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First Lady Biography: Lucretia Garfield

 

LUCRETIA RUDOLPH GARFIELD

 

 

Born:   

 Garrettsville, Ohio

19 April, 1832

 Father:

 Zebulon Rudolph, born 28 February 1803, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia; farmer, carpenter, religious leader, co-founder of Eclectic Institute, Hiram, Ohio; died 1895, Mentor, Ohio

 

 

Mother:

 

Arabella Greene Mason, born 18 April 1810, Hartford, Connecticut, married Hiram, Ohio, 1830; died Hiram, Ohio, 1879

Ancestry:

German, Welsh, English, Irish; Lucretia Garfield's parental great-grandfather immigrated to Pennsylvania (in a part that is now Delaware) from Württemberg, Germany. Her mother's family all originated in New England, the latest immigrating from England six generations before her own. Among her American ancestors were James and Mary Chilton, Pilgrims on the Mayflower.

 

Lucretia Garfield's ancestry is one of the most extensively-researched of all the First Ladies. Traced back from England, her ancestral charts show that she had roots in France, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, Italy, Scotland, Holland, Poland and Czechoslovakia. Some charts claim that Lucretia Garfield's ancestors from the tenth century could be traced to the French King Boso III, Swedish King Eric VI, Miloslava of Prague, King Diarmait MacMurrough of Wexford, Ireland, Comte Alfonso II de Provence of Palermo, Sicily, Elstrude van Vlaanderen of Flanders, Belgium, Siward Biornsson of Denmark, Count Godfrey d' Eu of Normandy, France, King Garcia I Iniguez of Pamplona, Spain, Hermenegildo Gutierrez of Portugal, Duke Jaroslav I Vladimirovitch of Poland, Russian King Sviatoslav, Joan of Acre of Palestine, and Edmund Eriksson of Birka of Sweden.

 

Birth Order and Siblings:

 

Eldest of four; two brothers, one sister: John Rudolph (18??-1863), Joseph Rudolph (?-?), Nellie Rudolph Rockwell (?-?)

 

Physical Appearance:

 Medium height, brown hair, brown eyes

 Religious Affiliation:

 Disciple of Christ

 Education:

 Garrettsville Public Grammar School, 1838-1847, Garrettsville, Ohio

Geauga Seminary,1847-1849, Chester, Ohio where she was a boarding student and took a course of study that focused on Greek and Latin, and also included algebra, science, geography and music. 

Hiram Eclectic Institute, 1850 -1855, Hiram, Ohio, although a non-sectarian institution that her father helped found, the college was founded by members of the Disciples of Christ faith and offered training in preaching. At the school, she studied French and took a rigorous classical course of study, continuing in Greek and Latin and widening her expertise in classical literature, British literature and French literature. She helped to organize a literary society which staged elocution, debate and oratorical presentations, often taking to the stage herself and defending the rights of women to do so at a time when many men considered it improper for women to so publicly present themselves. She also worked as editor and illustrator ofThe Eclectic Star, a school magazine.

Occupation before Marriage:

Upon her graduation, Lucretia Garfield had pursued a career as a teacher of French, algebra and Latin at the Eclectic Institute. From here, she moved away from home to take a teaching job at Ravenna, Ohio, proud to be "on her own." After receiving a note from her former Greek teacher at the Eclectic Institute, James Garfield, now attending Williams College in Massachusetts, they began a long correspondence. Although she quickly found herself drawn to him he confessed his fear of commitment to someone who did not display outright emotion or give freely of physical affection. When she came to attend his graduation, she was upset to discover the presence of another young woman, Rebecca Selleck with whom Garfield soon admitted to carrying on a romance. 

Garfield nevertheless appreciated the depth of intellect possessed by "Crete" as she was called. They had an understanding of future marriage and she left her teaching job, prepared to be a full-time wife and mother. Nevertheless, when it seemed that they would not be married, Crete Rudolph decided to return to work, taking a job as a teacher in Cleveland, Ohio rather than returning to her hometown. She rented a room at a boardinghouse and also took drawing lessons, pursuing a talent she had long wished to, attended lectures, theater, musical concerts and art shows. In the spring of 1858, she began a stint as an art teacher in Bryan, Ohio. That summer Garfield proposed marriage and she again accepted, although she felt he was interested in her out of "duty" and not "passion." Facetiously, she even sent him an invitation to his own wedding.

