Ida was born in Canton, Ohio, the elder daughter of James Saxton, prominent Canton banker, and Katherine DeWalt. Her grandfather, John Saxton, in 1815 founded The Repository, the city’s first and now its only newspaper. A graduate of Brook Hall Seminary, a finishing school in Media, Pennsylvania, Ida was refined, charming, and strikingly attractive when she met William “Bill” McKinley at a picnic in 1867. They did not begin courting until after she returned from a Grand Tour of Europe in 1869. While single, she worked for a time as a cashier in her father’s bank, a position then usually reserved for men.
William McKinley, aged 27, married Ida Saxton, aged 23, on January 25, 1871, at the First Presbyterian Church in Canton, then still under construction. Following the wedding, performed by the Reverend E. Buckingham and the Reverend Dr. Endsley, the couple attended a reception at the home of the bride’s parents and left on an eastern wedding trip.
Possessed of a fragile, nervous temperament, Mrs. McKinley broke down under the loss of her mother and two young daughters within a short span of time. She developed epilepsy and became totally dependent on her husband. Her seizures at times occurred in public; she had one at McKinley’s inaugural ball as Governor of Ohio. Although an invalid the rest of her life, she kept busy with her hobby, crocheting slippers, making gifts of literally thousands of pairs to friends, acquaintances and charities, which would auction pairs for large sums. She often took barbiturates, laudanum, and other sedatives for her condition.
President McKinley took great care to accommodate her condition. In a break with tradition, he insisted that his wife be seated next to him at state dinners rather than at the other end of the table. At receiving lines, she alone remained seated. Many of the social chores normally assumed by the First Lady fell to Mrs. Jennie Tuttle Hobart, wife of Vice President Garret Hobart. Guests noted that whenever Mrs. McKinley was about to undergo a seizure, the President would gently place a napkin or handkerchief over her face to conceal her contorted features. When it passed, he would remove it and resume whatever he was doing as if nothing had happened.
The President’s patient devotion and loving attention was the talk of the capital. “President McKinley has made it pretty hard for the rest of us husbands here in Washington,” remarked Mark Hanna. The First Lady often traveled with the President. Mrs. McKinley traveled to California with the President in May 1901, but became so ill in San Francisco that the planned tour of the Northwest was cancelled. She was also with him on the trip to Buffalo, NY in September of that year when he was assassinated, but was not present at the shooting.
With the assassination of her husband by Leon Czolgosz in Buffalo, New York in September 1901, Mrs. McKinley lost much of her will to live. Although she bore up well in days between the shooting and the president’s death, she could not bring herself to attend his funeral. Her health eroded as she withdrew to the safety of her home and memories in Canton. She was cared for by her younger sister. The President was interred at the Werts Receiving Vault at West Lawn Cemetery until his memorial was built. Ida visited daily until her own death. She survived the president by less than six years, dying on May 26, 1907. She was buried next to him and their two daughters in Canton’s McKinley Memorial Mausoleum.
- June, 08, 1847
- Canton, Ohio
- January, 01, 1970
- Canton, Ohio
- McKinley Memorial Park
- Canton, Ohio