Media Alert: Carl Anthony on C-Span First Ladies Series, Monday June 10, Ida McKinley

Ida McKinley, subject of the author's new biography and the June 10 C-Span First Ladies series episode,

Ida McKinley, subject of the author’s new biography and the June 10 C-Span First Ladies series episode.

On Monday, June 10, two days after her birthday (and a few days before his own) Ida McKinley’s new biographer, author of this website, will appear on the C-Span First Ladies series, the second such one, following  discussion of Lucretia Garfield, Ellen Arthur and Molly McElroy on May 20.

Ida McKinley as a presidential candidate's wife.

Ida McKinley as a presidential candidate’s wife.

The new book, Ida McKinley: Turn-of-the-Century First Lady through War, Assassination & Secret Disability will be published in November of this year,  jointly by the National First Ladies Library and Kent State University Press, Pre-orders are now available thru Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Ida McKinley.

Ida McKinley.

For over a century, in fact since her tenure as First Lady (1897-1901), Ida McKinley has been grossly miscast in popular American mythology as the quintessential Victorian invalid on the fainting coach. Ida McKinley: Turn-of-the-Century First Lady through War, Assassination & Secret Disability draws on previously untapped documentation from archives across the country to finally present her not as a caricature but a person.

In this first-ever full-length biography of her untold story, she is not the passive victim as she has continued to be depicted, but rather a frank and witty person who confronted the overwhelming challenges which fate placed in her path and embraced the public role of First Lady, a status she believed she had deservedly earned.

Ida Saxton was an unusual person even before she met and married the man whose eventual election to the presidency placed her before the eyes of the nation.

Ida Saxton.

Ida Saxton.

With a passionate curiosity for the larger world outside of her hometown of Canton, Ohio, she pursued a level of education for a period far longer than even most men of the day enjoyed.

With a skill for finance and management, she rose through the ranks of her father’s bank to the role of manager in his absence, believing that a professional career ensured a woman’s future security in the event that no one else would.

She extensively explored Europe, visiting not only familiar landmarks but encountering impoverished working-class women and a disabled artist, developing empathy for all people whose existence was a struggle.

Physically fit to a degree unheard of for women at the time, she hiked upwards of ten miles a day.

McKinley.

McKinley.

Her life forever changed when she fell in love with the unworldly but ambitious attorney William McKinley. Their marriage gave him entrée to her powerful family, influential in all aspects of business in Canton and helped launch his political career.

The McKinleys spoke of their dead daughters as spirits to the point where their gravesite became a tourist attraction and the subject of souvenirs like this stereo-optic card.

The McKinleys spoke of their dead daughters as spirits to the point where their gravesite became a tourist attraction and the subject of souvenirs like this stereo-optic card.

Within five years of their union, however, Ida McKinley suffered the emotional traumas which forever shadowed her: the death of an infant daughter and her three-year old first-born child Katie. Ida McKinley maintained Katie’s memory as a daily aspect of life, keeping her items and image on display and often speaking of her as if she were still alive.

In the period between the deaths of her two children, Ida McKinley was first struck by a sudden onset of seizures, a condition which could often lead to momentary unconsciousness.

The McKinleys on a tenth wedding anniversary trip to California

The McKinleys on a tenth wedding anniversary trip to California

While neurological breakthroughs were just then advancing, public ignorance about those who like Mrs. McKinley were derided as “epileptics” led her husband to begin crafting a nuanced perception of the facts. Keeping her disability secret protected both her privacy and his methodical ascent to national power.

A well-intentioned effort to eliminate the possibility of Ida McKinley from experiencing a seizure during his 1896 campaign and the initial years of his presidency by personally dispensing powerful medications without professional supervision, however, unwittingly worsened her condition.

Ida McKinley presents the previously unpublished medical details of her epilepsy (reviewed by National Epilepsy Foundation board members for accuracy) and other chronic health issues, creating a more complex but accurate view of the presidential marriage than the sentimental McKinley romance intended for popular consumption and political appeal which continued to be perpetuated for over a century.

McKinley conducted his presidential campaign from his Ohio front porch. Ida McKinley listens attentively, seat at far right.

McKinley conducted his presidential campaign from his Ohio front porch. Ida McKinley listens attentively, seat at far right.