 Marriage:

 26 years old to James Abram Garfield (19 November, 1831 - 19 September, 1881), Eclectic Institute teacher, Disciples of Christ preacher, on 11 November, 1858 in yard of her parents home, Hiram, Ohio. The Garfields did not honeymoon after their wedding but moved into two rented rooms on the second floor of a home in Hiram. 

Children:

 Two daughters, five sons; Eliza Arabella "Trot" Garfield (July 3, 1860-December 3, 1863); Harry Augustus "Hal" Garfield (October 11, 1863-December 12, 1942); James "Jim" Rudolf Garfield (October 17, 1865-March 24, 1950); Mary "Mollie" Garfield Stanley-Brown (January 16, 1867-December 30, 1947); Irvin McDowell Garfield

August 3, 1870-July 18, 1951) Abram Garfield (November 21, 1872-October 16, 1958);

Edward Garfield (December 25, 1874-October 25, 1876)

A professor at Princeton University, president of Williams College, Harry Garfield also went on to serve as Fuel Administrator during World War I under Woodrow Wilson. Jim Garfield served as Interior Secretary in the Cabinet of President Theodore Roosevelt.

Occupation after Marriage: 

As they had done before their marriage, they continued a lengthy correspondence during the early years of their marriage, which were largely spent apart from each other. Self-admittedly a dispassionate person, Lucretia Garfield expressed herself succinctly and pointedly in her well-honed prose. She expressed to her husband the tremendous degree of frustration and anger she felt towards him for his lack of passion towards her, his frequent absences from home, her being left with the responsibility for his demanding mother and enduring the presence of one boarder, his admiring woman teacher and friend Alameda Booth. Garfield frankly expressed his regrets at their marriage and also pursued a love affair with a New York woman, Lucia Calhoun which he later greatly regretted and confessed to his wife. After the death of their first child and more separation, Garfield later firmly committed himself to the marriage and it blossomed even further in their mutual love of literature and the classics. 

With his serving in the Union Army and as a member of Congress in Washington, she calculated that they had spent a total of six weeks together during their first six years of marriage. In 1869, they built a large home in Washington, D.C. so Lucretia Garfield and their children could live year-round with James Garfield. Crete set aside one room for herself which she was able to write, read and paint in private. She often expressed her frustrations at the expectations of being a wife and mother, yet believed that it was ultimately a situation that could be enjoyed by adjusting one's attitude. With her constant presence in his public life now, Congressman Garfield came to rely on her advice, and he later commented that whenever he sought her help, she was discreet and wise. They together joined the Burns Literary Society on Capitol Hill. Lucretia Garfield also enjoyed taking in political debates on important issues of the era and those taking place in the U.S. Congress and Senate, later reporting what she’d heard to her husband. 

Presidential Campaign and Inauguration:

 

Lucretia Garfield initially opposed her husband's run for the presidency and had even opposed even sitting for a formal photograph for public dissemination. When the Republican convention commenced in June 1880, however, she confessed that she wanted her husband to be the clear choice of his party, not a compromise choice. She was scrubbing a floor in her bonnet when she was interrupted with the news of his nomination.

 

When he was nominated, he wrote telling her that he would accept the nomination only with her approval. Despite expressing her wariness of the personal cost to come with such an honor she was willing to compromise her privacy for her husband's success. Lucretia Garfield was one of the first presidential candidate's wives to appear on a campaign poster, currently in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution.

 

 

One of the first "front porch" campaigns was conducted from their Mentor, Ohio farm, "Lawnfield," and thus she was able to occupy a semi-official role without compromising her sense of propriety regarding women's exposure to public life: the front porch may have been where the candidate appeared before large contingents of voters coming to hear him speak, but it was also her private home. In one corner of their property there was even a campaign office equipped with telegraph facilities from which election returns were received.

 

After the election, she traveled to New York under the assumed name of "Mrs. Greenfield" and served as a liaison between Garfield and a member of the New York Republican faction, the "Stalwarts," Roscoe Conkling to discuss Cabinet suggestions. She did so reluctantly since she did not approve of Conkling due to his affair with a woman named Kate Chase. While in New York, she consulted with her host Whitelaw Reid on the political potential of various political figures. She advised against the naming of one Thaddeus Pound of Wisconsin to the Cabinet because of an earlier indiscretion on his part, yet urged the appointment of James Blaine because he had married the woman who bore his first child. Garfield supported her suggestions by not appointing Pound but naming Blaine as Secretary of State.

