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 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.
You Might Also Like
Collection The White House Behind the Scenes
While the presidency is often in the eye of the public, those who ensure operations at the White House run...
Podcast Presidential Leadership in Times of Challenge: FDR and LBJ
Throughout our history, presidents have faced crises that have gripped both the nation and the world. In this episode, Association...
Podcast Women’s Suffrage and the White House
This year marks the centennial of the 19th Amendment, the culmination of the suffragists' fight to secure the right to...
Collection By Land, By Sea, By Air
Whether by hoof, air, waterway, road, or rail, the President’s access to reliable transportation is essential during their time in...
Collection Presidential Retreats
Presidents have found different ways to escape the pressures and politics of the position. For early leaders, it was a...
Collection The 2016 White House Christmas Ornament
Every year since 1981, the White House Historical Association has had the privilege of designing the Official White House Christmas Ornament....
Podcast The White House Gardens
The White House includes 18 acres of historic grounds and gardens that have been cultivated for more than two hundred years...
Collection Roosevelt White House 1933-1945
President Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected to office at the height of the Great Depression. He ushered in an environment...
Collection Presidential Pastimes
Although the presidency is an often all-consuming job, many presidents have found solace in their various hobbies and pastimes. When...
Podcast Life at Camp David
Camp David has provided presidents and their families with a recreational retreat from the White House, as well as a...
Collection Presidents & Baseball
No sport is more closely tied to the American presidency than baseball. One of Washington’s first baseball fields was lo...
Collection Presidential Inaugurations
In April 1789, George Washington took the oath of office in New York City. Constitutional guidelines for inaugurations are sparse, offering...