6 Bold, Unstoppable Women in Benjamin Harrison’s Life

6 Bold, Unstoppable Women in Benjamin Harrison's Life

by Alexis Price

May 13, 2019

MuseumWeek, an international social media event, will take place May 13 -19 this year. The official website states this week is dedicated to, “bringing together cultural institutions from all over the world based on the idea of ‘7 days, 7 themes, 7 hashtags.’ It features various themes such as exploration, photography and play, but also the role of women in culture yesterday, today and tomorrow to mark #WomenInCulture Day.” Without further ado, we’re kicking off this week by highlighting six, iconic women connected to Benjamin Harrison.  

Caroline Scott Harrison

Sepia-toned photographic image of Caroline Harrison in her inaugural dress which has a large bustle and beading on the bodice and around the neck. Caroline is wearing gloves and holding a fan; her hair is pulled back from her face. She is standing in front of a large bookcase and is resting her hands in the back of a chair, while holding a fan and kerchief.

Caroline was a woman of many firsts. She was the first First Lady to:

  • manage her own White House project
  • hold a press briefing
  • give a speech

Her speech was given before the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR), of which she was nominated their first president general, at an event reception. Food was served on the first set of White House china—dishes that she, as a talented and college-educated artist, designed herself! Check out this page to hear more about her firsts and strides in women’s rights.  

Mary Dimmick Harrison

Photo of Mary Dimmick Harrison, pictured seated in a wooden woven chair, wearing a patterned blouse, fox pelt scarf, pearl necklace, and woven hat with a corsage.

Mary Lord Dimmick Harrison, Benjamin Harrison’s second wife, believed in the empowerment of women educated in business. She actively supported art and theatre, and ensured the preservation of the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site for the benefit of future generations!  

Belva Lockwood

Nope, Hillary Clinton wasn’t the first woman to run a full presidential campaign. Belva Lockwood takes that title. She actually ran twice—once in 1884 and again in 1888 against Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison.

Photo of Belva Lockwood, dressed darkly with small white frills at the neck. Her hair is loosely bunned and braided with a black hairpin. She intensely looks out of frame, to the right of the photographer.

Just a few of her early accomplishments:

  • Lobbied for mothers to have the same custody rights as fathers
  • Became the first woman to argue a case before the nation’s highest court (after lobbying for a law that would allow women to do so)
  • One of two women to have graduated National University’s law program, which had just begun admitting women

But she almost didn’t receive her diploma—and it wasn’t because she didn’t excel in the program. The university initially refused to issue her diploma after they received criticism from its male affiliates. Belva wouldn’t let this stand. She wrote a letter to then-President Ulysses S. Grant. In it, she stated, “I desire to say to you that I have passed through the curriculum of study in this school, and am entitled to, and demand, my diploma.” Two weeks later, she got it.  

Elizabeth Harrison Walker

Photograph of Benjamin Harrison and his daughter, Elizabeth Harrison Walker, on a street in Paris. Benjamin Harrison steps out of a building with his cane in his right hand, and his top hat in his left. Elizabeth wears a frilly white dress and a frilly white hat. Slightly out of focus in the background is a woman carrying a tote bag with an expression of surprise at seeing Benjamin Harrison.

She was the only child of Mary Dimmick and Benjamin Harrison. Elizabeth attended the New York University School of Law and graduated in 1919. Elizabeth was admitted to the bar in Indiana and New York at 22 years old. She served as secretary for the Commission of Economic Development as its only female member. Later, she founded, published and edited Cues On the News, a monthly newsletter geared toward female investors across the country.  

Frances Benjamin Johnston

She was the official White House photographer during Harrison’s presidency. Some of her work included a series of photos commissioned by Booker T. Washington and the Tuskegee Institute. She photographed everything from architecture to people. During her time in the White House, she documented the lifestyles of first families, visitors and employees.

Photo by Frances Benjamin Johnson of Mary Russel Harrison in front of a large government building, accompanied by two children at her heel.

She later established her own business and moved into the field of photojournalism. The photo above is one she took of Mary Russell Harrison with her daughter Marthena and nephew Benjamin Harrison McKee. View more of her work here.  

Laura “Dolly” Johnson

This photo of Laura “Dolly” Johnson was actually captured by Frances.

photo of laura dolly johnson taken by frances johnston, in a dimly lit kitchen. Laura stands in the center of the kitchen, wearing a dress.

Dolly was appointed by Benjamin Harrison as the White House head cook. At the White House, she managed menu planning, shopping, two kitchens and some of the other cooks. Dolly held this role for three other presidents before she parted from the presidential mansion and briefly opened up her own restaurant, the White House Cafe. She quickly closed it after she was hired to reopen the dining room at the Central Hotel.  

Know of some more amazing women connected to the Harrison family? Share them with us by tagging us on our social pages, and using #potus23 and #WomenInCulture in your posts. Learn more about MuseumWeek and how you can participate here.

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The Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site will be closed from Saturday, May 25-Monday May 27 in observance of Memorial Day.


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