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First Lady Biography: Ida Mckinley







8 June 1847

Canton, Ohio


Ida Saxton McKinley was born in a house on Market Avenue which was owned by her maternal grandparents, George and Christiana Dewalt and where her mother Catharine Dewalt Saxton was also born.(for more information, see "Historic Site" at end of this biography)

The Saxton-McKinley House became the property of this organization, the National First Ladies Library, which restored and opened it to the public as a presidential home in the 1990s.


James Asbaugh Saxton, born 1 May 1816, Canton Ohio (hardware store owner, banker, businessman, real estate developer, investor, property owner); died 16 March 1887, Canton, Ohio.

Ida McKinley and the inter-generational members of her extended paternal family were unusually close and formed networks which established the early businesses and industries in Canton in diverse enterprises. Through this alliance of Saxton family branches, several individuals among them emerged as extremely wealthy and powerful figures who guided the destiny of Canton. One of these was James Saxton. Educated by private tutors, at eighteen years old he began a hardware business and then a dry-goods store, both of which thrived until he sold it by 1854.

That same year he became founder and president of the Stark County Bank. It was located at the end of a city block known locally as the "Saxton Block," across the street from the Saxton House and among the businesses located there was a hotel and a mixed-use building which included residential apartments and offices.

He eventually sold  this substantial property to his son-in-law and daughter, William and Ida McKinley after which it was known as the "McKinley Block." James Saxton also speculated in county real estate with great success.

Along with ownership of property where the first local theater was built, and many local residential buildings, Saxton  owned a large working farm in Medina, Ohio, which produced maple syrup, apples and potatoes for sale. He also invested in properties with potential for mineral and natural resource extraction, such as silver mines in Nevada.

James Saxton, like his own father, was a rabid abolitionist and as a result was an early supporter of the newly-formed Republican Party in the 1850s. There is also indication that he was part of Canton Ohio's Underground Railroad, those citizens who aided African-Americans in their northward escape from slavery in the southern states. In addition, Saxton was  an outspoken advocate for women's equal right to higher education, employment and voting privileges. Among his three children, he found the greatest promise in first-born Ida and gave meticulous attention to the quality and breadth of her education and then her professional training in his bank.

Following his second marriage in 1882, James Saxton spent an increasing amount of time in New York State at the home of his new wife and began pursuing new business partnerships in New York City.  Along with his son-in-law William McKinley, James Saxton also sought out expert medical advice on the epilepsy and neurological problems which beset his daughter Ida after 1873.


Catherine "Kate" DeWalt Saxton, born 18 August 1827, Canton, Ohio; married James Saxton on 20 August 1846, Canton, Ohio; died 14 March 1873, Canton, Ohio. Kate Dewalt was highly educated for a girl of her era and attended two boarding schools in succession, the Emmetsburg Female Seminary in Emmetsburg, Pennsylvania and then Linden Hall Seminary in Lilitz, Pennyslvania. Mrs. Saxton and her daughter Ida developed an unusually close relationship and as the latter matured it became her closest friendship. Mother and daughter were often mistaken for sisters. This followed the pattern of Kate Saxton and her own mother Christiana Dewalt. As a young girl, Ida McKinley was  raised by her grandmother Dewalt and they also became unusually close to one another. During the Civil War, Kate Saxton became a local leader of women who volunteered to sew uniforms and gather necessary provisions for the Union Army, assisted by her then-teenage daughter Ida during her breaks at home from boarding school. Like her husband, Kate Saxton was a fervent advocate for the full and equal higher education of women and the abolition of slavery.


After Ida McKinley's mother died, her father James Saxton married secondly in 6 August 1882 to Hester "Hettie" Bradshaw Medill (born 1832, died 4 March 1907). She was born in Potsdam, New York. Her parents Robert Bradshaw and Christiana Flinn were of Scottish descent and born and married in Onasbrruck, Canada before migrating to the U.S.. She was the widow of James Medill and the sister-in-law of Joseph Medill, the publisher of the Chicago Tribune.  Joseph Medill had first been employed as a reporter at the Canton Repository, hired there by John Saxton, who became the new but late father-in-law of Hettie Medill. The wedding of James Saxton and Hester Medill was not held at the Saxton House but rather at the home of his cousin Thomas W. Saxton.


