• U.S.

National Affairs: Unpleasant Duty

2 minute read

In 1870 Congress was beginning to hand out Civil War pensions. It gave one to the widow of the Civil War President. Mary Todd Lincoln’s $3,000* a year was the first pension for a Presidential widow. Since then pensions have been granted to nine other Presidential widows—Julia Gardiner Tyler, Sarah Childress Polk, Julia Dent Grant, Lucretia Rudolph Garfield, Ida Saxton McKinley, Edith Carow Roosevelt, Helen Herron Taft, Edith Boiling, Galt Wilson, Grace Goodhue Coolidge. Last week this polite beneficence was impolitely questioned for the first time.

Ohio-born Mary Scott Lord Dimmick had been widowed by Lawyer Walter Erskine Dimmick when she married Benjamin Harrison—in 1896, four years after he left the White House, five years before he died. Last week the Senate Pensions Committee favorably reported a bill grant Mrs. Harrison, now nearing 80, a $5,000 annuity such as other Presidential widows have received, but Massachusetts David Ignatius Walsh found it his unpleasant duty” to file a formal protest. Pointing out that Mrs. Harrison never “shared the burdens of official life with President Harrison” and that both her husbands left her trust funds, Senator Walsh objected: “At a time when millions of our citizens are destitute .. . what justification can be advanced to vote a pension out of the public treasury to one who has ample private means and no vestige of claim for such a public bounty except the slender circumstance that tor a brief period she was married to a man who had once been President?”

Although the possibility that anything could stop the Harrison pension remained slim indeed, Mrs. Harrison’s friends sprang indignantly to her defense. Ihey denied that she had sought the pension herself, recalled that the resolution had first been introduced by New York’s late Representative Theodore A. Peyser at the suggestion of “friends,” had passed the House unanimously. Most agreed that Mrs. Harrison could use it. All agreed that she deserved it, for sundry reasons. Among them: 1) she had lived in the White House two years nursing her ailing Aunt Lavinia, the first Mrs. Harrison; 2) as a Presidential widow she has been a the expense of attending various functions, notably the Republican National Convention of 1936; 3) the Government pensions the widows of war veterans who married long after their period of service. In Manhattan where she lives in a small swank Fifth Avenue apartment with one maid, Mary Lord Harrison said nothing whatever.

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