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  Eliza Johnson

by John T. Marck

First Lady: 1865 to 1869

Wife of President Andrew Johnson

Born: October 4, 1810 Died: January 15, 1876

Eliza McCardle was born in Leesburg, Virginia. Her Father, a Scottish shoemaker died when she was young, and her mother, who earned a living making patchwork quilts, moved to Greeneville. At Greeneville, when she was sixteen, Eliza first met Andrew Johnson. Johnson had been passing through Greeneville looking for a place to settle down in his trade as a tailor. Eliza had directed him to a campsite, and Johnson was taken with her kindness as well as her appearance. Andrew Johnson's courtship of Eliza was short, and before she was seventeen they married on May 17, 1827. They lived for a few years behind his tailoring shop. During this time, Eliza taught Andrew to read and do arithmetic. In less than a decade, the tailoring business was left behind, as Andrew Johnson was a man of property and investments, with a second career in politics.

Eliza and Andrew had five children; Martha, who became an excellent stand-in in later years for her mother as White House hostess; Charles, who died in the Civil War; Mary, who helped out her sister in the White House; Robert, who fought in the Civil War, and who died in his thirties from alcoholism; and Andrew, born shortly before Eliza became an invalid. During the Civil War, confederate troops overran the village at Greeneville, forcing Eliza and her family to travel to Nashville as best she could, through confederate lines. Upon her husband's assumption of the Presidency on April 15, 1865, Johnson sent word to his family not to hasten to Washington as it would be several weeks before Mary Lincoln was able to leave.

In June 1865, Eliza and her four children and five grandchildren arrived at the White House. By this time, Eliza was a confirmed invalid, although cheerful and alert. While her daughters attended to the hostess duties, Eliza lived in a bedroom across the hall from her husband's study. She remained her husband's confidante, and the one who cooled Johnson's bad temper. When his term of office expired, they retired to their Greeneville home, and enjoyed remodeling and refurbishing it.

Eliza outlived her husband by six months, dying there on January 15, 1876.

Copyright 1990-2022 by John T. Marck. All Rights Reserved. This article and their accompanying pictures, photographs, and line art, may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission from the author. From The First Ladies of the Unites States by John T. Marck.