German, Scottish, English; Ida McKinley's mother Kate Dewalt Saxton was of German ancestry, all four of her grandparents being immigrants. Both of Ida McKinley's maternal great-grandfathers were leading figures in the development of Canton, Ohio as businessmen and civic leaders. Michael Harter (1774-1847), the father of Mrs. McKinley's maternal grandmother Christiana Harter Dewalt, established one of the town's first banks. Philip DeWalt (1761-1844), the father of Mrs. McKinley's grandfather George Dewalt, established the Spread Eagle Tavern, a thriving place which not only provided accommodations to travelers through town and served meals of beer and baked goods brewed and made in-house, but also served as a town meeting hall and house of worship.

Ida McKinley's paternal grandmother Margaret Laird was the daughter of Scottish immigrants Jacob Laird (1755-1791) and his wife Jane Johnston (1746-?). The maternal grandparents of Ida McKinley's paternal grandfather John Saxton were Palatine German immigrants It is unclear who was Ida McKinley's immigrant Saxton ancestor, or where he originated from in Europe, though he is believed to have come from England. It is known that one of her paternal ancestors, James Harlan, was born in England in 1625 and immigrated to the colony of Delaware.

Birth Order and Siblings:

Eldest of three; one brother and one sister; Mary "Pina" Saxton Barber (1848-1917), George Saxton (1849-1898)

Ida McKinley was especially close with her sister Mary, both before and after her August 1873 marriage to Marshall Barber. For a period of time the part of the time both Saxton sisters were boarding school students at Brooke Hall Seminary in Media, Pennsylvania. In 1869, they together spent six months on a grand tour of Europe and Mary's letters home provide much detail about Ida McKinley's life during that period. Following the onset of Ida McKinley's epilepsy in 1873, newlywed Mary Barber assumed a degree of responsibility for the care of her niece Katie McKinley. Especially after the 1887 death of their father, Mary Barber learned the details of her sister's epilepsy and, in the frequent absence of William McKinley, provided the necessary care during her seizures. During the McKinley presidency, Mary Barber assumed all responsibility for the arrangements of the presidential visits to their shared home. She also coaxed her reluctant daughters Mary and Ida Barber to take leaves of absence from college and spend the winter social seasons at the White House as aides to their aunt the First Lady. Following the 1898 murder by gunshot of their brother George Saxton, Mary Barber assumed the sole responsibility for managing the properties and investments made by their father which she and the First Lady inherited, relying on the legal guidance of her brother-in-law President McKinley. Upon word of McKinley's assassination in Buffalo, Mary Barber sped there to provide companionship for her sister. Following his death, she assumed control of her care at the direction of the widow's physician. There is also indication that she tacitly approved of her sister's attorney refusing to comply with the widowed First Lady's desire to disperse some of her jewelry to friends and to financially help the late President's brother, the valuables and money being part of the anticipated inheritance which Mrs. Barber and her children would receive from Mrs. McKinley. Following the First Lady's death, Mary Barber was drawn into a bitter and public contesting of her sister's will by relatives of the late President. She also received unwanted press coverage after being drawn into a breach-of-contract case brought by the divorced wife of her son George Barber who alleged that Mary Barber had helped him to propose a deceiving settlement.

During his sister's tenure as First Lady, George Saxton was murdered in Canton, Ohio, on 7 October 1898, a short distance from the Saxton House where he lived with his sister Mary Barber and her family. He had left the Saxton House and was approaching the home of his lover, the widowed Eva Althouse, when he was shot. The assailant was widely believed to be his former married lover Anna George, who was nevertheless found innocent of murder charges during a trial which garnered national headlines.

Physical Appearance:

Short, blue eyes, auburn hair

Religious Affiliation:

Although raised as a Presbyterian and steeped in its tenets of pre-destiny, some time after her 1871 marriage to William McKinley, Ida McKinley joined his Methodist church.

Following the first of her two daughters' deaths in 1871 until her own death in 1907, Ida McKinley is recorded as having entered a church on only two occasions, one of which was unavoidable.

