Lucretia Rudolph Garfield
Biography: 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
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
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.