The wife of President Andrew Johnson, Eliza McCardle Johnson was the daughter of Sarah Phillips and John McCardle, a Greeneville shoemaker, who once also operated an inn at Warrensburg. After her father’s death, Eliza McCardle helped her mother make quilts to support the family. She met Andrew Johnson soon after he arrived in Greeneville in September 1826. Their wedding, performed by a justice of the peace, took place in Warrensburg on May 17, 1827, when she was sixteen and he was eighteen.
Johnson was better educated than most women in her town. According to tradition, she taught her husband to read, but actually he was already literate. She may have taught him to write, though; in any case, she did encourage his further education.
Considered modest and retiring, Johnson’s personality contrasted sharply with her husband’s more aggressive, outgoing nature. Despite frequent, lengthy periods of separation while he held political office in Nashville or Washington, D.C., the couple were apparently devoted to each other, and Andrew Johnson always expressed concern for her well-being. They had five children: Martha (born in 1828), Charles (1830), Mary (1832), Robert (1834), and Andrew Jr., known as “Frank” (1852).
Remaining in East Tennessee after the state seceded, Johnson, as the wife of a notorious Unionist, was harassed and expelled from Greeneville by the Confederates. She stayed with her daughter Mary (Mrs. Daniel) Stover in Carter County until October 1862, when she was forced to leave again. General Nathan Bedford Forrest at first refused to let her through the lines to join her husband, by then military governor of Tennessee, in Nashville.
By this time Eliza Johnson had been ill for some years with tuberculosis. While her health periodically worsened or improved somewhat, she remained an invalid, generally withdrawn from the public eye. Johnson did not go to Washington, D.C., until June 1865, after her husband succeeded to the presidency. Even then, the couple’s oldest daughter, Martha (Mrs. David T.) Patterson, served as White House hostess, often assisted by her sister Mary. Johnson, usually confined to her room, rarely even attended a reception.
After the Johnsons left the White House and returned to Greeneville, her health remained poor, and she was in serious decline by the spring of 1875. Johnson was unable to attend her husband’s funeral in August 1875. She died at her daughter Mary’s home in Carter County six months later.
LeRoy P. Graf, Ralph W. Haskins, and Paul H. Bergeron, eds., The Papers of Andrew Johnson, 14 vols. to date (1967- ); Hans L. Trefousse, Andrew Johnson: A Biography (1989)