Overlapping the years that her predecessors Harriet Lane and Julia Grant were living in Washington, the widowed Lucretia Garfield spent many years during the winter social season in Washington, having retained ownership of the home she and her husband had purchased there when he was first elected to Congress.
She had not done so, however, immediately after the assassination of her husband. Following the funeral of the late President James Garfield his widow and their five children returned to their rambling farmhouse in Mentor, Ohio. It was not until about a decade later that she apparently felt comfortable enough to return to the city she had last lived in when her husband was alive.
Mrs. Garfield was also a frequent guest of her successors Frances Cleveland and Ida McKinley, sometimes sharing honors with Harriet Lane and Julia Grant. Still, it may be speculated that she was never entirely happy being back in Washington.
Less than ten years after she had initially returned there in the wintertime, Mrs. Garfield had a winter home built for herself in Pasadena, California and it was there that she lived out the larger part of each year remaining until her death in 1918.
Not until the 1970s did another presidential widow decide to leave the retirement home she had shared with her husband and move back to Washington, D.C.
Following the death of former President Dwight Eisenhower in 1969, his widow Mamie Eisenhower initially visited her son in Belgium for several months, where he was serving as U.S. Ambassador. She then spent the winter months in Palm Springs, California.
When it came time to finally facing her life alone in the Gettysburg, Pennsylvania home she’d shared with her husband, however, Mamie Eisenhower decided to instead move for long periods of time into a private suite in a building of exclusive residences at the Sheraton-Park, which was connected by a long solarium to a building that functioned as a traditional hotel.
It was the same building she had lived in during World War II, while her husband was Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces.
At other times, she actually returned for long stays at her more famous former Washington home, the White House.
With her grandson David being married to the daughter of President Nixon, Mamie Eisenhower became something of an “honorary grandmother” to the First Family and shared their holidays and weekends, always occupying the Queen’s Suite on the second floor of the executive mansion.
Of the eight women whose husbands died while they were president, only two of them moved from the White House to live in another location in Washington, both intending to make the capital their permanent home – yet neither of them deciding to stay on there longer than a year.
Following the funeral of her husband, who had died suddenly in August of 1923, Florence Harding immediately returned to the White House where she began the task of packing all of their possessions and the late president’s personal papers.
She then proceeded directly to Washington estate of her confidante Evalyn Walsh McLean on Wisconsin Avenue, a vast property that was dubbed “Friendship.”
It was there, through the waning weeks of summer, that Mrs. Harding began culling papers she deemed to be contradictory to the best presentation of the Harding legacy. “We must be loyal to Warren’s memory,” she told an aide who helped her with the daily burning of private papers. She then returned for a period of several months to her hometown of Marion, Ohio with the remaining papers which were then organized and stored.
In the new year of 1924, Florence Harding returned to live in Washington, D.C., leasing n a suite at the Willard Hotel, not far from the White House.
The presidential widow attended a congressional tribute to her husband in February but soon had to endure the shocking revelations emerging from the daily congressional investigations then being conducted, looking into scandals caused by former Harding Administration officials who had been close friends to her and the late president.
It was not these embarrassing and infuriating realizations, however, which had her leaving the capital city in July of that year.
When the homeopathic physician she had come to believe was the only person who could keep her alive, Charles Sawyer, was forced to resign his position as Brigadier-General of the Army Medical Corps, a job she had secured for him three years earlier, he returned to Marion, where he ran a sanitarium. Believing she had no other choice, Florence Harding reluctantly left Washington at his insistence. Sawyer died two months later, Mrs., Harding two months after that, in November of 1924.
Following the horrific trauma of having her husband assassination in the car seat right beside her, Jacqueline Kennedy steeled herself to nonetheless manage the packing of all of her family’s items from the White House family quarters while friends hastily sought some immediate housing solution for her and her two young children.
One of the Democratic Party’s leading figures and a former ambassador, Averell Harriman arranged to vacate the home where he and his wife Marie lived, in the Georgetown section of the city, to permit Mrs. Kennedy occupancy of it, while she searched for a permanent home.
Although she did purchase one several blocks away and relocated there, before the summer of 1964 had begun it was already clear to her that trying to continue living in the same area of the city where she and the late president had resided in a series of homes before his 1960 election would be a constant reminder of their years together.
Even the larger context of remaining in the city would be problematic she realized, her home becoming the object of curiosity to tourists, dozens of whom who would for hours outside the house waiting for a glimpse of her or her children.
She abandoned Washington, and in the later fall of 1964 moved to New York City, where she would remain for thirty years, until her death in 1994. While family events and then professional work as an editor would take her back to Washington on occasion, she usually left before the night fell.