Mary Arthur McElroy was the sister of Chester Arthur, the twenty-first president of the United States. Mary served as White House "hostess" because Chester’s wife had died. Mary was born on July 5, 1841, in Greenwich, New York. She was the youngest of her eight siblings. During her youth, she attended school in Troy, New York, and dated John McElroy, an insurance salesman. They married in Albany, and the couple had two children.
After Chester’s wife passed away from pneumonia, he was elected as vice president under James A. Garfield in 1880. In September of 1881, Garfield was assassinated and Chester was sworn in as president. Mary assumed the title of hostess and stayed in Washington during the city’s busy winter social season. For the remainder of the year, she returned to her family in Albany. Mary was popular as a hostess and the adoring public considered her a First Lady, even though her brother refused to give her the title. Her children were said to be the best behaved in White House history and she served as a surrogate mother to Chester’s daughter, Nell. Interestingly, Mary was a member of an Albany association opposed to women’s suffrage!
In 1884, Chester denied his party’s nomination for a second term and retired. Mary and her family went back to Albany, New York. She passed away in her home in Albany on March 4, 1885, at the age of seventy-five.