Woodrow Wilson

Courtesy The Library of Congress

Edith Bolling Galt and Woodrow Wilson first met in March 1915, about six months after his wife Ellen’s death. President Wilson was still deeply grieving from the loss of his first wife Ellen, who died on August 6, 1914. Likewise, Mrs. Galt was a widow whose husband, Norman Galt, died in 1908. As fate would have it, the two widowers were brought together by mutual friends. President Wilson took an immediate liking to the intelligent, charming, and pretty widow. He proposed to her saying, “in this place time is not measured by weeks, or months, or years, but by deep human experiences …” They were married on December 18, 1915, at her home in Washington, DC, only nine months after their first meeting.

Their union was a marriage of minds as well as hearts. Edith Bolling Wilson assumed her role as First Lady with grace and dignity. President Wilson found her a sympathetic and attentive listener to his concerns and problems. As war was declared on Germany in 1917, she embraced the patriotic efforts to save resources for the war effort.

Like other American housewives, Edith Bolling Wilson wore thrift clothing, observed rationing, and volunteered with the Red Cross at Union Station. In addition, she instituted a plan whereby, on certain days, the White House would serve no meat or wheat products and would use no gasoline in order to conserve these resources for the war effort. The First Lady kept sheep on the White House lawn to maintain the grass freeing up the gardeners for war-time jobs. The sheep were sheered and the wool was sold raising $100,000 for the Red Cross to aid the American war efforts.

After the Armistice on November 11, 1918, which ended the armed conflict of World War I, Mrs. Wilson became the first First Lady to travel to Europe during her incumbency. She accompanied the President on two separate occasions to visit troops and sign the Treaty of Versailles. Her presence among the queens and other women royalty of Europe put the position of First Lady on an equivalent standing, thus helping to define the uniquely American role in an international context.

One of the most dramatic chapters in presidential history unfolded in October of 1919 when President Wilson suffered a debilitating stroke. It was during this time that Edith Bolling Wilson was referred to as “The Secret President” and “The First Woman President.”

Just as she had throughout their marriage, Mrs. Wilson delicately tended to the now fragile President. President Wilson survived through his term with the love and support of his wife and retired to a Washington, DC home. President Wilson died on February 3, 1924. Edith Bolling Wilson remained in the same home for another 37 years before she died on December 28, 1961. She was buried near President Wilson in the Washington National Cathedral. They are the only presidential couple to be interred in Washington, D.C.