamberlain’s ambitions to serve as a U.S. Senator were stymied. The Garfields and Chamberlains both endured the pain of losing children to early deaths, and both became sought-after speakers on the post-war lecture circuit.
Had Garfield survived Charles Guiteau’s assassination attempt, or had Guiteau never struck at all, perhaps Garfield and Chamberlain may have met at some point—maybe even on Garfield’s New England visit in July 1881. We can only guess, but knowing a little bit about their backgrounds and life experiences makes it a good bet that they could have been fast friends.
-Todd Arrington, Site Manager
March being “Women’s History Month,” it seems appropriate to say a little something about a woman whose name is more than likely unknown to most present-day Americans. She wasn’t a leader in the abolitionist movement or a suffragist. She gained no fame as an advocate of temperance. She was, though, a lifelong resident of the District of Columbia, and chronicled the Washington scene from the 1860s into the early 1880s.
Her name was Mary Clemmer Ames (1839-1884) and her book Ten Years in Washington, first published in 1874, is an engaging account of the notable buildings and agencies centered in the nation’s capital, and the people whose activities breathed life into them. Her descriptions of the many individuals, male and female, prominent and not, who set the social standards of the political class, or who did the everyday work of the federal bureaucracy, are intelligent, sympathetic, at times witty, and fully human portrayals.
This post will pay most attention to the commentary of Mrs. Clemmer that particularly illustrated the role of women of “Gilded Age” Washington. However, as James A. Garfield is inevitably the subject in some way of what you read on this page, what Mary Clemmer had to say about him will not be neglected.
Ten Years in Washington covers a wide variety of topics. There is a historical treatment of the designation of ten square miles of land given by the states of Maryland and Virginia for the establishment of the District. Mrs. Clemmer goes into great descriptive detail about the Capitol building, “the President’s House,” the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian. The inner workings of the U.S. Treasury, the Post Office and the Patent Office and other agencies are a prime focus of her writing. The State Department, the Army, the Navy, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Interior Department all came into view.
Mrs. Ames had something to say about every mistress of the White House, whether she was the President’s wife or daughter (there is a highly complimentary portrayal of Martha Patterson, daughter of Andrew Johnson). Her portrayal of Sarah Polk includes the following:
Mrs. Polk, intellectually, was one of the most marked
women who ever presided in the White House. A lady of
the old school… her attainments were more than ordinary…
Never a politician, in a day when politics… were forbidden
grounds to women, she no less was thoroughly conversant
with all public affairs…
She was her husband’s private secretary, and, probably,
was the only lady of the White House who ever filled that
office. She took charge of his papers, he trusting entirely to
her memory and method for their safe keeping… [and when
needed] it was Sarah’s ever ready hand that laid it before his
Conjured by Mrs. Clemmer’s pen, Mrs. Grant, the then-current First Lady, was a worthy object of the respect and admiration of that generation of Americans.
Mrs. Grant’s morning receptions are very popular, and
deservedly so. This is not because the lady is in any sense
a good conversationalist, or has a fine tact in receiving, but
rather, I think, because she is thoroughly good-natured, and
for the time, at least, makes other people feel the same. At
any rate, there was never so little formality or so much
genuine sociability in the day-receptions at the White House
as at the present time.
Ten Years in Washington is full of interesting facts and anecdotes. Many of these illustrate the contributions and the plight of female federal workers. Here, in her chapters on the Treasury Department, Mrs. Ames lauds the ability of the women who performed their work so well:
“After the great Chicago fire in 1871, cases of money to the value of one hundred and sixty-four thousand, nine-hundred and ninety-seven dollars and ninety-eight cents, were sent to the United States Treasury for identification… All these charred treasures were placed in the hands of a committee of six ladies… What patience, practice, skill, were indispensable to the fulfillment of this task, it is not difficult to conjecture… After unpacking the money… the ladies separated each small piece with thin knives made for the purpose, then laying the blackened fragments on sheets of blotting paper, they decided by close scrutiny, the value, genuineness, and nature of the note. Magnifying glasses were provided, but seldom used…’”
Mrs. Ames identified the members of this committee of six as Mrs. M. J. Patterson, Miss Pearl, Mrs. Davis, Miss Shriner, Miss Wright, and Miss Powers. “The most noted case [Mrs. Patterson] ever worked on was that of the paymaster’s trunk,” that sank with the Robert Carter, in the Mississippi River.