After attending a lecture on the Hindu tenet of re-incarnation in the early 1890s, Ida McKinley took an interest in the various Eastern religions which shared the tenet of re-incarnation.


Canton Union School, Canton Ohio, 1853-1861 Ida McKinley's father James Saxton was a trustee of the local public school board. Along with Lorenzo Whiting, the physician who had delivered Ida McKinley at birth Saxton enlisted the famous educator Betsy Mix Cowles as its principal. Cowles was renowned as the founder of the Ohio Women's Rights Association and the Women's Anti-Slavery Society. In her capacity as principal and then teacher of one of Ida Saxton's classes, Cowles became a mentor for the future First Lady, although she left the Canton school system in 1857. In the school, Ida McKinley would have received its requisite course of English, math, science, vocal music and drawing

Delphi Academy, Clinton County, New York, 1862-1863. When Betsy Cowles was  engaged  to teach at the Delphi Academy, her former pupil followed, marking Ida McKinley's first period of boarding away from her family. James Saxton instructed Cowles that he did not want Ida to receive an "ornamental" education but rather one covering all aspects of accounting and finance. Both teacher and student were uncomfortable in Delphi, given its Confederate sympathy during the Civil War. Cowles left and Ida McKinley then boarded in Cleveland, closer to Canton.

The Sanford School, Cleveland Ohio 1863-1865. Originally called the Cleveland Female Seminary, it was renamed after Solomon and Louise Sanford, the husband and wife who purchased the school and served as its principal and teacher during Ida McKinley's first semester there. Her course load was drawn from classes in history, geography, advanced mathematics, penmanship, Latin, French, Greek, instrumental music, singing, drawing, painting, sculpting, "domestic economy," French literature, natural sciences, "moral sciences," and hygiene.

Brooke Hall Female Seminary, Media, Pennsylvania,1865-1868.  Founded in 1856 by Maria Lee Eastman, it was at this "finishing school" where Ida McKinley was taught to refine aspects of what elite women were socialized to believe as  being necessary to their potential role as hostess of a prosperous household. This included training in singing, playing at least one musical instrument, fine needlepoint, linguistic ability, and skill in one of the fine arts.

Here, Ida McKinley refined her earlier training as a pianist and during weekends she spent in nearby Philadelphia, she discovered her passion for classical music concerts, opera and theater.

The school exposed her to daughters of national political leaders among the student body.

She formed permanent friendships with fellow students (such as future photographer Louise Deshong), who had also been  encouraged to develop their talents and pursue professional careers.

Ida McKinley also made a lifelong friend in her teacher Harriet Gault, an adherent of the progressive idea that women, for the sake of their physical well-being, must be as active as men.

Initially led by Gault, Ida McKinley was soon noted for her vigorous daily hikes of considerable length. She emerged from the school with a personality described by contemporaries as being alert,  compassionate, opinionated, and with a sharp wit.

Occupation before Marriage:

Upon her graduation from Brooke Hall Female Seminary, Ida McKinley was employed by her father, initially as a clerk in his Stark County Bank. She was soon promoted to cashier and further, during James Saxton's absences from Canton, she was entrusted with managing the bank. She worked continuously from June of 1868 to June of 1869 and from January of 1870 until January of 1871.

As a woman working in the all-male venue of a bank, Ida McKinley encountered a considerable degree of local disapproval and further scorn for this resultant of "over-education" of her gender. She would strongly defend her right to work, explaining that her father wanted to ensure that she had a viable means of self-support without pursuing marriage as a necessity of financial dependency.

She also volunteered as a Sunday school teacher in the First Presbyterian Church which her grandfather John Saxton had helped toestablish. Founder of the Canton Repository newspaper in 1815, Ida McKinley was further inspired by his example of public service to local citizens who were indigent, neglected, house-bound and ill by providing them food and monetary donations and making them companionable visits also served as a model for her similar efforts as a congressional, gubernatorial and presidential spouse.

Letters she wrote her parents during a chaperoned tour of ten European countries from June to December 1869 document her expertise in money management and faculty in accurately converting the confusing and fluctuating exchange rates between different national currencies.  In her weekly chronicles reporting her activities, Ida McKinley made clear her preference for an active life, with an interest in not only international art and culture, but current events as well.

