Anna Harrison

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The wife of William Henry Harrison, the ninth President of the United States, Anna Harrison never assumed her duties as first lady, however, she did achieve many firsts among those who held this position. Not only was she the first in her position to receive a formal education, she was, at age 65, the oldest woman to become first lady. Because she was the first to become a widow while her husband was in office, Anna Harrison was the first former first lady to receive a pension. She was also the first to become the grandmother of a future President, Benjamin Harrison.

Anna Tuthill Symmes Harrison was born on July 25, 1775 in Morristown, Sussex County, New Jersey. She was the second daughter of John Cleves and Anna Tuthill Symmes. Her father, was a Colonel in the Continental Army, and later served as an Associate Justice before becoming Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court. He was also one of the largest landowners in the Northwest Territory. Just eight days before her daughter’s first birthday, Anna Symmes died leaving her husband to raise their daughter alone.

John raised his daughter by himself for three years after the death of his wife but, fearing he could no longer properly care for her, he took her to her maternal grandparents on Long Island. It was while living with her grandparents that Anna, who was short in stature with brown hair and eyes, attended the Clinton Academy in Easthampton, New York where she was educated in English and the classics. She also attended Mrs. Graham’s Boarding School for Young Ladies in New York City, NY. This was an unusually superior education for a woman of her time. In 1794, nineteen year old Anna rejoined her father and his third wife Susan Livingston Symmes in Cincinnati,...

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...and Benjamin, she decided not to accompany her husband to Washington for his inauguration. Instead, William asked his daughter-in-law Jane Irwin Harrison, to go with him and act as hostess until Anna’s delayed arrival in May.

Before she could join her husband, Anna received news of his death. Thirty-two days into his term as President, William Henry Harrison succumbed to pneumonia which he contracted while giving his inaugural address. Anna did not attend her husband’s funeral. After the death of her husband, Anna remained on the farm in North Bend until the house burned down in 1858. Afterwards, she lived with her son John Scott Harrison who was the father of future President Benjamin Harrison. Anna, who died in 1864 at the age of 88 became the first former first lady to receive a pension. She was laid to rest in Congress Green Cemetery in North Bend, Ohio.
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