Anna Harrison: Statistically Atypical First Lady

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Anna Harrison, the wife of ninth U.S. president William Henry Harrison, was completely different from any other First Lady for a variety of reasons.

Anna Tuthill Symmes Harrison (1775-1864) was, statistically speaking, a very unique First Lady. For example, she gave birth to more children than any other U.S. president’s wife. Also, she is the only woman to hold the distinction of being both the wife and grandmother of a chief executive. These are just a couple things that set Mrs. Harrison apart from the women who came before and after her.

Public Education on the American Frontier

Anna, born in Flatbrook, New Jersey, was raised in Ohio. Here, she became the first First Lady to receive a public education. This is remarkable in that most girls brought up on the frontier received very little, if any, formal schooling.

The First Lady with the Most Children

In 1795, Anna married a young army lieutenant– who had become a distinguished Indian fighter under the command of Revolutionary War general Mad Anthony Wayne in the Northwest Territory (a region that would later become Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois)– named William Henry Harrison. William and Anna were the parents of ten children– six sons and four daughters: Elizabeth Bassett (1796-1846); John Cleves Symmes (1798-1830); Lucy Singleton (1800-26); William Henry II (1802-38); John Scott (1804-78); Benjamin (1806-40); Mary Symmes (1809-42); Carter Bassett (1811-39); Anna Tuthill (1813-45); James Findlay (1814-17). This is the largest number of children born to a president and First Lady. Only one of these children, John Scott, survived both his parents.

First GrandmotherAnna is especially noteworthy in that she is the only First Lady to become both the wife and grandmother of a U.S. president. John Scott was the father of the twenty-third commander-in-chief, Benjamin Harrison. Benjamin held the nation’s highest office from 1889 to 1893.

Short TenureWhat really sets Anna Harrison apart from the other First Ladies, however, is that the fact that she only held this title for one month. William died on April 4, 1841, exactly one month after his inauguration. He had developed pneumonia after prolonged exposure to a cold, blustery March wind. The 68-year-old war hero had delivered his long inaugural speech hatless and coatless in order to prove his strength to the crowd.

As for Anna, she never actually set foot in Washington or lived in the White House. (The only other First Lady to never live in the White House was Martha Washington, for the Executive Mansion was not built until after her husband’s administration.) At age 65, Anna, the oldest of all the First Ladies, was too frail and ill to travel to the nation’s capital in the dead of winter.

Widow’s Pension

Anna lived to the age of 88. She died on February 25, 1864, at her home in North Bend, Ohio. Prior to her passing, Anna became the first presidential widow to receive a pension. She was given a lump sum of $25,000.

Source:

  1. Harris, Bill. The First Ladies Fact Book, p. 145-55. New York: Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers, Inc., 2005.