First Lady Abigail Fillmore
Abigail Powers Fillmore was born on March 13, 1798, to a Baptist clergyman who died when Abigail was two years old. He left little to his family, but one thing he did leave would change even the White House.
Abigail was brought up in New Hope, New York in the Finger Lakes region. She was a self-educated and a self-made, worldly woman. She knew what she wanted and how to get it. She did not have the riches or the fancy clothing to attract a man fit to be President, but she had the know-how.
It was far too soon for her to fight for women’s rights, but she fought for the man she loved. She would remain despite her excellent mind, the woman behind the man, which in those days meant just that.
Abigail met Millard Fillmore who was the son of a dirt farmer and a pupil of hers; they fell in love. She noticed immediately he was eager to learn, and Abigail was one who read every book she could get her hands on. Her fortune from her father was a house filled with books.
She spent every day and night of her growing up years – reading. She became a school teacher and her 18-year-old student, Millard Fillmore, would be her prize.
Both Abigail and Millard enjoyed the world of literature, geography and history – he was an excellent student and went on to law school although he never forgot Abigail and her way of teaching. While in law school he too began to teach on the side.
Abigail and Millard were destined to be married, engaged in 1819 but never married until the year 1826. Even back then no one seemed perfect for Abigail and her family thought Millard came from a poor family, which made Millard study harder, earn more degrees, and teach. Four years he had to prove to Abigail’s family his self-worth. Throughout the seven-year engagement the lovebirds saw the very little of each other – until one day he arrived at Abigail’s home and told his true love, we will marry now despite your families criticism. They finally married on February 5, 1826.
Abigail continued to teach until the birth of their son in 1828. There was more to being a mother and more to being a wife in Abigail’s eyes. Her mind was set that Millard would enter the political arena. She saw to it that her husband entered, and would win a seat in the state legislature in Albany, New York, knowing soon enough that she missed him and got him back by 1830. By 1832, her husband was elected to the United States Congress but this time she would not remain alone or in the Finger Lakes of New York State.
Now Abigail and Millard had their second child and moved to Buffalo New York. Abigail saw it fit to live in Washington DC and leave the children behind. She made a point of telling others she was tired of being separated from her husband. Once again Millard was reelected to Congress in 1836. The separation between their children and parents would last many years.
Normal mode. Now it was time for Abigail to become what was known as a Washington wife. She did what she felt she knew best; visiting galleries, read off on amendments of important political issues, which indeed he listened to, and it is known fact he rarely made a decision without her input. Abigail rarely did what other women in Washington were known for, such as dressing to the hilt for concerts or big dances she was not known for the glitter or the glamour of the city. One would say Abigail had to things that she loved the most her husband and her intellectual pursuits. How she left her two children behind for six years with rarely a visit one doesn’t know.
Abigail had to be on the top of her list of things to do when her husband was nominated as vice president with Zachary Taylor. He would win and become the vice president of the United States. Although the term would be short, and both he and Abigail would be shocked when Taylor told the people, “I am going to die.” Zachary Taylor regretted to inform his people, and he said what he regretted the most was leaving his friends. It was reported that he turned his head took a glimpse at his wife and died. This took place on July 6, 1850.
One must think what travels through the mind of a new first lady especially one named Abigail Powers Fillmore. One thing that Abigail thought about was moving the family’s library into the White House, she would change first of all the oval room on the second-floor living area into a library, and the library consisted of 4000 books. Abigail believed a house without books is not a house. The library previously was known as the ladies quarters. This wasn’t the only thing that changed Abigail was given $2000 to add more books to the collection inside the White House this under the president’s authority. Naturally her husband trusted her, and she chose from a wide range of subjects; Shakespeare, travel, biographies, law, modern novels, and some samples on religion.
Looking back at Abigail’s time in the White House she had the pleasure of not only designing and filling a library she also designed and began what was known as the garden. They chose the perfect designer, and all the plans were made; once more what’s a house without a garden.
Abigail was surprised when she dictated a salary for the architect, and it was accepted, someone they knew from New York and wrote a simple letter to the present Gardner of goodbye. Unfortunately, they waited the arrival of the new architect/Gardner and received the news that he had died on his way to Washington when he was burned on the Hudson River when this steamer the Henry Clay killed him and all of his drawings. Hence, there was never a garden during the administration of Fillmore.
The Fillmore’s in the White House lived quietly in the living quarters on the second with their two children and at times visited by their parents. One would say that Abigail was quite the motherly looking woman, and now with her children by her side. Word had it that she was not feeling too well by the time they entered the White House being a little older than her husband, but she had her books and her children back after those long years Millard served in Congress.
People say they were private and needed few servants having children old enough to do their own chores, and some were in the living quarters was no harm to them. Eventually even his son aged 22, became his so-called private secretary while he served as president and his daughter at 18, was a helping hand to her mother.
Both Millard and Abigail were in mourning when they entered the White House but quickly removed all the black banners and wrapped chandeliers and invited their friends in for a drink, which by the way was not permitted during the Taylor administration. Although Millard Fillmore had quite a short term in the White House 237 days; he lost his bid for the nomination in 1852.
When the time came, and they had to leave the White House, Millard and Abigail left in the green coach with a smile on their face with both children at their side. They attended all the inaugural events for the next president, and Millard said to the country, “It’s time for fun!” On March 3 the Fillmore’s would be residing at the Willard in Washington DC. They continued to take part in social events, and their children grew old enough to attend many themselves. Their plans to remain in Washington DC and one day return to Buffalo New York.
On March 30 just 27 days after the inauguration of the new president, Abigail died in her sleep at the Willard a great shock to her husband and children. Something they never imagined would be Abigail leaving the city of Washington DC in a casket on a train with her husband whom she loved and cherished by her side going home to Buffalo New York.
For the women of her time, Abigail Powers Fillmore had to inspire other women if she only believed. Others believed in her but when she was asked by a prominent Washington group to speak, in 1840, at the dedication of a new building, she refused this opportunity – believing herself, it was no place for a woman.
Abigail died on March 30, 1853. She will be remembered for the official White House library.