THE FIRST LADIES
Fragments from Illinois' past
Achsah Bond was Illinois'
original first lady.
She married a distant cousin,
Shadrach Bond, in 1810 in Nashville,
Tenn. During the Bonds' tenure,
they lived on a farm in Kaskaskia.
Achsah inherited nine
slaves when Shadrach died in 1832.
Bina Day Maloney Deneen
Charles S. Deneen, governor 1905-1913
Bina Deneen with her daughter Bina,
the first baby born to a seated
governor and first lady.
Frank 0. Lowden,
was the daughter
of the sleeping car
by Linda Classen Anderson
Photographs courtesy of
the Illinois State Historical Library
32 / March 1998 Illinois Issues
For the most part, history has
dictated that the governors' wives
play supporting roles: mother, homemaker and hostess. Thus, most of the
available information about Illinois'
37 "first ladies" is contained in a few
sentences within their prominent
Yet they are part of the state's
social and political past. Who were
they? How did they experience their
responsibilities? And what can they
tell future first ladies about women's
roles? Or the rest of us?
When First Lady Brenda Edgar
looked into the subject shortly after
her husband Jim Edgar took office in
1991, she was able to recover few
details about the lives of her
predecessors. She did locate an image
of the state's first first lady, Achsah
Bond, and photographs of all but
seven of the others. So, in 1994, with
the support of Marshall Field's
Department Stores, she established a
Hall of First Ladies in the Executive
In honor of Women's History
Month, we read the fragmentary
story of the state's first ladies and put
together our own gallery to highlight
the lives of a handful of these women.
Our primary sources were one
unpublished manuscript in the State
Historical Library, History of the
Mansion, by Octavia Roberts Corneau,
who interviewed a number of the first
ladies, and Robert P. Howard's book
on the governors. Mostly Good and
We found that notable women with
different backgrounds, temperaments
and interests held the title. They were
socialites who relished their role, and
recluses who shied from it. Some were
content with family responsibilities;
many threw themselves into causes.
Socialite Cora English Tanner stands
out. She lived during the Gay Nineties,
and lived up to that period's reputation.
But though the wife of Gov. John
Tanner was an elegant hostess, she also
was an outspoken reformer, writing a
series of protest letters to newspapers in
the deep South to chastise them for
failing to condemn lynch mobs. She
accompanied her husband on tours of
Illinois prisons and was critical of the
conditions she observed. Three decades
later, incoming Gov. Henry Horner, a
bachelor, chose to escort Cora Tanner
to his inaugural ball in 1933.
Prominence and power were no
guarantee of a happy life for the first
ladies, though. Frances Hambaugh
Ford comes to mind. She was the wife
of Gov. Thomas Ford, who left office
destitute in 1846. The two died within
months of one another, leaving five
children dependent on the charity of
friends and neighbors.
Two children were born to first ladies
while their husbands were in office,
most recently Samantha Jayne
Thompson, the daughter of First Lady
Jayne Carr Thompson and Gov. James
Separate careers were virtually
nonexistent for the first ladies, according to available records. Some were
former schoolteachers, but Jayne
Thompson appears to have been the
only lawyer, and the first credited with
her own professional career.
History records little about the first
ladies. But as women's contributions to
society begin to be recognized, that is
likely to change.
Emma Gillette Keays Oglesby
Richard J. Oglesby, governor 1865-1869;
January 13-23, 1873; 1885-1889
Emma Oglesby, the daughter
of a "cattle king,"
was first lady during
Richard Oglesby's third term.
Cora English Tanner
John R. Tanner, governor 1897-1901
Cora English Tanner, who was
20 years younger than her husband,
married John Tanner in an extravagant
ceremony days before his inauguration.
She had a quick tongue and
was a social reformer.
Mary Fish Matte son
Joel Matteson, governor 1853-1857
The Mattesons found the
governor's house inadequate for
daily living, so they asked the
legislature for $52,000 to build
and furnish the existing mansion.
Illinois Issues March 1998 / 33