Eliza McCardle was born on October 4, 1810. According to the Johnson family bible, Eliza’s birthplace was Greeneville, Tennessee; however, other sources claim she was born elsewhere in the state.1 Eliza’s father, John McCardle, was a shoemaker of Scottish descent. Her mother, Sarah Phillips McCardle, managed the household, and her ancestors may have come from Plymouth, Massachusetts.2
Eliza’s father died shortly after her birth, leaving Sarah to raise their infant daughter. Eliza and her mother moved to Greeneville where Sarah married Moses Whitesides, a silversmith or watchmaker from Asheville, North Carolina.3 Eliza’s parents sent her to a girls’ school where she studied reading, spelling, grammar, arithmetic, geography, history, philosophy, and needlework.4
While attending school, Eliza met Andrew Johnson, an aspiring tailor looking to set up a new shop in town.5 Andrew and Eliza were married on May 17, 1827.5 They had five children—Martha, Charles, Mary, Robert, and Andrew Johnson, Jr.6
Eliza instructed her husband on grammar, handwriting, and speech. Eliza is often credited with contributing to her husband’s political success.7 The Johnsons also purchased several enslaved individuals to work as servants in their Greeneville home. It is likely that Eliza managed her enslaved servants.8
When President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, Andrew Johnson became president of the United States. Eliza and her entire extended family, including freed servants, moved into the White House.9
Eliza’s tuberculosis limited her daily activities as first lady. Eliza delegated many of her responsibilities to her daughters, Martha, and Mary. Eliza also found attending social events at the Executive Mansion too challenging for her health. She spent most of her time in her private quarters reading and sewing.10
After the end of President Johnson’s term, Eliza returned to Tennessee. She died six months after the death of her husband on January 15, 1876, at her daughter Mary’s farm in Carter County. Eliza was buried next to Andrew on a hill overlooking Greeneville, now part of the Andrew Johnson National Cemetery.11
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