Historical Portrayal: Ida McKinley
As part of Lakeside’s Living History Series, Linda Palko Witkowski will portray Ida Saxton McKinley in Hoover Auditorium Wednesday, June 14 at 1:30 p.m.
Ida Saxton McKinley was the wife of William McKinley, 25th president of the United States. Although born into wealth, her life was marked by tragedy. She suffered through physical debilitations, the loss of loved ones and finally the loss of her husband when he was assassinated in 1901. Hers is a story of perseverance and steadfast love.
The First Ladies that gain the recognition of the political and historical writers of today are often those who have accomplished things on the national or world scene during their time in the White House. In this regard, Ida Saxton McKinley remains a pale figure in the lore of First Ladies. However, Ida spent her life facing and surviving challenges on a personal level that were extraordinarily difficult. Hers was a daily struggle to find renewed reason to get through each day in her role as an independent person, mother, sister and wife.
Following William McKinley’s death on Sept. 14, 1901, Ida seldom left the house and died May 26, 1907, at age 59. During her life she crocheted thousands of slippers. After he died, she continued to crochet – but only slippers of Black and Grey.
The story of William and Ida McKinley is a love story. If one looks at his understanding, loving and compassionate treatment of his wife, a picture of the man emerges that can be favorably set beside his accomplishments as a national leader. A contemporary of theirs wrote, “To her, he is far more than a perfect man, he is divine … there exists in this world of infelicity, at least two souls that are as one.”
“The March King” John Philip Sousa wrote a piece of music titled “The Lady of the White House”. The composition was published in the Ladies’ Home Journal in 1898 and was dedicated to First Lady Ida McKinley (1897-1901). A copy of the music hangs over the piano forte in the Saxton McKinley House in Canton, Ohio.
Witkowski holds a master’s degree in Modern Language and Literature from Case Western Reserve University.
She is recently retired, having spent 50 years as a woman in STEM in the computer technology field, witnessing the emergence of this fascinating industry. She has also performed at area theaters for countless years, and additionally enjoys partnering with Cuyahoga Community College and Baldwin Wallace University teaching in their Encore 55 and Institute for Learning in Retirement programs.
In July, 2019, she took over the leadership of Women in History, a Cleveland area based non-profit corporation dedicated to the education of all people through the dramatic re-creation of lives of notable women in U. S. history.