Harrison, Caroline Scott (1832–1892)
Harrison, Caroline Scott (1832–1892)
American first lady (1889–1892) who was the wife of the 23rd U.S. president, Benjamin Harrison. Name variations: Carrie. Born Caroline Lavinia Scott on October 10, 1832, in Oxford, Ohio; died on October 25, 1892, in Washington, D.C.; third daughter and third of five children of Mary Potts (Neal) Scott and John Witherspoon Scott (a Presbyterian minister, founder and president of Oxford Seminary, professor at Miami University in Ohio); attended Oxford Seminary; married Benjamin Harrison, on October 20, 1853, in New York, New York; children: Russell Harrison (1854–1936, was a member of the Indiana House and Senate); Mary Scott Harrison (1858–1930, later Mrs J. Robert McKee); another daughter died at birth (1861).
Caroline ("Carrie") Scott first captured Benjamin Harrison's attention when she was a young student at Oxford Female Institute, a school her father had founded in Oxford, Ohio. Benjamin transferred his law studies to nearby Miami University so he could be near his "charming and loveable" Carrie. They were married in 1853, while Benjamin was still a student, and made their first home in North Bend. In March 1854, they moved to Indianapolis, living in a boarding house while Benjamin eked out
a living as a court crier. A move to their first small house was occasioned by the birth of a son that same year. Daughter Mary was born in 1858. Despite Caroline's frugal housekeeping, Benjamin often had to borrow money from a friend just to meet household expenses. About the time his law firm was beginning to show a profit, the Civil War intruded.
While Benjamin distinguished himself in the military, Caroline stayed in Indianapolis, raising their two children alone. An accomplished watercolor artist who painted china patterns, she busied herself with classes in china painting at the First Presbyterian Church. She taught Sunday school and joined the missionary society. Her outgoing charm and creative talent won her many friends and would later become a great asset to her husband's career.
Returning from the war a brigadier general, Benjamin set about once again to build a law practice from the ground up. He launched his political career with an unsuccessful run for governor on the Republican ticket but was elected to the Senate in 1881. Caroline became one of Washington's most popular hostesses, possessing just enough down-home charm to balance her husband's somewhat cold and forbidding personality. Although Caroline was supportive of her husband's career in the Senate, she objected to his run for the presidency, fearing that he would die in office like his grandfather William Henry Harrison. Nonetheless, Benjamin accepted a nomination and won the election of 1889.
When Benjamin took office, a huge brood followed him into the White House. In addition to the children and their families, Caroline's father and widowed niece lived with them. With only five bedrooms and one bath in the living quarters, Caroline faced a logistical challenge. In an effort to "see the family of the President provided for properly," she submitted several different plans to Congress for expansion of the executive mansion, but they were all turned down. Unthwarted, she undertook instead an extensive top to bottom renovation. Armed with a meager budget, she supervised all the work, even joining the bucket brigade from time to time. She established order in the kitchen and sorted and identified the variety of china from past administrations, providing the basis for the White House china collection. She had a conservatory built so that plants from the White House—especially her beloved orchids—could be used for receptions. She also began the tradition of setting up a Christmas tree in the Oval Room, where it was decorated by family and staff alike.
Caroline lent her progressive views and support to a number of local charities. She helped raise funds for the Johns Hopkins University medical school, on condition that they admit women. She served as the first president general of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, founded in 1890, when the Sons of the American Revolution would not allow women to join.
Caroline Harrison became ill during the last year of her husband's term, probably with tuberculosis. She died in the White House in October 1892, at age 60. After her death, Benjamin had no desire to run for reelection. Three years later, he married his wife's niece, Mary Scott Dimmick (Harrison) . His children, all older than the bride, were shocked by the union. He died in 1901, leaving his second wife with a young daughter, Elizabeth Harrison (1897–1955), who later established the Benjamin Harrison Memorial Home in Indianapolis, Indiana.
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McConnell, Jane and Burt. Our First Ladies: From Martha Washington to Lady Bird Johnson. NY: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1964.
Melick, Arden David. Wives of the Presidents. Maple-wood, NJ: Hammond, 1977.
Paletta, LuAnn. The World Almanac of First Ladies. NY: World Almanac, 1990.
Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts