Childhood and Education

Rutherford B. Hayes was born on October 4, 1822, in Delaware, Ohio. He was named after his father who had died eleven weeks before his birth. Hayes was raised by his mother, Sophia Birchard Hayes. Sophia was able to make ends meet by renting out a small farm near their family home. According to Hayes's diary, he remembered spending time visiting the farms as a child and being treated kindly by the tenants. Hayes also had an uncle who helped out by providing Hayes and his elder sister, Fanny, with books and other luxuries.

Hayes was very close to Fanny. He fondly remembered growing up with her and taking care of her as she was recovering from dysentery. When Fanny died in 1856 after giving birth to stillborn twins, Hayes was devastated. He wrote in his diary, “The dearest friend of childhood, the affectionate adviser, the confidante of all my life, the one I loved best, is gone.”

Early Interest in Politics

Hayes attended a local district school, the Norwalk Seminary, a residential Methodist school, and a college preparatory academy before attending Kenyon College. He was an excellent student and graduated first in his class. During his time at the college, the election of 1840 occurred. It was one of the first that incorporated some of the elements of the modern campaign including local meetings, slogans, and more. Hayes, a Whig, was very interested in the campaign and wrote about it in his diary. When William Henry Harrison won the election, Hayes said, “The long agony is over. The ‘whirlwind’ has swept over the land and General Harrison is undoubtedly elected President. I never was more elated by anything in my life.”

Harvard and the Law

Hayes studied law in Columbus, Ohio, before being admitted to Harvard Law School. He graduated from Harvard in 1845 and was admitted to the Ohio bar. Throughout his time at Harvard, he continued to display an intense interest in politics. When the Whigs lost in the election of 1844, Hayes wrote, “I would start in the world without a penny if by my sacrifice [Henry] Clay could be chosen President.” Hayes enjoyed learning about the law and began practicing it in Ohio soon after graduation.

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