Ellen Axson Wilson

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Ellen Wilson
First Lady of the United States
In office
March 4, 1913 – August 6, 1914
Preceded by Helen Herron Taft
Succeeded by Margaret W. Wilson acting
Edith Wilson
Personal details
Born Ellen Louise Axson
(1860-05-15)May 15, 1860
Savannah, Georgia, U.S.
Died August 6, 1914(1914-08-06) (aged 54)
White House, Washington, D.C., U.S.
Nationality American
Spouse(s) Woodrow Wilson
Children Margaret Woodrow Wilson
Jessie Wilson Sayre
Eleanor Wilson McAdoo

Ellen Louise Axson Wilson (May 15, 1860 – August 6, 1914),[1] first wife of Woodrow Wilson, was First Lady of the United States from 1913 until her death.


Born Ellen Louise Axson in Savannah, Georgia,[1] 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 3 and she was a baby. They met again in April 1883 when he was visiting his cousin Jesse Woodrow Wilson in Rome, Georgia, where she was keeping house for her widowed father. He thought "What splendid laughing eyes!"[2] They were engaged 5 months later, but postponed the wedding while he did postgraduate work at Johns Hopkins University and she nursed her ailing father.

Wilson, who was 28 years of age, married Ellen, age 25, on June 24, 1885, at her paternal grandfather's home 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:

Humorously insisting that her children must not be born Yankees, Ellen went to stay with relatives in Georgia for Margaret's birth in 1886 and Jessie's in 1887—but Eleanor was born in Connecticut in 1889, while Wilson was teaching at Wesleyan University.

Ellen Axson Wilson by her friend Frederic Yates - 1906

Wilson's distinguished career at Princeton University began in 1890, bringing Ellen new social responsibilities. As always, she took refuge from such demands in her art. She had studied briefly in New York City, and the quality of her paintings compares favorably with professional art of the period. As First Lady, she drew sketches and painted in a studio set up on the third floor of the White House. She donated 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!"

Ellen Louise Wilson's grave in Myrtle Hill Cemetery, Rome, Georgia, with her family graves

A descendant of slave owners, Wilson lent her prestige to the cause of improving housing in the capital's largely black slums. She visited dilapidated alleys and brought them to the attention of debutantes and Congressmen. Her death spurred passage of a remedial bill she had worked for.

She died of Bright's disease on August 6, 1914.[1] 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.


  • Miller, Kristie, Ellen and Edith: Woodrow Wilson's First Ladies (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2010)

External links[edit]

Honorary titles
Preceded by
Helen Herron Taft
First Lady of the United States
Succeeded by
Edith Bolling Wilson
Preceded by
Charlotte E. Stainsby Fort
First Lady of New Jersey
Succeeded by
Mabel Crowell Miller Fielder