Caroline Scott Harrison

Caroline “Carrie” Lavinia Scott was born in Oxford, Ohio, in 1832 to John Witherspoon Scott and Mary Neal Scott. Before marriage, her mother was a young teacher in a girls’ school in Pleasantville, Ohio. Her father was a Presbyterian minister and professor of science and mathematics at the newly founded Miami University. Later he served as founder and President of Oxford Female College.  Because her father believed that a daughter’s education was important, Caroline graduated from the university with a music degree in 1852. She met “Ben” Harrison, an honor student, at Miami University, and the couple married in 1853. Their first child Russell was born in Ohio in 1854; their second child Mary was born in Indianapolis in 1858; a third child, a daughter, died soon after birth.

According to her niece Kate Scott Brooks, “Caroline was a handsome brunette with sparkling brown eyes, soft waving brown hair and a kindly face, usually smiling and showing much intelligence. She was always well dressed, appropriately and becomingly, but with simplicity and never extravagantly. She wore little jewelry and she had a strong superstition against pearls and never had them. Caroline Scott Harrison was a lighthearted, bright and happy woman. She was a great and intelligent reader and was particularly fond of Shakespeare. She had the keenest sense of humor and a practical joke was the delight of her life. She was a good pianist and had a sweet voice for singing. Mrs. Harrison took up the gentle art of lace making. Samples of her lace are now in the Harrison home. Her watercolor paintings lined the walls of their home in Indianapolis.”

At the onset of the Civil War, Caroline sought to help in the war effort. She joined local groups such as the Ladies Patriotic Association and the Ladies Sanitary Committee, which helped care for wounded soldiers and raised money for their care and supplies. One of Mrs. Harrison’s interests was the Indianapolis Orphans’ Asylum. She was a member for over 31 years, attending meetings regularly and taking her turn on their monthly visits. At the same time, she sang in the church choir and taught Sunday school at First Presbyterian and raised her two children. As a relaxing activity, she enjoyed needlework; samples of her accomplished work include embroidery. 

 

Later in 1889, Caroline moved into the White House where she carried out her duties as First Lady with much grace. She raised the first decorated Christmas tree in the White House in 1889. A talented artist, Caroline conducted china painting classes in the White House for women, and she established the collection of china associated with the White House by designing the Harrison china. She received $35,000 from Congress to renovate the White House which included the installation of electricity and updating the kitchen.  She also worked for local charities and helped raise funds for the John Hopkins University Medical School on condition that it admit women. 

Caroline was a lover of animals. She had chickens at her home in Indianapolis and even named them; there was always a “Speckles” and a “Brownie.” She had a white Persian cat named Pasha.  Mr. & Mrs. Harrison had two pet opossums named Mr. Reciprocity and Mr. Protection. The duo was cherished by the family. Their names were a tribute to the then-Republican party platform: “Protection and reciprocity are twin measures of Republican policy and go hand-in-hand.”

In 1890, Mrs. Harrison lent her prestige as First Lady to the founding of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution; she was the seventh woman to join. “God and Country” was chosen as the motto of the newly formed organization. Mrs. Harrison’s DAR ancestor was her great grandfather John Scott who was commissary general of the Pennsylvania Lines. At the first Continental Congress, Mrs. Harrison, as President General, promoted the idea for the new Constitution Hall in Washington D.C.  This building later became the centerpiece of the national headquarters. She encouraged her home state of Indiana to establish a DAR chapter, asking her friend, Harriet MacIntire Foster, to help organize chapters in Indiana. The first Indiana DAR chapter, number 91 in the nation, was named "Caroline Scott Harrison" in Caroline’s memory and was founded in February 1894. Soon other Indiana chapters followed. 

During the winter of 1891, a short time after the close of the first DAR Congress over which she had presided with much grace, Caroline became ill with tuberculosis and died at the White House in October 1892. After services in the East Room, she was buried in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis. James Whitcomb Riley penned a poem in her memory. In 1907, President Roosevelt marked the graves of General & Mrs. Harrison with a wreath.

Harrison Family

This photograph displays four generations of the Harrison family.  Left to right:  Caroline Scott Harrison; her grandson, Benjamin Harrison McKee; her daughter, Mary Scott Harrison McKee; her granddaughter, Mary Lodge McKee; and her father, the Rev. Dr. John Scott.

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