when i started this project amazingly enough, i completely forgot the first rule of being a good reader. never judge a book by its cover. i had seen pictures of woodrow wilson and i can to the conclusion that he was cerebral and cool, that he was a stern schoolmaster, that he was the prim presbyterian. i knew very little about his first wife, ellen askin wilson and i decided she couldn't possibly have been interesting or important. i've never even heard about mary ellen hobart pack, which are wilson's intimate friend for eight years. i had heard about edith bolling galt even in everything i heard was bad, she was a power-hungry woman who seized power when
woodrow wilson had a stroke, that she was a secret woman president. fortunately i live right here in washington d.c. and just up the hill behind us is the library of congress, the sponsor of this great event. and it is a temple of learning and a fabulous resource for researchers. so, i started reading woodrow wilson's letters to alan acts can in 1883, just after they became engaged. they had a two-year engagement and wrote each other hundreds of letters. and what i discovered when it is reading the letters is yes, he was very cerebral, but he was far from cool. he was very romantic and
passionate. soon after their engagement, she wrote her, i am not a boy any longer. it is less for you to teach me that fast and measurable difference to train a youth fancy and demands over austrian laws. and sometimes absolutely absolutely frightened that the intent to give my for you. two years later, just before their marriage, he wrote her, asking her to imagine the warmest of cases pressed down upon the sweetest center of the ellipse. woodrow was not just romantic, however. he was unusually dependent on women for the fulfillment of his own powers. he could not work unless he was assured that a woman he loved loved him also.
fortunately, alan was the perfect partner for woodrow wilson. she loved him very much and she told him so eloquently. she was a very unusual woman for her time and place. she corrupt after the civil war in a small town in georgia and was unusually well-educated. her father was a presbyterian minister and alan was an avid reader. it was said she could find an apt quotation for any occasion. she also had abundant artistic talents. her work had won a prize at an exposition in paris and by the time she was 23, she concluded she was never going to find a man who could live up to her ideals. she decided that she and her friends would open a women's boardinghouse and they would support it with her artwork.
people began to call her alley at the man hater. and met woodrow wilson. i fell in love and got married. allen was not only a loving wife, she was a capable housemate. woodrow wilson was at really a fan, but he may have suffered from a learning disorder. he was almost 12 before he learned how to read. he had great difficulty in learning foreign languages, so alan learned german in order to translate the political monographs that he needed for his research. she also made digests of political science books in english for him. with her help, he achieved the first of his ambitions, which was to be a professor at his alma mater in princeton, untreated university. once he became a professor at
princeton, he was a popular professor. he began to be invited to make speeches and she helped him a great deal of his speeches as well, providing those apt quotations when he needed them. he was invited to give a very important speech for the 150th anniversary, the founding of princeton. and they collaborated closely on that speech. we found manuscripts with corrections in both the buyer and ratings and at one point she said, the ending is a little slack. you need to make it soar. you should read a poem by john nelson. she told him which poem to read. if you compare that to the speech, you can see it's exactly what he did. the speech is all of metaphors that obviously came from her experience about art in domestic
>> he went on vacation to england that summer and ellen went to an artist colony in connecticut. she had given up her artwork in order to devote herself to woodrow and she got back with it. all that summer he wrote her pleading letters, begging her to be forgiven. we don't know what she wrote because all her letters are missing. we think she probably burned them but at the end of the summer, woodrow wrote her a very happy letter. obviously, she'd forgiven him and he said it's even to be better to be loved if you don't deserve it. so wouldn't you think he would stop seeing mary peck.
