The Magazine

The Two Mrs. Wilsons

The 28th president and the women who sustained him.

May 9, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 32 • By KEVIN R. KOSAR
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Wilson bucked up when he met Edith Bolling Galt. This “outgoing, buxom” Washington widow and jewelry store proprietor was literally what the doctor ordered: Dr. Cary Grayson, the president’s physician, arranged their first encounter. Soon Wilson was head over heels. He told Edith she was “the perfect playmate” who could “match and satisfy every part of me .  .  . the man of letters, the man of affairs, the boy, the poet, the lover.” They were married in December 1915.

As it happens, Wilson had no idea just how much he would come to need Edith. She buoyantly handled all the White House entertaining duties and social correspondence, and kept the weakening Wilson steady by compelling him to play golf and take long car rides with her. After the president was disabled by a stroke in October 1919, Edith held the White House together over the remainder of Wilson’s term. She beat back both the press and members of Congress and the cabinet who clamored for Wilson’s attention (or resignation), continued to dote on the invalid after he left office, and was at his side when he died in Washington in 1924.

“For the next thirty-seven years,” Miller writes, Edith devoted “her considerable energies to burnishing her husband’s legacy.” Her monuments to her husband include a presidential library, a foundation, a collection at the Library of Congress, and a museum. Woodrow Wilson had two wives who spent their lives for him. Woodrow Wilson was a very fortunate man. 

Kevin R. Kosar is the author, most recently, of Ronald Reagan and Education Policy.

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