Over the course of her European travels into both rural and urban regions, Ida McKinley developed an empathy for working-class women who had to perform manual labor to support themselves; the painstaking work but menial earnings of Belgian women who hand-crafted lace led Ida McKinley to purchase a large amount of their work and  began her lifelong collecting of it.

Among those she also encountered was the American woman sculptor Vinnie Ream, later to become famous for her rendition of a statue of the late President Lincoln.

She was also awed by an armless and legless painter who learned to use brushes held in his mouth and refused to permit this disadvantage to prevent him from an artistic career; his example seems to have inspired her to later insist on living a full public life despite disabilities she developed life as an artist.


Contrary to popular myth, it was not while working at the Stark County Bank that Ida Saxton met William McKinley, who had been a Union Army major.

They had initially met at an 1868 summer picnic at Meyer's Lake, a local venue popular with Canton's young people. Ida Saxton was engaged at the time to John Wright, a native of Maryland and a former Confederate Army major. Although trained as an attorney, he was then working as a farming implement company salesman. He died suddenly while Ida Saxton was in Europe.

Ida Saxton recalled that she had first focused on McKinley early in 1870, while listening to him introduce Horace Greeley (the political activist, editor and her grandfather's friend), who was in Canton to deliver a lecture. Although she was dating other men at the time and made clear that her attraction to McKinley was not "love at first sight," she was deeply impressed by his integrity and values. While serving as Stark County prosecuting attorney, McKinley was also hired as an attorney by her father and uncle and won claims on their behalf. Acknowledging her father's encouragement of her dating McKinley, Ida explicitly asserted that her acceptance of his marriage proposal was her own independent decision. A later contemporary account claims that she envisioned her fiance someday being elected President of the United States.


23 years old, married 25 January 1871, to William McKinley, Jr., lawyer, Stark County prosecuting attorney (born 29 January 1843, died 14 September 1901), First Presbyterian Church, Canton, Ohio. The Saxton-McKinley wedding was the first to take place in the church which Ida Saxton's father and grandfather had helped to build and the ceremony was jointly performed between her Presbyterian minister and his Methodist one. After a honeymoon in Eastern seaboard cities, they leased a Canton house which was owned by her father.


Two daughters; Katherine "Katie" McKinley (born 25 December 1871, died 25 June 1875), Ida "Little Ida" McKinley (born 1 April 1873, died 20 August 1873)

Occupation after Marriage:

Radical and permanent change affected Ida McKinley's life within two and a half years of her marriage. Just prior to her 1871 wedding, her grandmother Christiana Dewalt died and just after she lost her grandfather John Saxton. Two weeks before Ida McKinley gave birth to her second child, her mother died in March of 1873. The infant then died only four months later, in August of 1873.

In this period, she sustained a head and back injury of blunt force, which was likely the cause of late-onset epilepsy and neurological leg damage, which resulted in chronic immobility. Ida McKinley's immune system also became compromised, her contraction of routine colds making her vulnerable to more serious bodily dangers.

Two years after the death of "Little Ida," the remaining McKinley child Katie died from scarlet fever. This loss traumatized Ida McKinley and in many respects it was the death from which she never truly recovered.

William McKinley initially went alone to Washington, D.C. in January of 1877, following his first election to the U.S. House of Representatives while Ida McKinley was placed in the medical care of neurologist Silas Weir Mitchell in Philadelphia.

Mitchell developed the "rest cure," to treat women of all varieties of both physical and emotional problems which he believed were the result of their brains being overworked in coping with issues he deemed only the male brain capable of resolving. His "cure" forced women into sedentary isolation and in the case of Ida McKinley it was what likely led to her developing chronic phlebitis.

Other famous neurologists, including Dr. Meredith Clymer also later failed to stop Ida McKinley's unpredictable seizures. In the early 1890s Dr. John N. Bishop of New York began sending William McKinley unregulated dosages of bromides which did stop the seizures but would lead to further and more threatening medical problems. In the White House, she would be treated by a series of military surgeon generals including Newton Bates, Leonard Wood, George Sternberg but it was only the last one, Preston Rixey who succeeded in his determination to manage her epilepsy and immobility through regulation of schedule and nutrition.

