Johnson, Eliza McCardle (1810–1876)

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Johnson, Eliza McCardle (1810–1876)

First lady of the U.S. from 1865 to 1869, who taught her husband to read and write and endured separation and hardship to promote his political career. Born on October 4, 1810, in Leesburg, Kentucky; died on January 15, 1876, in Greeneville, Tennessee; only daughter of John McCardle also seen as McArdle or McCardell (a shoemaker and innkeeper) and Sarah (Phillips) McCardle;married Andrew Johnson (1808–1875, 17th president of the U.S., 1865–69), on May 17, 1827, in Greene County, Tennessee; children: Martha Johnson Patterson (1828–1901); Mary Johnson Stover (1832–1883); Robert Johnson (1834–1869); Charles Johnson (1830–1863); Andrew Johnson, Jr., called Frank (1852–1879).

Eliza McCardle Johnson was born in Lees-burg, Kentucky, in 1810 and grew up in poverty, working alongside her widowed mother to earn enough money for a basic education. She married Andrew Johnson when she was only 17 and set out to teach her illiterate young husband how to read and write in the back room of his small tailor shop in Greeneville, Tennessee. A frugal housewife, Eliza carefully managed her husband's earnings until there was enough for him to begin his political climb, which progressed from local to state legislature, Congress, and eventually the vice presidency.

Johnson's rise to success did not always include Eliza, who during the early years stayed behind with five children and continuing financial woes. Once while Andrew was serving as a border state senator during the Civil War, secessionist sympathizers in Greeneville threw her out of her home with the claim that her husband was a traitor. She and the children wandered around for a month until they were finally reunited with Johnson. The ordeal ruined her health.

By the time Johnson was sworn in as president after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Eliza was too ill with tuberculosis to function as first lady. She lived in constant fear that her husband, who was considered by many to be a drunkard, and by a few to be a fellow conspirator in Lincoln's assassination, would also be assassinated. In the White House, she took up residency on the second floor, surrounded by her large family, including five grandchildren. Eliza appeared at only two official functions during her tenure; a reception for Queen Emma of Hawaii (then called the Sandwich Islands), and one for children honoring her husband's 60th birthday. Most social duties were carried out by her daughters, Martha Johnson Patterson and Mary Johnson Stover. Always feeling inferior about her humble beginnings, Eliza excused herself by explaining, "We are plain people from the mountains of Tennessee, brought here through a national calamity. We trust too much will not be expected of us."

When Johnson's liberal policies for reconstruction in the South, and the subsequent dismissal of Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, resulted in impeachment, Eliza insisted that the White House routine go on as usual. She kept abreast of daily trial proceedings from her upstairs rooms and remained optimistic throughout the ordeal. When her husband won acquittal—by only one vote—she exclaimed, "I knew it."

Patterson, Martha Johnson (1828–1901)

White House hostess. Born Martha Johnson in 1828; died in 1901; daughter of Eliza McCardle Johnson (1810–1876) and Andrew Johnson (1808–1875, 17th president of the U.S., 1865–69); sister of Mary Johnson Stover (1832–1883); married David Trotter Patterson (1818–1891, a judge of the circuit court of Tennessee and later U.S. senator), in 1885; children: two.

The eldest of the five Johnson children, Martha Johnson Patterson acted as White House hostess for her ailing mother. She refurbished the White House after the wear and tear of the Civil War years. Martha received guests on Monday afternoons along with her sisters, a tradition that was continued even during Johnson's impeachment trial. It is said that Martha milked the family cow on the White House lawn. In 1885, Martha married David Trotter Patterson, judge of the circuit court of Tennessee, who would later become a senator. They had two children. Martha Patterson died at age 73 and is buried at the Andrew Johnson National Cemetery.

Stover, Mary Johnson (1832–1883)

White House hostess. Name variations: Mary Johnson Brown. Born Mary Johnson in 1832; died in 1883; daughter of Eliza McCardle Johnson (1810–1876) and Andrew Johnson (1808–1875, 17th president of the U.S., 1865–69); sister of Martha Johnson Patterson (1828–1901); married Daniel Stover (1826–1864), a colonel; married William Ramsey Brown (divorced); children: (first marriage) three.

Four years younger than her sister, Mary Johnson Stover's first husband, Colonel Daniel Stover, was killed in the Civil War, leaving her with three small children. During the Johnson administration, she provided care for her mother Eliza McCardle Johnson while her sister Martha Johnson Patterson handled most of the social duties. Mary's second husband William Ramsey Brown was a widower whose first wife was a second cousin of Abraham Lincoln. After seven years of marriage, they divorced. Mary Stover died at age 51 and is buried at the Andrew Johnson National Library.

At the end of Johnson's term, the family returned to Tennessee. Eliza lived to see her husband vindicated by election to the Senate in 1875, but he died that same year. Eliza, who survived him by only six months, died in 1876. She

is buried with her husband and children at the Andrew Johnson National Cemetery in Greeneville, Tennessee.


Healy, Diana Dixon. America's First Ladies: Private Lives of the Presidential Wives. NY: Atheneum, 1988.

Melick, Arden David. Wives of the Presidents. Maple-wood, NJ: Hammond, 1977.

Paletta, LuAnn. The World Almanac of First Ladies. NY: World Almanac, 1990.


The Andrew Johnson Papers, Library of Congress.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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Johnson, Eliza McCardle (1810–1876)

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