Monday, July 16, 2012

Anna Symmes Harrison

Once again, I have come to a first lady who does not have a biography written about her so I relied again on Laura Holloway’s book. There is more information available about Anna Harrison than Hannah Van Buren, but Anna never functioned as first lady since her husband, William Henry Harrison, was only president for 30 days and during his short presidency, Anna spent the whole time at her home in Ohio. Since she wasn’t feeling well when it was time for William Henry Harrison to go to Washington for his inauguration on March 4, 1841 Anna stayed at home and was to join him later. But she never saw him again. He caught pneumonia and died April 4. 

Anna Harrison never had the chance to function as first lady, but her life story is important because, like Rachel Jackson before her, it shows how America had changed from being ruled by the upper class that were schooled in European courts to Americans who were pioneers of unsettled parts of our country. She was born in New Jersey and her mother died shortly after her birth. When Anna was four years old, her father took her to be raised by her grandparents on Long Island. This was during the American Revolution and in order to have safe travels he dressed as a British soldier to take her there. Anna then was raised by her grandparents until she was 19 and her father took her with him to settle in Ohio.

There in Ohio Anna met William Henry Harrison who was a popular general and married him when she was 20. William Henry Harrison was appointed governor during Adams, Jefferson, and Madison’s presidencies. A lot of his work was with Indian relations.

Anna gave birth to 10 children. There was no school in the neighborhood so she hired a tutor for her children and also invited the children in the houses nearby to come benefit from the tutor also. How generous of her!

Sadly, Anna saw 9 of her children die and also 10 of her grandchildren in addition to her husband. Yet through all her grief the religion of her grandparents who raised her gave her peace and comfort. Before her own death she choose Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know I am God” to be spoken on at her funeral. Oh, how often she must have meditated on that verse during her life.

Even though I was able to find bits and pieces of info on Anna Harrison, I still don’t feel like I really know her as a woman. I am anxiously awaiting a biography on her which will hopefully someday be written by a new acquaintance, Cynthia Ogorek, from the Public Historian at

When I was looking for information on Anna Harrison, I emailed her historic home, Grouseland, and was directed to Cynthia who recently researched Anna for a presentation about First Ladies from the Midwest. I wish I was close enough to see her presentation and someday I hope to see that she has published an Anna Harrison biography!