“After lying three years in the bottom of the river, the steamer was raised, and the money, soaked, rotten and obliterated, given to Mrs. Patterson for identification. She saved one hundred and eighty-five thousand out of two hundred thousand dollars, and the express company, which was responsible for the original amount, presented her with five hundred dollars, as a recognition of her services.”
And yet, the familiar refrain best summed up in the old adage, “The more things change, the more they remain the same,” was as pertinent in the distant 1870s as it it today.
Of the forty-five ladies in the Internal Revenue Bureau,
there is but one, and she is fifty years of age, who has not
more than herself to support on the pittance which she is
paid. Nevertheless, whenever a spasmodic cry of
‘retrenchment’ is raised, three women are always dismissed
from office, to one man, although the men greatly out-
number the women, to say nothing of their being so much
Today’s crusaders for “equal rights for equal pay” have soul mates going back 140 years and more. There are connections between we, the living, and past generations of Americans. History is not bunk. The past is not entirely past. It is not dead.
For many years Mary Clemmer authored a column called, “A Woman’s Letter from Washington.” This journalistic exploit for the New York Independent encouraged her passion for description, and her interest in the common man and woman. Her delight in limning the social elite sprang from that same reportorial flare.
It then comes as no surprise that in the March 27, 1879 issue of that column she presented a word portrait of Congressman James Garfield that mixed reservation with admiration:
“In mental capacity, in fine, wide, intellectual culture, no Republican for the last decade has equaled, much less surpassed him… Were it possible to honor his moral purity as one must his intellectual acumen, he would be as grand in personal and political strength, that no whim of man, no passion of the hour, no mutation of party could depress, much less overthrow.”
A month later, Garfield learned of the column’s complex account of his character through a letter from a Boston, Massachusetts correspondent, Jeremiah Chaplin. According to Garfield’s diary entry for April 27, 1879, Chaplin quoted the column, which “criticizes me in a vague, unjust, and indefinite way.” Calling on Mrs. Ames a few days later, he left [Chaplin’s] letter “for her to read at leisure and to let me know what she meant by her language. She asked me to call on Wednesday evening to see her about it. I am curious to know what she will say.”
Two days later, Garfield called on Mrs. Clemmer at seven o’clock in the evening. “I had a strong conversation with her on the subject,” he wrote afterward. Did she remind him of the marital infidelities of which he had been accused some years earlier? Did he refute these as unjust? Did he invoke the current state of his relationship with his wife as his defense? Alas, the content of that conversation is not known.
What is known is that in 1882, the year after President Garfield’s assassination, a new edition of Ten Years in Washington appeared. It now featured, “A Full and Authentic History of the Life and Death of President James A. Garfield.”
Was the inclusion of the Garfield biography intended as a well-deserved homage to the late president whose character the author had once questioned, or, (more cynically) was it designed to boost new sales of the original book?
The biography includes passages on First Lady Lucretia Garfield, who, returning from her own convalescence at Long Branch, New Jersey
bravely took her place by her husband’s side, and
comforted and cheered him during his long and weary
fight for life. How grandly she rose to the occasion,
how tenderly she endured the weary weeks, always
wearing a cheerful face, while her heart was breaking
with its cruel load, the whole world knows. Her heroic
devotion to her husband grandly typified the loyal and
self-sacrificing spirit of wifehood, which finds no more
conspicuous illustration than in our American homes…
Cognizant of all that had occurred between 1879 and 1882, driven perhaps by the changed perspective that death brings, Mrs. Ames concluded in 1882 that, “President Garfield was large-framed, large-brained, and large-hearted.”
He was six feet tall in height and was a splendid picture
of a man. His personal character and habits were clean and
pure, and his home life at Mentor or Washington as
simply delightful. … In a word, James A. Garfield was a
man physically, intellectually, and morally who was an
honor to his country and … no more imperishable name
will ever adorn our country’s annals.
It was not long after this writing that Mary Clemmer herself died at the age of 45, only a year after her 1883 marriage to Edmund Hudson, editor of the Army and Navy Register. Her earlier marriage to Daniel Ames ended in divorce in 1874, the same year in which Ten Years in Washington was first published.