Contrary to persistent misperception, however, Ida McKinley never became a permanent invalid. Although she later overstated her role as a social aide to First Lady Lucy Hayes, her husband's earlier friendship with the Hayes family afforded Ida McKinley unparalleled access to the White House and familiarity with life there. She travelled extensively around the country with her husband, including her first visit to California in 1880 where she was able to again enjoy hiking, this time in the Sierra Mountain range. She assumed a prominent civic role that same year in planning Canton's welcoming of thousands of Ohio's Union Army veterans who gathered there for a reunion. As a congressional spouse, Ida McKinley also exercised a degree of patronage, particularly helping to place young women who had to work to support themselves and family members in federal jobs.

Even during those periods when her health confined her to the couple's residential hotel suite, she was drawn into her husband's legislative work and constituency matters since he kept open the door between the parlor, where she sat knitting, and his home office. In this way, she was made privy to the proceedings of even his most confidential meetings. She proved particularly astute in helping promote the protectionist tariff on which he was building a national reputation.

Those coming to meet with Congressman McKinley quickly detected how deftly he managed to dedicate himself to public duty while remaining simultaneously devoted to the care of his wife.  Despite being in great demand as a campaigner on behalf of fellow Republican candidates running for office, the popular Congressman refrained from leaving his wife's side in 1888, as she recovered from a fever which nearly killed her. The impression of him placing his marital obligation above his political one began to earn McKinley a national reputation for what was often characterized as "saint-like," and sacrificial. During his two terms as governor of Ohio, McKinley also developed a ritual which the public soon learned they could stand and witness for themselves. Each morning and each afternoon, he stood on the plaza in front of the state capital building and doffed his top hat to Ida McKinley in the window of their residential hotel suite across the street, a gesture not only of love but means of assurance that she was well.

As wife of the governor, Ida McKinley played a crucial role when a unexpected scandal erupted which threatened her husband's continued rise in politics. McKinley had unwittingly obligated himself to an old friend who took business risks and incurred some $70,000 in debt. As co-signer on loans taken out by his friend, Governor McKinley was held liable and faced the prospect of quitting politics and returning to a law practice, in order to begin earning enough money to pay off the debts. Ida McKinley insisted that she would use all of her available inheritance to save her husband from this prospect. A group of political advisers used this act of her reciprocal devotion to then raise public donations to pay off McKinley's debts and spare Ida McKinley the loss of her future income as well as her husband's political future.

By the time of McKinley's second inauguration as governor in 1893, however, Ida McKinley had become ambivalent about the prospect of her husband running for president. Her concern was for his health and well-being and was partially fueled by the increasing number of world leaders who were being threatened and assassinated by individuals identifying themselves as members of the growing anarchist movement.

Presidential Campaign and Inauguration:

In preparation for his anticipated 1896 presidential campaign, the McKinleys rented the same house which they had leased for the first two and a half years of their marriage, from her father.

It was chosen to further a sense of sentimentality in the press about their marriage, an intention which took hold by the two-day silver wedding anniversary celebration they hosted there, with prominent political figures attending as guests.

The event also served the purpose of permitting the press and public to meet Ida McKinley for themselves and reduce speculative gossip about the true nature of her health conditions and the prospect of her being a potential distraction to him as president.

Throughout the 1896 campaign, as delegations came to the McKinley home in Canton to hear the candidate speak from the front porch of his home, Ida McKinley played a public role. On most occasions, she was healthy enough to speak with and meet political figures and appear before crowds, as she sat listening to his speeches.

Two months before the election, however, a period of recurrent seizures ensued, perhaps provoked by the stress of having thousands of strangers surrounding her home on a daily basis. It prevented her continued public appearances.

As rumors circulated in western states that Mrs. McKinley had a form of mental illness (with which epilepsy was then widely but ignorantly associated),  the campaign issued a romanticized biography of her, the first such example ever printed about a presidential candidate's spouse.

Although it refrained from stating the nature of her illness, it suggested a milder condition than was true.

