Presidential Notes: Caroline Scott Harrison

First Lady Caroline Scott Harrison didn't like the White House. A guide to her experiences, influence, life as the wife of president Benjamin Harrison.

Caroline Harrison was very talented at fund raising. She was a born giver, learning about religion from her father who was a Presbyterian minister. She was a strong advocate of the written word, and she made every effort to live by it. However, she did enjoy music and dancing.

Caroline Lavinia Scott Harrison (Carrie) was born at Oxford, Ohio in 1832. She was the second daughter of Mary Potts Neal and Rev. John W. Scott. Her father founded the Oxford Female Institute, where Caroline attended. She had the utmost respect for her father. Though schooling was intertwined with family, it did not interrupt Carrie's ability to learn and do her best.

While a student of her father's, Caroline met Benjamin Harrison, who was attending Miami University. Harrison's dream was to be a lawyer one day, so he burned the midnight oil studying. However, his studies did not infringe on his attraction to Caroline. In fact, prior to their graduation, he proposed. She lovingly accepted, and the young couple dreamed of their marriage. It became a reality in 1853, after graduation.

Struggling during the early years of their marriage, Ben established a law practice in Indiana. Caroline and Ben Harrison enjoyed a close relationship, with family a priority. However, it was briefly interrupted by the Civil War.

Benjamin Harrison became respected and extremely well known to his legal profession. This resulted in him entering the political arena. While the general juggled his professional life with his marriage, Carrie cared for their son and daughter. Though Carrie was an intelligent woman, she was quite domesticated and fit well into the roles of wife and mother.

Eventually the Harrisons moved into the White House. The First Lady, Caroline, did not like anything about her new residence. She in no uncertain terms let it be known that if they were going to be living there for four years, the house was going to need to look more like a home. From the onset, Caroline began making changes at the Presidential Mansion. She, in fact, started the first china collection for the White House.

Additionally, Caroline made it known that the family of the President of the United States must be provided for in the appropriate fashion. While there, she ascertained that the White House was an ever-so-presentable building, always in good condition. She would settle for nothing less.

In 1890, the famous medical center, Johns Hopkins, was established. At that time, Caroline Harrison was asked to serve as a fundraiser. Gladly she assumed the role, but not until she was assured that women would be included and admitted in the same fashion that men were admitted. That was the beginning of how Caroline Harrison began assisting often to provide equal opportunities for women.

Although Presbyterians disapproved of dancing during those days, Caroline ignored it. She wanted her daughter to learn how to dance, and she saw to it that lessons were available to her.

Caroline was extremely talented in the creative areas of life. She was both an artist and an accomplished pianist. She loved music. She also loved entertaining other people throughout her married life . . . a very versatile wife and mother, indeed.

Tragically, during the winter of 1891, she struggled immensely to fulfill social obligations. At the time, she was not feeling well. Finally, it was determined that she had tuberculosis. Several months later on October of 1892, Caroline Scott Harrison died in the White House.

Caroline and Benjamin's daughter was living in the White House at the time of her mother's death. In fact, her two children, in addition to other relatives, lived there, too. When the grief period lifted, Mrs. McKee began acting as hostess for the White House.

Four years later, Benjamin Harrison married his first wife's widowed niece. She outlived him by almost fifty years, dying in 1948.

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