Death came early to Mary Clemmer Ames Hudson, but she has left behind a wonderful chronicle of Gilded Age Washington.
-Alan Gephardt, Park Ranger
What began as a marriage in November 1858 “based on the cold stern word duty,” turned into a 19th century love story.
James Garfield and Lucretia Rudolph probably should have never married. They were of very different upbringings ~ and temperament.
Born in a log cabin in November 1831, James was the baby of the family, the youngest of the Garfield children, the one who was doted upon. He was precocious and busy as a toddler. His mother sang to him, held him on her lap and hugged him, and told him that he would grow up to be someone special. He grew to be charming, with a good sense of humor, and loved to be the center of attention!
Lucretia was born five months later, the eldest of the four Rudolph children. She had chores and responsibilities ~ and was taught the virtue of “self-government” by her mother. Neither of her parents openly showed much affection; she didn’t ever remember being kissed by her father. Despite growing up in this rather serious household, she knew she was loved. However, her nature was more quiet, shy, reserved, and some thought, “cold.” She could express her thoughts and desires to her diary or in letters, but struggled with showing her emotions in person.
The two crossed paths in school. Both families emphasized the importance of education and sent their adolescent James and Lucretia off to the Geauga Seminary in Chester Township, OH. It was a co-educational (high) school where they both received the same classical courses ~ and lived away from home for the first time. Lucretia roomed with other girls on the third floor of the school. James found lodging with other boarders nearby. They were just classmates, but Lucretia noticed the tall, blue-eyed, “strange genius” who had the look of “an overgrown, uncombed, unwashed, boy.” They both had other love interests.
Fate brought them together a second time: in the fall of 1851 at the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute in Hiram, OH. This co-educational college, started by Lucretia’s father and other elders of their Disciples of Christ Church, is where their interest in one another grew. Their Greek teacher became ill and James, far ahead of the other students, was asked to take over the class. He began to notice the petite, delicate, pretty girl with the dark, deep-set eyes. They both had intelligent, curious minds and loved learning, literature, and reading.
Their courtship officially began when James sent Lucretia the first of what would become 1,200 letters the two shared during their relationship. He visited Niagara Falls in 1853 and wanted to convey his impressions to Miss Rudolph. They shared their first kiss in 1854. The courtship endured many ups and downs due to their very different personalities and expectations. James wasn’t sure that Lucretia was the right woman for him, that she was passionate enough for his nature.
They finally decided to “try a life in union” during a buggy ride in the spring of 1858 and married on November 11 at the Rudolph home in Hiram. At her family’s suggestion, the bride even sent an invitation to her groom (to be sure that he showed up)! The newlyweds didn’t have enough money for a honeymoon or their own house, and instead moved into a rooming house near the Hiram college. They always had someone living with them.
Separations soon put a strain on their marriage. Due to his many jobs and duties, James was away from home for long absences ~ but also wanted to be away. He wasn’t yet truly prepared to be a husband and father. Even the birth of their first child in 1860 didn’t keep her restless, somewhat selfish, father home. James and Lucretia called these the “Dark Years.” During their first five years of marriage, they were only together 20 weeks.
Lucretia was trying to be “the best little wife and mother she could be,” but she admitted that her reserved personality was also to blame for their grim situation. She showed her diary to James and he read about her true emotions for him. They needed each other – they made each other better.
Many factors contributed to them drawing closer together: the importance of family brought home to James during the Civil War, the birth and loss of children, a regrettable affair for which James sought Lucretia’s forgiveness and guidance, a Grand Tour together, their mutual interests, their strong religious faith. His political career allowed them to spend more time together as a family during sessions of Congress when he moved them all to Washington with him. He became a “family man.”
Lucretia noted that “the forces drawing the two of us together were stronger than the differences pulling us apart.” When President James Garfield died in 1881, the two were close to celebrating their 23rd wedding anniversary. They were an established married couple who spent much time together as their children were growing up. They were supportive partners ~ Lucretia was her husband’s most important political confidant and fierce ally. They wrote about their loneliness for one another when apart ~ and of a new-found devotion to one another.
James to Lucretia – December 1867:
“We no longer love because we ought to, but because we do. Were I free to choose out of all the world the sharer of my heart and home and life, I would fly to you and ask you to be mine as you are.”