 

At the Inauguration ceremony of her husband, Lucretia Garfield found herself befriended by the outgoing First Lady, a fellow Ohioan Lucy Hayes. At the ceremony, Garfield first turned to kiss his mother rather than his wife. Lucretia Garfield wore a purple dress to the Inaugural Ball, which was highlighted by the first display of electricity at such an event. 

First Lady:

 4 March, 1881 - 19 September, 1881

48 years old

 Initially uncomfortable with the public scrutiny that came with being First Lady, Lucretia Garfield soon proved herself decisive regarding the many aspects of the traditional role that she faced. She resisted pressure from Ohio Republican and temperance colleagues of her husband and refused to continue the total ban on alcoholic beverages in the White House that had been initiated by the Hayes Administration, and even confessed to her husband that she often drank some wine in the evening to relax. A notation in her papers suggests that she intended to invite celebrated writers, artists and musicians to the White House as dinner guests.

 

As individuals she met often shared their memories and stories of past Presidential families with her, an interest in the mansion's history was sparked in Lucretia Garfield. She intended to conduct a redecoration of the White House that would include an effort to recreate some historical ambience that recalled the earlier residents of the mansion, and went with the President to the Library of Congress to conduct some preliminary research on what the rooms had once looked like. She also made at least one independent trip to New York to see decorators and also found herself on that trip the unwitting object of public attention that rapidly drew a crowd.

 

 

Her White House diary that chronicled her few active weeks as First Lady shows Lucretia Garfield's willingness to participate in political intrigue and show her to be an active Republican partisan. She particularly distrusted the New York faction of Republicans, the "Stalwarts." In a marked departure from her predecessors, Lucretia Garfield also granted at least one press interview and willingly discussed political matters; when the interviewer pressed her own opinion that the President was too greatly influenced by the Secretary of State, the First Lady recorded that she "made her understand that the President knew…the men around him…and I took the opportunity to make her know that I regard Mr. Blaine as - not only brilliant…but…full of good impulses…" Despite her strong views, she was also capable of forgiving what she considered past political opponents: once in the White House, Lucretia Garfield joined the President in hosting an informal breakfast for former President Grant who had permitted his name to be circulated as a challenger to Garfield for the Republican nomination, and Grant's wife, who had especially encouraged the contest.

 Lucretia Garfield resisted involving herself in facilitating federal positions. She likewise decided against supporting "dress reform" for women that called for less constricting clothing, considering it a potential step in the breakdown of the traditional family. She did, however, show what might have developed into support of a particular constituency, the blind. In one letter to a friend Laura Bridgman, the first deaf-blind person to be successfully educated in the United States, mentioned her corresponding relationship that with the new president's wife.

 Whatever public cause she may have intended to support, her active public role came to a sudden halt in early May of 1881 when she contracted malaria and nearly died in the White House. The President recorded that he found himself unable to conduct the affairs of government, so distracted was he at the mere thought of her demise. He took a larger role in overseeing the tutoring and play life of their children. Although his elderly mother had returned to her own home sometime after the Inaugural in March, there was public speculation that she might return to Washington and help manage the lives of her young grandchildren and even substitute as a hostess at formal dinners alongside her son if the First Lady did not seem to fully recover by the fall. 

Several days before she contracted her illness, Lucretia Garfield had welcomed among her guests at an open reception one Charles Guiteau, an unhinged adherent of the Stalwarts, most frequently identified as a disappointed office-seeker. He found her "chatty and comfortable." Once she began to recover, Lucretia Garfield was sent to the New Jersey seaside, at Elberon, where it was thought that the salt air would be conducive to her recovery. Escorted to the Washington train station by the President, she appeared so weak and thin that Guiteau could not bring himself to shoot Garfield, as he had intended, wishing to spare the First Lady the anguish of witnessing his possible assassination. 

Guiteau did shoot Garfield on July 2. Lucretia Garfield rushed back to Washington to nurse him and take charge of the White House, showing a remarkable calm and courage that won her widespread admiration. Throughout the long months of his lingering life, the nation's newspapers reported in detail how the First Lady managed herself and encouraged the President, often idealizing her and ignoring her genuine fear and weariness.  Rallying her own precarious health, as she had barely recovered from malaria, the First Lady was often seen depicted as going down into the White House kitchens herself to prepare some special food intended to heal his wounds or fight off infection. 

