First Ladies: Eliza McCardle Johnson

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Eliza McCardle Johnson was the wife of President Andrew Johnson. While she supported his political career, she often stayed in their Tennessee home overseeing the

Eliza Johnson

land and dealing with the effects of tuberculosis.

Eliza McCardle was born on October 4, 1810 as the only child of John and Sarah Phillips McCardle. Her father died in 1826, the same year she would meet her future husband.

She is said to be chatting with classmates at Rhea Academy “when she spotted Andrew Johnson and his family pull into town with all their belongings. They instantly took a liking to each other.”

Eliza and Andrew were married on May 17, 1827. He was eighteen and she was sixteen.

She is described as ” rather tall and had hazel eyes, brown hair and a good figure”. She tutored her husband while he worked in his tailor shop. She also encouraged him to join the local debating society, which helped him become a skillful orator.

The couple had five children together. Martha was born in 1828, Charles in 1830, Mary in 1832, Robert in 1834, and Andrew Jr. in 1852.

Eliza is credited with how well she managed the family finances. While her husband went to Nashville, TN to serve in the state legislature and later on to Washington, D.C., she stayed in Greenville. However, she is said to travel locally to rallies and debates with her husband.

According to FirstLadies.org, ” She was also reported to regularly read local, state and national newspapers in the evenings and taking an active role in deepening the education of both her sons and daughters beyond what they learned through formal education.”

Eliza Johnson

When Andrew Johnson moved to national politics and took up residence in Washington, Eliza would visit her husband there. However, it is unknown how ofter or for how long. Her oldest daughter, Martha, joined him and attended a girl’s school in the area.

In 1852, she had the couple’s last child. Sometime around this time she also seems to have contracted tuberculosis which left her in a weakened state.

Eliza did spend an extended period of time in Washington with her husband from 1860-1861.

In April 1862, she was given notice to vacate her Tennessee home for the Confederate Army. She repealed due to her health, but five months later wrote she was well enough to travel and relocated to Nashville.

The Johnson family was often taunted and mistreated in Tennessee due to their Union sympathies.

In April 1863, their son Charles was thrown from a horse and instantly killed. Eliza is said to never have recovered from his death. Her other son, Robert, had such an issue with alcohol that he was forced to resign from the Army. In December 1864, their daughter, Mary, became a widow.

After her husband became President in April 1865 her daughter wrote to her father that, “Poor mother, she is almost deranged fearing that you will be assassinated.

Eliza and the Johnson family arrived at the White House on August 6, 1865.

Eliza Johnson

Eliza limited her public role as First Lady to formal dinners and visiting heads of state. Her oldest daughter, Martha Patterson, took on the other duties of White House hostess.

Eliza Johnson greatly enjoyed spending time with her children and grandchildren. She made many friendships with wives in the area and continued her longtime friendship with Sarah Knox Polk.

After her husband left the White House in 1869, the family returned to their Greeneville, Tennessee home. However, seven weeks later their son, Robert, committed suicide.

President Johnson died at the home of their daughter in 1875. Eliza was too weak to attend.

Eliza Johnson died at her Greeneville, Tennessee home on January 15, 1876. She was 65 years old and died five and a half months after her husband.

 

Tomorrow: Her daughter who served in her sted