Lucretia to James – September 1870:
“…I stopped amazed to find myself sitting by our fireside, the loved and loving wife, …lifted up from the confusions and out from the entanglements…I felt that we are not living on the same plain [sic] as heretofore, that we are scarcely the same beings, but like conquering sovereigns we live in high isolation, wedded in heart and soul and life.”
Postscript: “Dearest Crete” kept the letters from her “Darling Jamie” and shared them with her adult children to show the progression of the Garfields’ marriage. She wanted them to understand the metamorphosis of the relationship and depth of their love.
-Debbie Weinkamer, Lead Volunteer
First Lady Lucretia Garfield lived for 36 years after her husband, President James A. Garfield, was assassinated in 1881 by Charles Guiteau. During that time, she became a beloved figure in America, though she shunned publicity. She created the first Presidential Memorial Library and became the matriarch of a large, close-knit and affectionate family. Debbie Weinkamer, who portrays Lucretia, is a Garfield researcher, first-person living historian, and the Lead Volunteer at James A. Garfield National Historic Site in Mentor, Ohio. Here she presents how Lucretia would speak for herself in answering the critics if she had the chance. Not always self-assured, except in the company of friends and family, nevertheless, Lucretia had always met adversity head on, facing her responsibilities.
I appreciate this opportunity to write to you in order to clear up some misconceptions about me. Many of you have not heard much about me since my husband’s assassination and death in 1881. Even the newspapers have called me the “Vanishing First Lady” and “Discreet Crete.” I must admit: I have ducked all publicity, for I feel that in no way am I personally famous. The name I bear is honored and honorable, but I am just an ordinary woman devoted to her husband and children.
I did enjoy my husband’s rise to prominence in politics, contrary to many historians’ opinions of me. At the beginning of his political career, I wrote to him that, “I feel so much anxiety for you that your public career be never marked by the blight of a misdirected step. I want you to be great and good.” I was one of his most-trusted confidants and advisors. I didn’t expect him to be nominated for President in the political climate of 1876-1880, but thought that his time would eventually come. However, after he received the “dark horse” nomination at the 1880 Republican Convention in Chicago, I wanted him to win the election – even though I knew that it would bring political difficulties to my husband and a terrible responsibility to our entire family.
My quiet, shy nature made me very reluctant to take over the social duties of First Lady, even though I had been a Congressman’s wife for 17 years and had lived in Washington with my husband and family during sessions of Congress since 1869. However, I was very fortunate to receive the good advice and assistance of my friend Harriet Blaine, wife of my husband’s Secretary of State and “an experienced Washington grande dame.” I came to rely on her fine judgment regarding many etiquette matters, including how to establish my calling hours at the Executive Mansion, and effective ways to handle newspaper correspondents and petty criticisms.
(Here, I must pause to reveal some interesting correspondence regarding the Blaines…In April 1875, I received a letter from my husband concerning a rumor that when James Blaine was getting married to Harriet, the couple’s “warm blood led them to anticipate the nuptial ceremony,” and their first child was born about six months after their marriage. My husband asked, would this fact “have weight with the people in the Presidential Campaign?” [Mr. Blaine was being considered by some for the presidency.]
I replied, “It was a queer piece of gossip you gave me of Mr. Blaine. I scarcely believe it. But if it is true, it ought not to affect the voters very much unless it would have been considered more honorable by the majority to have abandoned the woman—seduced. My opinion of Mr. Blaine would be rather heightened than otherwise by the truth of such a story: for it would show him not entirely selfish and heartless.”)
During his brief presidency, my husband paid me the best compliments a political wife can receive: that I was discreet and wise, that my “role as his partner in the presidential enterprise was essential to him,” and that I “rose up to every occasion.”
I have led a quiet, yet social, life since that terrible tragedy in 1881. I created a “country estate” from my farm property in Mentor, Ohio and embarked on several building projects. A “Memorial Library” addition was built onto the back of the farmhouse, complete with a fire-proof vault to hold my husband’s papers from his public career (and more than 1,200 letters shared between us). I’ve been told that it may inspire others to create presidential libraries one day!
My children have completed college, married, and now have children of their own. I am so pleased to say that they have grown up to be distinguished citizens in their own right. We all gather at the Mentor farm every summer, and I can be found wintering in South Pasadena, California. I love to travel to New York City for the opera season and to visit my 16 grandchildren at least once a year.
