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Lucretia Garfield

First Lady for five months

Lucretia Garfield

Lucretia Rudolph was born in Garrettsville, Ohio, on April 19, 1832, the first of four children born to Zebulon and Arabella Greene Mason Rudolph. In 1847, she entered Geauga Seminary in nearby Chester, Ohio, where she studied Greek and Latin, music, science, etc.

Lucretia first met James Garfield in 1849, when he became a student at Geauga, and the two struck up a friendship. In 1850, Lucretia entered Western Reserve Eclectic Institute in Hiram, Ohio, where she continued her studies in classical literatures. James Garfield became a student at the Institute in 1851, and the relationship between the two gradually became a courtship. That courtship continued, via correspondence, after Garfield transferred to Williams College in Massachusetts in 1853.

Upon her graduation in 1854, Lucretia pursued a career as a teacher of French, algebra, and Latin at the Eclectic Institute. From there, she moved away from home to take a teaching job at Ravenna, Ohio, proud to be "on her own." When it seemed that her and James's relationship would not result in a marriage, she decided to take a job as a teacher in Cleveland, Ohio. She was teaching art in Bryan, Ohio, when Garfield finally proposed marriage, in the summer of 1858. The two were married in the yard of her parents' home in Hiram, Ohio, on November 11, 1858.

The first few years of the Garfields' marriage were difficult, as the two were separated from each other for long periods, while he served in the Ohio State Senate and then in the Civil War. James was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1862 and spent his first session in Washington, D.C., alone, but made sure to have Lucretia and their children with him during every session thereafter, maintaining homes in both Washington and Mentor, Ohio, until his election as President.

Despite the early separations, the Garfields became a very loving and devoted couple. They ultimately had seven children, five of whom lived into adulthood -- Eliza Arabella "Trot" (July 3, 1860 - December 3, 1863), Harry Augustus "Hal" (October 11, 1863 - December 12, 1942), James "Jim" Rudolf (October 17, 1865 - March 24, 1950), Mary "Mollie" (January 16, 1867 - December 30, 1947), Irvin McDowell (August 3, 1870 - July 18, 1951), Abram (November 21, 1872 - October 16, 1958), and Edward (December 25, 1874 - October 25, 1876).

Initially opposed to her husband's pursuit of the presidency, Lucretia became one of the first presidential candidate's wives to appear on a campaign poster. Because James insisted on conducting his campaign from their Mentor, Ohio, home, Lucretia had to put up with the constant presence of admirers, supporters, and campaign workers. Although she refused to have the inside of her home "violated," she provided the crowds with as much hospitality as she could. She continued her hospitality after moving into the White House, and was one of the few First Ladies to host her own receptions.

Lucretia Garfield's stint as First Lady was short-lived, however, as she became seriously ill in May of 1881, from a combination of malaria and exhaustion. She was convalescing at a seaside resort in New Jersey when her husband was shot by Charles Guiteau on July 2nd. Despite still being weak and frail, she rushed back to Washington by special train, and remained at her husband's side until his death on September 19th.

Lucretia and her children returned to Mentor, Ohio, after her husband's funeral. A $5,000 annual Congressional pension and $360,000 trust fund raised by financier Cyrus Field allowed her to live comfortably, and she spent the rest of her life working to preserve the records of her husband's career and overseeing the building of a burial monument to him in Cleveland, Ohio. She moved to Pasadena, California, in 1901, and died there on March 14, 1918. She is interred with her husband in the Garfield Tomb at Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland.


History's Women
National First Ladies' Library
Ohio History Central

See Also

James Garfield
Civil War
Mentor, Ohio, Home

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The Robinson Library >> James Garfield's Administration, 1881

This page was last updated on August 30, 2018.