Ida Saxton McKinley

(Redirected from George Saxton)

Ida McKinley (née Saxton; June 8, 1847 – May 26, 1907) was the first lady of the United States from 1897 until 1901, as the wife of President William McKinley. McKinley also served as the First Lady of Ohio from 1892 to 1896 while her husband was Governor of Ohio.

Ida Saxton McKinley
Portrait, c. 1900
First Lady of the United States
In role
March 4, 1897 – September 14, 1901
PresidentWilliam McKinley
Preceded byFrances Cleveland
Succeeded byEdith Roosevelt
First Lady of Ohio
In role
January 11, 1892 – January 13, 1896
GovernorWilliam McKinley
Preceded byMaud Campbell
Succeeded byEllen Bushnell
Personal details
Ida Saxton

(1847-06-08)June 8, 1847
Canton, Ohio, U.S.
DiedMay 26, 1907(1907-05-26) (aged 59)
Canton, Ohio, U.S.
Resting placeMcKinley National Memorial
(m. 1871; died 1901)
EducationBrooke Hall Seminary

Born to a successful Ohio family, McKinley met her future husband and later married him during the early Reconstruction years. She never recovered from losing their daughters as children and remained in a fragile state of health for the rest of her life, including having seizures. During campaigns and while in office, her husband took great care to accommodate her needs, as they were a devoted couple. McKinley's ability to fulfill the role of First Lady was nevertheless limited. She was brought further grief by the death of her brother and the assassination of her husband. McKinley reportedly visited her husband's resting place daily until her own death.

Early life and marriage


Ida Saxton was born in Canton, Ohio, the eldest child of James Saxton, a prominent Canton banker, and Katherine "Kate" DeWalt. Saxton's family was one of Canton's first pioneer families and was quite wealthy. Through his work in banking, James Saxton became the second richest man in Canton. He and Kate DeWalt raised Ida and her younger siblings, Mary and George, in the grand Saxton House. Little is known about Saxton's early childhood.[1] Saxton developed close lifelong relationships to her mother and her grandmother, Christiana DeWalt. This likely influenced Saxton's later belief that close intergenerational family connections were a key part of a woman's life.[2] During the American Civil War, Saxton's mother led a volunteer effort to gather supplies and sew uniforms for the Union Army. When Saxton was on break from boarding school, she helped her mother with these tasks.[3]



Saxton's parents strongly believed in abolitionism and equal education for women.[4] James Saxton was on the board of trustees of Canton's local public schools and enlisted Betsy Mix Cowles, a prominent abolitionist and suffragette, as the principal of Canton Union School. Cowles became a close mentor to Saxton while she was a student there. From 1862 to 1863, Saxton studied at Delphi Academy in Clinton County, New York, as Cowles had moved to teach there. Delphi Academy was Saxton's first boarding school experience and she learned accounting and finance there. However, both Cowles and Saxton left Delphi Academy due to its Confederate sympathies. Saxton later studied at the Sanford School in Cleveland, Ohio from 1863 to 1865.[3][5] At all the schools she attended, Saxton excelled in her studies, and was called "an apt learner" and "gifted as a scholar".[6]

Saxton attended finishing school at Brooke Hall Female Seminary from 1865 to 1868. There, she was educated in singing, piano playing, linguistics, and needlepoint, skills that would prepare her to become the household hostess. When she had time off from school, Saxton often traveled to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to attend opera performances, classical music concerts, or theatrical plays. Saxton made many long-lasting friendships with fellow students and teachers at Brooke Hall Female Seminary, including teacher Harriet Gault.[3] Gault believed that women should be physically active, a progressive idea for the time, inspiring Saxton to take long walks each day to improve her physical fitness.[3][7]