I try to keep well-informed of science, cultural, and political events, both at home and abroad. I have co-founded a ladies’ literary group (based on one that my husband and I attended in Washington) called the Miscellany Club, where monthly meetings are held in members’ homes and we take turns speaking on subjects related to a year-long topic, like “American History.” I often correspond with my oldest sons about political matters, which can get quite interesting since one is aligned with Woodrow Wilson and the other with Theodore Roosevelt!
My five children have been a continual joy and inspiration to me. And with the memory of my dear Husband and our little ones who didn’t stay with us very long…I have had a remarkable life. For does not life grow richer as the years go by? Even our losses lead us into wider fields and nobler thoughts.
Lucretia R. Garfield
-Debbie Weinkamer, Lead Volunteer
(This article originally appeared at http://kennethackerman.com/guest-blogger-debbie-weinkamer-on-lucretia-garfield-the-vanishing-first-lady-or-am-i/ on March 30, 2012.)
In 1880, the “surprise” presidential nomination of Ohioan James A. Garfield by the Republicans resulted in a campaign that, unlike any before it, regularly brought citizens and candidate face-to-face. It was conducted on the front porch of Garfield’s home.
Prior to 1880, it was considered undignified for anyone to actively seek the presidency. Nominees did not travel from state to state or city to city to tell voters that they had the solutions for the country’s problems. Expected to emulate the example of George Washington, they were to remain above the fray. The sitting president, Rutherford B. Hayes, spoke to this tradition when he advised Garfield to “sit cross-legged and look wise until after the election.”
Traditionally, it was the Congressmen, Senators, and party workers who did the heavy lifting during presidential campaigns. It was they who traveled, they who spoke, they who organized evening torchlight parades, and more. Garfield honored these traditions. Meanwhile, he stayed home; he stayed put. But his 1880 campaign departed significantly from past practice.
Arriving at his Mentor farm after his nomination at Chicago, Garfield was greeted by crowds of citizens. People who had known him from his days as a student, teacher, and Civil War officer came to wish him success. Newspaper reporters camped out on his lawn. Their accounts of the welcome Garfield received stimulated interest in his candidacy.
Farmers and businessmen, college students and women (unable cast ballots in 1880), immigrants and Union veterans, including a number of black veterans, came to see, came to hear, and came to meet the Republican nominee.
In the little campaign office behind his home, Garfield and his aides exchanged letters and telegrams with the leaders of groups to fix dates and times of arrival, and to exchange information, so that when they met, a group’s spokesman and Garfield could address each other with appropriate remarks.
An estimated 15,000 to 17,000 citizens traveled to Mentor, Ohio (population: 540) to see and hear Garfield. From a train platform specially built to bring the people to the candidate, they literally walked a mile-and-a-half up a lane that extended the entire length of Garfield’s 160 acre farm. They walked up that lane in good weather and in bad, in sunshine and in showers.
Often, a “Garfield and Arthur” band was playing near the front porch when visitors arrived, adding excitement to the air. Poets read and singers sang. A Congressman, Senator, or local official would hail the Republican Party and Garfield.
Soon, the candidate would pass through the vestibule doors leading from the interior of his home to his porch. A designated group leader addressed him respectfully. Garfield would respond, eschewing political issues. He spoke instead to the identities and the aspirations of those gathered before him. His remarks were often brief, sometimes lasting no more than three or four minutes. From the porch serving as his podium, Garfield discussed “The Possibilities of Life,” “The Immortality of Ideas,” and “German Citizens.”
As a teacher, soldier, Congressman, and Republican presidential nominee, James Garfield wrestled with the matter of race. It was as difficult an issue for his generation as it is for ours. Still, he supported the right of African-Americans to be free, to be equal with whites in the eyes of the law, and to be treated with justice. In his remarks on “The Future of Colored Men,” Garfield spoke to 250 such citizens assembled on his lawn in October 1880.
“Of all the problems that any nation ever confronted,” he said, “none was ever more difficult than that of settling the great race question… on the basis of broad justice and equal rights to all. It was a tremendous trial of the faith of the American people, a tremendous trial of the strength of our institutions…” that they had survived a brutal and bloody civil war; that freedom had been won for the enslaved as a result; that the promise of fair treatment was to be the inheritance of the freedmen.
