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Lucretia Garfield

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Mrs. Garfield writes of sending a servant to study music at the Seminary,

despite her indignation with her, such that she was ready to fire her, years before

Lucretia Rudolph Garfield, 1832–1918.  First Lady of the United States, 1881.  Autograph letter signed, Lucretia R. Garfield, four pages (front and back of front and integral leaves), 3¾” x 6⅛”, on personal embossed black-bordered mourning stationery, [no place], September 17, no year.

Mrs. Garfield writes to a teacher who has taught a girl named Charlotte, a servant who lives with the Garfield family, about sending her to a different school.  She writes of enrolling Charlotte “in the musical course at the Seminary, or rather perhaps a special course giving music the chief place.”  Archivists at the James A. Garfield National Historic Site told us that the Garfields treated their servants very well.  Sending Charlotte to school was an example of that. 

In this letter, Mrs. Garfield writes, in full:  “I did not reach home until some time after your letter with statement was sent, and since my return have been either so overcome with the heat or so occupied when it was cooler that I have not answered.  Then too I was much in doubt about the best thing to do for Charlotte the coming year.  After consultation with Miss Evans I have decided to put her in the musical course at the Seminary, or rather perhaps a special course giving music the chief place.  I realize all you said about her inability to enter the College Course.  But it does not seem probable that she can take such a course, and I have thought best to make this change.  /  Charlotte made no objection to returning to you if I thought best, although she was very anxious to go to the Seminary, and I felt that it might give her a new impulse to be thrown more on her own responsibility.  I am very grateful to you for all you have done for her and I hope she may reward you by growing into a worthy woman.  All her friends feel that she has been greatly improved, and changed by your watchfulness and instruction.  I hope you have not been prohibited by this hard summer and with best wishes I remain  /  Yours most sincerely . . . ”

It appears that Charlotte was the Garfields’ cook who came to live with them in 1872, eight years before James A. Garfield was elected President of the United States.  The Garfield Papers in the Library of Congress hold a few letters in which Mrs. Garfield mentioned Charlotte.  The key to knowing who Charlotte was lies in a letter that Mrs. Garfield wrote to General Garfield on October 29, 1872, about what she thought was “a ruse with her to get us to give her higher wages,” which angered Mrs. Garfield:

Charlotte came to me again last night with a story that some person had met her in the park, and offered her a place for twenty dollars per month.  I scarcely believe her, but I have told her that she can go.  I think from something she said that it is all a ruse  with her to get us to give her higher wages, but I told her very plainly that I would not do so, that I would increase no one's wages until they deserved it, and that she had given no trouble enough and I prefered [sic] that she try another place.  I asked the name of the person, and she would not tell me insinuating that I wanted to know for the purpose of preventing her from getting a place.  I told her she entirely mistook me, that I should do nothing to hurt her but I knew that person whoever she might be was without honor to offer another person's servant higher wages without that person's recommendation.  I told Mary this morning that she could have her place, as soon as we could find a cook, and I send this, this morning partly to have you think whether it is best to try to find one in Cleveland.  Perhaps Carrie Madon, could help you.  Mrs. Humphry and Mary are doing well and Charlotte has been too, but I would not keep her now if she would stay for five dollars a month.  She wishes to stay until her month is out - Nov. 11th! but I feel so indignat [sic] at her this morning that I believe I would have her trunk set out on the pavement this morning if I had someone to do the work that is needed to be done.  I dont [sic] intend to let her know that I have the least care about it, and really I haven't much. I shall be glad to be rid of a person who is so unreliable and untruthful. There darling you know all the trouble I have, and it is not much after all since you love me.

Obviously, however, Charlotte stayed beyond the assassination of President Garfield in 1881.  This letter is on black-bordered mourning stationery that Mrs. Garfield did not use until after the President’s death. Our research has found Mrs. Garfield’s letters on this black-bordered stationery as late as 1893, however, some 18 years after the assassination, so the black border is not particularly helpful in dating this letter closer to or farther away from the assassination.

This is a nice letter that shows Mrs. Garfield’s forgiving and kind personality.  It shows that the relationship with Charlotte was repaired, despite Mrs. Garfield’s indignation with Charlotte expressed in her October 29, 1872, letter and her conclusion that Charlotte was “so reliable and untruthful.”  They got along well enough that Mrs. Garfield was willing to spend the money to send Charlotte to the seminary for music education. 

Mrs. Garfield has written and signed this letter in black fountain pen.  The letter has one normal mailing fold, which does not affect the signature.  There are spots on both sides of Mrs. Garfield’s cipher in the letterhead where the paper surface is rough from what appears to be removal of previous mounting material, and the front of the letter is a bit toned, likely from framing.  Overall, the letter is in fine condition. 

The letter comes with an authentication certification by psa/dna.  We put no stock in the opinions of third-party authenticators, but we pass the certification along because it accompanied the letter when we acquired it.  As does all autograph material that we sell, this letter comes with our own money-back guarantee of authenticity, without time limit, to the original purchaser.


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