Career and trip to Europe


After Saxton graduated from finishing school in 1868, her father insisted that she become an actress to help raise funds for the construction of a new Presbyterian church. That March, Saxton performed at Schaefer's Opera House, posing in tableaus which depicted various scenes from American and European history. Her performance was well-attended, as about twelve hundred people flocked to the opera house and named Saxton "best actress".[8] Saxton also worked as a clerk at Stark County Bank, which her father owned.[9] Saxton later worked as a cashier and managed the bank in her father's absence.[3][4] Her role in the bank was controversial and her male colleagues believed that she had received an "over-education". However, Saxton defended her position at the bank, believing her father wanted her to support herself without getting married.[9] Excluding the time she spent on Grand Tour, Saxton worked at Stark County Bank until she married William McKinley in 1871. When Saxton was not working or traveling, she taught Sunday school at the First Presbyterian Church, the same church her grandfather John Saxton helped establish.[3]

From June to December 1869, Ida Saxton and her younger sister Mary took a Grand Tour of Europe chaperoned by Janette Alexander, using the trip as an opportunity to finish their education.[4][3][10] The group travelled throughout Europe, visiting Ireland, Scotland, England, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, and Italy. Saxton visited many art museums and met sculptor Vinnie Ream, who later became famous for her statue of Abraham Lincoln in Paris.[11][3] Saxton also met a limbless painter named Charles Felir in Amsterdam who painted with his mouth.[12] According to the National First Ladies' Library, "[The artist's] example seems to have inspired her to later insist on living a full public life despite disabilities she developed [later in life]."[3] When the group was in Italy, Alexander arranged for Ida and Mary to meet Pope Pius IX. Although Saxton disliked Roman Catholicism because she thought that "the form and ceremony was too much", she "bowed before [the Pope] and kissed his hand" because she thought he was "such a nice old man".[12] Ida and Mary continued the habit of hiking daily to maintain physical health, hiking throughout the Swiss Alps.[7][4] Saxton's travels also influenced her social outlook and made her aware of her privileged position, as she witnessed working-class women perform physical labor for little pay. One such example was when she travelled to Belgium and saw lace workers create lace in poor conditions. Saxton decided to purchase a lot of their work to support the lace workers and spent her entire life developing a collection of Belgian lace.[4][3]

Marriage and family


While Saxton was working at Stark County Bank, she met William McKinley for the first time in 1868 at a picnic at Meyers Lake, Ohio, about two miles from Canton.[3] McKinley was visiting his sister Anna when he developed an acquaintance with Saxton.[13] At this time, Saxton was engaged to Confederate Army veteran John Wright. However, John Wright suddenly died of brain inflammation (most likely meningitis) while Ida was in Europe.[11][3] After her Grand Tour, Ida was approached by many suitors, but she turned down their offers of marriage.[14]

In 1870, Saxton began seriously courting McKinley after he introduced her to Horace Greeley at a lecture. At this time, Saxton was courting other men but was impressed by his moral character.[3] The two often conversed while performing bank transactions, at friends' homes, or while traveling to teach Sunday school at Saxton's Presbyterian church and McKinley's Methodist church.[15] McKinley also represented the Saxton family in court, winning claims for them. Although Saxton's father encouraged her to court McKinley, Saxton asserted that she was not influenced by her father to accept McKinley's marriage proposal.[3] On January 25, 1871, Ida Saxton, aged 23, married William McKinley, aged 27, at the newly built First Presbyterian Church in Canton in a joint Methodist-Presbyterian service.[3] The service was attended by one thousand people, as Ida was considered the belle of Canton.[15] Following the wedding, performed by the Reverend E. Buckingham and the Reverend Dr. Endsley, the couple attended a reception at the home of the bride's parents and then secretly travelled to New York for their honeymoon.[16]

Children and development of illness

The portrait of Katie that hung on the wall of the McKinley house.

