I talked about "Phantoms of the White House" in an earlier post and in one of the comments, I mentioned that some of the most obscure White House women are the ladies who took the place of deceased or ill wives - White House hostesses. These women are often glazed over and forgotten. I think these women deserve a little of the limelight for their efforts as well!
Ellen Arthur died a year and a half before Chester Arthur became President and he was still in mourning when President Garfield was assassinated and he became President. While in the White House, he placed a fresh rose by her picture every day. In her honor as well, he refused to give his hostess - his sister, Mary Arthur McElroy - the proctocol rank that went with the position, even though she performed all the duties. This meant that Mary McElroy would have been hard to pick out from the other women at a social function.
Mary McElroy was the wife of an insurance salesman and the mother of four. She only lived at the White House during the high social season and spent the rest of her time in Albany with her family. She was an able hostess despite the quiet atmosphere of the Arthur White House, giving events in honor of two former White House chatelaines: Julia Tyler and Harriet Lane. She also stood in as a surrogate mother for the 10-year-old Ellen Arthur.
The Arthurs refused to bar alchohol from the White House, even as pressure came from the American public. Arthur was reputed to tell the head of a temperance group: "Madam, I may be President of the United States, but my private life is nobody's damn business." (Boller, 165)
Carl Anthony quotes a description of Mary McElroy as a woman who "knew exactly what she wanted, and how she wanted it done." (Anthony, 246) One interesting thing she didn't want: the vote. Mary McElroy was a member of the Albany Association Opposed to Women's Suffrage.