Essay, Research Paper: Lucretia Rudolph Garfield

Famous People

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Lucretia Rudolph Garfield 1832-1918 In the fond eyes of her husband, President
James A. Garfield, Lucretia "grows up to every new emergency with fine tact
and faultless taste." She proved this in the eyes of 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. Her love of learning she acquired from her father, Zeb Rudolph,
a leading citizen of Hiram, Ohio, and devout member of the Disciples of Christ.
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, founded by the Disciples. But "Crete" did not
attract his special attention until December 1853, when he began a rather
cautious courtship, and they did not marry until November 1858, when he was well
launched on his career as a teacher. His service in the Union Army from 1861 to
1863 kept them apart; their first child, a daughter, died in 1863. But after his
first lonely winter in Washington as a freshman Representative, the family
remained together. With a home in the capital as well as one in Ohio they
enjoyed a happy domestic life. A two-year-old son died in 1876, but five
children grew up healthy and promising; with the passage of time, Lucretia
became more and more her husband's companion. In Washington they shared
intellectual interests with congenial friends; she went with him to meetings of
a locally celebrated literary society. They read together, made social calls
together, dined with each other and traveled in company until by 1880 they were
as nearly inseparable as his career permitted. Garfield's election to the
Presidency brought a cheerful family to the White House in 1881. Though Mrs.
Garfield was not particularly interested in a First Lady's social duties, she
was deeply conscientious and her genuine hospitality made her dinners and
twice-weekly receptions enjoyable. At the age of 49 she was still a slender,
graceful little woman with clear dark eyes, her brown hair beginning to show
traces of silver. In May she fell gravely ill, apparently from malaria and
nervous exhaustion, to her husband's profound distress. "When you are
sick," he had written her seven years earlier, "I am like the
inhabitants of countries visited by earthquakes." She was still a
convalescent, at a seaside resort in New Jersey, when he was shot by a demented
assassin on July 2. She returned to Washington by special train--"frail,
fatigued, desperate," reported an eyewitness at the White House, "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.


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