While women did not have universal suffrage in the 1896 election, McKinley's marital devotion was used to appeal to male voters as proof of his general ability for discipline and commitment, ideal character traits of a potential president.

During the 1897 inaugural ceremonies, Ida McKinley determined to prove her ability to endure the physical duress often facing First Lady by pushing the boundaries of her genuine strength.

Upon the McKinley party's arrival by rail from Ohio, as the public and press stood back in scrutiny, she walked the entire length of Union Station without any type of assistance. Similarly, at the Inaugural Ball, she ascended the steep and lengthy marble steps of the Pension Building to a viewing box.

During the final procession march at the ball, however, she fainted from apparent exhaustion, rather than suffer a seizure.

The 1900 McKinley re-election campaign was again based at the Canton house from which the previous one had been conducted.

During this second campaign, neither Neither William nor Ida McKinley were involved in public activities to the degree which had characterized the initial one.

Ida McKinley participated in all of the 1901 inauguration events without incident, much of the press and public focus having shifted to the new Vice President and his wife, Theodore and Edith Roosevelt.

First Lady:

49 years old

4 March 1897 - 14 September 1901

Rather than permit her various health conditions to limit her role as First Lady, Ida McKinley adapted them in fulfilling what she believed was her duty as a president's wife.

She received guests seated in a large armchair rather than stand alongside her husband at receptions.

The seating protocol at formal dinners was changed to permit her to be placed beside her husband rather than across the table from him.

She hosted weekly receptions for women not downstairs in the public state rooms but upstairs in the oval sitting room located in the family quarters.

On occasion, she augmented her presence at public social events in the White House with social aides who included one of several nieces, her sister and Jennie Hobart, the wife of the Vice President.

There was no general criticism of these adaptions and to many other Americans who lived with disabilities or whose lives were curtailed by immobility she became a role model.

Ida McKinley did not chose any one particular public issue or cause to focus her efforts on as First Lady. She did, however, limit her personal support to two particular organizations.

One was Crittenden House, an organization which maintained several centers around the country which served as a place for homeless, indigent and  unemployed women to seek temporary shelter, nutritional meals and educational training for an employable trade.

The other was the American branch of the Salvation Army, led by the British organization's founder Evangeline Booth, who became a close friend of the First Lady.

She supported various organizations in their charity fundraising drives not by making a public appearance but rather by donating a pair of slippers which she famously knitted, to be auctioned and also by sending elaborate floral arrangements which she often designed herself with flowers taken from the White House conservatories.

With an especial appreciation and knowledge of contemporary theater, opera and popular music, Ida McKinley befriended a number of famous performers of the era, including actor Joe Jefferson and composer Victor Herbert, who wrote the official 1897 Inaugural March.

26. The Maple Leaf Rag sheet music, a song first played in the McKinley White House. (Library of Congress)

As First Lady, she sponsored a number of unique musical events at the White House and initiated the innovation of providing entertainment to guests after formal dinners. The first evidence of the new musical genre of ragtime being heard in the White House dates to a Valentine's Day dance she hosted.

Following the explosion of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana harbor, Cuba and the declaration of war against Spain in 1898, Ida McKinley exercised a greater degree of influence on the President.

According to several sources, she had been steadily providing him with keen assessments of early drafts of his speeches and the character of those individuals ambitious for appointments. She was influential in seeing to some minor appointments as well as at least two mid-level ones, including the oversight of immigration and of western territory.

There were many occasions for the McKinleys to exchange their views to each other in private. Only during his busiest working period, during the height of the war, would President McKinley permit any official responsibilities to interrupt some daily time alone with Ida McKinley. Most often, this was on daily carriage rides together around Washington.

The favor she showed her physician, U.S. Army surgeon Leonard Wood was a factor widely attributed to his being named by President McKinley as Colonel of the famous "Rough Rider" cavalry which fought Spanish troops in Cuba.

She also intervened on behalf of the troop's lieutenant-colonel, Theodore Roosevelt, when his previous effort to gain authorization for transfer of the unit from its training camp in San Antonio, Texas to transport ships in Florida failed.

