Ida Saxton McKinley (June 8, 1847 – May 26, 1907)
Wife of President William McKinley and thus First Lady from 1897-1901, Ida McKinley has been portrayed as sickly and demanding, but the truth of her life is much more inspirational and interesting. Ida Saxton was born into a well-to-do family from Canton, Ohio. Her mother was Kate Dewalt Saxton, and her father was John Asbaugh Saxton. All her mother’s grandparents were German immigrants, and her father’s maternal grandparents were Palatine German immigrants as well. The extended family had helped each other prosper in business ventures of several types, and by the time Ida, the eldest of three, was born, the Saxtons were leading members of Canton. Her family were also abolitionists, possibly active in hiding runaway slaves and early supporters of the Republican Party. Her parents believed strongly in the education of women and wanted to make sure their daughters would be able to support themselves and not be dependent on a husband.
Her father was on the local school board and was instrumental in bringing Betsy Mix Cowles to be the school principal. She would become a mentor and teacher to young Ida and was known for her educational innovations and as a leader in the Ohio suffrage and anti-slavery movement. When Cowles accepted a position at the Delphi Academy in upper New York state Ida followed her there in 1862, but both ended up leaving because of the strong support for the Confederacy and slavery at the academy. Ida then entered the Sanford School in Cleveland so she could be closer to home and still receive rigorous academic training. To round-out her education she went to the Brooke Hall Female Seminary, where she learned needed skills to run a household, and also studied music, played the piano and mastered a foreign language. Here she made friends with other young women from elite families, including Louise Deshong who would become a well-known photographer. The young women were also taught the importance of being physically active, an idea which Ida embraced with enthusiasm. Upon leaving school she found herself a bit lost until her father hired her to work in his bank. Because she had studied both finance and accounting, and higher mathematics, she was qualified, but few positions like hers were filled by women. Her father came to trust her so much that when he was away on other business, he put Ida in charge as the manager. After working a year, she and her sister Mary went on a six-month tour of Europe where she became especially interested in the plight of working women, especially the Belgium lace makers. She returned to work at the bank when she got home.
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