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Ida Saxton McKinley

From Academic Kids

Ida Saxton McKinley (June 8, 1847May 26, 1907), wife of William McKinley, was First Lady of the United States from 1897 to 1901.

Ida was born in Canton, Ohio, the elder daughter of a socially prominent and well-to-do family. James A. Saxton, a banker, educated his daughters well in local schools and a finishing school, and then sent them to Europe on the grand tour.

While working as a cashier in a bank, she caught the attention of Maj. William McKinley, who had come to Canton in 1867 to establish a law practice, and they fell deeply in love. While he advanced in his profession, his young wife devoted her time to home and husband. A daughter, Katherine, was born on Christmas Day, 1871; a second, in April 1873. This time Ida was seriously ill, and the frail baby died in August. Phlebitis and epileptic seizures shattered the mother's health; and even before little Katie died in 1876, she was a confirmed invalid.

As Congressman and then as governor of Ohio, William McKinley was never far from her side. She spent most of her waking hours in a small Victorian rocking chair that she had had since childhood; she sat doing fancy work and crocheting bedroom slippers while she waited for her husband.

At the White House, the McKinleys acted as if her health were no great handicap to her role as First Lady. Richly and prettily dressed, she received guests at formal receptions seated in a blue velvet chair. She held a fragrant bouquet to suggest that she would not shake hands. Contrary to protocol, she was seated beside the President at state dinners and he, as always, kept close watch for signs of an impending seizure. If necessary, he would cover her face with a large handkerchief for a moment. Guests were discreet and newspapers silent on the subject of her "fainting spells." Only in recent years have the facts of her health been revealed.

After the President was shot by an assassin in September 1901, after his second inauguration, he murmured to his secretary: "My wife--be careful, Cortelyou, how you tell her--oh, be careful." After his death, she moved back to Canton, and was cared for by her younger sister and visited her husband's grave almost daily. She died in 1907, and lies entombed beside the President and near their two little daughters in Canton's McKinley Memorial Mausoleum.

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