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Caroline Harrison: The Causes That Defined President Benjamin Harrison's First Lady

By    |   Thursday, 11 Jun 2015 06:32 AM

Caroline Lavinia Scott Harrison was the wife of Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd President of the United States.

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As first lady, she became known for her preservation of White House china, her introduction of electricity to the White house as part of a remodeling plan, and her involvement in founding the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).

Born in Ohio in 1832 to Dr. John W. Scott, a Presbyterian minister who helped found the Oxford Female Institute, Caroline excelled in drawing, painting, and music.

The reserved Benjamin, one of her father’s pupils, was immediately drawn to her lively wit and humor, according to the History Channel.  He transferred to Miami University to be near Caroline when her family moved in 1849 before marrying her after his graduation in 1853. 

Benjamin practiced law before becoming a colonel and a brevet brigadier general in the Union Army during the Civil War. He later became a U.S. senator from Indiana before winning the presidential election from the incumbent president, Grover Cleveland, in the 1888 election.

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Despite her difficulty in following the footsteps of the wildly popular Frances Cleveland, Caroline came into her own while refurbishing the White House, taking inventory of all the mansion’s items, and cleaning, restoring, identifying, and cataloguing the china sets she unearthed from previous first ladies.

She even used her own artistic skills to design a new official White House china pattern with the U.S. coat of arms bordered by goldenrod and corn, according to the Miller Center at the University of Virginia. Her china collection remains one of the White House’s most popular displays to this day. 

Caroline also supported John Hopkins Medical School, although she would only give her support after the school agreed to allow admission to women.

During her speech to the DAR, she said, “Since this society has been organized, and so much thought and reading directed to the early struggle of this country, it has been made plain that much of its success was due to the character of the women of that era …

"If there is no abatement in this element of success in our ranks, I feel sure their daughters can perpetuate a society worthy the cause and worthy of themselves."

Unfortunately, Caroline’s tenure as first lady was cut short by her illness and death from tuberculosis even before her husband’s reelection campaign ended in defeat.

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