The Other 28th President: Edith Bolling Wilson Part 3

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

Edith stood guard over her critically ill husband, warding off Cabinet members and other officials who "had to see the President." Joseph Tumulty, Wilson's loyal secretary, wore a hangdog expression, for he was shunted aside. Now and then Edith would disappear into the sickroom, carefully closing the door behind her, to relay a message from some official. Emerging, she would report that "the President says . . ." Edith screened all problems that would ordinarily reach the President, and for a few minutes each day she consulted with her husband, whose mind was lucid despite his physical condition. But it was Edith who decided which matters should be brought to his attention. She conferred with officials, giving advice; when 2 department secretaries resigned, she selected men to replace them.

All papers, letters, and documents from the Cabinet and Congress went to Edith. She guided Wilson's hand as he signed congressional bills. Senators who knew his handwriting suspected Edith of forgery. Sometimes Edith related the President's wishes on memorandums received. Her big round handwriting would circle the margin of a letter written by a senator. Eyebrows were raised as a senator or Cabinet member viewed her childish writing, and balefully turned the paper this way and that to decipher the weaving message.

Congress viewed her activities with a good deal of consternation. Sen. Albert Fall of New Mexico almost became violent. He pounded on the table and thundered, "We have a petticoat Government! Mrs. Wilson is President!" An avalanche of newspaper criticism of her "regency" disheartened her, and some of the White House servants, alluding to her ancestry, resented "being forced to work for an Indian."

As for the country's domestic affairs, it must be admitted that a number of "housekeeping chores" had to go by the board. A mining strike awaited the setting up of a commission to resolve it. Vacancies on a few commissions went unfilled temporarily. But then, Vice-President Marshall had refused to do "any of the President's work." At least Edith, although swamped by the demands of national leadership, was trying.

As to foreign affairs, one crucial time, Wilson did not heed her advice. When she asked him to consent to Senator Lodge's stipulations on U.S. entry into the League of Nations, Wilson said No. Because Wilson refused to compromise, the Senate voted to keep the U.S. out of the League. Edith's political acumen might have changed the course of history here.

Edith Wilson's initiative and determination won praise as well as castigation. The London Daily Mail reported that Mrs. Wilson was proving to be a perfectly capable "President." A member of the opposition party, a Republican journalist named Dolly Gann, exulted over the fact that a woman in the White House knew how to take over and act when necessary for the good of her country.

Wilson recovered and completed his term. Had it not been for Edith, he could long since have been removed from office for inability to perform his duties as President, and Thomas Marshall, who liked being Vice-President because he had "no responsibilities," would have succeeded to the highest office in the land. Edith Wilson never wavered in her loyalty to her husband, the 28th President of the U.S. After his death, she maintained her interest in the League of Nations and international cooperation, the cause in which he had so firmly believed.

There is no chance today of having another Edith Wilson acting as an American "Presidentress." The 25th Amendment, ratified February 10, 1967, clearly defines what happens in case the President is incapable of governing. The 1st official female President will have to be duly elected.

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