Anna Harrison

Anna Tuthill Harrison (née Symmes; July 25, 1775 – February 25, 1864) was the wife of President William Henry Harrison, mother of John Scott Harrison, and paternal grandmother of President Benjamin Harrison. She was first lady of the United States during her husband's one-month term in 1841, though never entered the White House. At age 65 at the start of her husband's presidential term, Harrison was the oldest woman ever to assume the role of first lady, a record held until Jill Biden became first lady at age 69 in 2021. She also has the distinction of holding the title for the shortest length of time, and the first first lady to be widowed while holding the title. Harrison was the last first lady to have been born in British America.

Anna Harrison
Anna Symmes Harrison.jpg
First Lady of the United States
In role
March 4, 1841 – April 4, 1841
Serving with Jane Irwin Harrison (acting)
PresidentWilliam Henry Harrison
Preceded byAngelica Singleton Van Buren (Acting)
Succeeded byLetitia Christian Tyler
Personal details
Anna Tuthill Symmes

(1775-07-25)July 25, 1775
Morristown, New Jersey, British America
DiedFebruary 25, 1864(1864-02-25) (aged 88)
North Bend, Ohio, U.S.
Resting placeHarrison Tomb State Memorial
North Bend, Ohio, U.S.
(m. 1795; died 1841)
Children10, including John Scott and Carter Bassett
Parent(s)John Cleves Symmes
Anna Tuthill

Early life and marriageEdit

Anna Tuthill Symmes was born on July 25, 1775, in Morristown, New Jersey, to Judge John Cleves Symmes and Anna Tuthill.[1] Her father was a Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court and later became a prominent landowner in southwestern Ohio. When her mother died in 1776 her father disguised himself as a British soldier to carry Anna on horseback through the British lines to her grandparents on Long Island, who cared for her during the war. Her father was also deputy to the Provincial Congress of New Jersey (1775-1776), the Chairman of the Sussex County Committee of Safety during the Revolution, and a New Jersey delegate to the Continental Congress (1785-1786).

She grew up on Long Island, receiving an unusually broad education for a woman of the times. She attended Clinton Academy in East Hampton on Long Island, and the private school of Isabella Graham in New York City.

In 1794, Anna went with her father and new stepmother, Susannah Livingston, daughter of the Governor of New Jersey William Livingston, into the Ohio wilderness, where they settled at North Bend, Ohio. While visiting relatives in Lexington, Kentucky, in the spring of 1795, she met Lieutenant William Henry Harrison, in town on military business. Harrison was stationed at nearby Fort Washington. Anna's father thoroughly disapproved of Harrison, largely because he wanted to spare his daughter the hardships of army camp life. Despite his decree that the two stop seeing each other, the courtship flourished behind his back.

While her father was away on business in Cincinnati, the couple eloped and married on November 22, 1795, at the home of Dr. Stephen Wood, treasurer of the Northwest Territory, at North Bend. The couple honeymooned at Fort Washington, as Harrison was still on duty. Two weeks later, at a farewell dinner for General "Mad" Anthony Wayne, Symmes confronted his new son-in-law for the first time since their wedding. Addressing Harrison sternly, Symmes demanded to know how he intended to support a family with Anna. Harrison responded, "by my sword, and my own right arm, sir."[2] Not until his son-in-law had achieved fame on the battlefield did Symmes come to accept him.

The couple had 10 children and many grandchildren together. Most of their children died young; one in infancy, and seven in their 20s or 30s. Only two lived beyond age 35, and only one beyond 50. Nine of their 10 children preceded her in death, and six of the 10 preceded him:

Name Birth Death Age at death Married to Children
Elizabeth Bassett Harrison 29 September 1796 27 September 1846 49 John Cleves Short 1
John Cleves Symmes Harrison 28 October 1798 30 October 1830 32 Clarissa Pike 6
Lucy Singleton Harrison 5 September 1800 7 April 1826 25 David K. Este 4
William Henry Harrison Jr. 3 September 1802 6 February 1838 35 Jane Irwin Harrison 2
John Scott Harrison 4 October 1804 25 May 1878 73 Lucretia Knapp Johnson 3
Elizabeth Ramsey Irwin 10 children (2nd child, Benjamin, became 23rd US president)
Benjamin Harrison 5 May 1806 9 June 1840 34 Louisa Smith Bonner 3
Mary Raney 2
Mary Symmes Harrison 28 January 1809 16 November 1842 33 John Henry Fitzhugh Thornton 1 child
Carter Bassett Harrison 26 October 1811 12 August 1839 27 Mary Anne Sutherland 1
Anna Tuthill Harrison 28 October 1813 5 July 1845 31 William Henry Harrison Taylor 7
James Findlay Harrison 15 May 1814 6 April 1817 2 Did not marry; died in infancy of unknown causes None

Husband's rise to fameEdit

Grouseland, the Harrison home in Vincennes

Harrison won fame as an Indian fighter and hero of the War of 1812, but he spent much of his life in a civilian career. His service in Congress as territorial delegate from Ohio gave Anna and their children a chance to visit his family at Berkeley, their plantation on the James River. Her third child was born on that trip, at Richmond in September 1800. Harrison's appointment as governor of Indiana Territory took them even farther into the wilderness; he built a handsome house at Vincennes, Indiana, that blended fortress and plantation mansion.

Facing war in 1812, the family moved to the farm at North Bend. There, upon hearing news of her husband's landslide electoral victory in 1840, home-loving Anna said simply: "I wish that my husband's friends had left him where he is, happy and contented in retirement."

First Lady of the United StatesEdit

External video
  America's First Ladies, Anna Harrison, Letitia Tyler & Julia Tyler, 2013, C-SPAN[3]

When William was inaugurated in 1841, Anna was detained by illness at their home in North Bend. She decided not to accompany him to Washington. President-elect Harrison asked his daughter-in-law Jane Irwin Harrison, widow of his namesake son, to accompany him and act as hostess until Anna's proposed arrival in May. Half a dozen other relatives happily went with them. On April 4, exactly one month after his inauguration, President Harrison died of pneumonia. He was 68 years old. Anna was packing for the move to the White House when she learned of William's death in Washington, so she never made the journey.

Later life and deathEdit

Following William's death, she lived with her son John Scott in North Bend and helped raise his children, including eight-year-old Benjamin who later became President of the United States. In June 1841, President John Tyler signed into law the first pension for a president's widow, a grant of $25,000 for Mrs. Harrison.

Anna Harrison died on February 25, 1864, at age 88, and was buried at the William Henry Harrison Tomb State Memorial in North Bend. Her funeral sermon was preached by Horace Bushnell.[4]


  1. ^ "Anna Harrison". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved June 2, 2019.
  2. ^ Bob Dole, Great Presidential Wit, 2001, page 222
  3. ^ "America's First Ladies, Anna Harrison, Letitia Tyler & Julia Tyler". C-SPAN. 2013. Retrieved April 24, 2013.
  4. ^ Wilson, J. G.; Fiske, J., eds. (1892). "Harrison, Benjamin" . Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton.

External linksEdit

Honorary titles
Preceded by First Lady of the United States
Served alongside: Jane Harrison (acting)
Succeeded by