Happy birthday Major McKinley!

On January 29, 1843, in the small village of Niles, Ohio, Nancy Allison McKinley gave birth to her seventh child, William McKinley, Jr. His father, William McKinley, Sr. was what was known in those days, as an iron monger: he managed blast furnaces that made iron ore into iron, in and around the area of Niles, Ohio. Because William Sr. travelled due to his businesses, this left Nancy to raise the children at home.

The McKinleys had nine children:

David Allison McKinley Born: 1829 Died: 1892

Anna McKinley Born: 1832 Died: 1890

James Rose McKinley Born: 1833 Died: 1889

Mary McKinley Porter Born: 1835 Died: 1868

Helen Minerva McKinley Born: 1834 Died: 1924

Sarah Elizabeth McKinley Born: 1840 Died: 1931

Abigail Celia McKinley Born: 1845 Died: 1846

Abner Osborn McKinley Born: 1847 Died: 1904

And of course, William Jr.

Not a lot is documented about the McKinley’s life in Niles. And so Nancy Allison McKinley, also known as “Mother” McKinley’s recollections of their lives in Niles are most important.

According to Nancy Allison McKinley, “I had six children, and I had all of my own work to do. I did the best I could, of course, but I could not devote all of my time to him.[1] This meant, no doubt, that some of the older children assisted their mother with the younger children. Nancy stated that she did all of the housework except the washing and ironing and made almost all of the children’s clothes.

Nancy reported that William’s teachers said he was very bright and was a good boy in school, who seemed to pick up everything in his lessons with much ease. The children went to school as soon as they could go by themselves. The children attended school everyday it was in session, with few exceptions.

William and his siblings attended the little white one-room school house which stood on the present site of the National McKinley Birthplace Memorial in Niles. While a student at that school, William met and became lifelong friends with a boy a few years older than he: Joseph G. Butler, Jr.

Joseph G. Butler, Jr. was the son of a storekeeper in Niles, Ohio. Mr. Butler, Jr. went on to become and industrialist, with many friends of influence.

One of the first things I remember outside of my immediate home circle was the “Old White Schoolhouse.” It was a small building, erected of wood and painted white, afterward made famous as the school attended by William McKinley, twenty-fifth President of the United States. My entire school experience began and ended in the historic structure. In it the boys were seated on one side of the room and the girls on the other side, the seats being a long bench which began at the end of the room farthest from the door and extended down each side and across the lower end, with just enough of a break to form a passage way from the door itself. This bench and a sloping shelf to form the desk were made together. The teacher’s desk occupied a raised portion of the floor at one end, opposite the door, and back of it was a blackboard, at times decorated with an impressive rod, usually as long as the board itself. In the center stood a large ‘eggshell’ cast iron stove. All the pupils thus faced one another across the room in full view of the teacher. The usual punishment for infractions of discipline was to stand in the center of the room, although occasionally the ‘birch’ was brought into service, especially in the case of older boys. [2]


At left is a photo of Mrs. Maria Kyle, William McKinley’s first teacher at the little white one room school house (pictured at right). The grounds of the schoolhouse are where the National McKinley Birthplace Memorial in Niles, Ohio is now located. Pictures are in the collections of the National McKinley Birthplace Memorial.

William enjoyed fishing, swimming, and going barefoot in the warm weather. Joseph G. Butler, Jr. tells the story of how he and another boy saved the life of young William McKinley. He and young William and some other boys went swimming in Mosquito Creek. However, young Will got in beyond his depth, and Joseph Butler tried to save him. However, the young boys were both soon caught beyond their swimming abilities, and a young man named Jacob Shelar jumped in and saved both boys.

Mr. Butler also talked about Nancy Allison McKinley:

A word about ‘Mother McKinley,’ as she was always called. Her son, William was elected President of the United States in 1896 and again in 1900. Mother McKinley was the leader in Niles of much that was good. She was always called in when a neighbor was visited by the stork. She was constantly on the alert to do something for the community’s betterment, such as ministering to the sick and afflicted, and in other ways. She had in her house many useful articles not possessed by her neighbors, and these were cheerfully loaned. Among other things was a candle mould capable of producing twelve candles at one time. This was in constant use by her neighbors. This product took the place of candles made by the so-called dipping process. Mother McKinley will be long remembered for her kind acts. She was charitable beyond her means and ever doing something to better the condition of her less fortunate neighbors.”[3]

And so Mother McKinley instilled not only work and determination in her children, but also a love of learning, and of the Methodist religion. She also imparted a desire to help others in the community, a thought which William McKinley carried throughout his adulthood.

And so on the 175th anniversary of William McKinley’s birth, we salute the 25th President of the United States.


Lithograph of Ida, William, and Nancy “Mother” McKinley. Part of the collection of the National McKinley Birthplace Memorial.

[1] Charles Henry Grosvenor, William McKinley, His Life and Work 1901. “The Story of President McKinley’s Boyhood by his Mother.”

[2] Joseph G. Butler, Jr. Recollections of Men and Events: An Autobiography, Being Some Account of Activities, Experiences, Observations and Personal Impressions During a Long and Busy Life, New York: Putnam, 1927. 10.


[3] Ibid, 23.


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