Ida McKinley (née Saxton)- The Griever
June 8, 1847-May 26, 1907
Children: Katherine, Ida
Relation to President: Wife
Early Life: Ida Saxton was born to James and Katherine. James Saxton was a very wealthy man, an ardent abolitionist and supporter of women’s rights, very progressive for the era. Ida was very close to her younger sister Mary throughout her life.
She attended many schools, including a public one that her father was a trustee of. Ida received an excellent education in a variety of subjects- mathematics, natural sciences, Greek and Latin being a few examples. Her father insisted that she be educated properly beyond what was expected for women at the time. Ida finished her educational life in a finishing school where she learned how to be a society woman. She discovered a love for classic music and hiking.
Ida began working as a cashier at her father’s bank upon graduation. This was controversial, but James believed that his daughter needed to support herself if marriage did not come about. Ida enjoyed herself and became an expert in money and exchange rates. This helped her a lot during a trip to Europe. The trip also inspired further interest in art and philanthropy.
Marriage: Ida Saxton met William McKinley at a picnic in 1868. She was engaged at the time but her fiancé suddenly died when she was abroad. Ida started paying attention to him in 1870 at a lecture. She did not date him exclusively but found him to be a good man. McKinley served as an attorney for her family and James Saxton liked him. Ida eventually agreed when he proposed.
Pre-Tenure: Ida’s early married life was no picnic. She lost several family members in rapid succession. Her mother died two weeks before the birth of Ida’s second child. The child, ‘Little Ida,’ died only four months later.
In that same year-1873- Ida suffered a head injury. This head injury caused a compromised immune system, neurological leg damage and epilepsy. Ida often became ill, was often immobile and suffered from seizures.
She clung on to her only living child, Katie. Ida would often be found holding Katie close in a darkened room, weeping. She rarely let Katie leave her side. Katie died in 1875 after contracting scarlet fever. Ida was devastated.
Many famous neurologists attempted to prevent or treat Ida’s seizures, with only one managing towards the end. Still, Ida managed to live a relatively normal life. She and her husband were friends with Presidents and Mrs. Hayes, McKinley having served under him during the Civil War. Ida travelled across the country with her husband and became involved in politics when she listened in during her bed bound times. She nearly died of a fever in 1888. McKinley’s devotion gave off an impression of kindness and fidelity to voters.
When McKinley was Governor of Ohio, he was caught in a scandal. McKinley had co-signed on some business loans a friend had taken out but said friend had found himself in heavy debt. Concerned that he’d have to leave politics, Ida volunteered to pay off the debt with her inheritance. Political advisors used this act of martial devotion for spin and encouraged the public to raise money to pay the debt off. It worked.
Ida tried as hard as possible to campaign for her husband in 1896. She made herself available during the front porch campaign. Unfortunately, she took ill and rumours spread about her condition. Papers reported that she was mentally ill, as that was something associated with epilepsy. The McKinley camp merely said it wasn’t as bad as the press made out.
Tenure: Ida attended several inaugural events despite physical restrictions. She did faint from exhaustion after the Inaugural Ball. It was decided that Ida would be involved as First Lady but that it would be done at her comfort. Ida was allowed to sit down at events and receive visitors at the upstairs residence. McKinley had Ida sit with him at important dinners contrary to usual etiquette. Famously, he’d place a handkerchief over her face when she was seizing until it stopped.
Her brother George was murdered, likely by his married lover, in 1898.
Ida involved herself in several charities such as the Salvation Army. She openly supported women’s rights, paid for the schooling of poor African-American and met with Booker T and Margaret Washington.
She was a key help to her husband during the Spanish-American War. Ida provided him with comfort and advice. She assessed drafts of his speeches, intervened in support of Theodore Roosevelt and helped create a women’s nursing corps.
Unfortunately, Ida’s health started to suffer. Her seizures returned with a vengeance, leaving her depressed. In April 1901, Ida became septic after a small cut became infected. She fought for her life for a fortnight as a nation hoped for the best. Luckily, Ida survived. They spent the summer in Ohio and Ida enjoyed excellent health.
