The Other 28th President: Edith Bolling Wilson Part 1

About the other 28th President, Edith Bolling Wilson, who took charge during her husband Woodrow's illness.


The likelihood of a woman's becoming President of the U.S. in the near future is discussed more and more frequently these days. In an almost forgotten episode in the recent past, a woman who opposed the campaign for female suffrage was hailed by newspapers in this nation and abroad as "Presidentress of the U.S." She was Edith Bolling Galt Wilson, Woodrow Wilson's 2nd wife, who was virtual head of Government during his prolonged illness.

The Bollings were direct descendants of the Indian princess Pocahontas. Reduced to poverty in the aftermath of the Civil War, the onetime prosperous planter William Bolling took his wife, Sallie White Bolling, to Wytheville, Va. Here Edith was born October 15, 1872, the 7th of 9 children. Her father, a judge in the circuit court, had a modest income which permitted schooling for her brothers, but Edith was tutored in reading, writing, arithmetic, and French by her father and grandmother. Until she was nearly 13 years old, Edith was never outside the poor rural town the Bollings lived in. Eventually she was sent to boarding school, where she received 2 years of formal education.

Edith's 1st husband was wealthy businessman Norman Galt, who owned an exclusive jewelry store in Washington, D.C. When he died, she ran the store successfully herself for a time. Childless, she became the guardian of a teen-aged girl named Altrude Gordon, who later was engaged to White House physician Dr. Cary Grayson. Miss Gordon and her fiance asked Edith to befriend Helen Bone, a young cousin of the President. Through Helen, Edith met Woodrow Wilson, who was then a widower. Much to the dismay of Col. Edward House, the President's close adviser, Wilson soon married Edith Galt, who replaced the colonel as Wilson's confidante.

On the evening of September 25, 1919, in the midst of a triumphant speaking tour to rally support for the League of Nations, President Wilson collapsed and was rushed back to the White House. On October 2, he suffered a paralytic stroke and was totally incapacitated until mid-November. During the next few months, he slowly regained a tenuous hold on the responsibilities of the presidential office. In this interim, his wife embarked on the strange interlude known as "Mrs. Wilson's Stewardship," the words she preferred to use in describing her role. Some historians believe her stewardship lasted 17 months, until the end of Wilson's 2nd term.

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