Caroline Lavinia Scott Harrison
October 1, 1832, in Oxford, Ohio
October 25, 1892, in Washington, D.C.
Caroline Harrison served as first lady from the beginning of her husband Benjamin Harrison’s term in 1889 until her unfortunate death in 1892. She was 56 years old when she became first lady. Following her death, the Harrison’s married daughter Mary Scott Harrison McKee handled the duties of first lady until Harrison left office in 1893.
Caroline’s years as first lady are remembered for her efforts to refurbish the aging White House. Under her watch, the first electric lights were installed, many upgrades were made to the existing plumbing, and old, worn-out floors were replaced. She also designed a set of china to be used during her husband’s term and saw to it that the china used by previous presidential families was removed from storage and proudly displayed. In addition, Caroline was a co-founder of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, as well as its first president. Caroline further distinguished herself by raising money for the Johns Hopkins University Medical School once they began to finally accept female students. Before Harrison’s term ended, however, Caroline contracted tuberculosis and died. Mary was already living at the White House with her family, and so she took up the responsibilities of first lady for the remainder of Harrison’s term.
Caroline was the first first lady to deliver a speech she had written herself. To the Daughters of the American Revolution, Caroline remarked, “We have within ourselves the only element of destruction; our foes are from within, not without. It has been said ‘that the men to make a country are made by self-denial;’ and it is not true that this Society, to live and grow and become what we would desire it to be, must be composed of self-denying women? Our hope is in unity and self-sacrifice. Since this Society has been organized, and so much thought and reading directed to the early struggle of this country, it has been made plain that much of its success was due to the character of the women of that era. The unselfish part they acted constantly commends itself to our admiration and example. If there is no abatement in this element of success in our ranks I feel sure their daughters can perpetuate a society worthy the cause and worthy of themselves.”