no, he didn't. in fact, as soon as he got back to the united states, he and ellen went up to massachusetts where mary lived we are husband during the summer. i don't know why she did that. it could be that she wanted to see this rival. it could be that she wanted mary to see her and to know that she had the better claim on him. it could be that she wanted to protect woodrow wilson's reputation because he had a political career ahead of him. so she pretended that mary peck was a family friend. sure enough, in 1910, woodrow wilson was elected governor of new jersey. once again, ellen rose to the occasion. she'd been active in welfare work in her community. this was known as municipal housekeeping. women argued that if they could run households, they could also
clean up their communities. this was considered a safe alternative to the scary idea of women voting. so she began to investigate the state institutions. and she made a tour of many of them. this was a really ground-breaking move on her part. woodrow tagged along with that tour. woodrow's administration was such a success that he began to be spoken of as a potential presidential candidate. ellen recognized that there was a big obstacle to his running for president. william jennings bryant, who had three times been the democratic nominee for president and whom woodrow had insulted publicly several years before. so ellen arranged to have dinner
with bryant, a very intimate dinner and woodrow found out he liked bryant and they spoke on the same platform after that. and she did, as she had done before, continued to see mary peck as a family friend. woodrow began to travel around the country, making speeches. ellen followed his progress very closely. sending that telegrams of commentary. at one point she sent him a telegram saying stop saying you're not running for president. it just makes you look foolish he stopped. sure enough, he became the democratic nominee in june of 1912. partly, with the help of bryant. that summer when the republicans held their convention, william howard taft, the incumbent was
opposed by former president theodore roosevelt. taft won and roosevelt was so bitter over that loss that he formed a third-party, the progressive or bull moose party. >> and he was really seen as the bigger competitor to wilson. he was so popular. so one of roosevelt's advisors came up to him and he said, we've managed to obtain some letters of woodrow wilson's to mary peck. you should publish them and just campaign will be over. you will win. and roosevelt said, no, that would be wrong. also, he said nobody would believe me. who's going to think the man is a romeo. he looks like he ought to be working in a drugstore. [laughter] >> so he did not publish the letters and woodrow wilson won. so in the beginning of 1913, ellen found herself in the white
house. it was not a place she ever wanted to be, but once she was there, she felt she had to use it for its maximum benefit. she began to be interested in what we would now call urban renewal. up here behind the capitol were a maze little alley ways, they were little, dark and dirty. they bred crime and disease. they were full of dilapidated little houses. at that time the federal government was running the district, and she wanted federal legislation to tear down those houses and build modern hygienic new houses at low cost for the residents. she got a white house car, and she began to take members of congress around those alleys to show them the squalor that existed right behind the marbled
halls of the capitol building. as far as i know, she was the first first lady to lobby outside of the white house to a car that was not on her husband's agenda but in the send year of woodrow wilson's term, her health began to decline. and by june of 1914, she could no longer get out of bed. her doctor was in denial. he thought she was suffering from nerves. woodrow was distracted because at the end of june, the arch duke france ferdnan was killed. it was clear that ellen was dying. this was two days after all the european powers had declared war on each other. ellen knew she was running out of time. so she made two final requests.
the first was to her husband's chief of staff. she asked him, please to go up to capitol hill and tell the congressmen she would die more easily if they would just pass that alley legislation. the senate took action right away in time for her to receive word before she lost consciousness. the bill was eventually passed but it was never implemented. with the onset of world war i, they needed all the buildings they could have, dilapidated or not and in any case they had more important things to think about. ellen's second request was to the white house physician. she said, doctor, please take care of my husband, and then she died. woodrow was disconsulate. he wandered the halls of the empty, echoing.
he told one correspondent that he was reading detective stories as a man get drunk just to forget. you might have thought he would have turned to mary at this time, but due to the pressures of the presidency, their relationship really had cooled. and in any case, that would have confirmed the rumors about them. so he was alone. by the spring of 1915, the doctor became worried. after all, his patient was the president and the world was at war. so he introduced a friend of his, edith bowling galt to the president. mrs. galt was a widow. she was the proproprietor of galt jewelers which we old timers in washington remember fondly. it was known as the tiffany's of washington. she was 15 years younger than woodrow. she was vivacious, cheerful,
flirtatious. the first night she came to dine in the white house in a long black velvet gown, woodrow wilson's secret serviceman said to his valet, oh, she's a looker. and the valet said, yeah, he's a goner. [laughter] >> and he was. he proposed marriage to her just two months after they met. she refused. she said they hadn't known each other long enough and in any case it, hadn't been a year, the minimum amount of time before a remarriage. woodrow didn't give up. in july, he invited edith to vacation with him and his three grown daughters in new hampshire. and he proposed again. this time, she accepted. but they kept the engagement secret because it still had not been a year since ellen's death.