After their honeymoon, William and Ida McKinley returned to Canton and lived in St. Cloud Hotel for a time until Ida's father bought them a small house on North Market and Elizabeth Street.[17] The first two years of marriage were reportedly happy and Ida affectionately called William "major" in public and "dearest" in private. The McKinleys' first child Katie was born on Christmas Day 1871, while William was still a lawyer in Canton.[14] She was adored by her parents, becoming the center of the household.[18] Katie was smothered with love by Ida, getting both her photograph taken and an oil painting done.[19] After Katie's birth, Ida returned to her busy social life, making numerous public appearances with William. Ida also joined William's Methodist church and Katie was baptized.[20]

McKinley became pregnant again shortly thereafter. During this time, her mother began developing cancer and died on March 20, about two weeks before McKinley gave birth.[21] At her mother's burial, McKinley fell while stepping into or out of a carriage, striking her head. This likely caused her to develop epilepsy and phlebitis.[3][22] In the spring of 1873, McKinley gave birth to a sickly infant also named Ida following a very difficult delivery, and the baby died four months later of cholera on August 20.[23][24][21] Historian Carl Sferrazza Anthony believes because Ida became immunocompromised during her second pregnancy, she gave birth to a sickly daughter.[21]

McKinley was grief-stricken, and she believed that God punished her by killing her daughter.[18][25] She was deeply affected by this and desperately feared the loss of her firstborn child.[25] Among the many ailments she developed, her walking ability was impaired and she lost strength in her dominant hand.[3][26] Dr. Whitney, her father's physician, cared for McKinley's maladies and ordered complete rest.[27] Unable to care for Katie and be separated from her father, the McKinleys moved into the Saxton House for six months and Ida's sister Mary took care of Katie.[28] McKinley spent hours a day in a darkened room with Katie in her arms, kissing her and weeping. She would not let Katie leave her sight unless William took her for a drive.[29] William's brother, Abner, once found Katie swinging on a gate of the garden of her house and invited her to go for a walk with him. The child replied that "if [she] would go out of the yard, God would punish [her] mama some more."[18] In June 1875, Katie became ill and died of heart disease[a] on June 25.[30]

After Katie died, McKinley was plunged into a state of deep depression and she prayed for her own death. She ate very little food and her seizures worsened. William did everything in his power to retain her "interest in existence", offering to sacrifice his political ambitions for her well-being.[31] Ida clung tightly to William, commissioning a painting of him and hanging it on the wall across from her bed.[32] Ida stopped going to church, believing that God had abandoned her.[31] In the early 1890s, she started believing in reincarnation and became interested in Eastern religions after attending a lecture on the subject, hoping that she would meet her daughters again.[3][22] When she saw little girls, she stared intently at them, hoping one of her children had come back. Ida made every effort to preserve her children's memory, hanging the picture of Katie on her wall as well as preserving her clothes and rocking chair.[22]



Possessed of a fragile, nervous temperament due to the loss of her mother and two young daughters within a short span of time, Mrs. McKinley broke down. She developed epilepsy and became totally dependent on her husband. Her seizures at times occurred in public; she had a seizure at McKinley's inaugural ball as Governor of Ohio. Although she battled her illness for the rest of her life, she kept busy with her hobby, crocheting slippers, making gifts of thousands of pairs to friends, acquaintances and charities, which would auction pairs for large sums.[33] For her condition, she often took barbiturates, laudanum, and other common sedatives of the time.[34]

First Lady of the United States

Ida McKinley in an official photograph as First Lady

President McKinley took great care to accommodate her condition. In a break with tradition, he insisted that his wife be seated next to him at state dinners rather than at the other end of the table. At receiving lines, she alone remained seated. Many of the social chores normally assumed by the First Lady fell to Mrs. Jennie Tuttle Hobart, wife of Vice President Garret Hobart. Guests noted that whenever Mrs. McKinley was about to undergo a seizure, the President would gently place a napkin or handkerchief over her face to conceal her contorted features. When it passed, he would remove it and resume whatever he was doing as if nothing had happened.[34]