In September 1901, Ida joined her husband at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo. She was the first First Lady to be captured on film when her husband was making a bandstand speech. Ida decided not to join him in meeting crowds as she disliked large groupings of people.
When McKinley was shaking hands, he was shot by an anarchist named Leon Czolgosz.
The world waited with bated breath during the eight days between McKinley’s shooting and death. McKinley has asked the crowd not to hurt Czolgosz and also asked that Ida be told gently. Despite his concern for his wife’s sanity, Ida was very calm and composed during his fight for his life. Unfortunately, she was not allowed to be with him in his final moments.
Post-Tenure: Ida was immediately frustrated by refusals to adhere to her wishes regarding McKinley’s funeral. Despite her composure during her husband’s dying days, Ida’s mind began to slip. She visited her husband’s coffin every day for three years. This was the only time Ida would leave the house. Her sister Mary continued to be a constant companion. Mary’s daughters also became close to their aunt. Upon the request of Theodore Roosevelt in 1904, Ida returned to public life. Ida became involved in politics, including trying to get a government job for an African-American named Ben Parker. Parker had attempted to prevent the McKinley shooting. Ida became interested in the Philippines and looked forward to seeing her husband’s memorial. She visited his grave daily.
Ida died in 1907. She was buried with her husband and their daughters.
Appearance and Character: Ida was a short, pretty woman with auburn hair and blue eyes. She was an extremely intelligent, kind hearted woman with a very enlightened view on civil rights. Ida and McKinley enjoyed a mutually loving relationship- his devotion was legendary in Washington. She was not as political as other First Ladies but served as an unofficial advisor and certainly had her own views. Unfortunately, Ida was dealt a cruel hand by fate. She lost many family members, including her children. This ever made Ida cruel or mean, and she remained good until the end.
Advocacy: Civil rights, women’s rights and homelessness
Alice Roosevelt (née Lee) – The Sunshine
July 29, 1861-February 14, 1884
Relation to President: Wife
Early Life and Marriage: Alice Lee was born to George and Caroline. We know little of her early life but can assume she lived in relative privilege due to her father’s job as a banker.
Alice was a teenager when she came across Theodore Roosevelt, a Harvard student and classmate of her cousin. Legend states that Roosevelt pointed to Alice and told friends that he would marry her. Alice was initially reluctant and refused his first proposal. Roosevelt continued to pursue Alice and was upset whenever other suitors replaced him. Alice waited eight months to accept his second proposal but did so nonetheless. Many had assumed he’d marry childhood friend Edith Carow.
The two wed on Roosevelt’s 22nd birthday. Alice was 19.
Pre-Tenure and Death: They delayed their honeymoon due to Roosevelt being accepted into law school. On their honeymoon the next year, Roosevelt decided to climb the Matterhorn. This was a mountain many people died climbing so it was reasonable to assume Alice was scared. Nevertheless, Roosevelt was successful.
In 1882, Roosevelt became a state representative. Alice fell pregnant the next year. The two were very excited about having a family. Whilst Roosevelt remained in Albany, Alice moved to NYC to live with her widowed mother-in-law
Alice gave birth on the 12th February 1883, to a large girl. The next day, the family cabled Roosevelt to summon him to the city- Alice was dangerously ill. Roosevelt made it to her bedside on the 14th February. His mother had also died the same day in the same house. Alice died aged only 22. Her daughter was named after her.
Appearance and Character: Alice was a beautiful woman with blonde curls and blue-grey eyes. She was medium in height. As a person, Alice was widely praised as being charming, kind, happy and fun. Close family and friends called her ‘Sunshine.’ Roosevelt never got over her death and would not allow her name to be uttered. It seemed the two enjoyed a happy, if short, marriage. Roosevelt called her ‘his heart’s dearest.’
