Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Mary Abigail Fillmore

I love to talk about the White House hostesses because they are so often overlooked.   Mary Abigail Fillmore (Abbie) really reflects the values of her parents as she is highly educated, speaking five languages! Here is some information on her time at the White House:
In one documented instance, a late February 1851 dinner, Abbie Fillmore substituted as official hostess, her mother being absent due to her sister Mary's death in Ohio. Senator Edward Everett described Miss Fillmore in this role as "a pretty modest, unaffected girl of about twenty, as much at ease at the head of the presidential table as if she had been born a princess." Signing her name as "Abbie," the Fillmore daughter spoke French, German, Italian and Spanish. She was equally versatile as a musician, frequently performing in the White House library for her mother's pleasure or to entertain special guests, whether on her harp or guitar or the First Lady's piano.

Abbie Fillmore was only six when she was separated from her parents who went to live in Washington with her father's election to Congress. She was cared for by her maternal aunt Mary while her parents were in Washington. When her daughter expressed a longing to be united with her parents and brother, Abigail Fillmore advised her to use the time to focus on her education: "I know your fondness for study and anxiety to obtain knowledge and this will absorb your mind that you will have less time to dwell on home." Abigail Fillmore consciously sought to balance her parental advice with an enlightened sense of respect for her daughter as a young woman: "I shall be very happy to do anything for you that I can to give you a perfect education, and adorn you with every grace that the best teachers and the best society can confer for I love my little daughter very much and am very anxious to gratify her in everything that is proper, presuming that she will ask for nothing less." She was early on an expert at geography, encouraged by books and maps sent by her parents. She was also an accomplished and fearless horsewoman, often going for lengthy, vigorous rides in the countryside. Abigail Fillmore encouraged her daughter's love of literature and music, but never at the expense of a thorough intellectual education. Abbie Fillmore left the Lenox Institute for Girls in Massachusetts in the fall of 1848. The following year, uninfluenced by even her father's anti-Catholic sentiments, Abbie Fillmore joined seventeen students at the new "Buffalo Academy for Young Ladies." Established at the Sherwood House on Lake Erie by the city's first Roman Catholic Bishop under the aegis of the Vincentian order, the instructors were nuns of the Sacred Heart School in Manhattanville, New York. The Vice President's daughter, one of the four students to board there, and one of eight who were non-Catholic attended religious services every morning in the makeshift chapel. Her mother soon after arranged for her to attend the state Normal School first as a sort of graduate student after and then to teach there "for a living." As Mrs. Fillmore wrote Abbie, "I am glad to see young girls think they can be useful." She had planned to share a room with two roommates but took her mother’s advice to board in a private home in a room by herself, and put up a screen in front of her desk so she could remain undistracted in her studies. Those plans were cut short when her father unexpectedly became President and she moved to the White House in October of 1850.

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