AKA Ellen Louise Axson
Birthplace: Savannah, GA
Location of death: Washington, DC
Cause of death: Kidney failure
Remains: Buried, Myrtle Hill Cemetery, Rome, GA
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: First Lady, Artist
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: First wife of US President Woodrow Wilson
Ellen Axton's father was a Presbyterian minister, and while she briefly knew her future husband as a child, she and Woodrow Wilson had their first meaningful meeting when he was a young lawyer, attending services at her father's church. As their romance blossomed, her mother died giving birth to another daughter, and her father subsequently lost his grip on reality, and was committed to an insane asylum before killing himself. Barely a year after her father's suicide, Woodrow and Ellen were married at the home of her grandfather, who was also a minister.
Ellen Wilson herself lived through depression in 1905, after her brother, his wife, and their infant son were all killed when the horse pulling their carriage spooked, and plunged into a raging river. In the aftermath she considered suicide, but instead devoted herself to her church and her art. She was a talented painter, and sold many of her works, signed "E.A. Wilson", donating the proceeds to charity.
After her husband became Governor of New Jersey, Mrs Wilson again lapsed into depression when he ran for the Presidency and, fearing that opposition Republicans would use his marital infidelity against him in the campaign, he confessed to his wife that he had been involved with a well-to-do widow, Mary Peck. Mrs Wilson stayed with her husband, but she knew even before he won the election that she was not well. Her kidneys were failing.
She was America's First Lady for only seventeen months, and used her celebrity to speak out for better living conditions for poor and black Americans. She pressed her husband for laws limiting child labor and compelling school attendance. As her illness progressed, her three daughters and her cousin Helen Bones acted as surrogate hostess for White House events, and in her last days Mrs Wilson reportedly told her physician to encourage her husband to re-marry. About six months after her death, President Wilson met Edith Bolling Galt, and they were married several months later.
The Wilsons' youngest daughter, Eleanor, married her father's Secretary of the Treasury, William G. McAdoo, in a spectacular White House wedding, but they were divorced in 1934. She became a well-known author, radio commentator, and peace activist, and she was present at the founding of the United Nations in San Francisco in 1945. Their second daughter, Jessie, was a long-time activist for women's suffrage, and took up her father's call for the creation of a League of Nations. She married Francis Bowes Sayre, who was U.S. High Commissioner to the Philippines in the early 1940s. The Wilsons' eldest daughter, Margaret Woodrow Wilson, was a spiritual wanderer who left the family's Presbyterian church, traveled to South India and settled in the small town of Pondicherry, where she lived the rest of her life in the ashram of Sri Aurobindo, who re-named her Nishtha.
Father: Samuel Edward Axson (Presbyterian minister, b. 23-Dec-1836, d. 28-May-1884 suicide)
Mother: Margaret Jane Hoyt Axson (b. 8-Sep-1838, m. 16-Nov-1859, d. 6-Jun-1881 childbirth)
Brother: Isaac Stockton Keith Axson (English Professor at Rice Univ., b. 6-Jun-1867, d. 26-Feb-1935)
Brother: Edward William Axson (b. 1-Mar-1876, d. 26-Apr-1905)
Sister: Margaret Randolph Axson Elliott ("Madge", b. 6-Jun-1881, d. 24-May-1958)
Husband: Woodrow Wilson (US President, b. 28-Dec-1856, m. 24-Jun-1885, d. 03-Feb-1924)
Daughter: Margaret Woodrow Wilson ("Nishtha", pilgrim, b. 30-Apr-1886, d. 12-Feb-1944)
Daughter: Jessie Woodrow Wilson Sayre (political activist, b. 28-Aug-1887, d. 15-Jan-1933)
Daughter: Eleanor Randolph Wilson McAdoo ("Nellie", b. 16-Oct-1889, d. 5-Apr-1967)
High School: Rome Female College, Rome, GA (1876)
Risk Factors: Depression
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