Ellen Arthur life and biography

Ellen Arthur picture, image, poster

Ellen Arthur biography

Date of birth : 1837-08-30
Date of death : 1880-01-12
Birthplace : Culpeper, Virginia, U.S.
Nationality : American
Category : Famous Figures
Last modified : 2010-08-05
Credited as : First lady of the United States, wife of President Chester Arthur,

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Ellen Lewis Herndon Arthur, also known as Mrs. Chester A. Arthur born August 30, 1837 in Culpeper, Virginia, United States - died January 12, 1880 in New York, New York, United States was the First lady of the United States. Ellen Lewis Herndon Arthur was the wife of Chester Arthur, who became the twenty-first president of the United States after his wife's death in 1880. Herndon Arthur was raised in an upper-class family and as an adult kept active with her music, charity work, and two children.

Early Life

Born August 30, 1837 in Culpeper, Virginia, Herndon Arthur had a notable ancestry. She came from a line of extraordinary Virginians and was the only child of William Lewis Herndon and Elizabeth Hansbrough. In her veins ran the blood of royalty from the Plantagenet line.

Like many of his Plantagenet ancestors, her father was an adventurous man of his time: he was an explorer of the Amazon and a naval captain. After he was given the assignment to establish the Naval Observatory with his brother-in-law Lt. Matthew Fontaine Maury, Herndon Arthur's father moved the family to Washington, D.C. Later he accepted command of a New York mail steamer.

Herndon Arthur was a talented young woman. She had a lovely contralto voice that soon garnered attention and she was a member of the choir at St. John's Episcopal Church on Lafayette Square. Her talents were soon to bring her to the notice of Chester Alan Arthur.

Met and Married Arthur

A cousin who was starting his law practice in New York introduced her to Arthur in 1856. The son of Baptist preacher William Arthur and Malvina Stone, he was tall and good-looking, with a clean-shaven chin and side whiskers. Herndon Arthur was taken with his dignified demeanor. By 1857 they were engaged.

The marriage was delayed, however, when Herndon Arthur's father died at sea. On his way from Havana to New York, her father heroically went down with his ship, the Central America, when a gale hit off Cape Hatteras. The date was September 12, 1857.

For a time, Herndon Arthur mourned the loss of her father. Then, three years after they met, she and Arthur were married on October 25, 1859 in Calvary Church, New York City, New York. The couple had three children, two of whom survived early childhood. Their first son, William L.H. Arthur, named after her father, was born on December 10, 1860; the child died on July 8, 1863.

Herndon Arthur's second son was named after her husband: Chester Alan Arthur was born July 25, 1865. He was followed by a daughter named after Herndon Arthur: Ellen Herndon Arthur was born November 21, 1871. The two children had the best their parents could provide. Since Arthur's career had flourished, the children had the best toys at Christmas and Herndon Arthur had jewels from Tiffany. The Arthur family lived in an elegant home and followed the latest fashions. They were also able to entertain in style.

Caught Pneumonia

Herndon Arthur contracted pneumonia and died on January 12, 1880. She was only 42.

His wife's death greatly affected Arthur, the more so because he had not had a chance to talk to her before she died. The swiftness of his wife's death took everyone by surprise. She had attended a benefit concert in New York City and caught a cold while waiting outside in the night air for a carriage, but the cold turned into pneumonia. Two days later when her husband rushed back from Albany, where he had been engaged in politics, she was already unconscious.

A stunned Arthur watched his wife slip away. Her death was quick, leaving him no time to prepare for the emptiness she would leave behind. He buried her in Rural Cemetery in Albany, New York.

That November Arthur was elected vice president of the United States. The loss of his wife, however, detracted from the glory of the moment. "Honors to me now are not what they once were," he said.

Increased prosperity and recognition lost their savor without his wife to share them. None of his achievements, even the presidency, consoled Arthur. He kept his wife's room in their New York home just as she left it. At times he remembered her beautiful voice and wished he could hear her sing once again.

When he became president after Garfield's assassination, Arthur placed fresh flowers every day besides his wife's portrait in the White House. He would not allow anyone to take her place, although his sister Mary (Mrs. John E. McElroy) took care of some of the social duties that would have been his wife's and also helped him raise his daughter.

In remembrance of his wife, Arthur donated a stained-glass window to St. John's Church. The window showed angels of the Resurrection and, at Arthur's request, was placed in the south transept. From that position, Arthur could see the window from the White House as the church's light streamed through.

Having never forgotten his wife and the place she held in his heart, Arthur died in 1886, just six years after Herndon Arthur had left him behind.

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