This Day In History: February 5

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On February 5, 1826, Millard Fillmore, who later becomes the 13th president of the United States, marries Abigail Powers, a New York native and a preacher’s daughter.

As a youngster, Abigail’s mother encouraged her daughter’s interest in reading and urged her to take advantage of the vast library her father had left after his death. Abigail was initially home-schooled and it was not until the relatively advanced age of 21 that she enrolled in New York’s New Hope Academy, were she met Fillmore. Although historical accounts differ as to the circumstances of the pair’s meeting, they fell in love and Abigail stayed on at New Hope as a teacher after her graduation, waiting patiently for the younger Fillmore to complete school and build a career as an attorney.

It took Fillmore an additional five years to reach a point where he felt he could support a wife and family financially. After their marriage, either out of necessity or personal interest, Abigail continued teaching, making her the first president’s wife to have held a job after marriage. She quit teaching in 1828 when their first child, Millard Powers Fillmore Jr., was born. The arrival of Millard Jr. was soon followed by the birth of a daughter, Mary Abigail.

Fillmore moved his young family to Albany, and then Buffalo, where his career in politics gained steam. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives, then as New York’s comptroller in 1847. A year later, Zachary Taylor tapped Fillmore to be his running mate in his successful bid for the presidency. When Taylor died unexpectedly in 1850, the Fillmore family moved into the White House.

The social life of the White House was fairly quiet under Abigail Fillmore. She preferred reading to parties and opted out of many social events due to an old ankle injury that left her with chronic pain. She often delegated hostess duties to her daughter, concentrating instead on lobbying Congress for funds to create the first official White House library.

Fillmore lasted one term as president. At his successor’s inauguration, held outdoors in the freezing cold, Abigail became ill with pneumonia and died a short time later.