The President was moved to Elberon in an attempt to make him more comfortable and to help his recovery. The move was fruitless. James A. Garfield died September 19, 1881 with his wife, Lucretia, and daughter, Mollie, at his side. Lucretia took over the funeral and burial arrangements

Although she did not publicly support the public fight for women's suffrage because she felt that the organized leadership assumed aggressive tactics to earn the vote for women, Lucretia Garfield strongly supported their ultimate goal. Her daughter attested to the fact that even as an older woman, Lucretia Garfield vigorously believed in "equality of the sexes" and saw "no reason why woman should not be entitled to all the privileges that men enjoy." 

When Congress was determining the payment that was due to the late President's doctors and recommended paying his male physician $1,000 but awarding half of that amount to Susan Edson, his only female physician, Lucretia Garfield declared it to be "discrimination" and insisted on pay equity between them: the woman doctor was also given $1,000.

 

Post-Presidential Life:

With her optimism and strength during her husband's illness, and her stoicism throughout his funeral services, Lucretia Garfield was held up by the nation's newspapers as a role model for American women. 

An outpouring of national support translated itself into a trust fund for her and her children that totaled $360,000; this in addition to the $5,000 annual congressional pension she was awarded left Lucretia Garfield a wealthy woman for the rest of her life. Her most immediate responsibility was in continuing the superior educations of all of her children. She also took direct care of her aged father, moving him into her home where he lived until the age of 94.

 
Lucretia Garfield then focused on various memorials to her husband. She was directly involved in the design and building of his burial monument in Cleveland. With the intention of someday writing a memoir about her late husband based on his letters, she eventually created the first presidential library, a research room and a vault that held his papers that were housed in a wing she added to their home. She consulted with the sculptor Charles Niehaus who created the standing figure of the late president that stood in Cincinnati as well as the bust of him that would eventually be displayed in the President’s Room of the U.S. Capitol. 

She also kept a firm control over her husband's letters, consistently refusing permission for their use by those who wrote her requesting their use; she wished to first have them all published in an authorized biography of him, a task eventually accomplished after her death.

Lucretia Garfield also maintained the interests of her earlier life. She also continued to write precise essays on subjects that ranged from the deteriorating manners of children to the reliability of corn as a cash crop. She developed a fascination with architecture and engineering as well. Overseeing improvements and enlargements to the original farmhouse she and Garfield had purchased in 1876, it eventually became a massive Victorian mansion.

She took especial interest in the design and construction of a well and water tower and a large windmill that pumped water into the storage tank on the property. The project involved complicated hydraulic engineering that the widowed president's wife fully comprehended. When she became exasperated with the cost and construction, she wrote that she would "oversee the whole thing myself. I built a home once, bought all material and hired the workmen and although it was in wartime, I have never done anything so cheaply since, nor ever had anything better done."

  

After moving to South Pasadena, California in 1901 because of its milder winters, she joined a literary club, where she delivered frequent talks on books she had read. Lucretia Garfield took a direct role in the design of her extraordinary Pasadena home built in the Arts and Crafts style, designed in 1904 by a distant relative of the prestigious Greene & Greene firm. She was also a prominent figure driven in the annual Tournament of the Roses parade on New Year's Day in Pasadena.

Although she refused to permit newspaper and magazines from printing pictures of her children while they were younger and under her care, she would later relent when they were adults. She never acquiesced to requests from the media for an interview nor efforts to record her voice when that new technology first appeared. 

 At various points in her later life, she lived briefly in England and Massachusetts. For many winters after her husband's death, the former First Lady continued to live in Washington, and she was a frequent guest of her successors Frances Cleveland and Ida McKinley, and corresponded with other former First Ladies Julia Tyler and Harriet Lane.

She continued to maintain an active interest in presidential politics. Having never trusted Chester Arthur, the vice president who assumed the presidency upon the death of her husband, she had no further contact with him following the funeral. When former President Theodore Roosevelt ran again for the presidency as a Progressive Party candidate, she came to hear him speak in Los Angeles and avidly supported him. She eventually came to support the Democratic Party under the leadership of Woodrow Wilson, in whose Cabinet her son served. During World War I, she volunteered with a Red Cross Unit in Pasadena, California.

Death:

14 March 1918

85 years, 329 days

Pasadena, California

Burial 

Garfield Tomb

Lakeview Cemetery, Cleveland, Ohio