Beyond their mutual commitment, Ida’s decisive publicity efforts not only give context to a public grasp of the tariff issue which defines him as Congressman but ennobles him during a financial scandal as Governor.

Previous chroniclers have also studiously ignored the public record proving that her physical limitations did not deter the power of her determination.

In Ida McKinley, the record of her public activities during the entire first half of the Administration is finally presented. Her empathy for women of all races who had to support themselves prompted her to encourage higher education for women and to become the first known incumbent First Lady to support women’s suffrage.

A wide range of musical tastes inspired her innovative entertainment programs at formal White House dinners. Love of travel even led Ida McKinley to become the first incumbent First Lady to enter a foreign country.

Lieutenant-Colonel Roosevelt with his friend, and former physician to Ida McKinley, Colonel Leonard Wood in the Rough Riders camp during  the Spanish-American War.

Lieutenant-Colonel Roosevelt with his friend, and former physician to Ida McKinley, Colonel Leonard Wood in the Rough Riders camp during the Spanish-American War.

Thriving amid the intense stress of the Spanish-American War, impervious to public shame over the murder of her Lothario brother and the sordid trial which followed it, fighting to survive her own sudden brush with death in San Francisco, Ida McKinley shows this First Lady enduring a tumultuous series of episodic drama with an iron will previously unrecognized.

Proving how a First Lady’s emotional influence can result in political power, Ida McKinley shows this president’s wife interceding on government and military appointments. From helping his Rough Rider cavalry to assume a lead role in the war to her approval of him being chosen as vice president, this new work is the first to credit her part in Theodore Roosevelt’s rise. New material also details Ida McKinley’s accurate analysis in her early mistrust of War Secretary Alger whose wartime mismanagement ends in scandal.

McKinley is depicted as watching the peace treaty with Spain being signed in a massive canvas now in the White House Collection.

McKinley is depicted as watching the peace treaty with Spain being signed in a massive canvas now in the White House Collection.

Importantly, Ida McKinley examines evidential testimony of how her belief in reincarnation may have influenced what is arguably the President’s most consequential foreign policy decision, to seize the Philippines as a U.S. territory after liberating the islands as Spanish colony, rather than grant them sovereign independence.

For the first time, Ida McKinley also reveals the previously unknown 1899-1900 episode of marital crisis which developed as the President ignored his wife’s opposition to a second term to instead secretly plan his re-election campaign.

The McKinleys at a dinner; they re-arranged protocol so the President could sit beside the First Lady in case she had a seizure.

The McKinleys at a dinner; they re-arranged protocol so the President could sit beside the First Lady in case she had a seizure.

Contradicting the indelible but inaccurate impression of her as a selfishly dependant wife, Ida McKinley provides a well-documented narrative in her previously unexplored capacity as the protective spouse, alarmed by his work habits and careless vulnerability to assassination in a new global age of anarchism.

Along with the part played by emerging technologies, and the First Lady’s interactions with turn-of-the-century figures like Susan B. Anthony, Admiral Dewey and Booker T. Washington, Ida McKinley’s also shows her as a modernist.

The book further traces the First Lady’s public boldness in the fleeting days of hope following the shooting of her husband and recovers the lost tale of her generosity towards African-American waiter Ben Parker, whose attempt to stop the assassination was expunged from the official record. Ida McKinley concludes with the surprising but previously unknown details of her last three years, proving the human capacity for change even in the eleventh hour.

The Ida McKinley episode with the author airs on C-Span on Monday, June 10 at 9:00 pm eastern time.

In one of the many public demonstrations he staged to illustrate his much praised devotion to Ida McKinley, the President approaches her to wrap a shawl about the First Lady's shoulders.

In one of the many public demonstrations he staged to illustrate his much praised devotion to Ida McKinley, the President approaches her to wrap a shawl about the First Lady’s shoulders.

 

 


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16 replies »

  1. This is great Carl, more exposure on C-Span. Two appearances in less than a month, hopefully it will lead to more.

  2. Congratulations, Carl. I’ve got the May 20th episode on my DVR, so I’ll just have a “Carl Anthony Night” next week. So with Ida, Nellie and Florence completed, do you have plans to fill in the gap with books on Edith R., Ellen and Edith W.?
    How’s the dog book project coming along?

