Abigail Fillmore (1798–1853)
Born Stillwater, New York
Abigail Powers Fillmore came from hardscrabble beginnings. Her minister father died when she was a small child and left behind a singular possession: his library. Mr. Powers gifted his daughter his books, and she went on to devote her life to learning.
As a young schoolteacher, Abigail Powers fell in love with one of her students, nineteen-year-old Millard Fillmore, who was just learning how to read. After their marriage, she made the unconventional decision to continue teaching as a way to support her husband’s aspirations in law and politics. When she was first lady, Abigail Fillmore helped establish a reference library in the White House, and she frequently invited popular authors and performers to visit with her at the presidential mansion. The gold chain that hangs from her neck in this portrait would have been attached to a watch to be used to keep up with her busy social schedule.
Oil on canvas, c. 1840
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution