July 5, 1841, Washington County, New York


January 8, 1917


Chester Alan Arthur’s wife Ellen Lewis Herndon Arthur died just 20 months before Arthur unexpectedly became president following President Garfield’s death. Arthur’s teenage son went to boarding school, but his young daughter Ellen accompanied him to the White House. Because Ellen was too young to act as first lady, Arthur asked his 40-year old married sister, Mary Arthur McElroy, to not only help raise Ellen, but to also perform the social duties of first lady as she was able. Though Mary was herself the mother of four children, she spent several months each year of Arthur’s term (1881-1885) living at the White House to help her brother. In Mary’s absence, Arthur coordinated many social functions himself.


Arthur’s sister Mary Arthur McElroy commented about serving as acting first lady, “When I went to the White House, I was absolutely unfamiliar with the customs and formalities.”

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