    • Thanks Sam, for writing and watching. Well, considering the solid and comprehensive biographies out there about Edith Roosevelt, Ellen Wilson and Edith Wilson, I’m more likely to continue to explore and publish about those who’ve still been ignored. It also happens that I greatly, strongly appreciated the conflicts Ida McKinley, Neliie Taft and most especially Florence Harding faced and overcome. All that said, writing a biography is a daunting, often overwhelming task which I can’t fathom undertaking again so soon. First want ti get my book Very Old Dog out there.

  3. Gee, can’t wait! Got the DVR all set. And effusive congratulations on the new book! 🙂

  4. Thanks for writung John. I consider Wayne Morgan’s the best and the standard biography oh Wiliam McKinley. He’s also a President far more craftily in total control of his public image.

  5. Thanks so much for the program last night!

    For the past two years I have been reading a biography of each First Lady chronologically (I just finished Mary Lincoln by Carl Sandburg) and my heart aches for the First Ladies that do not have a biography of their own so I’m thankful you have written this one on Ida.

    I admire how she boldly traveled and explored the world despite her ill health. So many women would have taken the easy path of living a retiring life but didn’t let that stop her. And it sounds like she didn’t just take the trips to vacation but had a measure of curiosity that had her constantly learning along the way.

    Can’t wait for your book to be released!

    Remember the Ladies rachelschmoyer.blogspot.com

    • Rachel – We share a great passion for this subject and I can’t begin to tell you how much I respect what you are doing. Taking the time – and it is an investment of great time – to read through all the individual biographies is the only way to form a deep and expert sense of these figures as true human beings. Frankly, I believe that Ida McKinley has gotten the shaft from history and it was true even in her day. I also think that those who avoid this are the ones who personally take hold of their press and not necessarily control it but make the effort to ensure that their work and their personal papers are part of the public record. In this regard, for example. I think that Jackie Kennedy and Lady Bird Johnson and Nancy Reagan will all fair better in the generations ahead because each made the effort to record their own memories and version of what they did and lived through. Ida McKinley had little interest in what other people – friends, family or the general public – really thought of her. There’s something personally liberating in that attitude, in terms of her own daily existence but it harmed her in terms of how she has been miscast and remembered. Thank you for watching the show, for being so engaged and participatory. People like you give people like me hope.

  6. Enjoyed your appearance on the Ida McKinley C-Span program Monday night. You’re so knowledgeable Carl, and you and Richard Norton Smith complemented each other quite nicely I thought. Hope they have you back for Part II.

  7. I’ve already pre-ordered my copy of Ida McKinley: Turn-of-the-Century First Lady through War, Assassination & Secret Disability, at barnesandnoble.com. Can’t wait to “get my paws” on that book, next November, and read it, cover to cover. It will feed me until the Yeager book comes out! 😀

  8. What I’ve found over modest reading of President’s and their Families and in particular about the First Ladies for me – is that a clearer picture of the era, the people and indeed of Presidential history emerges. I think after reading the bulk of your book on Florence Harding I had quite a different picture of her than when I read it. I honestly believed that she might have murdered him due to infidelities and her legendary temper. I’m still convinced she had a pretty bad temper. I think, however, that you caused me to reconsider her though in the light of her father and his influence on her life. I’m still very confused about homeopath Charles Sawyer. I can’t believe that she was so taken in by him. Ida McKinley I think was a woman ahead of her time but perhaps maligned in part because he didn’t care about her own image in a time when image was becoming everything. Frances Folsom, on the other hand, was another matter. A very distant cousin, Frances, Mrs. Cleveland, was a very astute woman – and very political. And I think she was good at manipulating. I have a bust of Cleveland sitting in my office – stamped 1888. The Cleveland family museum had no idea what the value might be, however, I treasure it. Mr. Anthony will the new book be released in either Kindle or some other digital format?

    • Thanks Kevin. On Mrs. Harding – her life literally depended on Dr. Sawyer and he had done what the Mayo Brothers said could not be done – keep her alive. I’m imagining that the Ida McKinley biography will be available on ereaders but I’m not sure, this being the first book I am having published with an academic press.

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