Abigail Powers Fillmore
March 13, 1798, in Stillwater, New York
March 20, 1853, in Washington, D.C.
Abigail Fillmore became first lady at age 52 and was not in good health. She passed along the hosting responsibilities to her daughter, Mary Abigail Fillmore, who thus assumed the role of an assistant first lady. Both women helped run the White House through Millard Fillmore’s term, which began in 1850 following Taylor’s death and ended in 1853. Abigail was the first first lady to have held a job outside of the home. She was very well-educated and worked as a librarian and teacher for seven years. She only resigned her position after she had been married two years and her first child was born. Remarkably, Abigail met her husband at the library she had founded in New York and then later even became his teacher and encouraged him to become a lawyer.
Although she delegated most hosting duties to her daughter, Abigail made a significant contribution as first lady by establishing a library in the White House. To realize this dream, she solicited money from Congress to purchase the books, and then she selected most of the titles herself. The new library included hundreds of books in fiction, law, history, religion, and geography. The new library was also stocked with a piano and a harp, both of which Abigail played. Once the library was complete, Abigail used the new space to entertain family, friends, and authors. Among the writers she hosted were Charles Dickens and Washington Irving.
Upon her death, The New York Times described Abigail as a “lady of great strength of mind, dignified manners, genteel deportment, and of much energy of character.”