Part of the American History & Genealogy Project

Mary Arthur McElroy 1841 ~ 1917


President Arthur, successor to James A. Garfield had been a widower for many years, and Washington was much concerned as to who would preside over the White House during the presidency of Chester A. Arthur. The continuous stream of visitors through the White House during President Garfield's long illness was so destructive to everything in the executive mansion that it was reality almost uninhabitable when President Arthur took the oath of office and there was much solicitude lest on account of the absence of a lady of the White House, it would be long before it would resume its attractive appearance. They little realized that President Arthur was a man of exquisite taste and perfect knowledge as to the appointments of an elegant home, and in as brief a time as any woman could have directed its rehabilitation, it presented as attractive an appearance as if a magician's wand had been waved in every room of the historic home of the presidents. Re-furnishings, redecoration and the addition of up-to-date accessories transformed it into a luxurious home before the meeting of Congress in December, 1881. President Arthur had selected his sister, Mary Arthur McElroy, wife of Reverend John E. McElroy, of Albany, New York, to preside over the White House and take charge of his daughter, Nellie, an attractive schoolgirl.

Mrs. McElroy, the youngest of several children of Reverend William Arthur, a Baptist clergymen of Vermont, was born in Greenwich, Washington County, New York. She was educated in the famous school of Mrs. Willard in Troy. Her mother was a most accomplished woman and .transmitted many of her virtues and talents to her children. As Mary Arthur, Mrs. McElroy, had every advantage that could be given at that time. She came to the White House wen fitted to grace the historic mansion. It can be said without fear of contradiction, that the social entertainments, state dinners, evening receptions and all social functions given at the White House during President Arthur's administration were the most magnificent and enjoyable of any that had ever been given in the White House by any president and the lady presiding. Mrs. McElroy, as the mistress of the White House, distinguished herself by her graciousness, hospitality, cordiality, good taste and geniality. She allowed no one to feel that they were unwelcome or that she felt bored and fatigued by their presence. She drew about her many young people, among them her own daughter and the President's daughter, Nellie, who added much brightness on every occasion.

She introduced the custom of serving tea and other refreshments after every reception. The hospitality thus extended seemed to infuse much good feeling and cheerfulness among the guests, and those who were privileged to enter the White House on these occasions. Mrs. McElroy was a devout Christian and attended St. John's Church on Lafayette Square, where President Arthur, also worshipped. Mrs. Haynsworth, another sister of President Arthur, frequently assisted Mrs. McElroy in the distribution of the hospitalities of this lavish administration. She rarely failed to have about her the ladies of the Cabinet and other distinguished women of Washington. Mrs. McElroy was deeply regretted when she ended her reign and took her departure from Washington.

Women of America

Source: The Part Taken by Women in American History, By Mrs. John A. Logan, Published by The Perry-Nalle Publishing Company, Wilmington, Delaware, 1912.


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