In the fond words of her husband, James A. Garfield, Lucretia "grows up to every new emergency with fine tact and faultless taste." She proved this to the nation - though she was always a reserved, self-contained woman. She flatly refused to pose for a campaign photograph, and much preferred a literary circle or informal party to a state reception.
Born in 1832, Lucretia Rudolph acquired a love of learning from her father, a leading citizen of Hiram, Ohio. She first met "Jim" Garfield when both attended a nearby school, and they renewed their friendship in 1851 as students at the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute.
Lucretia and James began a courtship in December 1853, not marrying until November 1858. His service in the Union Army from kept them apart, and their first child, a girl, died in 1863. But after his first lonely winter in Washington as a representative, the family remained together. They enjoyed a happy domestic life. A two-year-old son died in 1876, but five children grew up healthy and promising. "Crete" became more and more her husband's companion. In Washington, they read together, made social calls together, dined with each other and traveled in company. By 1880 they were as inseparable as his career permitted.
Garfield's presidency brought a cheerful family to the White House in 1881. Though not particularly interested in a first lady's social duties, Lucretia was deeply conscientious and her genuine hospitality made her dinners and receptions enjoyable. In May she fell gravely ill, apparently from malaria and nervous exhaustion. Garfield was profoundly distressed. "When you are sick," he had written her several years earlier, "I am like the inhabitants of countries visited by earthquakes."
She was still convalescing at a seaside resort in New Jersey when an assassin shot her husband on July 2, 1881. She returned to Washington by special train – "frail, fatigued, desperate," reported an eyewitness, "but firm and quiet and full of purpose to save."
During the three months her husband fought for his life, her grief, devotion and fortitude won the respect and sympathy of the country. In September, after his death, the bereaved family went home to their farm in Ohio. For another 36 years she led a strictly private but busy and comfortable life, active in preserving the records of her husband's career. She died on March 14, 1918.