Ida Saxton McKinley was the wife of the 25th President of the United States William McKinley and a First Lady of the United States from 1897 to 1901.
All of Ida McKinley's maternal great-grandparents were German immigrants, the two great-grandfathers being Philip DeWalt and Michael Harter . One pair of Ida McKinley's paternal great-grandparents Jacob Laird and his wife Jane Johnston were immigrants from Scotland. One paternal ancestor James Harlan was born in England in 1625 and immigrated to Delaware. The origin of the Saxton line is unknown.
Ida Saxton was born in Canton in 1847. Her father was a wealthy banker and community leader. The large house where the family lived is still in excellent condition over a century later and is part of the National First Ladies’ Library complex in Canton.
Ida attended private school in Cleveland and later graduated from Miss Eastman’s Seminary, finishing school in Media, Pennsylvania, where she was reported to have been an excellent student.
After graduating from private school, Ida Saxton went back to Canton, where she became involved in community affairs, including fundraising to build a new Presbyterian Church for her family’s congregation there. She participated in local theater, including performances at Schaefer’s Opera House in Canton, where she was voted the most popular actress.
The ordeals left Ida McKinley both physically and emotionally drained. In constant need of attention for her health, she became semi-invalid, only occasionally able to attend social functions. She would never again regain full physical or mental health. Still, Ida made efforts at meeting the demands of a public figure, because her husband won election to Congress and then served as governor of Ohio before he was elected president in 1896. McKinley was always attentive to her needs and concerned for her health, and he was never far from her for more than a few days.
Ida McKinley spent most days of her adult life confined to a rocking chair, where she passed the time by knitting, crocheting, and reading. For those official functions she could attend, she was always fashionably dressed and often met guests while seated in a velvet chair. To ease the strain of social interaction, she would occasionally hold a bouquet of flowers, which would discourage guests from attempting to shake her hand and possibly sap her strength and energy. At dinners she always sat next to her husband, who monitored her health and watched for signs of an oncoming seizure. The president carried a large handkerchief, which he could use to shield the first lady from sight if she should happen to suffer a seizure. The seating arrangement of having her by his side was maintained even when it went against official protocol.
Following his reelection in 1900, the president decided to take a transcontinental tour to promote new policies, including his tougher stand against business trusts that dominated some markets. During McKinley’s campaign tours and political travels, his wife usually stayed at home, but for this transcontinental tour she made an effort to travel with him. However, she fell ill at one of their first stops in California and had to be rushed away from the scene for treatment.
She was not with her husband when he stopped in Buffalo, New York, later that year to speak at the Pan- American Exposition. The day after the speech, the president greeted a long line of people at the exposition. In that line, a man named Leon Czolgosz stood with a gun hidden beneath a handkerchief and shot the president after McKinley extended his hand in greeting. As the president fell and gasped for life, he was heard to say to his secretary, George B. Cortelyou, “My wife—be careful ... how you tell her—oh, be careful.”
McKinley never recovered from his wounds and died a week later. His body was taken by train to Washington for a state funeral, and then Ida McKinley accompanied her husband’s casket on a train from Washington back home to Canton.
Mrs. McKinley lived the remainder of her life under the care of her sister. She died in 1907 and was entombed next to her husband and their two daughters in the McKinley Memorial Mausoleum in Canton.
After the marriage Ida joined her husband's Methodist church.
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. They had 2 daughters.