Chester Alan Arthur, called “Chet” by family and friends, was born in either 1829 or 1830, in Fairfield, Vermont. Official records list him as born in 1829 but he claimed 1830. He may have been born on a farm in Dunham, Quebec, Canada, just north of the U. S. border but this cannot be documented. At any rate, he lived in Fairfield.
He spent some of his childhood years in Perry, New York, where his leadership abilities were noted in the way he directed other boys in their activities. He attended Union College in Schenectady, New York, graduating in 1848. He received his Master’s degree in 1851.
He studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1854. He served as quartermaster general of the state of New York during the Civil War. After the war, President Grant appointed him Collector of the Port of New York (1871 to 1878), an extremely powerful position in which he served as an honest administrator.
In 1878 he returned to the practice of law in New York City. He was nominated for Vice President by the Republicans on the Garfield ticket. When President Garfield was shot on 2 July, 1881, he didn’t die until 20 September, 1881. At that time Arthur took the oath of office in his home. He did not make an inaugural address.
Arthur did not move into the White House immediately but insisted on its redecoration. He had 24 wagonloads of priceless furniture removed, some of it dating to John Adams time, and sold for about $8,000. What wasn’t sold was burned.
Arthur loved fashionable attire and reportedly kept 80 pairs of pants in his wardrobe, changing pants several times a day.
On becoming President, Arthur became a champion of civil service reform. His primary achievement was the passage of the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act. In 1884 the International Meridian Conference was held in Washington at Arthur’s request. This established the Greenwich Meridian which is still in use today.
He had married Ellen “Nell” Lewis Herndon in 1859. They had three children. When Nell died of pneumonia in 1880, President Arthur asked his sister Mary McElroy to assume the social duties of a First Lady and help care for his two surviving children.
Although a popular President, Arthur was not nominated for a second term. He had Bright’s disease and died on 18 November, 1886, of a massive cerebral hemorrhage. He had destroyed all of his personal papers before his death.