Tuesday, October 16, 2007

October 15, 1872:

Edith Bolling Galt Wilson's Birthday

If ever there were a go-to First Lady, Edith Wilson was it. Yet Woodrow Wilson started his presidency in 1913 married to another woman, while Edith Galt was a wealthy widow in Washington, a stranger at the time. In August 1914, President Wilson's first wife, Ellen, died at age 54. Later, Edith and Woodrow became acquainted through mutual friends, and in December 1915, they married. Wilson became the second president to marry in office, after Grover Cleveland.

De facto president? Firstladies.org makes a good case that she muscled Vice President Marshall out of a more important role while President Wilson was ill -- and was petty about it at times: "One of the most dramatic chapters in presidential history unfolded in 1919 when Wilson suffered a debilitating stroke. Edith Wilson decided to somehow continue the Administration by conducting a disinformation campaign, misleading Congress and the public into believing that the President was only suffering from temporary exhaustion which required extensive rest. She became the sole conduit between the President and his Cabinet, requiring that they send to her all pressing matters, memos, correspondence, questions and requests.

"After deciding that Wilson should not resign and that Vice President Thomas Marshall should not assume even temporary responsibility, she began what she termed her 'stewardship.' Most crucially, she decided what she felt was important enough to trouble her husband about as he lay disabled in his sickroom. The result was often a confused response for the Cabinet, accompanied by their original papers with often-indecipherable notes in Edith Wilson's handwriting, which she claimed were verbatim notes she took of the President's answer to their questions.

"When the Secretary of State Robert Lansing conducted a series of Cabinet meeting without the President, the first being in October 1919, Edith Wilson considered it an act of disloyalty and pushed for his replacement with the more acquiescent Bainbridge Colby. Wilson requested Lansing's resignation in February 1920...
"In September 1919, Edith Wilson refused to have the U.S. accept the credentials of British representative Edward Grey who had been sent by his government to aid in the push for ratification of Wilson's League of Nations unless Grey dismissed one of his aides who was known to have made demeaning jokes at her expense..."

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