When, late in the campaign, he stood before his “Friends and Neighbors” from Portage County, Ohio, he revealed the tender side of his nature, and his appreciation for the life he’d been given. To this audience, composed of the many who had helped to form the fabric of his being, he offered these thoughts:
“Here are the school-fellows of twenty-eight years ago.
Here are men and women who were my pupils twenty-
five years ago… I see others who were soldiers in the
old regiment which I had the honor to command… How
can I forget all these things, and all that has followed?
How can I forget…the people of Portage County, when
I see men and women from all its townships standing at
my door? I cannot forget these things while life and
consciousness remain. The freshness of youth, the very
springtide of life… all was with you, and of you, my
neighbors, my friends, my cherished comrades… You
are here, so close to my heart… whatever may befall me
And then, as he had so often done before, James Garfield invited his guests to linger in friendly communion: “Ladies and gentlemen, all the doors of my house are open to you. The hand of every member of my family is outstretched to you. Our hearts greet you, and we ask you to come in.”
-Alan Gephardt, Park Ranger
(Park Ranger Alan Gephardt wrote this article in January 2016 for the blog of PBS’s American Experience to coincide with the February 2 national broadcast of Murder of a President, their excellent documentary about President Garfield and his tragic 1881 assassination.)
Who was the first President depicted on a postage stamp? George Washington
Who was the first President born a United States citizen? Martin Van Buren
Who was the first President to be left handed? James Garfield??
That’s right. Eight Presidents are known to be left-handed, and James A. Garfield was the first. In fact, President Garfield holds quite a number of presidential firsts.
(But first, a presidential last: Garfield was the last President to be born in a log cabin. Orange Township, Ohio, could have been considered the American frontier when Garfield was born there in 1831. The modern village of Moreland Hills now makes up this part of the old township, and maintains a replica cabin as Garfield’s birthplace.)
Garfield was the first, and to-date only, sitting member of the U.S. House of Representatives to be elected President. He was a long-serving member of the House, completing nine terms representing Ohio’s 19th Congressional District before resigning to become President. Garfield was also a U.S. Senator-elect for Ohio at the time, making him the only man in U.S. history to be a sitting Representative, Senator-elect, and President-elect at the same time!
Garfield is the first, and again the only, President to be a clergyman. Prior to embarking on a career in politics, young Garfield was a lay minister of the Disciples of Christ.
He was the first President to successfully use a front-porch campaign strategy. As was customary for a politician at the time, Garfield spent the 1880 Presidential Campaign tending to his private affairs. In his case, this was a 150-acre farm in Mentor, Ohio, where he lived with his wife and five children. Garfield’s reputation for public speaking preceded him, encouraging 17,000 visitors to travel to his home to hear him talk. Not wanting to be rude, Garfield would stand on his front-porch to speak to the dozens, or sometimes hundreds, of visitors assembled on his lawn nearly every day during that summer and fall.
During one of these speeches, Garfield became the first President to have campaigned in two languages when he spoke to a group of German-Americans using their native tongue.
At his inauguration on March 4, 1881, President Garfield accomplishes three more firsts. He was the first President to review the Inaugural Parade from in front of the White House. At the inauguration itself, Garfield became the first President to have his mother be in attendance. Outgoing President Hayes gave up his seat so that Eliza Garfield could sit next to her son. (President Garfield’s first action after completing the Oath of Office was to bend down and give his dear mother a kiss on the cheek.) Later that night, President Garfield’s Inaugural Ball became the first public event to be held at the Smithsonian Institution’s newly constructed Arts and Industries Building.
Garfield’s presidency ended after just 200 days. He succumbed to an infection from a gunshot wound and shoddy medical care (no, not first, but second assassinated President, after Abraham Lincoln). His death, at 49 years of age, made him the first President to die before age 50.
Following her husband’s death, Mrs. Lucretia Garfield contributed her own Presidential first. In a desire to make sure that her husband was not lost to history and forgotten, she initiated a project to gather as many of Garfield’s Presidential papers as possible. Prior to this exercise, Presidential papers were considered to be private property of the men who held the office. Upon leaving the presidency, they would gift some papers to friends, maybe even destroy many others. By bringing the Garfield papers together into one collection, Lucretia set the precedent for future Presidents- in a manner of speaking, the Garfield collection was the first Presidential library.
