Edith Bolling Galt Wilson
October 15, 1872, in Wytheville, Virginia
December 28, 1961, in Washington, D.C.
The 42-year-old widow Edith Bolling Galt married the widower Woodrow Wilson in 1915 and served as first lady for the remainder of his presidency until 1921.
At the end of World War I, Wilson traveled to France to attend the Paris Peace Conference and help negotiate the Treaty of Versailles, which would commit the U.S. to joining the League of Nations. Edith went with him and thus became the very first first lady to accompany a president on an official visit abroad. Toward the end of his term, Wilson suffered a severe stroke that nearly killed him. With another 18 months left to serve as president, Edith obeyed his doctor’s advice and prevented as much stress as possible from further affecting him by closely monitoring not only his work, but also his visitors. Screening papers and advising him on matters of state was in fact nothing new––she had been reviewing and offering her own opinions on state papers since the days of their courtship. Though Edith considered her intervention a “stewardship,” many believed her actions during these last days of Wilson’s term gave her way too much influence within the executive office.
After the Wilson presidency, Edith wrote about her role during her husband’s illness, “I studied every paper sent from different Secretaries or Senators, and tried to digest and present in tabloid form the things that, despite my vigilance, had to go to the President. I, myself, never made a single decision regarding the disposition of public affairs. The only decision that was mine was what was important and what was not, and the very important decision of when to present matters to my husband. He asked thousands of questions, and insisted upon knowing everything, particularly about the [Treaty of Versailles].”