Ida Saxton was born in 1847 to a prominent banking family in Ohio. She was pretty and charming, small of stature with blue eyes and auburn hair. She met William McKinley at a picnic in 1867 but at the time she was engaged to another man. The next year she set out to do the Grand Tour of Europe as young ladies of good families did then. Her fiance died while she was away and shortly after that she began to be courted by William McKinley. They married in 1869.
A series of misfortunes hit Ida at this time. She lost her grandparents shortly before her marriage and her beloved mother died while she was pregnant with her second daughter. The little girl only lived to six months and soon afterwards their other daughter died of typhoid at the age of three. During this period Ida also suffered an injury to her head and back. These were probably aggravating factors in the illnesses she carried for the rest of her life. She began to have migraine headaches and suffered from seizures. It is quite possible the seizures were the result of epilepsy but at the time little was known about epilepsy. She was diagnosed variously but phlebitis was suggested. Her nerves were also in bad shape. A series of neurologists and doctors looked for solutions. One, Silas Mitchell, advised rest cure because he believed most emotional or physical problems suffered by women were the result of attempting to do things only a man's brain was capable of. Wouldn't we love to have him around today? She was prescribed different narcotics to help. Some of the medication she was taking may be responsible for stories that she could change personality in a twinkling-happy and charming one moment and shrewish and miserable the next.
She was devoted to William, by some accounts jealously so, but he returned her affection and took full responsibility for her care. When he was governor of Ohio, he had the habit of standing in front of the capitol building twice a day and doffing his hat to Ida who would be across the street in the window of the hotel suite they resided in.
When McKinley became president, Ida didn't remain housebound. She often appeared at public functions, but he made sure to set up concessions for her health. At formal dinners, instead of sitting at the far end of the table, she was seated beside him. In reception lines, she would be seated. His solicitous behaviour towards his wife was much remarked on. One man ,Mark Hannah commented, "President McKinley has made it pretty hard for the rest of us husbands here in Washington."
After William's death, Ida's younger sister took on the task of caring for Ida. She lived for six years after her husband's death and is buried beside him and their two daughters who died in infancy.