Ellen Axson Wilson
|First Lady of the United States|
March 4, 1913 – August 6, 1914
|Preceded by||Helen Herron Taft|
|Succeeded by||Edith Wilson|
|Born||Ellen Louise Axson
May 15, 1860
|Died||August 6, 1914
White House, Washington, D.C.
Born Ellen Louise Axson in Savannah, Georgia, the daughter of the Reverend Samuel Edward Axson, a Presbyterian minister, and Margaret Jane (née Hoyt) Axson, Ellen was a lady of refined tastes with a fondness for art, music and literature.
Thomas Woodrow Wilson first saw her when he was about three and she was only a baby. In April 1883, Woodrow visited his cousin Jesse Woodrow Wilson in Rome, Georgia and met Ellen again—she was now keeping house for her widowed father. He thought, "what splendid laughing eyes!" They were engaged five months later, but postponed the wedding while he did postgraduate work at Johns Hopkins University and she nursed her ailing father.
Wilson, aged 28, married Ellen, aged 25, on June 24, 1885, at the home of the bride's paternal grandfather in Savannah, Georgia. The wedding was performed jointly by his father, the Reverend Joseph R. Wilson, and her grandfather, the Reverend Isaac Stockton Keith Axson. They honeymooned at Waynesville, a mountain resort in western North Carolina.
That same year, Bryn Mawr College offered Dr. Wilson a teaching position at an annual salary of $1,500. He and his bride lived near the campus, keeping her little brother with them.
Together, the Wilsons had three daughters:
- Margaret Woodrow Wilson (1886–1944) - singer, businesswoman.
- Jessie Woodrow Wilson Sayre (1887–1933) - Born in Gainesville, Georgia, she attended Goucher College in Baltimore and worked three years at a settlement house in Philadelphia before marrying Francis B. Sayre in a White House wedding on November 25, 1913. They eventually settled at Cambridge, Massachusetts, when Mr. Sayre joined the faculty of Harvard Law School. Jessie was active in the League of Women Voters, served on the national board of the YWCA, and at the time of her death following an appendix operation, was secretary of the Massachusetts Democratic Committee.
- Eleanor Randolph Wilson McAdoo (1889–1967)
Humorously insisting that her own children must not be born Yankees, she went to relatives in Georgia for the birth of Margaret in 1886 and Jessie in 1887. Eleanor, however, was born in Connecticut in 1889, while Wilson was teaching at Wesleyan University.
His distinguished career at Princeton University began in 1890, bringing his wife new social responsibilities. From such demands she took refuge, as always, in art. She had studied briefly in New York, and the quality of her paintings compares favorably with professional art of the period.
As First Lady, Mrs. Wilson painted and drew sketches in a studio set up on the third floor of the White House, donating much of her work to charity. She arranged the White House weddings of two of her daughters.
The Wilsons had preferred to begin the administration without an inaugural ball, and the First Lady's entertainments were simple, but her unaffected cordiality made her parties successful. In their first year, she convinced her scrupulous husband that it would be perfectly proper to invite influential legislators to a private dinner, and when such an evening led to agreement on a tariff bill, he told a friend, "You see what a wise wife I have!"
A descendant of slave owners, Wilson lent her prestige to the cause of improving housing in the capital's largely black slums. Visiting dilapidated alleys, she brought them to the attention of debutantes and Congressmen. Her death spurred passage of a remedial bill she had worked for.
Her health failing slowly from Bright's disease, she died in the White House on August 6, 1914. On the day before her death, she made her physician promise to tell Wilson "later" that she hoped he would marry again; she murmured at the end, "...take good care of my husband." She was buried in Rome, Georgia, among her family. In December 1915, the president married Edith Bolling Galt.
Ellen Axson Wilson is buried at Myrtle Hill Cemetery.
- Original text based on White House biography
- "First Lady Biography: Ellen Wilson". National First Ladies' Library. Retrieved 2006-10-06.
- Wilson, Woodrow, and Wilson, Ellen Axson. The Priceless Gift: the love letters of Woodrow Wilson and Ellen Axson Wilson, Eleanor Wilson McAdoo, ed., McGraw-Hill, New York, 1962
- Miller, Kristie, Ellen and Edith: Woodrow Wilson's First Ladies (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2010)
- President Wilson's Other Wife - discusses Ellen Wilson with particular attention to her painting
- Ellen Wilson at Findagrave.com
Helen Herron Taft
|First Lady of the United States
Edith Bolling Wilson
Charlotte E. Stainsby Fort
|First Lady of New Jersey
Mabel Crowell Miller Fielder