Mary Arthur was born on July 5, 1841 in Greenwich, New York, as the last of nine children born to William Arthur and Malvina Stone. Her mother, Malvina, was born in Vermont and of primarily English and Welsh descent. Her father, William, was born in Cullybackey, a village in County Antrim in what is now called Northern Ireland; he graduated from university in Belfast and emigrated to Canada. William and Malvina met while William was teaching at a school in Dunham, a city in Quebec located just over the border from Malvina's native Vermont.
Mary and her brother George were the only two of William and Malvina's children to have been born in New York; Mary's eldest sibling, her sister Regina, was born in Dunham, while the rest of her siblings were born in northern Vermont.
Education and academics were important to her father due to his being a teacher, and so Mary was educated at the Emma Willard School. Here, Mary was taught history, geography, science, and French.
At age 19, Mary married John Edward McElroy on June 13, 1861 in Albany, New York. John worked as an insurance salesman and was the head of the Albany Insurance company; they lived together in Albany, where they raised four children: May (b. 1862), William (b. 1864), Jessie (b. 1867), and Charles (b. 1873).
Mary was 39 when then-President James Garfield was assassinated and her brother Chester, Garfield's Vice-President, succeeded him as the 21st President of the United States. As Chester's wife Ellen had passed not two years earlier, and so the position as First Lady was left vacant upon is presidency; Chester loved his wife, and could not bear to give Mary the official title of First Lady, however he asked Mary to fill the role in an unofficial capacity and she was thus referred to as the "White House hostess" while still performing all of the duties of a traditional First Lady.
At the time of Chester's presidency, Mary was living in Albany with her husband and her young family. Because she had her own family located elsewhere, Mary lived in Washington, D.C. only during the winter social season and in this position she proved to be a popular and competent hostess.
Mary passed away on January 8, 1917 in Albany and buried at Albany Rural Cemetery.
Thank you to Robert Weaver for creating this profile for Mary Arthur McElroy. Thank you to Maggie N. for contributing to the data and image for Mary & to Amy Utting for categorising Mary, writing her biography, and adding her sources.
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