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CAROLINE HARRISON: THE SECOND FIRST LADY WHO DIED IN THE WHITE HOUSE

Caroline Harrison was the wife of President Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893) who in turn was the grandson of President William Henry Harrison (1841). The later Harrison has the distinction, which probably will remain unique forever, of both defeating and then losing to the same opponent, Democrat Grover Cleveland (1885-1889, 1893-1897). Mrs. Harrison died at age 60 years on October 25, 1892, less than two weeks before her husband’s loss to Grover Cleveland.

Unlike Letitia Tyler, Mrs. Harrison was an active First Lady. She prominently and effectively fulfilled the social and White House managerial responsibilities of a president’s wife. She imaginatively enhanced the decor and ambience of the Executive Mansion. Moreover, she represented the First Lady as a person of significance in public, community, and charitable affairs. Indeed, according to Watson, “Caroline Harrison may be the most underrated first lady of all time.”

Caroline Harrison was pregnant three times, delivering a healthy son, then a healthy daughter, and lastly and sadly, a stillborn daughter. She compensated for her dull, dour husband by charming all as an intelligent, personable, and effective woman. Besides the redecoration of the White House, Caroline initiated the Mansion’s china collection and was a founder of the Daughters of the American Revolution. She reintroduced dancing to the Harrison White House for which she selected the music. She also was a gifted artist. Does any reader of this essay recall any presidential accomplishments by Benjamin Harrison?

Mrs. Harrison died due to Tuberculosis, The White Plague of the late nineteenth century. Its symptoms in retrospect were overlooked and an accurate diagnosis was made far too late. She selected thirty-three old homeopathic doctor Franklin Gardner, A Massachusetts native, for her care when he arrived in Washington. Perhaps Caroline preferred the gentler, patient-oriented philosophy of homeopathy over the rigorous therapies of allopathic (M.D.) medicine.

Benjamin Harrison married the deceased Caroline’s niece and frequent caregiver Mame Dimmick on April 6, 1896. Both his children were unhappy about the wedding. The ex-president went right to work, fathering a daughter Elizabeth on February 21, 1897.

 

 

Lud Historian
ludmhist@comcast.net
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