Lucretia’s desire to put together a collection of her late husband’s work, and the mere recognition of President Garfield’s ‘firsts’ have ensured that her fears did not come true. President James A. Garfield continues to be remembered, admired, and studied.
-Benjamin Frayser, Volunteer
There’s no denying that the internet and social media play a prominent role in the way we access news today, and the type of news we choose to follow. This is especially true when it comes to politics and modern presidential campaigns. With this seemingly endless stream of information, there is no shortage of criticism and humor directed at politicians. Whether it’s good or bad, most Americans have likely even come to expect it!
So what about presidential campaigns of the 19th century? Did such witty criticism of the nation’s potential commander-in-chief exist then, too? The answer is, of course, a resounding “yes.” While Americans of the day certainly were not inundated with updates via Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media site (there weren’t even radios for inquisitive citizens to gather information from), that doesn’t mean humor was absent from political campaigns of the period.
Humorous criticism has always been a staple of political campaigns, in varying degrees of seriousness, and there was no lack of it in James Garfield’s successful campaign of 1880. The most prominent satirical periodical of the day was Puck Magazine, and Garfield often found himself on the receiving end of the publication’s commentary and political cartoons during his campaign. From Credit Mobilier to DeGolyer Pavement and the “salary grab” of 1873, Garfield’s congressional career provided ample ammunition for journalists of the day to criticize.
Simultaneously, Garfield’s opponent was not immune from critics. Democratic candidate Winfield Scott Hancock was just as frequently at the center of the magazine’s jokes, despite the fact that it was generally more sympathetic to the Democratic Party. Yet while I found the comics and commentary poking fun at the two candidates to be rather even, while combing through editions of the magazine from the 1880 campaign I stumbled upon something a bit more unusual.
While I expected to see the presidential candidates lambasted, I was not expecting to see anything targeting their spouses. Yet that’s exactly what I found in the July 21, 1880 edition. Starting with Mrs. Garfield, the writers at Puck weave an intricate story of a woman more impressive than even her husband! Of course upon closer examination it’s less about her actual accomplishments and more a grossly exaggerated fiction of the soon-to-be First Lady. From holding four patents for boiling potatoes, to entering West Point at the age of 71 (!) – only to subsequently give up her military duties to marry James Garfield at the age of 74 – the magazine creates the image of a comically overambitious woman.
The reason behind this exaggeration and why Puck chose to portray Mrs. Garfield in such a light is unclear, though perhaps it becomes clearer after reading the magazine’s description of Mrs. Hancock. Whereas Mrs. Garfield’s life and accomplishments were impossibly unrealistic, Mrs. Hancock is presented as possessing qualities “quite important enough, in a quiet, unobtrusive and domestic way to set a noble example to the women and children of the universe.” Unlike Mrs. Garfield, whose accomplishments have “shaken the world to its foundation,” Mrs. Hancock is presented to the readers as the epitome of a virtuous American woman. Setting a noble example, Puck sees Mrs. Hancock as the more suitable of the two to fulfill the duties of First Lady, as she provides the American public with a character to which any woman would aspire.
So why the criticism of Mrs. Garfield? Was there something particularly loathsome about her character that prompted the editors at Puck to attack her? Looking through other sources of the time, from Cleveland’s Plain Dealer to The New York Times, Lucretia Garfield is notably absent from any criticism related to her husband, and is even referred to as a “quiet, thoughtful, and refined woman” by the Times. Using a little leeway, perhaps it’s not that Puck is not actually ridiculing her, but rather using her as a way to poke fun at her husband and his rise from “canal boy” to presidential candidate.
However, that is just my conclusion. Whether the authors of this humorous article were truly looking to mock Mrs. Garfield, or to find an alternative way to satirize her husband, we may never know. The one conclusion we can draw is that political satire is certainly not new to American political campaigns or candidates. Whether Lucretia Garfield deserved to bear the brunt of this joke or not is almost irrelevant, as this article clearly illustrates that satire was becoming a prominent voice in American politics, and anyone was fair game.
-James Brundage, Museum Technician
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
-Rebecca Hayward, Volunteer
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.
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.
…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.
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.”
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
In deeds resplendent and in honor bright,
In high example shining as the light
He lives immortal, he who died last night
Sept. 20, 1881.
-Alan Gephardt, Park Ranger