She seems to have also been of tangential support in facilitating the appointment of a woman to the American delegation at the Paris Exposition, and the creation of a wartime nursing corps.

According to several individuals, including presidential military aide Colonel Benjamin Montgomery, Ida McKinley was persistent in lobbying her husband to retain the Philippines as a U.S. territory, following the uncertain status of the islands once the war treaty with Spain had been finalized. and this may have factored into his final decision to do so.

Ida McKinley's specific interest was in the well-being of the native Iggorote tribes of the norther region of the Philippines, reports of whose deprivations she had read in the mainstream American press, which greatly exaggerated their living conditions.

During the Spanish-American War, the First Lady also joined the President in visiting several of the large training camps where soldiers were trained and waited for orders before being sent out to the fronts in Cuba, Puerto Rico or the Philippines.

Ida McKinley made clear her view on a number of other public issues which dominated the McKinley presidency.

She refused to comply with the persistent requests of the Women's Christian Temperance Union that she refrain from permitting alcoholic beverages from being served in the White House.

She unequivocally support a woman's right to vote and became a personal acquaintance and correspondent of Susan B. Anthony, leader of the national movement for women's suffrage.

Ida McKinley also supported a woman's right to equal higher education. During her attendance with the President at Smith College graduation ceremonies in June of 1899, Ida McKinley accepted a silver trophy award and made brief and impromptu speech in appreciation, although no transcript of her remarks survive.

Joining President McKinley on a southern tour which included Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and another technical college for African-American students in Georgia, Mrs. McKinley personally underwrote the higher education at private schools of the children of an African-American woman who supported her family by washing clothing.

There she joined in meeting Booker T. Washington and his wife Margaret, who later offered a sympathetic message to the First Lady when she was widowed, as a symbolic gesture on behalf of African-American women at large.

During the Spanish-American War, Ida McKinley assumed the role of caretaker for the President, growing concerned at his tendency to overwork and tax his system. Her own limited mobility did not prevent her from making trips of several days length to New York and Baltimore during the first half of the McKinley Administration.

The increased application of bromides by the President to prevent her from experiencing epileptic seizures, however, began to take a dramatic toll on the First Lady by the latter part of 1899. By this time, he had begun to devolve much of her care to her final White House physician Preston Rixey.

Just past the halfway point of what would prove to be the entire period of McKinley's presidency, Ida McKinley suddenly suffered a serious onset of seizures. This was followed by a severe period of depression, attributable not only to her now having to rely on the use of a wheelchair but also the President's decision to seek a second term, rather than retire with her as she had believed they would.

Ida McKinley took a limited interest in the White House or its history, preferring modern furnishings, rather than antiques. During her absence along with the president on a summer vacation, she permitted journalist Abby Gunn Baker to make an inventory of the historic china and other dinnerware items which were still then in the mansion. Mrs. McKinley did acquire one Federal era chair for the Red Room. Although she pledged her commitment to the centennial celebrations of the city of Washington in 1900, she made it clear that she would permit no renovations of the White House to take place during the McKinley Administration.

One month after William McKinley's inauguration for a second term, Ida McKinley joined the President on a trans-continental trip by rail, assuming a prominent public role at events in    Nashville, Tennessee, Austin, Texas and Los Angeles.In New Orleans, she granted her only full-length newspaper interview as First Lady. In El Paso, Texas, Ida McKinley accepted the invitation to be honored at a brunch held in Juarez, Mexico, and by crossing the border to attend, she became the first incumbent First Lady known to have visited a foreign country.

As the trip itinerary proceeded along the Pacific coastline north from Los Angeles, a small cut in Ida McKinley's index finger which she first brought to her doctor's attention before arriving in that city had become infected. Her body temperature spiked dramatically and it soon became clear that she had blood poisoning.

The presidential party established itself in San Francisco at a private home on Laguna and Clay Streets.

For almost two weeks, McKinley conducted his presidency from here while the First Lady struggled to survive. The world's attention focused on the house, from which regular bulletins were issued to update the public on her condition.

Once it was clear her health had returned, the presidential party rapidly travelled eastward to the White House where she rested further for a month. The McKinleys then returned to their Canton, Ohio home for the remaining weeks of the summer of 1901.