there was another wrinkle to this romantic saga and that was mary. woodrow confessed to edith -- he called his relationship with mary a folly, long-ago loathed and repented of. she forgave him but she made sure it was over. they announced their engagement in october of 1915. even before they got married, woodrow took her into his confidence. he wanted her to share every aspect of his work with him. he showed her secret state department documents. he annotated them for her better understanding, and she loved that. she liked to say, i love the way you put one dear hand on mine while with the other you turn the pages of history. they got married at the end of
december, 1915. 1916 was a presidential election year and woodrow was running for re-election. edith campaigned with him. she was a big asset to his campaign because she warmed up his austere image. in november, woodrow wilson was narrowly re-elected. they were using the slogan, he kept us out of the war. but shortly after his inauguration, the germans resumed unrestricted submarine warfare and the united states was drawn into world war i. edith's role changed almost completely. she volunteered in a red cross canteen, handing out coffee and sandwiches to the soldiers as they came through union station. what she really liked was anything to do with woodrow. she named battleships.
when he had to sign commissions for new officers in the army, she made a little game of it, risking away one paper and putting another one down in front of him. trying to see how many they could do in an hour. she even decoded the telegrams coming from europe, arguably, her most important job was keeping the president healthy. every day she would drag him out to play golf. they were both terrible golfers but they enjoyed it a lot. on november 11th, 1918, the war ended. and woodrow made the surprising decision to go to europe himself to negotiate the peace treaty. he was the first sitting president to go to europe and, of course, she was the first presiding first lady to go to europe. they were greeted like heroes. they were met by thongs of people throwing flowers and cheering them. they stayed at buckingham
palace. edith wrote home, it was like a cinderella existence. but once the negotiations began, things got tough. and woodrow's health began to suffer. finally, in june of that year, the treaty of versailles was signed. it provided for a league of nations, an international body that would mediate disputes and hopefully prevent war in the future. but when woodrow brought the treaty back to the united states to be ratified by the senate, the senate refused. they were jealous of their constitutional prerogative to declare war and they were afraid the league of nations would oblige them when they didn't want to. they wanted to add amendments or reservations. and woodrow wanted the document ratified as written. so he undertook a speaking tour
by train all across the united states to california and back. it was september. it was hot. of course, there was no air conditioning in these metal cars. he was speaking every day, sometimes more than once. as they returned from california and wound up through the rocky mountains, the altitude began to tell on his blood pressure. in pueblo, colorado, he collapsed. they raced back to washington, but it was too late. a few days after they arrived, he suffered a massive stroke. he was paralyzed. he could hardly speak. nobody knew what his mental faculties were like and as president he was completely incacapacitated -- incapacitated.
edith decided to carry on. she had done what no other first lady since, she instructed the white house and doctors to keep his condition a secret. and she was the one who decided what should happen next. the next 18 months, the rest of his term, she later characterized as her stewardship. she decided who could see woodrow wilson. she decided what issues would be brought before him. mostly, she just deferred things. she wanted to wait until he should recover. she was implored to take more action for the sake of the country and she said, i'm not thinking about the country. i'm thinking about my husband. some people say that if she had allowed woodrow wilson more access to his advisors, that
they would have changed his mind and gotten him to compromise on the league of nations. we discovered that edith herself wanted woodrow wilson to compromise. she thought his failure to compromise would mar his place in history. but she urged him gently. and when he resisted, she didn't insist. she always did what he wanted. so they stayed in office until the end of his term in march of 1921. they left the white house. they settled here in washington. he was the only president to have done that after leaving office. three years later, he died. after his death, edith had opportunity to run for office herself. she never took it. she was not interested in public
office and political power. she never proposed any new legislation or lobbied for any cause. she didn't even think women audit to have the vote. i began this project thinking that edith was the path-breaker, the secret woman president. but i discovered that ellen was the one who shaped history in her own way. she was the innovativer. in her husband's administration, there was an assistant secretary to the navy, franklin delano roosevelt. his wife, eleanor roosevelt, was a young wife who sometimes visited the white house and knew ellen wilson. after ellen's death, no subsequent first lady lobbied for legislation until eleanor roosevelt entered the white
house in march of 1933 during her first week there, she went up to capitol hill and began to lobby for an alley bill. as we all know, she lobbied for a lot of things in the next 12 years. and after her, most first ladies have felt they could and should have a cause of their own. this book festival was founded by laura bush, whose cause was libraries and literacy. arguably, a direct connection between ellen wilson and where we are today. i also discovered that being close to a president may seem glamorous, but it's very tough. all three of the women involved
