the traumas of william mckinley's wife -- 3/26/18

Today's selection -- from William McKinley by Kevin Phillips. President William McKinley's wife suffered from lifelong facial convulsions after a hard and traumatic labor with their second child:

"[After his election to Congress,] for reasons beyond politics, though, the [future president and] new congressman [William McKinley] left for Washington in 1877 with a heavy heart. Six years earlier, at twenty-eight, he had married Ida Saxton, the very pretty but high­strung daughter of one of Canton's most prominent families. Their first child, Katie, arrived in December 1871. The next little girl came in 1873, on a day when Ida McKinley, almost simultaneously stricken by news of her own mother's death, underwent a hard and traumatic labor. The new baby died five months later. Ida McKinley herself developed convulsions that suggested brain damage. She became an epileptic with seizures.

"In the summer of 1876, just before McKinley won his House seat, Katie, the daughter who looked so much like her father, also died. These tragedies altered him, biographer Leech concluded: 'His buoyant youthfulness was gone. He showed the fortitude and quick compassion that are the grace of those who have greatly suf­fered, but he also grew guarded and reticent. In the first shock of his trouble, he was sometimes abstracted. There were stories that he forgot important testimony that had been given in court; that his intense gaze became a fixed stare, as though he were mustering all his faculties in an effort at concentration.' If McKinley had left college years earlier because of depression, the trauma of the years 1873 to 1876 may have partially reshaped his personality. ...

Ida Saxton McKinley

"Hard work in Congress helped to take McKinley's mind off his pain, but his wife's needs took up most of his evenings. 'He was tireless,' says Leech, 'in ministering to her mental and physical comfort. He grew soft-voiced and cautious, and developed resources of tact .... He turned an imperturbable face to the pity­ing eyes of Canton, and his reserve forbade impertinent question­ing. In the presence of other people, McKinley's attitude toward Ida's repellent symptoms [facial convulsions] was so casual as to appear indifferent. He always sat beside her in the dining room or parlor. At the first sign of rigidity, he was alert. He threw his hand­kerchief or a napkin over her convulsed face, removing it when she relaxed. McKinley's matter-of-fact manner forbade a whisper of comment.'

"Cautiousness, refusal to explain or discuss unpleasantness, and a skill in pleasing people were traits McKinley learned during these years and would display through his political career. All too often, such characteristics would be cited to support accusations of weak­ness, mediocrity, indecision, and seeming dependence on the direc­tion of others. So described, they have plagued his historical memory. At the time, contrarily, these skills helped him win friends, and large numbers of Americans in Ohio and elsewhere came to admire the congressman for the time and attention he devoted to his wife. Foraker, the wife of one of McKinley's home-state rivals, would contend that it was the key to his popularity and success."



Kevin Phillips


William McKinley: The American Presidents Series: The 25th President, 1897-1901


Times Books


Copyright 2003 by Kevin Phillips


barns and noble booksellers
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

All delanceyplace profits are donated to charity and support children’s literacy projects.


Sign in or create an account to comment