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  Lucretia Garfield

by John T. Marck

First Lady: 1881

Wife of President James Garfield

Born: April 19, 1832 Died: March 14, 1918

Lucretia Rudolph was born in Hiram, Ohio, the daughter of Zebulon and Arabel Rudolph, who were farmers. Her father, helped fund the Eclectic Institute, and later named Hiram College, where James A. Garfield studied as a young man. Lucretia was attracted to James, and their relationship was a long uncertain one. Garfield left Hiram for Williams College, and their friendship continued through letters, until she attended his graduation as his fiancée. Garfield was also attracted to another woman, so he broke the engagement, and he and Lucretia returned to just being friends. After two years, Garfield broke off this relationship with the other woman, and married Lucretia at her father's home, on November 11, 1858.

Garfield served in the Civil War as a Major General, but was forced to quit the Army due to illness. He had been elected to Congress in absentia, and now decided to take this position. Lucretia's life for the next seventeen years consisted of bearing and raising children and moving back and forth between Ohio and Washington. Of their seven children, five grew to adulthood. In 1876, they purchased a farm in Garfield's Congressional District, near Mentor, Ohio, which they named "Lawnfield." When Garfield was nominated for President in 1880, he campaigned from his home, letting the public come to him, as thousands did. Lucretia handled the housing and feeding of secretaries and campaign helpers. She excelled at this as well as all aspects of managing a household. Upon her husband's election to the Presidency, she was an able mistress, however was not in the White House long enough to make an impression on Washington.

In May 1881, Lucretia became ill with malaria and was taken to a cottage in Elberton, New Jersey to recover. After President Garfield was shot, she returned to Washington and supervised his care. On the doctor's advice, she took him back to Elberton, where he died on September 19, 1881.

Lucretia was able to live well and raise her five children after her husband's death, as she received a five thousand-dollar pension as well as public subscription of three hundred thousand dollars. Lucretia lived another thirty-six years, dying at Pasadena, California on March 14, 1918.

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.