Edith Roosevelt (née Carow)- The Influencer
August 6, 1861-September 30, 1948
Children: Theodore, Kermit, Ethel, Archibald, Quentin
Relation to President: Wife
Early Life: Edith Carow was born to Charles and Gertrude. Her father was an initially successful businessman but within a few years of her birth, started to fail. This caused Edith lifelong embarrassment.
The Carow family became homeless in 1867 after Edith’s father lost his job. They were shuffled around family homes until a permanent solution was found.
Edith was initially educated privately by Theodore Roosevelt’s father and aunt, along with him and his siblings. Roosevelt Sr covered the vigorous academics whilst Anna Gracie taught the girls needlework. She then attended a school that educated her in dancing and social graces. Edith finally attended a girls school in which she received a thorough education in a variety of subjects. She particularly enjoyed reading and poetry.
It is believed that Theodore Roosevelt proposed to Edith twice but she turned him down. He then married Alice Lee. Edith attended the wedding and many people had expected her to be the bride.
Marriage: Edith’s father died in 1883 and the family decided to leave for Europe due to rising costs. Before they left, Edith met Roosevelt again for the first time in years. Eighteen months earlier, his wife Alice had died. Roosevelt did not generally believe in second marriages but proposed to Edith. Edith accepted but still went to Europe with her family.
Roosevelt sailed to Europe in 1886 to meet with Edith. The pair married in London and honeymooned in France and Italy.
Pre-Tenure: Edith and Roosevelt settled in New York. She insisted on being a mother to Alice, Roosevelt’s daughter from his first marriage. Roosevelt refused to call Alice by her given name due to it being after her mother, so she was nicknamed ‘Baby Lee.’ Alice was being raised by her aunt Bamie. Edith insisted that Alice call her ‘mother’ and that she spend time with her maternal family. This sorely contrasted with the later animosity between the two. Edith did distance herself from Roosevelt’s sister Corinne, who had been a longtime friend.
Edith enjoyed cultural pursuits and encouraged her children’s love of animals, inherited from their father. The family lived in Washington DC and New York.
She focused on her five biological children and stepdaughter Alice. Edith was strict but kind as a mother and ran the family finances. She had tough times, including two miscarriages and a surgery for a tumour that nearly killed her. Roosevelt requested Edith’s permission to join the Spanish-American War. He later admitted that he’d have left her deathbed to do such a thing.
Edith hoped that Roosevelt would retire after his success as a Rough Rider but unfortunately, that did not happen. She did settle into life as the wife of the Governor of New York and enjoyed life in Albany.
She was not thrilled about her husband accepting the 1900 nomination for Vice Presidency but nevertheless attended the convention. Edith had no role in the campaigning and planned to live in New York for a year after the inauguration. This changed when William McKinley was killed and Roosevelt became President.
Tenure: Edith was coming into the White House with six children, most of whom were still school age. She focused on ensuring there was enough space for her large brood and their menagerie of pets. They were known as rambunctious children who liked to play and tease. Alice Roosevelt had grown into a very spirited young woman who tested her father and stepmother.
Edith wished for the privacy of her family and refused to grant interviews. She would allow some pictures of her children and their pets to be taken and shared. As the children got older, Edith took on more public appearances.
Another focus of Edith’s was the decoration of the White House. She saw it was a symbol of the nation and ensured a redesign immediately occurred. Most notably, the West Wing came into being during the Roosevelt administration. Edith believed in the role of First Lady and that it should be one revered by the public.
She was generally charitable, tending to give out money to those leaving the free hospitals in the era. Unlike her generally progressive husband, Edith was rather unkind in her views of ethnic minorities. Edith was not necessarily political but her friendship with Cecil Spring-Rice, a young diplomat, helped her husband negotiate the end of the Russo-Japanese War.
Edith oversaw the 1906 wedding of Alice Roosevelt to Nicholas Longsworth and offered to host the wedding of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. The Roosevelts decided to wed in New York instead.
