On this day in 1858, future President James Garfield marries fellow Disciple of Christ Church member Lucretia Rudolph. The couple met while Lucretia was a student at Hiram Eclectic Institute in Ohio, where Garfield was teaching classics and where she started a literary society and became an early proponent of women’s rights. Before their marriage, Lucretia worked as an editor for the school magazine. Their romance blossomed after she left the school and he began teaching at Williams College in Massachusetts.
According to the National First Ladies’ Library, Garfield and Lucretia’s relationship developed through a series of long letters. In 1858, Garfield proposed and she accepted, although she suspected he had asked her to marry him out of a sense of obligation and knew full well that gossips wondered why such a handsome man as Garfield would marry the very plain Lucretia. Garfield and Lucretia loved and respected each other, sharing a passion for intellectual pursuits, and went on to have seven children. Garfield’s career in Washington, however, forced them to spend long periods of time apart.It was during this period that Garfield carried on an extramarital affair with a New York woman named Lucia Calhoun. He later admitted the affair, and Lucretia forgave him.
After one of the Garfield children died in 1863, the couple grew closer and Garfield swore off any more womanizing. Lucretia supported Garfield’s successful run for the presidency in 1880 and, as first lady, planned a variety of cultural events for the White House. Their time in Washington was cut short, though, when Garfield was shot by an assassin on July 2, 1881, after only four months in office. Lucretia valiantly nursed him for 80 days, but he died from his wounds on September 19.
Several years after her husband’s death, Lucretia moved to California, where she became a writer and supported Progressive and Democratic political candidates such as Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. Lucretia’s biography of her husband was published after her death in 1918.