Portrait of Lucretia Rudolph Garfield, ca. 1869. Wife of President Garfield, she became the First Lady of the United States in 1881.
Lucretia Rudolph married James A. Garfield in 1858 and became First Lady of the United States in 1881.
She was born on April 19, 1832, in Garrettsville, Ohio. Her parents firmly believed in the importance of education, and insisted that their daughter attend school. Although Lucretia Garfield was a sickly child, she received a thorough education. She attended the Geauga Seminary in Chesterland, Ohio, where she met her future husband, James A. Garfield. At this institution, Rudolph studied history, mathematics, Latin, Greek, and English. In 1850, she enrolled in the Western Reserve Eclectic College (modern-day Hiram College). Her father helped found this institution. She developed a relationship with Garfield at this school that continued by mail when Garfield transferred to Williams College in Massachusetts in 1853.
In 1854, Rudolph graduated from the Western Reserve Eclectic College and became a teacher. Rudolph continued to write Garfield. In 1858, he finally proposed and they were married. Their relationship was a difficult one. Lucretia Garfield was very shy, and she had difficulty expressing her love to her husband in person. James Garfield became exasperated on numerous occasions, wishing that his wife would be as outgoing in person as she was in her letters. Lucretia Garfield once wrote that, in her first six years of marriage, she only saw her husband for six weeks. James Garfield's participation in the Union Army during the American Civil War and his political career led to his absences from home. By 1870, Lucretia Garfield had succeeded in overcoming her shyness with her husband, and the couple's relationship became a truly loving one.
Lucretia Garfield dearly loved her husband, but she disliked his political career. She was jealous of it, and she hated to be thrust into the spotlight. She strongly opposed James Garfield's election as President of the United States in 1880. Nevertheless, she was one of her husband's most trusted advisors while he served as governor of Ohio and then as president. During early 1881, James dispatched Lucretia to New York City to discuss potential cabinet nominations with Roscoe Conkling, a powerful member of the Republican Party. While in New York, Lucretia Garfield assumed the name "Mrs. Greenfield" to conceal her true identity.
As First Lady, Lucretia Garfield's most important contribution was the compilation of an extensive list of White House furnishings. In May 1881, she contracted malaria and left Washington, DC. Doctors hoped that the climate in Elberon, New Jersey, would speed her recovery. On July 2, 1881, while Lucretia Garfield was away, an assassin shot her husband. She immediately returned to the nation's capital and arranged for her husband to be transported with her to New Jersey. She was a caring nurse, but all of her efforts were in vain. James Garfield died on September 19, 1881.
Lucretia Garfield retired to the Garfield home -- Lawnfield -- in Mentor, Ohio. She remained active in politics and participated in the Progressive Movement. She originally belonged to the Republican Party of her husband. By the time of her death, she had switched her affiliation to the Democratic Party. She strongly supported United States involvement in the Spanish-American War and in World War I. She rolled bandages for soldiers during both of these conflicts. Lucretia Garfield died on March 14, 1918.
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