with woodrow wilson paid a heavy price. but i think that ellen realized this. she, of course, died in the white house. mary peck had wanted to go to the white house, but she wound up in a boarding house on the wrong side of the tracks. edith had to nurse an invalid in the white house. but ellen could have been speaking for all three of them, when she wrote woodrow at the end of her life, this has been the most remarkable life history i ever even read about. and to think that i have lived it with you. i wonder if i am dreaming and will wake up and find myself married to a bank clerk. thank you very much. [applause]
>> so i think we have a few minutes if anyone would like to ask a question. sir. >> i'm really looking forward to reading your book. i've probably read a couple of biographies of woodrow wilson and most recently went to his childhood home, et cetera. and i saw a documentary about the women's party and the women's suffrage. and he let women be jailed for protesting at the white house. >> that's true >> alice paul led a number of women in prison on hunger strikes. and he comes across as a southern gentleman who had racism and antisexism as part of
his nature. so it's really surprising to hear that he was as dependent on women as your book will demonstrates. do you have any comments on these weaknesses of his, i guess? >> well, the first comment, thanks very much. that's a very, very good observation. one of those is that -- it was a sign of the times. many women themselves did not approve of the vote. there were two branches of the women's suffrage movement. my grandmother was involved in the non-alice paul one. i discovered in the course of my research that she had been received at the white house because they were not picketing. they were trying to do it through political action. and he respected that, and he wanted to encourage that. i had not known that before i started researching the woodrow wilson papers in the white house
log. edith was even more indignant than woodrow. woodrow used to invite the picketers into the house during cold weather for coffee. and when they refused to come in and be given coffee, edith just had a fit. she thought that was terribly rude to take their gentlemanly overtures which we understand that would cut their point. but it was certainly nothing that -- that i'm a big apologist for where woodrow was concerned. i certainly think the women in his life, particularly, ellen, were extremely admirable. ellen herself was a great activist through her work for the alleyways. and she was recognized by the leading african-american newspaper at that time, the washington bee.
after her death, they wrote and said, if only other white women could be as active as she is in trying to ameliorate the conditions of the african-american community in washington, we'd get ahead further. but woodrow wilson was a southerner. everybody in his, you know, large number of the people in his cabinet were southerners. it was part of the culture of his time and his administration. thank you. yes, ma'am. >> that's not on? >> yes. >> thank you for writing this book. it's very interesting. and my question is, what happened to edith after his death? was there some sort of federal support or pension for her to care for her or what happened? >> good question. she lived for 38 more years. at the time she died in 1961, she was 89. and by the way, she died on
woodrow wilson's birthday which kind of gives me goose bumps. but there was no definite policy about giving pensions to the widows of presidents. they had to be negotiated kind of on a year by year basis. i think eventually they were established. but in the beginning, it was a little bit dicey. she, of course, had been quite wealthy before she married woodrow. she had that flourishing jewelry star although that kind of took a hit during the depression and she had economize from time to time, she did all right. she never had children. and she donated their house on s street near dupont circle to the national trust for historic preservation. it's a wonderful little museum. a little time capsule of life in the 1920s. so if you're interested in woodrow wilson, that's a great
local place to visit. >> thank you. do we have any indication as to what ellen's illness was? >> yes. she suffered from -- what was then called bright's disease, which was kind of a catch-all phrase for kidney trouble. she had first been diagnosed with kidney trouble during her third pregnancy in 1889. but, again, they didn't have a lot of medicine or treatment for that, and she probably would have succumbed to kidney disease in any case. woodrow was extreme guilty about it. he felt that the pressure of the white house had done her in. but i think she -- she always was going to get kidney disease. and that's what she died of. >> hi, i wondered if you would talk a little bit about the course of your research for this book? you mentioned the library of congress. what -- what documents you came
across that were most important? if you knew what you were looking for when you came in or if you found things while in the course of your research that you didn't expect? >> well, first, i have to say i couldn't have done it without the help of my research associate robert h. mcginnis. and also the fabulous annotated collected letters and papers of woodrow wilson which were edited arthur link. 69 volumes of papers. the originals are in the library of congress on microfilm but thanks to that wonderful annotated book is always resource but some of ellen's papers are there. edith's papers -- one of the most poignant i found among ellen's papers were two notes that she wrote to margaret, her oldest daughter a few days before she died. and she said the doctors say i'm going to get better, but i don't feel i'm going to get better.
