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Edith Wilson

Edith WilsonAKA Edith Bolling

Born: 15-Oct-1872
Birthplace: Wytheville, VA
Died: 28-Dec-1961
Location of death: Washington, DC
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, Washington National Cathedral, Washington, DC

Gender: Female
Religion: Anglican/Episcopalian
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: First Lady

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Second wife of US President Woodrow Wilson

Edith Bolling Galt Wilson was descended from European royalty and from the native American princess Pocahontas. She also claimed ancestors that included Thomas Jefferson, Martha Washington, and Letitia Tyler. She described herself as having been raised in aristocracy, but in reality, despite her fine pedigree, her family had been financially ruined in the aftermath of the Civil War, and struggled through hard times during her childhood.

At the age of 23, she married Norman Galt, a jeweler and the brother of her sister's husband. They settled into a comfortable home in Washington DC, until he died suddenly after a dozen years of marriage. Several years after his passing, through Mrs. Galt's friendship with Helen Bones, a cousin of the recently deceased First Lady Ellen Wilson, she was introduced to President Woodrow Wilson. Mere months had passed since Wilson's wife had died, and it was considered somewhat scandalous when she began dating Wilson. Two months after they met, he proposed.

Almost as soon as they returned from their Virginia honeymoon her husband began his re-election campaign, and shortly after his second term began World War I was underway. So it was not a time of celebration, and as First Lady, Edith Wilson hosted few of the dinners, concerts, and society events traditionally held at the White House.

She often sat beside the President during Oval Office meetings, and he entrusted her with a secret code that allowed her access to the drawer holding classified information and wartime planning papers. Helping him lead the nation by example, she announced that on certain days of the week, conserving precious commodities for the war effort, the White House would not serve meat or cook with wheat. After the war was won, she traveled with her husband on an international goodwill tour, becoming the first First Lady to make international visits with European royalty.

In October of 1919, President Wilson suffered a severe stroke, and Mrs Wilson was intimately involved in the deception that followed. There was at the time no Constitutional provision for replacing an incapacitated President, and Mrs Wilson decided that she did not want Vice President Thomas R. Marshall to assume power. Falsely telling the public and Congress that her husband's illness was far less severe than it was -- that he only required bed-rest -- she began what she called her "stewardship" of the Presidency, becoming, in effect though not in title, America's first woman President.

She met with the members of her husband's cabinet, with Senators and Congressmen, and all correspondence and memos for the President were filtered through her. Mrs. Wilson made what were fundamentally Presidential decisions on many matters, passing only a small number of the most pressing items on for discussion with her disabled husband. She reportedly stayed up late in the night reading briefing papers intended for him, and issued Presidential orders via her own handwritten notes which were, she said, jotted down verbatim in the Presidential bedroom. In negotiations over her husband's envisioned League of Nations, a disagreement emerged, and Edith Wilson held fast, refusing to carry requests for a compromise to her husband. Some historians have speculated that Mrs. Wilson's perhaps inelegant handling of this situation (or other politicians' distaste at being forced to negotiate with a woman) was instrumental in the failure of the League of Nations proposal -- a failure that contributed to an eventual second World War.

Woodrow Wilson made a partial recovery, but remained a disabled man for the remainder of his life. After the Wilsons left the White House, she nursed him and managed his household and his legacy. Her autobiography, My Memoir, is considered to be largely a work of fiction. In the book, she portrayed herself as having made no significant governmental decisions after her husband's stroke, and described his disability as a challenging obstacle which he heroically overcame, never leaving the nation leaderless. Her version of history formed the basis for the 1944 film Wilson, for which Mrs Wilson was reportedly given complete script control. She was portrayed in the film by Geraldine Fitzgerald.

Father: William Holcombe Bolling (judge, b. 29-May-1837, d. 6-Jul-1899)
Mother: Sallie Spiers White Bolling (b. 5-Jan-1843, m. 18-Sep-1860, d. 1925)
Brother: Rolfe Emerson Bolling (banker, b. 22-Aug-1861, d. 3-Feb-1936)
Sister: Gertrude Bolling Galt (b. 16-May-1863, d. 16-May-1961)
Sister: Annie Lee Bolling Maury (b. 15-Jun-1865, d. 26-Feb-1917)
Brother: William Archibald Bolling (physician, b. 11-Oct-1867, d. 23-Oct-1934)
Sister: Bertha Bolling (b. 11-Oct-1869, d. 20-Sep-1937)
Brother: Charles Redefer Bolling (b. 11-Jun-1871, d. 11-Jun-1871)
Brother: John Randolph Bolling (advertising executive, b. 11-Apr-1876, d. 1952)
Brother: Richard Wilmer Bolling (jeweler, b. 6-Oct-1879, d. 18-Oct-1951)
Brother: Julian Brandon Bolling (construction worker, b. 7-May-1882, d. 28-Jul-1951)
Sister: Geraldine Bolling (b. 12-Aug-1885, d. 6-Jul-1887)
Husband: Norman Galt (jeweler, b. 1862, dated 1892-96, m. 30-Apr-1896, d. 28-Jan-1908)
Son: un-named (b. 1903, d. infancy)
Husband: Woodrow Wilson (US President, b. 28-Dec-1856, m. 19-Dec-1915, d. 03-Feb-1924)
Daughter: Margaret Woodrow Wilson (stepdaughter, "Nishtha", pilgrim, b. 30-Apr-1886, d. 12-Feb-1944)
Daughter: Jessie Woodrow Wilson Sayre (stepdaughter, political activist, b. 28-Aug-1887, d. 15-Jan-1933)
Daughter: Eleanor Randolph Wilson McAdoo (stepdaughter, "Nellie", b. 16-Oct-1889, d. 5-Apr-1967)

    High School: Martha Washington College, Abingdon, VA (1888)
    High School: Richmond Female Seminary (attended 1889-90)

    English Ancestry

Author of books:
My Memoir (1939, memoir)


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