Four months after recovering from her near-death, Ida McKinley enjoyed the best health she had in over twenty-five years, according to her husband. She accompanied him to Buffalo for the Pan-American Exposition in September of 1901. Her appearance on the grandstand where he would deliver his opening remarks were captured by a movie camera, making Ida McKinley the first incumbent First Lady to be seen on film.

Although Ida McKinley visited Niagara Falls with the President during their trip to Buffalo, she avoided all of the Exposition venues due to the large numbers of crowds there. She was therefor not with her husband when he was standing in a public receiving line at the Temple of Music and shot by anarchist Leon Czolgosz on September 9, 1901.

During the six subsequent days when it seemed that he might recover, Ida McKinley displayed remarkable physical and emotional strength. Once it was clear that the President would not survive, her physician and those treating the President permitted her to see him one final time, but prevented her from being with in the moments before he died.

Post-Presidential Life:

As expected, Ida McKinley was crushed by her husband's death to assassination but she also experienced angry frustration when several of her requests made during the three days of the funeral train's itinerary from Buffalo to Washington to Canton, public display of his open casket, funeral and burial were denied or ignored.

For the first thirty months of her widowhood, from the fall of 1901 until the spring of 1904, she ritualistically visited his coffin on a daily basis in the holding vault where it was kept until the completion of what would become his burial monument.

Except for these visits, she refused to leave her home, telling some friends that she expected his ghost to return to her there. George Cortelyou assumed responsibility for hiring her household staff and facilitated her official matters, such as the franking privilege which Congress awarded her as a presidential widow.

Following the birth of a daughter each to both of her two eldest nieces and their frequent visits to her,  the presidential election campaign of Theodore Roosevelt who maintained close contact with her, and her late husband's monument cornerstone-laying ceremony which she attended, Ida McKinley resumed public activities.

She continued to exercise political patronage on behalf of individuals seeking federally-appointed positions, including Ben Parker, the African-American waiter who had attempted to prevent Czolgosz from firing his gun at President McKinley.

After meeting with a delegation of Filipino political leaders pledging loyalty to the U.S. colonial control. she expressed her intention to visit the Philippines. Anticipating completion of the McKinley monument, she died four months before its dedication.

26 May 1907
59 years old
Canton, Ohio


McKinley Monument, Canton, Ohio

Incumbent President Theodore Roosevelt attended the funeral of Ida McKinley, the second time a former First Lady was so honored. He had also attended the 1902 funeral of former First Lady Julia Grant.

Historic Site:

The birthplace, childhood home and later married home of Ida McKinley still stands and is open to the public.  Known as the Saxton-McKinley House, it is located at 205 Market Avenue South, Canton, Ohio 44702. It is part of the complex forming the National First Ladies Historic Site and run by the National First Ladies Library.

Ida McKinley was raised here until about the age of three when her parents took her and her younger sister to live in an adjoining home owned by the Dewalts. They, along with her youngest sibling and only brother, returned to live there with her widowed grandmother before Ida reached the age of seven. She continued to live here until her January 1871 marriage to William McKinley.

Ida McKinley returned to live here again with her husband and their first-born child Katie in August 1873.  The so-called Saxton House became the permanent and legal Ohio residence of William McKinley and Ida McKinley until they moved in 1900 to the first home they owned, purchased a year previous to that (they had rented this house from 1871-1873 for a period of two years and four months and from 1896-1997, for a period of one year and one month during McKinley's campaign for his first presidential term.

Upon the 1870 death of the widowed Christiana Dewalt who had become sole owner of the property, it was inherited by her daughter Kate Dewalt Saxton. Upon the death of Kate Saxton in 1873, her widowed husband continued to live there but it became the legal property of her children Ida McKinley, Mary Barber and George Saxton. Upon the death of George Saxton in 1898 and Ida McKinley in 1907 (neither of whom left children) the house was then owned entirely by Mary Barber. Upon Mary Barber's death in 1917,  it was her youngest child Kate Barber Belden who then assumed occupancy with her husband and children and became the last residents of the house. Thus the Saxton-McKinley House is perhaps the only home in the United States which has passed down in one family through four generations of women.