Last night Ellen and Edith Wilson were once again the center of attention at the home of their husband, Woodrow Wilson. A party was held at the Woodrow Wilson House in Washington, DC to celebrate the publication of “Ellen and Edith: Woodrow Wilson’s First Ladies.”
Edith and Woodrow Wilson moved into the Georgian revival style mansion in the spring of 1921, after Wilson’s second term as president came to an end. He had suffered a stroke in October 1919. Edith, knowing her husband would not have wanted to retire, helped him carry on for the next 17 months.
Many criticized her decision and accused her of usurping power. “We have petticoat government,” cried one Senator. Some have even called her the first woman president. While this overstates the case, Edith was sensitive to the criticism.
In the dining room of the Woodrow Wilson House hangs a regal portrait of Edith. According to one of the Wilson House guides, it was originally painted for the White House. Edith decided to leave another painting of herself in the Executive Mansion. Edith might have thought the first portrait made her took too queenly.
Woodrow’s book-lined study was another draw for the party guests. Old copies of newspapers with headlines declaring the end of World War I had been placed on Wilson’s desk in honor of Veterans’ Day, then known as Armistice Day.
Ellen Wilson, Woodrow’s first wife, never lived in the DC residence. She died 17 months after Wilson took office, of kidney disease. But she, also, is represented in the Wilson House. She was a gifted artist who gave up her career in order to support her husband’s, but after their three children were grown, she returned to her painting.
A bonus for the guests last night was an exhibit of Ellen’s Impressionist landscapes in the downstairs gallery.