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Abigail Powers Fillmore was the wife of 13th President Millard Fillmore and First Lady of the United States from 1850 to 1853. She was born on March 13th, 1798 in Saratoga County, New York. Her father, a reverend, died shortly after her birth, and her mother moved the family to Cayuga County, New York, near Albany. During Abigail’s youth, she spent much time reading the books that her father left behind. Following the death of her father, money became an issue as Abigail’s mother had six children to raise.
Her Husband was her Student!
Abigail worked as a school teacher for twelve years before meeting her future husband, Millard Fillmore. When Millard was 19 years-old, he enrolled in Abigail’s school, becoming her oldest student! He shared Abigail’s love for reading and the two gradually became closer as they grew older. The couple married on February 5th, 1826, and would eventually have two children. Abigail continued her job teaching while taking care of her first child with Millard. Soon, Millard’s political career blossomed and he was elected Congressman.
Suddenly First Lady
In 1848, after Millard lost an election to become the Governor of New York, Millard became the Vice President under President Zachary Taylor, making Abigail the Second Lady of the United States. Abigail had broken her ankle around the time of the election, and was mostly resting in bed to heal. When President Taylor died suddenly in 1850, Abigail suddenly became the First Lady and her husband became the President.
The Most Public First Lady
During her husband’s term, new advances in technology had made the physical appearances of the President and First Lady more accessible than ever before. Subsequently, as First Lady, Abigail Fillmore was a more public figure than her predecessors. This attention made Abigail very conscious of her appearance. She hired a maid to do her hair and a seamstress to make her personalized clothing. She is thought to have been the first First Lady to have worn clothing made from a sewing machine. Abigail also loved attending concerts, playing musical instruments, hosting parties, and building the White House library.
After Millard’s term ended, the Fillmore’s planned a tour of the South. During their trip, Abigail developed a cold that turned into pneumonia. She died very soon after, on March 30th, 1853 at fifty-five years old.