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Lucretia Garfield: The Cause That Defined President James Garfield's First Lady

By    |   Tuesday, 09 Jun 2015 11:59 AM

Although she was only the First Lady for six months, Lucretia Rudolph Garfield, wife of James A. Garfield, the 20th President of the United States, helped set the tone for her role as both a supportive wife and independently-minded woman for future First Ladies.

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Lucretia was born in 1832 in Ohio to Zebulon Rudolph, a leader in the Disciples of Christ faith. She met her future husband in 1849 while both were students at Geauga Academy and the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (now Hiram College).  

At Geauga, Lucretia was an editor and illustrator for the school magazine, as well as the founder of a literary society.

James did not show any special interest towards her until 1853, when he began a “cautious” courtship, according to Whitehouse.gov.

Although he was attracted to her intellect, due to his reservations regarding her “dispassionate” nature, they didn’t marry until 1858 after both had begun their careers as teachers. 

The marriage’s beginning was rocky, and the two spent only 20 weeks together throughout their first five years of marriage, according to the History Channel.

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But after the sudden death of their daughter in 1863, the two began to reevaluate their marriage and make serious efforts to repair it and raise their five surviving children. 

Although Lucretia was initially apprehensive about her husband’s political career and the disruption of their private lives, she supported him in his military career during the Civil War, his political career in the House of Representatives and the 1880 presidential election.

Unlike many of her predecessors, Lucretia preferred small parties to extravagant ones. She proved her independence by refusing to bow to pressure from the Republican teetotalers to ban liquor from the White House.

She balanced her duties as wife and mother with her intellectual pursuits and political engagement, according to the Miller Center. Her husband praised her, saying, “Crete grows up to every new emergency with fine tact and faultless taste.” 

While recovering from her nearly fatal bout of malaria a couple months after her husband’s inauguration, her husband was shot.

Lucretia gained national admiration for her devotion and her faithful care of her husband during the next two months as they fought for his life before he died in September.

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Although she was only the First Lady for six months, Lucretia Rudolph Garfield, wife of James A. Garfield, the 20th President of the United States, helped set the tone for her role as both a supportive wife and independently-minded woman for future First Ladies.
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