and she also said, my nights are so full of pain. they were just, you know, heart wringing to read those and to hold the papers that she wrote is also very magical. and especially for edith's papers. all of edith's papers are there. many of them were not collected because, of course, the woodrow wilson papers pretty much stop with his death and she's got another 38 years. so the papers for the chapter on her life after woodrow were very, very key there. and at the risk of sounding like an infomercial, i just have to have a big shoutout to jeff flannery and the manuscript reading room because they're just wonderful. anyone who wants to do research there, will find a great team. >> thank you. >> first, i'd like to thank you for your tribute to these great women. i was wondering if you could
talk about ellen and woodrow's three daughters. if any of them followed in their mother's footsteps with advocacy or supporting other great men or what of their own accomplishments they had on their own. >> great question. their oldest daughter margaret was a singer. we felt at the end of the day she probably didn't have a whole lot of talent and people were nice to her because her father was president. i think this might have gradually dawned on her because eventually she went off and lived in ashram in india where she died. the second daughter got married and their son became dean of the washington cathedral. a very beloved figure in washington. and, of course, woodrow wilson and edith are buried at the cathedral so there's that nice connection. the youngest daughter known as nell married one of woodrow wilson's cabinet members, a man
considerably older than she was. william gibbs mackado and they had children. and they were later divorced and he married somebody even younger. i would say the middle one was the closest to her mother. she had been active in the settlement house movement. she used to argue with ellen about woman suffrage. jessie certainly felt that she -- that women should have the vote. ellen simply didn't want to come out and say something contrary to what her husband had said but in one interview she said at least working women should have the vote to protect themselves. i just got a couple minutes. you have one more question, madam? >> yes. thank you. i was intrigued by edith's role after her husband had the stroke. it sounds like she was a surrogate president. was there any debate at that
time about wilson being declared incompetent and the vice president taking over? and if you would care to speculate what that would have meant for our history? >> it's a big question in 2 minutes. but it's a good one. i'll do my best. yes. she was deceptive. no two ways about it. there was a committee of two senators who came to see what his condition was like. one democrat and one republican. and she and the doctor orchestrated the viewing of woodrow to have him seen at his best advantage, completely hoodwinked these two senators who came away and told all the press that he was doing just fine, thank you, when he could hardly get out of bed. so she definitely was duplicitous about that. and, yes, i think it would have made a huge difference if she had not lied to the american
people, basically, about his condition. she knew that he wanted to stay in office, and all she cared about was what he wanted. she was not thinking about the country. alas and alack. certainly, if he had resigned, the vice president would have taken over. the vice president would have compromised. we would have joined the league of nations. then the question gets trickier, would that have made a difference? some people say, yes, if we'd joined the league of nations, then there wouldn't have been world war ii. there was a league of nations, of course, we weren't in it. but it did nothing to stop world war ii. in 1937, bob found a great study that showed that 70% -- a gallup poll showed that 70% of the american people thought it had been a mistake to go into world war i. this was in 1937. we were a very isolationist
country at that time. even if we'd joined the league of nations, it would have been with those amendments, which would have meant we wouldn't have had to do whatever the league of nations determined. so i don't think at the end of the day it would have made any difference but there are plenty of wilson scholars and some of them disagree with me. if you want the argument on the other side, i refer you to the wonderful biography by john milton cooper of woodrow wilson that came out a couple of years ago. he's ver