Ida Saxton McKinley, official White House portrait

The First Lady often traveled with the President. McKinley traveled to California with the President in May 1901, but became so ill in San Francisco[35] that the planned tour of the Northwest was cancelled.[36] She also accompanied the President on his trip to Buffalo, New York in September of that year when he was assassinated, but was not present at the shooting. On September 6, 1901, President McKinley was shot in the stomach by a 28-year-old anarchist named Leon Czolgosz. Doctors were unable to locate the bullet. The President's wound eventually became infected with gangrene.[37][38] He died eight days after the shooting, aged 58.[39]

Later life and death

The tomb of William and Ida McKinley

With the assassination of her husband by Leon Czolgosz in Buffalo, New York in September 1901, Mrs. McKinley lost much of her will to live. Although she bore up well in the days between the shooting and the president's death, she could not bring herself to attend his funeral. Her health eroded as she withdrew to the safety of her home and memories in Canton. She was cared for by her younger sister. The President was interred at the Werts Receiving Vault at West Lawn Cemetery until his memorial was built. Ida visited daily until her own death.[40] She survived the president by less than six years, dying on May 26, 1907, aged 59.[41] She was buried next to him and their two deceased daughters in Canton's McKinley Memorial Mausoleum.[42]

Murder of brother George Saxton


Three years before the assassination of her husband, Ida McKinley's only brother, George DeWalt Saxton (1850–1898), was murdered. Dressmaker Mrs. Anna "Annie" E. Ehrhart George was accused of the murder, then tried 2–24 April 1899.

Following nine years of wooing Mrs. George, and six more years indulging in their affair, Saxton had then requested and financed his lover's divorce from her husband, Sample C. George—who had, in 1892, sued Saxton in the Supreme Court for alienation of affections, settling for $1,850 plus legal costs (after quietly remarrying Lucy Graham)[43]—but George Saxton later spurned his conquest. Failing to successfully sue Saxton for breach of promise, the former Mrs. George was accused of fatally shooting him as he approached the home of another woman—an act she had repeatedly threatened.

Neither the Saxtons nor the McKinley family attended the trial. The media championed her case; Mrs. George claimed self-defense and was acquitted of first-degree murder by a jury. No one else was ever charged with the crime.[44][45] Mrs. George later married Dr. Arthur Cornelius Ridout, reputedly an alcoholic and a gambler, whose death by hanging from a chandelier was ruled a suicide.[46][47]


The Saxton House, former home of Ida Saxton McKinley, now part of the First Ladies National Historic Site.

McKinley's childhood home, the Saxton House, has been preserved on Market Avenue in Canton. In addition to growing up in the house, she and her husband also lived there from 1878 to 1891, the period during which the future President McKinley served as one of Ohio's Congressional Representatives. The house was restored to its Victorian splendor and became part of the First Ladies National Historic Site at its dedication in 1998.[48]


  1. ^ While "heart disease" was listed as the official cause of Katie's death, sources disagree on the actual cause of death, as some argue she died of typhoid or scarlet fever[30][3]


