Cats in the 19th Century (Part 4 – First Siamese Cat in America)

Inevitably the cat became a subject fawned over by writers and artists, but many statesmen, politicians, and other famous personages came to be known as cat lovers as well.  Abraham Lincoln, the 6th president of the United States agreed to let his son Tad bring his Tabby cat to the White house as its first feline resident.  Lincoln himself held a soft spot for cats, as when on a trip to visit General Grant’s troops, he came across a litter of kittens and took them back to the White House.   Even the Confederate Civil War General Robert E. Lee often referred to his cats, and noted his dog’s jealousy of them in letters to his family.  

In 1878, the first Siamese cat landed in America as a gift to the wife of the 19th president of the United States, Rutherford B. Hayes.  Overwhelmed with excitement, 12 year old Fanny Hayes had waited for more than two months for the arrival of “Siam”. David Sickles, a US diplomat in Bangkok sent the cat as a gift to Mrs. Hayes once he learned that she was fond of cats.  “I have taken the liberty of forwarding you one of the finest specimens of Siamese cats that I have been able to procure in this country. I am informed that it is the first attempt ever made to send a Siamese cat to America.”  

David B. Sickels' letter to Lucy Webb Hayes regarding Siam, the Cat. November 1, 1878 Source: Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center first Siamese cat in America

David B. Sickels’ letter to Lucy Webb Hayes regarding Siam, the Cat.
November 1, 1878
Source: Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center

 Siam quickly grew accustomed to her new home and was the favorite of the young Fanny.  Unfortunately, Siam fell ill just 9 months after arrival and soon died.  

“In the autumn of 1879, while the Hayes family was at Spiegel Grove, Siam became seriously ill. The staff tried fish, chicken, duck, cream, and even oysters, hoping that Siam would respond. When her condition worsened, the staff sent for the president’s personal physician. Dr. J. H. Baxter prescribed beef tea and milk every three hours, but Siam did not improve. A pet lover himself, Dr. Baxter took Siam to his home. There, Fanny’s playmate, Nellie McCrary, daughter of Hayes’ Secretary of War, visited the beloved pet. The next day Nellie wrote to Fanny, bluntly reporting Dr. Baxter’s grim prognosis that, “he thinks she will die and I do to[o].” 

Litter of Siamese ca. 1903

Litter of Siamese ca. 1903



Want to know more about the cat in literature, art and history? Then Revered and Reviled is the book for  you. Now available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. 

Revered and Reviled: A Complete History of the Domestic Cat, cat history, cats



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