Laura Elizabeth Hancock Merriam

Laura E. Hancock Merriam (Mrs. William R. Merriam), c. 1915

First Lady
January 9, 1889 - January 4, 1893

Born: July 7, 1850
in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Died: November 2, 1943
in San Diego, California

Married October 2, 1872 to William Merriam

Laura Elizabeth Hancock was the oldest of eleven children born into a prominent family in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her father was Colonel John Hancock, brother of General Winfield Scott Hancock. Colonel Hancock was Assistant Adjutant General of United States Volunteers on General Hancock's staff during the Civil War. Laura's mother, Augusta, was a direct descendant of President John Adams.

The John Hancock family came to Minnesota temporarily in the early 1870s, while General Winfield Scott Hancock was commander of the Department of Dakota, headquarted in St. Paul. Laura Hancock and William R. Merriam were married in St. Paul in 1872. They had five children, four of whom survived to adulthood.

William Merriam served two terms as governor of Minnesota, from 1889-1893. The Merriams built a grand stone mansion at 25 University Avenue in St. Paul, completed in 1888. The "estimable and cultivated" Mrs. Hancock was said to have "dispensed the most elegant hospitality and made the home not only the center of a brilliant social circle, but of a happy family." The house was the center of social activity in the city until it was destroyed by fire in 1896.

In 1899 William Merriam was appointed by President McKinley to serve as director of the Twelfth Census and the family moved to Washington, D.C., where they lived until 1930. William Merriam died in 1931 in Port Sewall, Florida. Laura died in San Diego, California in 1943 at 93 years of age.