Ida Saxton McKinley
June 8, 1847, in Canton, Ohio
May 26, 1907, in Canton, Ohio
Ida McKinley became first lady at age 49 and served throughout her husband William McKinley’s first term from 1897 and the beginning of his second term until he was assassinated in 1901.
The early years of Ida’s marriage to McKinley were plagued with death––the death of her grandfather, mother, and both her daughters. The losses proved too difficult for Ida, and her health declined rapidly. She became depressed and developed epilepsy, which made it nearly impossible for her to walk. Because epilepsy was not well understood in the late 19th century, McKinley chose to not disclose the exact nature of Ida’s illness to the public. So when Ida fainted during his inauguration dinner, no explanation was provided when she was taken home. Despite her condition, Ida did not delegate her responsibilities as first lady. She attempted to perform her social responsibilities to the best of her ability, and she often received visitors while propped up on pillows. Her husband was devoted to her and attempted to accommodate her illness as much as he could. For example, rather than sitting at opposite ends of the dinner table as all previous presidents and first ladies had done, McKinley chose to sit next to his wife so that he could easily assist her in the event that she experienced a seizure. In her quiet time Ida enjoyed crocheting, and finding the work within her ability, she fashioned thousands of bedroom slippers and then donated them to charity.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported on September 13, 1896, about Ida’s condition, “Mrs. McKinley is not adapted to days of handshaking nor to bows from car platforms. She is not only an invalid, but a woman of strongly domestic preferences . . . In her youth, Ida Saxton was the belle of Canton, O., and the mature graces of Ida McKinley amply bear out this earlier reputation.”
Following the assassination of her husband, Ida commented, “He is gone, and life to me is dark now.”