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