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Mrs. President?


With Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) running for president in the 2008 elections, many wonder if she will become the first woman to lead the United States; but we may have already had a female leader from 1919-1921!

Edith Bolling Galt Wilson (1872-1961), a descendant of Pocahontas, was a well-to-do widow when she met the recently widowed president, Woodrow Wilson, in 1915. A swift romance followed, and they married by year's end, a scant 16 months after his first wife's death. Edith took on a public political role, and remained close by the president's side, keeping up to date on state matters. After Wilson's reelection in 1916, Edith did all she could to keep Wilson healthy under the tremendous strain caused by the U.S. entry into World War I. With the war's end in 1919, the Wilsons sailed to Europe for the international peace treaty agreements. Upon returning to the U.S., Wilson embarked on a cross-country train trip to drum up support for the League of Nations (the precursor to the United Nations), for which he needed the Senate's approval. At the end of September, he collapsed, and on October 2 he suffered a massive stroke which left him paralyzed on his left side and with difficulty in speaking. The tour was stopped, and the president was rushed back to the White House.

Wilson's doctor and secretary of state Robert Lansing wanted to inform the public of the president's critical situation, but Edith refused, and the public never learned that he had suffered a stroke or paralysis. Edith took control, and limited her husband's exposure to leaders of government, including his cabinet and vice president Thomas Marshall, and acted as a "steward" between them. With the president's health being her number one priority, Edith decided what matters of state would be presented to Woodrow. She later claimed in her memoirs that she never made any decisions, but this seems unlikely since she was the person who discussed matters with the president and relayed information back to interested parties. Many historians believe that her take on what had occurred was simply a matter of revisionism.

After leaving office in 1921, Edith continued caring for Woodrow until his death in 1924. For the remaining years of her life, she devoted her time to honoring her husband, and supporting democratic candidates. Her last public appearance was at the inaugural of President John F. Kennedy in January 1961, and she died 37 years to the day after her husbands' death.


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