Abigail Powers Fillmore (1798 - 1853), wife of Millard Fillmore, was First Lady of the United States from 1850 to 1853.
She was born in Saratoga County, New York while it was still on the fringe of civilization. Her father, a locally prominent Baptist preacher named Lemuel Powers, died shortly thereafter. Her mother moved the family on westward, thinking her scanty funds would go further in a less settled region, and ably educated her small son and daughter beyond the usual frontier level with the help of her husband's library.
Shared eagerness for schooling formed a bond when Abigail Powers at 21 met Millard Fillmore at 19, both students at a recently opened academy in the village of New Hope. Although she soon became young Fillmore's inspiration, his struggle to make his way as a lawyer was so long and ill paid that they were not married until February 1826. She even resumed teaching school after the marriage. And then her only son, Millard Powers Fillmore, was born in 1828.
Attaining prosperity at last, Fillmore bought his family a six-room house in Buffalo, New York, where little Mary Abigail was born in 1832. Enjoying comparative luxury, Abigail learned the ways of society as the wife of a Congressman. She cultivated a noted flower garden; but much of her time, as always, she spent reading. In 1847, Fillmore was elected state comptroller; with the children away in boarding school and college, the parents moved temporarily to Albany, New York.
In 1849, Abigail Fillmore came to Washington, DC as wife of the Vice President; 16 months later, after Zachary Taylor's death at a height of sectional crisis, the Fillmores moved into the White House.
Even after the period of official mourning the social life of the Fillmore administration remained subdued. The First Lady presided at state dinners and receptions; but a permanently injured ankle made her Friday-evening levees an ordeal--two hours of standing at her husband's side to greet the public. In any case, she preferred reading or music in private. Pleading her delicate health, she entrusted many routine social duties to her daughter, "Abby." With a special appropriation from Congress, she spent contented hours selecting books for a White House library and arranging them in the oval room upstairs, where Abby had her piano, harp, and guitar.
Despite chronic poor health, Mrs. Fillmore stayed near her husband through the outdoor ceremonies of President Franklin Pierce's inauguration while a raw northeast wind whipped snow over the crowd. Returning chilled to the Willard Hotel, she developed pneumonia; she died there on March 30, 1853. The United States Congress adjourned, and public offices closed in respect, as her family took her body home to Buffalo for burial.