Did you know in 1919 a woman was running the country? I did not know this until a year ago. I was not taught this in school, and I wish I was. Edith Wilson secretly handled presidential affairs after a stroke left Woodrow Wilson partially paralyzed. Think about this. Your spouse has a powerful job, they are seriously incapacitated, and you are going to do their work. It’s important the public not know you are the one making all the decisions. So, you carry on day after day, figuring it out as you go. There is no Google search to help you. Forget about DIY tutorials on YouTube. You are on your own.
How much do you know about Thomas Woodrow Wilson’s term in the presidency? Let’s review. The period was 1913 until 1921. His term in the presidency was during World War I. He changed the tax system so that those who made less money paid fewer taxes, a system that is still in effect today. He started the Federal Reserve System to help regulate the economy, also still in effect. He put the Federal Trade Commission in place to keep business practices fair for all. After WWI ended, he formed the League of Nations. Woodrow Wilson dealt with world events like no one has done since.
There is much speculation of the actual duties Edith performed, as it was kept on the down-low. She brought matters to Woodrow’s attention, as she saw fit. Bills were signed, decisions were made, and the public had no clue the president was completely out of it.
It was the first time in history that America took center stage as a world power.
Is the fact Edith was in charge for so long one of the main reasons Woodrow Wilson is known for being one of the greatest presidents ever? This balanced combination of a husband and wife team must have been a powerful one.
She kept government officials from seeing him. Only a couple of his closest team members were aware of the severity of his condition. They set up a photoshoot, propping him up in bed with a notebook and pen in hand. The public knew he was ill. He had not made a public appearance in some time. Therefore, the photo in the papers had to accurately represent Woodrow Wilson performing his presidential duties. Otherwise, he would need to step down.
The stepping down procedure was unclear at the time for an illness of such magnitude. Edith and Woodrow hoped for a full recovery and didn’t want his time in office to come to an end. Thus, they carried on this ruse while Edith was essentially the nation’s chief executive from October 1919 until March 1921.
Edith Wilson’s memoirs were published 18 years later. She didn’t boast about her roles, spilling all of the details she held deep within her. She modestly talked about assisting the president with his duties and deciding which matters to bring to his attention. She was under doctor’s orders to keep her husband calm and to reduce his stress, to aid in his recovery.
For a year and a half, she made vital contributions during her time as Mrs. President.
For a woman with no formal education, that had been loosely home-schooled in her youth, she read every bill and paper that came her way while her husband was confined to his bed. She had to figure out the role of the president without the full support of White House staff. We don’t know how involved she was in presidential duties before her husband’s illness. This information would help me by quelling my curiosity over what she knew of presidential affairs before taking charge.
I cannot even begin to imagine what it was like for her. The worry over her husband’s failing health had to be heartbreaking and insanely stressful. Pile on more stress with learning a new job and the inability to seek support and solace from your friends. What can we learn from Edith Woodrow as our country takes more and more steps closer to supporting a female president in the White House?
Let’s read Edith Wilson’s memoir in middle and high school and have open discussions in the classroom about all that she didn’t write about.
What if she wrote a manual of her decision-making process? Imagine a world where a woman could feel brazen enough to write a truthful memoir in 1939, telling every thought and naughty detail of her life. I can’t even imagine that now, in 2019, 80 years later! I know I would want to do some bragging about how badass I was 20 years ago when I ran the country. Wouldn’t you?
Post-reading discussion questions for students:
What does this show of a woman leader?
What does this show of the relationship between a president and his partner?
How would you have liked Edith to have handled the situation? How would you?
How would you have liked Woodrow to have handled the situation? How would you?
What parts of her memoir do you think Edith left out? Why?
About The Blogger
Anastacia Elizabeth Walden lives and breathes in warm Gainesville, Florida. You will find her writing at an outdoor cafe or on her expansive back porch, always with hot tea or chilled kombucha to keep the creative juices flowing. Anastacia is a writer & editor, a matchmaker & a Licensed Midwife. She enjoys writing articles, books, and ghostwriting on various projects. She writes articles on health, vulnerability, empowerment, yoga, mindfulness, social/emotional learning, travel, nutrition, pregnancy, parenting, feminism, natural remedies, and emotional health. She has three books in various stages of editing. She is the author of Greater Than A Tourist: Gainesville, Florida. She makes art with found objects, cooks delicious and organic whole foods, practices yoga, exercises outside, travels, and writes daily as her passion.
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