Courtesy of Timeline

1147: Anna Ella Carroll

The First (Unofficial) Female Cabinet Member of a US President

Born: 29 August 1815, Maryland, United States of America

Died: 19 February 1894, Washington DC, United States of America

Anna was a woman of many talents and roles throughout her life, and her familial connections made her as close to American Royalty as could be.

Her grandfather signed the Declaration of Independence and her father served as Governor of Maryland. Anna’s other grandfather was a prominent Baltimore physician. She herself was the oldest of eight children and sometimes went so far as to refer to herself as “Princess Anne.” Anne’s father educated her at home from the vast library the family owned, and she enjoyed an especially close relationship with him. Her education was so vast, that Anna was better trained in law than most students studying for the bar exam at the time.

Anna herself worked as a lobbyist for railroad companies and printing agents. Through her connections she became close with presidents Millard Fillmore and Zachary Taylor and was also able to use these connections to get her own father a job as the Naval Officer of Baltimore. Anna’s relationship with President Fillmore was so close, in fact, he proposed marriage to her. Anna declined but did continue to help his political career.

Anna was proposed to a second time in 1860, after starting a relationship with one of the security officers assigned to protect the president. Once again, Anna declined in order to focus on her writing career.

She was also one of the first major proponents of the American Political Party (better known by its nickname of the Know-Nothing Party). Anna’s personal convictions made her staunchly Anti-Catholic and Pro-Union at a time when the United States was fracturing apart at the seams. She wrote several books that championed her anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant themes.

Anna had been a slave owner who freed her servants after Abraham Lincoln was elected president of the United States in 1860. Anna would go on to serve as an unofficial advisor and member of cabinet to the president. Anna was also instrumental in convincing the governor to keep the state of Maryland from seceding from the union. Anna lobbied for the creation of a colony for former African American slaves in present-day Belize, and also argued against the Emancipation Proclamation for fear it would alienate southern planation owners with pro-Union sympathies.

As though she hadn’t done enough already, Anna then decided to become a military strategist. After traveling to the western theatre of the war in early 1861, Anna helped provide her own insight into which river the union army should send gunboats down. Because of her help, the union went on to capture two forts from the Confederate forces and European powers that had been thinking of helping the Confederacy withdrew their support. [Author’s Note: Anna’s exact involvement in the so-called Tennessee Plan continues to be disputed by historians to this day. Anna claimed she was directly involved, though other members of the government, including President Lincoln himself, disagreed].

Anna eventually battled for a government pension on the premise of her insight into the aforementioned river plan as well as the pamphlets she had written in support of the president and the union. President Lincoln thought the idea abhorrent, and she lost her fight to receive $5,000. Finally in the 1880’s, Anna was eventually granted a pension…of $50 a month for the remainder of her life.

According to the Maryland State Archive (article linked below): “The closest she ever came to receiving formal recognition was in 1864, when painter Francis B. Carpenter painted President Lincoln and his cabinet signing the Emancipation Proclamation.  In the scene there is an empty chair, against which rests some documents likely carried by Carroll.  It is said that in this way she was shown as the "unrecognized member of the cabinet."”

Anna never married and had no children. She was posthumously inducted into the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame. Anna’s epitaph on her headstone describes her best, “A woman rarely gifted.”

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