Post-Tenure: The Roosevelts headed on a family trip abroad after the 1909 inauguration. Edith enjoyed several holidays across the globe throughout her post-White House years. Unfortunately, her husband decided to run in the 1912 election. Edith was crushed but still rallied around her husband. She was upset by the Republican Party split, as she still liked William Howard Taft. When Edith was in New York, she heard that her husband had been shot and rushed to be by his side. Edith took charge of his care and banned everyone apart from a select few political allies from meeting with him.
Edith joined her husband on the first leg of his famous Amazon tour and also joined him in condemning President Woodrow Wilson. She and Roosevelt lost their youngest son, Quentin, during WW1. Things changed even more for Edith when Roosevelt suddenly died in January 1919. She did not attend the funeral and instead headed to France to visit her mother’s grave. Edith was awarded a pension and gifted money by Andrew Carnegie. She used some of these funds to help Rough Rider veterans.
Edith spent a lot of her later years abroad, travelling extremely widely and writing books. She continued to cast aside Roosevelt’s sisters, much to their anger. Edith hated being associated with FDR and Eleanor, especially when she received congratulations upon the 1932 election. She did keep in touch with Eleanor, though was nasty about them both.
Sadly, Edith lost two sons in WW2- Kermit killed himself after being let go by the army and Theodore Jr died of a heart attack. She also lost her sister Emily, whom she had distanced herself from. Despite her initial dislike of FDR, she was saddened by his death and sent condolences to Eleanor.
Edith died aged 87 in 1948. She is buried with her husband.
Appearance and Character: Edith was a fair looking woman with dark hair, dark eyes and a slim build. She was an intelligent woman who enjoyed the outdoors and physical activities, as did her husband. Edith seemed to care for her children and was saddened when she was predeceased by three of them. She supported her husband even when his activities caused her upset. Unfortunately, Edith did have a very nasty streak. Despite her initial kindness to Alice, the two were often at loggerheads and Edith once cruelly told her stepdaughter that if her mother (Alice Lee) had lived, then she would have bored Roosevelt to death. Edith alienated her sister and sisters-in-law despite childhood attachments and kindness shown by them. She was also fairly racist for the standards of the time.
Advocacy: Hospitals and veterans
Helen Taft (née Herron)- The Ambitious
June 2, 1861-May 22, 1943
Children: Robert, Helen, Charles
Relation to President: Wife
Early Life: Helen Herron was born to John and Harriet. Her mother was the daughter of a Congressman and the sister of another. Harriet held high ambitions for her family, something Helen would inherit. She was educated at the same school until college and received a decent education in several subjects. Helen attended the University of Cincinnati.
The family were friends with President Hayes, particularly Harriet Herron. Helen became determined to one day be First Lady. She was a teacher before she married, generally teaching French.
Marriage: Helen met William Taft at a bobsled party in 1879. She did not want to marry a man just so she could have children- Helen desired an intellectual match. Taft more than fit this description. They had a long courtship before he proposed in 1885. Taft married Helen in 1886, followed by a honeymoon on the East Coast and Europe.
Pre-Tenure: Helen volunteered as a teacher after their honeymoon but left after discovering she was pregnant. She soon co-founded and was president of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Association. Helen was in charge of many things related to the association, including negotiations and contracts. Taft was away on the judicial circuit so Helen was doing this and raising the children.
Helen was desperate for her husband to become President and was upset at the thought of him becoming a judge instead. She used her social connections to assist him and encouraged him into accepting political positions. When Taft was offered the position of Governor of the Philippines, Helen asked him to accept. The family moved out there and Helen enjoyed her time. She made an effort to learn the language and culture, and broke protocol by attending events held by natives. Helen was kind to the native Filipinos.
Upon returning to DC, Helen continued to push her husband’s career. She confronted Theodore Roosevelt about his waning support for Taft in 1908. Whilst she did noy openly campaign for her husband as it was not deemed proper, Helen worked extremely hard behind the scenes, sending him letters and notes about how to behave. She only attended one public event with him.
