Thursday, April 02, 2009

Jane Irwin Harrison

William Henry Harrison was president for such a short time that his wife never actually made it to Washington! Anna Harrison would have probably assumed the duties of First Ladies, but she was still in Ohio when news reached her of her husband’s death.
Instead, his daughter-in-law, Jane Irwin Harrison, served as his hostess during his short administration:
During the brief four weeks of the Harrison Administration, Jane Irwin Harrison (1804-1846) served as hostess. Her father Archibald Irwin inherited the homestead and mill that his own father and namesake had built in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania. He married for his first wife Mary Ramsey, daughter of Major James Ramsey, who also built and ran a mill, near Mercersburg. Archibald and Mary Ramsey Irwin had two daughters, Jane and Elizabeth, both of whom were born in the family's limestone mansion. Mary Ramsey Irwin's sister, Nancy married an Englishman John Sutherland, and moved with him to his home in North Bend, Ohio, near the home of William Henry and Anna Harrison. Jane and Elizabeth Irwin were visiting their aunt Nancy Sutherland when they met two of the Harrison sons, William Henry and John Scott. Jane Irwin married the future President's son and namesake, then twenty-two year old William Henry Harrison, Jr. on 18 February, 1824 in her hometown. He was a struggling lawyer at the time of their marriage and also suffered from alcoholism. He died on 6 February, 1838 in North Bend, Ohio.

In 1832, eight years after her sister Jane married William Henry Harrison, Jr., Elizabeth Irwin married his brother, John Scott Harrison. It was one of their sons, Benjamin Harrison, who would go on to be elected the 23rd President of the United States. Another Harrison brother, Carter Bassett Harrison, married Mary Anne Sutherland, the first cousin of Jane and Nancy Irwin.

A thirty-six year old widow of three years at the time she served as White House hostess, Jane Irwin Harrison brought her two young sons, James and William along with her to live in the mansion with their grandfather and other relatives. She also asked her father's elderly sister, Jane Irwin Findlay to accompany her. Although her aunt has often been mistakenly identified as the official hostess of the brief Harrison Administration, or confused with her namesake niece, it was the younger Mrs. Harrison who presided at the President's table, while the older Mrs. Findlay acted as her social guide and supported and occupied a seat of honor at the few recorded family gatherings. Jane Irwin Harrison died just four years later, in 1845, at age 41 years old.

1 comment:

coriolan said...

The Benjamin Harrison House has a small portrait of Jane Irwin Harrison in a second-floor bedroom. And speaking of our ninth President, the Harrison House's 2009 Exhibit focuses on the life and career of WH Harrison, with many documents newly acquired from Harrison family descendants that are on public display for the first time.

My favorite - Harrison's appointment as ambassador to Columbia, signed by President John Quincy Adams and Secretary of State Henry Clay