First of the first ladies to hold a job after marriage, Abigail Fillmore was helping her husband's career. She was also revealing her most striking personal characteristic: an eagerness to learn and pleasure in teaching others.
She was born in Saratoga County, New York, in 1798, while it was still on the fringe of civilization. Her father, a locally prominent Baptist preacher, died shortly thereafter. Her mother courageously moved on westward, thinking her scanty funds would go further in a less settled region. She ably educated her small son and daughter beyond the usual frontier level with the help of her late husband's library.
Abigail Powers met Millard Fillmore when they were both students at a recently opened academy in the village of New Hope. His struggle to make his way as a lawyer was so long and ill paid that they were not wed until February 1826. She resumed teaching school after the marriage. Their only son, Millard Powers, was born in 1828.
Attaining prosperity at last, Fillmore bought his family a house in Buffalo. Abigail learned the ways of society as a congressman's wife. She cultivated a noted flower garden, but much of her time, as always, was spent reading. A daughter, little Mary Abigail was born in 1832. In 1849, the family went to Washington when Millard became vice president. Then, after Zachary Taylor's death at a height of sectional crisis, the Fillmores moved into the White House.
The new first lady presided with grace at state dinners and receptions; but a permanent injury to her ankle made Friday levees an ordeal - two hours of standing at her husband's side to greet the public. She preferred reading or music in private. Pleading delicate health, she entrusted many routine social duties to her attractive daughter "Abby." With a special appropriation from Congress, she spent contented hours selecting books for a White House library and arranging them in the oval room upstairs.
Despite chronic poor health, Mrs. Fillmore stayed near her husband through the outdoor ceremonies of President Pierce's inauguration while a raw northeast wind whipped snow over the crowd. She developed pneumonia and died on March 30, 1853. The House of Representatives and the Senate adjourned, and public offices closed in respect, as her family took her body home to Buffalo for burial.
You Might Also Like
Collection Animal Ambassadors
Animals, whether pampered household pets, working livestock, birds, squirrels, or strays, have long been a major part of White House...
Podcast Entertaining at the White House
From diplomatic dinners to holiday gatherings, the White House has always played a central role in the nation’s official en...
Collection The First Ladies
Biographies & Portraits
Collection Cherry Blossoms
Since the first cherry blossom planting in 1912 by First Lady Helen Herron Taft, Washingtonians have celebrated the scenic beauty and...
Collection Women and the White House
While there has yet to be a female president, women have played an integral role in shaping the White House...
Podcast Fearless Leadership: A Conversation with Jean Case
Fearless leaders have walked the halls of White House for centuries. In this episode, White House Historical Association President Stewart...
Collection The Presidents
Biographies & Portraits
Reading Lists & Bibliography
General White House Bibliography:Aikman, Lonnelle. The Living White House. Washington, D.C.: The White House Historical Association, 1996. Cunliffe, Marcus....
White House History Table of Contents
NUMBERS 1 THROUGH 6 (COLLECTION I) WHITE HOUSE HISTORY • NUMBER 1 1 — Foreword by Melvin M. Payne 5 — President Kennedy’s Rose Garden by Rachel Lambert...
About Our Authors
WILLIAM ADAIR is a frame historian, conservator, and gilder in Washington, D.C. (WHH #54) WILLIAM G. ALLMAN served more than...
2019 2019 Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPY) The Stephen Decatur House: A History Gold, Regional Non-Fiction 2019 Next Generation Indie Book Awards The...
National History Day Resources
The White House Historical Association (WHHA) offers many different resources for students working on National History Day projects.