Edith Bolling Wilson

Edith Bolling was born October 15, 1872, in The Bolling Home located at 145 East Main Street, Wytheville, Virginia. The second story residence was the family home of Judge William Holcombe Bolling and Sallie Spiers White Bolling during the years 1866 – 1899. Edith was the seventh of 11 Bolling children.

The Bollings were an old Virginia family originally from Bedford County, Virginia, who relocated to Wytheville after the Civil War. In 1860, William Bolling’s father, Dr. Archibald Bolling, Jr., helped his son William to acquire the Wytheville home where Edith would later be born.

Edith’s parents, her ten siblings, grandmothers, an occasional boarder, several dogs, and twenty-six canaries lived in the home. The grandmothers contributed to the education, social, and religious training of the Bolling children. Today the building, located in the heart of downtown Wytheville, looks much the same as it did during her childhood.

Edith Bolling Wilson was baptized three days after her birth at St. John’s Episcopal Church located one block from The Bolling Home. In 1896, she was married in the same church to Norman Galt, owner of a jewelry store in Washington, DC. Norman Galt died in 1908. At this time, Edith Bolling Galt was partially supporting three brothers, her sister, and mother. Rather than sell her husband’s jewelry store, she put her three younger brothers to work and successfully ran the business with the manager, Henry Bergheimer.

She created quite a stir in Washington when she became the first woman in Washington, DC to own an electric car. Washington society was even more amazed as she continued to oversee the day-to-day operations of Galt Brothers Jewelry Store until the 1930’s when she sold the business to her employees.

Edith Bolling Galt married the widower, President Woodrow Wilson on December 18, 1915, at her home in Washington, DC. With her as his constant companion, President Wilson was elected to a second term of office on November 7, 1916. During WWI, she was a model citizen, volunteering and raising funds for the Red Cross, and participating in nation-wide conservation of resources. She was the first Honorary President of Girl Scouts in 1917.  In 1919 when a stroke left President Wilson paralyzed, she managed many government details for the President and has been referred to as “The First Woman President” and “The Secret President.”

Edith Bolling Wilson was a direct descendant of the famous American Indian, Pocahontas, and her husband, John Rolfe. Also a member of Virginia aristocracy, Edith’s great-great-grandmother was the sister of President Thomas Jefferson and she is related to Thomas Jefferson, Martha Washington, and Robert E. Lee.

Edith Bolling Wilson’s beginnings in the charming southern town of Wytheville, Virginia, served her well as she left her tranquil small-town life to later live in the White House as First Lady. She was a commanding presence as an adult, with her five-feet-nine-inch, elegantly attired figure and was attractive as well as intelligent. After President Woodrow Wilson’s death in 1924, Mrs. Wilson lived out her life promoting her husband’s legacy. Her last visit to Wytheville was in 1960 to dedicate stained glass windows at St. John’s Episcopal Church in memory of her parents.

 

In November of 1961, First Lady Mrs. Wilson ”… suffered from a respiratory infection, and her health deteriorated for the next month until her death” on December 28, 1961, on Woodrow Wilson’s birthday. “She is interred near him at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC.” Source: Ishbel Ross, Power With Grace: The Life Story of Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1975), 344.