Helen made history as the first spouse to ride with her husband during the Inaugural Parade.
Tenure: Helen was in her element as First Lady, but a 1909 stroke did take her out of commission for a while. Her sisters assisted her when she was recovering and she resumed duties as soon as she was able.
She was very inclusive when it came to social occasions. Helen invited a variety of people, including guests who may not have had the opportunity before. She rescinded the ban on divorcees and made dinners spectacular with entertainment. Helen hired African-Americans as ushers; previously the position was only open to white men. She did not hold events on Sundays as she wished for everyone to have family time. Helen also served alcohol in the White House.
Helen took a particular interest in workers’ rights and encouraged legislation to give them better conditions. She used all of her political acumen to get this through. Helen would sit through political commissions and your factories. Helen was also an ardent suffragist and believed women were as capable as men. She was not as active as an advisor to her during her time as First Lady due to her own interests.
One of her most notable actions was bringing the iconic cherry trees to DC. She’d fallen in love with them in the Philippines and decided that they were needed in the US. These cherry trees remain to this day. Helen chose the spot and had thousands of plants donated by Tokyo.
She was very kind to those who asked for her help, such as a teacher who wanted to establish a school for black children in the South. Helen would use her influence with politicians for charitable endeavours.
Post-Tenure: Helen was devastated when Taft came third in 1912. She was angry at Roosevelt for splitting the vote. Helen had been busy during this election and had even attended the Democratic National Convention, despite it being the opposite party.
The family moved to Connecticut where Taft had become a professor at Yale. During that time, Helen wrote a book and continued her interest in suffrage. Helen took interest in WWI and became an avid supporter of the League of Nations. She often visited New York and became enchanted by theatre.
Helen was thrilled when Taft became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, mainly because she was back in her beloved DC. She began to enjoy risqué theatre and drinking despite Prohibition laws. Helen flouted the rules when drinking on American soil in London.
Taft died at home in 1930. Helen has remained by his side during his illness. She continued to travel around the world, from the Middle East to South America. Helen lived around the country, living with family. She was a supporter and friend of the Hoover family, but also had a good relationship with Eleanor Roosevelt. Her son Robert Taft ran for the Republican nomination in 1940 and she supported him.
Helen died in 1943. She is buried at Arlington with her husband.
Appearance and Character: Helen was a woman of average height with a serious, long face and hair piled on her head. She was an extremely intelligent, ambitious and political woman. Helen pushed for the best for her husband and used everything to get him to succeed. The two seemed to be a very happy couple. Helen also juggled her role in the orchestra and raising three young children without the help of her husband. She was determined and inclined to help others if she had the power to do so. Helen also showed great kindness to the native Filipinos and respected their culture greatly.
Advocacy: The arts (particularly music), suffrage and education.
Ellen Wilson (née Axson)- The Southern Belle
May 15, 1860-August 6, 1915
Children: Margaret, Jessie, Eleanor
Relation to President: Wife
Early Life: Ellen Axson was born to Samuel and Margaret. She was born mere months before the Civil War started and had to move around for safety for a lot of her formative years. Margaret Axson was a very intelligent and academic bookworm who passed on this interest to her daughter.
Ellen received a formal education from a very early age. She went to several schools and was marked as a very capable, bright child. Ellen even taught herself several subjects, though she did receive a very thorough course of education. She also attended art school in New York. Ellen enjoyed her time there, attending lectures and flirting with other men, despite her engagement. She also attended different churches and was a volunteer for underprivileged black children.
Ellen was very popular with men, but turned down numerous courtships and proposals. Friends joked that she was a ‘man hater.’ She enjoyed independence and only wanted a partner who could match with her intellectually.
She also suffered several tragedies. Her mother died in 1881, shortly after giving birth. Just before this, her father suffered a mental breakdown. A year later, Samuel Axson was admitted to an asylum. His death in 1884 was likely suicide.
