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First Lady of the People’s House: Sarah Anne Phillips McMath (First Lady 1949-1953)

Old State House Museum - Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Inaugural gown of Anne McMathPut yourself in these separate scenarios: Young mother expecting a child. Wife of a war hero turned ambitious politician being talked about as presidential timber. First Lady of the state. Soon-to-be occupant of a new Governor’s Mansion that needed to be prepared for occupancy by her family and to be opened to anticipating people. Any one of these would have posed daunting challenges alone. Envision confronting all these challenges at once. That’s what Anne McMath faced as 1949 dawned.

A native of Slate Spring, Mississippi, where she was born in 1920 to a farmer and teacher, Sarah Anne Phillips attended Mississippi College for Women and during the years of World War II, landed in Washington, D.C., as a congressional secretary. There, she met a dashing young Marine officer from Arkansas named Sid McMath who had been widowed two years earlier, and had won multiple decorations for bravery in the island-hopping campaign in the Pacific. After a period at California’s Camp Pendleton, Sid returned to Washington and married Anne in October 1944.

Following her new husband to Arkansas along with his three-year old son, Sandy, the young couple settled in Hot Springs where Sid set up a law practice and son Phillip was born. In a whirlwind four years, Anne experienced life as a new mother and wife of a prominent war hero who Anne McMath, c. 1948was seen as a corruption-fighting prosecutor and rising state political star.

An enthusiastic campaigner for her husband, she carried that same energy and enthusiasm into readying the new Governor’s Mansion both for occupancy by her family as well as opening it for the people of Arkansas. Moving in to their new home in February 1950, as Anne put it, “I was 28 years old and having my family at the same time I was having teas, luncheons, and dinner parties and having official functions with my husband.” The week before the move in, the First Lady hosted the mansion’s public opening, during which more than 180,000 visitors toured the new home. Anne also had her second son, Bruce, during this time as well.

After her husband left office in 1953, the McMath family grew by two with the addition of twins Patricia and Melissa. Sid established what was then the state’s largest personal injury law firm and their sons came into the “family business.” After Sid’s term, Anne became active in organizations such as the Twentieth Century Club, the Daughters of the American Revolution and the State Hospital Auxiliary, along with supporting her husband’s two political comeback attempts and his work in the Marine Corps Reserve. More than any part of this amazing legacy, she honored her counterparts in the First Lady’s role with her book, First Ladies of Arkansas: Women of Their Times. Up until her death in 1994, she certainly proved herself a woman of her time, and beyond.

The Old State House Museum recently redesigned its exhibit of first ladies' inaugural gowns and borrowed from Anne McMath's book for the exhibit title. Learn more about the lives and work of Arkansas's first ladies in First Ladies of Arkansas: Women of Their Times, opening Sept. 14 at Old State House Museum.