Media Alert: Carl Anthony on C-Span First Ladies Show, Monday, May 20

As part of the extraordinarily weekly “First Ladies Show” series, I will be appearing as the guest on C-Span‘s episode this coming Monday evening, May 20. The two Administrations and three women who will be covered are:

*LucretiaCrete” Garfield, wife of the 20th President James Abram Garfield

*Ellen “Nell” Arthur, wife of the 21st President Chester Alan Arthur

*Mary “Molly” Arthur McElroy, the sister of President Chester Alan Arthur

Lucretia Garfield.

Lucretia Garfield.

Crete Garfield assumed the role of First Lady when her husband was inaugurted in March of 1881. Two months later, in May, she nearly died of a sudden attack of malaria. She went to the Jersey Shore (yes, that very same one) to recuperate. On his way to join her, the President was shot in the Washington train station.

Alerted to this, she came back down to Washington, and remained at his protector and vigilant caretaker, along with several doctors, including a woman. New stories of her steady calm and brave optimism captured the world’s attention, as he unsuccessfully struggled to recuperate for two months.

With her literary and artistic interests and talents, her intense but private nature and her sense of modernity and moving forward, even as the presidential widow with young children, she was a sort of Victorian Jackie Kennedy.

Ellen Arthur.

Ellen Arthur.

Vice President Chester Alan Arthur assumed the presidency but came to it with his own sense of tragedy.

A President whose birth many argued took place in a foreign country (Canada), naysayers never ceased to question the legitimacy of his claim that he had been born in Vermont.

Molly McElroy.

Molly McElroy.

In their posh New York City brownstone, his wife Ellen Herndon, from a prominent Confederate Virginia family, had died in January 1880, just 21 months before he became President.

Having been passionately in love with her, Arthur brought her ghost to to the White House and it even influenced several of his political appointments.

For over a year, the nation had no First Lady whatsoever, there being many “guest First Ladies” serving at events until he finally asked his efficient and funny sister Molly McElroy to finally come from her home in Albany, New York and act as his White House hostess.


Categories: History

7 replies »

  1. Carl, you were tremendous on C-Span tonight. You make me want to put aside the stack of books I’ve got here waiting to be read and delve deeply instead into the Garfield and Arthur eras. You haven’t lost your touch–far from it–when it comes to capturing an audience with those aspects of American history which you know so well and present with such thoughtfulness and enthusiasm. I felt I was right there in Washington (a favorite old haunt of mine, by the way), listening to what you had to say. You brought Mrs. Garfield, especially, quite vividly to life.

    • What generous remarks – thank you. I just think that when anyone has enough interest to do their own original research it can’t help but soak into your bones and when that happens, speaking about it is no effort. That said, it also helps to have a subject who engages one’s complete attention and in the case of Crete Garfield she certainly is one who interests me, rare because my sensibilities are more early to mid 20th century. Anyway, thanks for your typically thoughtful remarks – they are genuinely appreciated.

  2. Carl, are you familiar with the four volumes of James Garfield letters published by Michigan State University from 1967 to 1981, edited by Harry Brown and Frederick Williams? They look interesting to me. Also: do you recommend any of the Garfield biographies in particular? Or any other Garfield related books that are out there?

    • Yes, I’ve used them as sources but not read through all four cover to cover. Interestingly, those four volumes were the century-later result of Lucretia Garfield’s efforts in preserving her husband’s papers with the intention that they be fully published. Brown was her grandson. There is one which came out in the last five years or so focused on his assassination – yet the title escapes me. I will need to check my lilbrary when I return to California next month – there is a very solid bio of him which came out, I believe, in the 70s.

      • Thanks for giving me more valuable background to the letters especially. I hadn’t known about Brown, but I’m very partial to primary source material whenever I can find it. Partly so I can think out my own reactions to things, but also because it is usually the source of so much that has to be left out of biographies and other books for lack of space.

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