Marriage: Woodrow Wilson was visiting a cousin in 1883 when he visited church. He caught sight of Ellen and was immediately struck by her. Wilson was attracted by her laughing eyes and thought that she seemed fun. Both were Southern-born children of Presbyterian ministers. Wilson’s father knew Ellen’s and he used this as an excuse to visit. Soon, they were exchanging letters. When Ellen’s father was committed, Wilson was by her side. She offered to break off the engagement but he refused.
Woodrow Wilson married Ellen Axson in 1885. Her grandfather and his father presided over the ceremony.
Pre-Tenure: Wilson began teaching at a Pennsylvania college and Ellen joined him. He was working on another book and relied on Ellen to be his professional partner. She assisted him in researching and translating German papers. Ellen also insisted her children not be born Yankees, travelling down to Georgia for the first two births. Unfortunately for her, daughter Eleanor was born in Connecticut where the family was living at the time.
Ellen enjoyed life as the wife of an academic and later, governor. She was an intellectual who was a voracious reader and avid scholar. When her daughters were small, Ellen took delight in teaching them thoroughly. She also attended home economics classes when she first married.
Ellen was interested in architecture and designed the family home. She also enjoyed travelling, both with and without her husband. Of particular interest were the art galleries of Italy. Ellen also enjoyed portrait painting when at home. She also smoked and learned how to use a gun when there was a spate of burglaries in the area.
When the family was at Princeton, Ellen befriended former President Grover Cleveland and his wife Frances. The couples shared their political views and two of their daughters were friends. Ellen spent a lot of time redecorating their house and gardens, establishing an infirmary and creating a group for faculty wives and female professors.
Upon Wilson’s election as the Governor of New Jersey, Ellen found time to pursue her love of arts. She also learned a lot about politics during the time and focused on getting her husband to the presidency. Ellen hosted dinners and was actively charitable.
During her husband’s campaign for President, Ellen was a steadfast ally. She helped him in any way she could and spoke out about being an ambitious, supportive spouse. Whilst Wilson was against female suffrage, Ellen supported it after seeing the work of her daughter Jessie. She hand wrote replies to all letters and advised her husband on political picks.
Tenure and Death: Wife Ellen held an Inaugural Luncheon, as her husband had cancelled the ball. She held numerous receptions and dinners, standing in the receiving line until everyone was met. In her downtime, she headed to the theatre and art galleries. Ellen enjoyed hosting musical performances at the White House and held many art exhibitions.
She received criticism for her clothing, but proudly responded about how little she cared for fashion. Ellen also followed the traditional route of redecorating the White House.
Her most notable work was her work in the slums. The issue was brought to her attention by another activist. Instead of just hearing about it from other people, Ellen headed to the slums of DC to see it for herself. She was horrified by the poverty of the mainly African-American slums and worked with other reformers to improve conditions. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to create new housing, though they did clear the slums. Ellen was also interested in health and safety, though she did not create the initiative.
In March 1914, Ellen had a nasty fall that left her bruised badly. She soon became fatigued and ill. At some point, Ellen was diagnosed with Bright’s disease, a kidney condition. A physician was brought in and the President was finally told that the illness was terminal, something that was already known by Ellen. Wilson informed the public that Ellen was dying. Her last wish was that the slums would be cleared, which they were.
Ellen Axson Wilson passed away on the 16th August 1914. For months, President Wilson would wander around the White House in a daze and ask what had happened. He remarried the next year, causing rumours that he’d been having an affair.
Appearance and Character: Ellen was a petite woman with light brown hair and dark brown eyes. She was an intelligent woman with a love of academics and the arts, particularly painting. Ellen was deeply ambitious on her husband’s behalf and encouraged his rise to power. She was extremely charitable and cared about the poor housing of DC’s African-American residents. Whilst she did not share the deeply racist views of her husband, Ellen still believed in segregation and held a paternalistic view of minorities.
Advocacy: Slum clearance and health and safety.