  1. ^ Watson, p. 167.
  2. ^ Anthony 2013, p. 3.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s "First Lady Biography: Ida McKinley". National First Ladies' Library. Archived from the original on December 27, 2023. Retrieved May 31, 2024.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Ida McKinley: Perseverance through Hardship". National Park Service. November 10, 2023. Retrieved January 17, 2024.
  5. ^ Swain, p. 201; Watson, p. 169.
  6. ^ Anthony 2013, p. 5.
  7. ^ a b Swain, p. 202.
  8. ^ Watson, pp. 169–170; Gould, p. 184; Anthony 2013, p. 10.
  9. ^ a b Russo, p. 94.
  10. ^ Gould, p. 184.
  11. ^ a b Watson, p. 169.
  12. ^ a b Anthony 2013, p. 13.
  13. ^ McClure & Morris 1901, p. 111.
  14. ^ a b Gould, p. 185.
  15. ^ a b Watson, p. 170.
  16. ^ Morgan, p. 37; Leech, p. 16.
  17. ^ Schneider, p. 156; Anthony 2013, p. 23.
  18. ^ a b c Edge 2007, p. 33.
  19. ^ Gould, p. 186.
  20. ^ Anthony 2013, p. 24.
  21. ^ a b c Anthony 2013, p. 25.
  22. ^ a b c Swain, p. 203.
  23. ^ Edge 2007, p. 33; Watson, p. 171.
  24. ^ Quinn-Musgrove & Kanter 1995, p. 147.
  25. ^ a b Quinn-Musgrove & Kanter 1995, p. 148.
  26. ^ DeToledo, John C.; et al. (March 2000). "The epilepsy of First Lady Ida Saxton McKinley". Southern Medical Journal. Vol. 93, no. 3. pp. 267–271. doi:10.1097/00007611-200093030-00004. Retrieved January 10, 2024 – via EBSCOhost.
  27. ^ Anthony 2013, p. 27.
  28. ^ Anthony 2013, p. 28.
  29. ^ Anthony 2013, p. 30.
  30. ^ a b Gould, p. 186; Anthony 2013, p. 30.
  31. ^ a b Anthony 2013, pp. 30–31.
  32. ^ Gould, p. 186; Schneider, p. 157.
  33. ^ Bell Ringer: Ida McKinley Slippers (Videotape). C-SPAN. December 26, 2023. Event occurs at 1:51:26. Retrieved January 27, 2024.
  34. ^ a b Cook, Blanche Wiesen (1999). Eleanor Roosevelt, Vol. 2: 1933–1938. Viking. p. 17. ISBN 067080486X. Retrieved 26 November 2012.
  35. ^ "McKinley's Personal Secretary Thanks Mayor of San Francisco for Care First Lady and President Received". SMF Primary Source Documents. Shapell Manuscript Foundation. Archived from the original on 2014-12-27. Retrieved 2013-05-23.
  36. ^ "Mrs. McKinley in a Critical Condition". The New York Times. May 16, 1901. Retrieved 19 January 2010.
  37. ^ Leech, p. 600.
  38. ^ Miller, pp. 318–319.
  39. ^ Miller, pp. 321.
  40. ^ Kenney, pp. 98.
  41. ^ "Mrs. McKinley Rests Beside Her Husband : Her Last Words: "O! God, Why Should I Longer Wait? Let Me Lie Beside Him," Have Been Answered—Funeral Services Simple and Impressive, Many Distinguished Persons Present". The Sacramento Union. Vol. 113, no. 97. Sacramento, California. 30 May 1907. p. 1. Archived from the original on 6 May 2021. Retrieved 15 August 2020. [President Roosevelt said] President McKinley served his country as an American citizen should serve his country in war and in peace. But it was in his own home, perhaps, that in devotion to the loving woman we have just buried he gave the best example to us all.
  42. ^ Allida Black. "Ida Saxton McKinley". The White House. Retrieved December 26, 2023.
  43. ^ Turzillo, Jane Ann (2011). Wicked Women of Northeast Ohio. Arcadia Publishing. p. 65. ISBN 978-1609490263. Retrieved 16 July 2018.
  44. ^ Traxel, David (1998). 1898: The birth of the American Century. New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. p. 251. ISBN 0-679-77671-0. Retrieved 16 July 2018.
  45. ^ Shaffer, Dale E. (27 December 1994). "Playboy's Murder Stuns Ohioans" (PDF). Yesteryears; the Salem News (Insert). 4 (15). Retrieved 16 July 2018.
  46. ^ "People". The National Tribune. Library of congress. 26 July 1906. Retrieved 18 July 2018.
  47. ^ "Husband of Mrs. George Takes Life". No. morning edition. Canton Morning News. 23 January 1906. Retrieved 18 July 2018.
  48. ^ "Saxton-McKinley House". National Park Service. April 16, 2021. Retrieved December 26, 2023.


Honorary titles
Preceded by First Lady of Ohio
Succeeded by
Preceded by First Lady of the United States
Succeeded by