Anna Tuthill Symmes Harrison was the wife of President William Henry Harrison, serving as First Lady for his one-month term in office. She was the first First Lady to be widowed while her husband was President.
Anna Tuthill Symmes Harrison was born on July 25, 1775, in Morristown, New Jersey. She was just one year old when her mother died. During the Revolution, her father, John Cleve Symmes, disguised himself as a British solider and brought his daughter on horseback through British-occupied New York to live with her maternal grandparents in Long Island. Once the war ended, Anna returned to live with her father, who served in the New Jersey Legislature and on the state’s Supreme Court. She was the first First Lady to receive a formal education, attending boarding school in New York City.
Marriage to Harrison
Anna accompanied her father to Ohio where they eventually settled at North Bend. While visiting relatives in Lexington, Kentucky, she met Lieutenant William Henry Harrison, who was stationed nearby at Fort Washington.
Because Anna’s father did not initially approve of the relationship, the couple eloped. Anna Symmes married William Harrison on November 25, 1795. The couple went on to have 10 children, although several died in childhood.
William Harrison held a number of government positions, including Governor of Indiana Territory. The couple moved to accommodate his positions, building a mansion at Vincennes. When war broke out in 1812, the family went to the farm at North Bend. The war ultimately made William Harrison famous and elevated his political stature.
First Lady of the United States
When Anna learned her husband had been elected President, she said: “I wish that my husband’s friends had left him where he is, happy and contented in retirement.” She did not travel with him to Washington for the inauguration, but planned to join him in May. However, she never got the chance. William Harrison died on April 4, exactly one month after his inauguration.
In June 1841, President John Tyler granted the first pension for a president’s widow, providing Anna Harrison a lump sum payment of $25,000. Anna Harrison remained in her North Bend home until it burned in 1858. She died on February 25, 1864, at the age of 88. Her grandson, Benjamin Harrison, became President in 1889. With his election , Anna Harrison became the first woman to be both wife and grandmother of a U.S. President.