Margaret Wilson- The Lover of the East
April 16, 1886-February 12, 1944
Relation to President: Daughter
Early Life: Margaret Wilson was born to Woodrow and Ellen. She was a tomboy child with a quick tongue and intelligent disposition. Like her sisters, she received an excellent education and was close to her parents. Margaret was a very talented singer from an early age.
She attended school for a short time, but suffered from a breakdown over fear of failing. Her nervous disposition led her to drop out of school and focus on music lessons. Margaret went on a trip to Europe but failed to regain her health. She also suffered from an unknown physical condition.
Margaret joined her family in DC when her father became President. She was known to be a militant suffragist and more opinionated than her sisters. Margaret had her own schedule but was often ignorant of social customs. She was an unaffected girl who did not show airs and graces in the White House. Guests found her to be a fun and intelligent hostess who was at ease with strangers. Still, Margaret was often self-conscious and nervous.
One of her main interests was the conservation of birds and she helped create one of the first sanctuaries in the country. Margaret helped fund this by putting on a musical performance, joining others in singing. She was an active philanthropist and social reformer, having more progressive views on race than her parents.
When her mother fell ill, Margaret was devastated. She prayed by the bed.
Hostess and After: When Ellen died, Woodrow relied on Margaret, his only unmarried daughter, for comfort. Until her father’s remarriage, Margaret acted as hostess.
She encouraged the marriage of Wilson to Edith Bolling Galt, a wealthy widow. Margaret was fond of Edith and helped facilitate their relationship by bringing her to the White House. When Wilson and Edith married, Margaret was thrilled, having encouraged the match.
The First World War showed Margaret’s character. She initially worked as a Red Cross volunteer before undertaking a tour as a singer. She performed for paying crowds and soldiers, both of whom acclaimed her actions. Margaret visited the front in 1918, putting herself in extreme danger. She journeyed through poor conditions and visited field hospitals. Margaret toured with the French President and Belgian monarchy. She also witnesses the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.
Margaret’s trip caused her health to turn for the worse and she was forced to take two months of medical rest. She also lost her beautiful singing voice. When President Wilson became ill, she and Edith shared nursing duties. Physicians reported to them both. The pair withheld the true nature of Wilson’s health to all but a select few.
Margaret split time between New York and DC after her father left office. When he finally died, she and Edith were at his bedside. His death, however, led to an argument between the two women. Edith expressed some strange views about death that Margaret disagreed with. She also lashed out at Margaret and Eleanor. Hearing this, the remaining daughter Jessie also cut ties.
Margaret got some money from her father’s estate on the condition that she never marry, but she was forced to find employment to supplement her income. In 1924, Margaret was introduced to yoga. She became deeply interested in India. A decade later, Margaret became fascinated by the work of Sri Aurobindo, an Indian Mystic. Margaret wrote to Aurobindo and offered to be a disciple. Aurobindo told Margaret that she needed to focus on herself first.
In 1938, Margaret permanently relocated to India. She still lived a fairly Western life, using her inheritance to fund the community. Margaret became even more enamoured by the country. She worked as an editor for Aurobindo. Along with another scholar, Margaret translated the epic Bengali work ‘The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna.’
When World War Two struck, all Americans were encouraged to leave India. Margaret refused, despite attempts by her sister Eleanor and others. She turned to a vegetarian diet as prescribed by her community, but her poor health meant that she had to return to meat. Soon, Margaret’s kidneys started to fail and she developed uremia. It was suggested that Margaret return to America for treatment, but she refused.
Margaret died in 1944 and is buried in India.
Appearance and Character: Margaret was a tall, thin woman with glasses. She wore glasses. Margaret was extremely intelligent, independent and charitable. She cared deeply about women’s rights and supported African-Americans. Margaret loved music and academics. The war showed her depth of charity and strong nature. Margaret was a devoted daughter and loving sister, easily welcoming her new stepmother and helping her parents when they were unwell. She had a deep sense of adventure and appreciation for different cultures.
Advocacy: Suffrage, slum clearance and social reform
Edith Wilson (née Bolling, formerly Galt)- The First Female President
October 15, 1872-December 28, 1961
Relation to President: Wife
Early Life: Edith Bolling was born to William and Sally. Edith had an incredible family pedigree, tracing her origins back to some of Virginia’s most illustrious people such as Thomas Jefferson. She was also the seven times great granddaughter of Pocahontas. Her father turned to law after slavery was outlawed.
Edith spent time in both her large family home and crowded rooms above shops. She was educated informally for most of her life, mainly by her grandmother. Edith was sent to one school but hated it and left after only a short time. She was much happier a second time around but had to leave once the school closed down.
Marriages: Edith met a wealthy jeweller named Norman Galt. He pursued and courted her for four years before they finally wed in 1896. We know next to nothing about their marriage and relationship. Edith gave birth in 1903, but the baby died soon after and she was left infertile.
As her husband had no other heirs, Edith inherited the jewellery business. Much like Martha Washington before her, Edith threw herself into her new role and showed much talent. She hired a manager to oversee the business and managed accounts herself. Edith bought a car and was often seen whizzing around DC, with bemused policeman laughing her off as ‘that Mrs. Galt.’ She also travelled to Europe.
Edith was having tea with Wilson’s cousin as well as the girlfriend of his physician when they first met. Things happened quickly and the two were soon exchanging passionate letters. Wilson proposed only three months after they first met. Unfortunately, it was not well received. There had been rumours that he’d cheated on Ellen with Edith and even if that wasn’t true, then he was remarrying far too quickly. Newspapers published articles and cartoons accusing Wilson of adultery.
Once the mourning period for Ellen Wilson was over, Woodrow Wilson and Edith Bolling Galt wed.
Tenure: Edith became First Lady at a turbulent time. Due to the war and political campaigns, she never got to host dinners and parties like predecessors had. Wilson allowed her to sit with him as she conducted political business and even allowed her to access classified documents. Edith started to screen methods of communications, angering Wilson’s political and hired staff. She would also listen in when Wilson met foreign and domestic dignitaries.
When World War One started, Edith led the nation’s women. She reared sheep on the front lawn of the White House and sold off the wool for the Red Cross. Electricity was cut on certain days, whilst meats and wheat were not used once a week. When Wilson headed to Europe at the war‘s end, Edith followed him and was with him.
Only a few months later, Wilson suffered a debilitating stroke. Power should really have gone to the Vice President, Thomas R. Marshall. Instead, Edith and a few close friends concocted a plan to hide Wilson’s condition. Edith lied to the public, saying Wilson only needed temporary rest. She conducted business on his behalf, was the single point of access to the President and his steward. Edith would send her own notes to Congress and the Cabinet, which baffled them. When one of his Cabinet members held meetings without the President present, Edith pushed Wilson to have the man resign. She refused access to diplomats, got her husband ready when he did have visitors and pushed him to fight for his League of Nations vision.
Post-Tenure: Edith continued to be her husband’s guard after he left the White House. They remained in a house in DC. Once again, she was the single point of access to the late President. When Wilson died, she and his eldest daughter Margaret were at his side. Edith soon alienated the Wilson daughters and took control of his legacy. She only allowed people who would show loyalty to access his papers.
Edith remained politically active and attended the 1928 Democratic National Convention. She was part of the Woman’s National Democratic Club, was present when FDR addressed Congress after Pearl Harbour and attended JFK’s inauguration. The latter was her last public appearance. Edith also kept in contact with her successors as First Lady.
Edith died aged 89 on what would have been her second husband’s 105th birthday. She is buried with Wilson.
Appearance and Character: Edith was a handsome woman of medium height, with black hair, blue eyes and a round face. She was a political and business minded woman with a clear independence streak. Edith showed devotion to her husband, but also acted above her station. Her deception was morally grey and she certainly did not act in the bounds of government. Edith was happy to end friendships and political allegiances if they did not suit the Wilsons. Despite an initial closeness with her stepdaughters, Edith later alienated them.
Advocacy: Helping the war effort