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tv   First Ladies Influence and Image  CSPAN  August 23, 2015 8:00pm-10:04pm EDT

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>> thank you all. thank you. [applause] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2015] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit] announcer bank you are watching american history tv all weekend, every weekend on c-span3. to join the conversation, like us on facebook. >> american history tv is featuring c-span's original series "first ladies: image and influence" at 8:00 p.m. on sunday nights throughout the rest of this year. c-span produced the series and cooperation with the historical association. through conversations with experts, video tour's, and
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questions from c-span audience, we tell the stories of american 45 first ladies. ellen edith wilson on first ladies. this is about 90 minutes. susan swain: this is the woodrow wilson house in washington, d.c., the home of our 28th president and former first lady edith wilson after they left the white house in 1921. you'll be seeing more of it over the next two hours as we tell the story of the two wilson administration first ladies, ellen and edith. ♪ susan swain: ellen and woodrow met in their 20's and their love for each other was reflected in passionate letters.
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an accomplished artist as well as his intellectual companion, she helped guide his career from academia to politics. in adopting causes, she set an example for future first ladies. ellen wilson died in the white house just a year and a half into the president's term. the grieving president soon met washington businesswoman edith galt through a mutual friend. they married after a secret courtship and edith wilson served as first lady for more than five years. her unprecedented role in managing the president's affairs after he suffered a stroke remains one of the most controversial efforts of any first lady. good evening and welcome to c-span's continuing series, "first ladies: influence and image." tonight the story of the wilson administration's two first ladies ellen and edith and we have two terrific guests here to tell you about this two interesting women and the times in which they lived. kristie miller is a biographer of the two first ladies. her book is "ellen and edith: woodrow wilson's first ladies." john milton cooper is woodrow wilson's biographer.
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mr. cooper, thanks for being with us. well, we're going to break precedent a little bit. we've been telling these stories chronologically but everybody knows about edith wilson managing the white house as it's described after her husband suffers a stroke. and we thought we would tell that story first because so many people really want to know what happened. so, john cooper, let me start with you, when in the president's administration did he suffer the stroke? john milton cooper: more than halfway through the second term. it was in october 1919. he had just returned from a whirlwind speaking tour. he was trying to sell the country on ratifying the peace treaty and going into the league of nations and he'd really worn himself out on that. and his doctors had actually aborted the tour and got him back to the white house and he -- after about five days back in the white house he suffered this massive stroke. susan swain: the story of the stroke night itself is really very dramatic. could you tell us briefly about what happened in the white house that night? kristie miller: there are some conflicting reports about what happened but i think that the most accurate portrayal is that he got up in the morning, edith
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had been going in to check on him during the night and she found him slumped to the floor and he couldn't move his left side. she went out into the corridor to use a telephone that did not go through the switchboard. she did not want to have this universally known. and she asked the chief usher to call the doctor from this other phone. and the doctor came in, they helped him into bed but he was paralyzed on his left side. susan swain: well, a character that's going to be a big part of this story is cary grayson. who was he? john milton cooper: cary grayson was a navy doctor. he had made that his career after he finished med school and he'd been assigned to the white house first under the taft administration. and then shortly, well, taft introduced him -- introduced him to his successor wilson and then pretty soon after the inauguration was and it was wilson's -- kristie miller: that was during the inauguration. john milton cooper: ok.
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it was wilson's sister fell down. susan swain: right. john milton cooper: and grayson treated her and did a good job and also he was a very charming man and a virginian, too, which helped, you know, with the wilsons. yes. susan swain: and his role with the president's medical condition after the stroke was what? john milton cooper: he was the white house physician. i mean, he is the one who treats him. that was his -- i'd say that was just everything he did was that. they called in various consultant specialists but grayson is the one that's really treating wilson. susan swain: now, you told us that the president was paralyzed but what was the extent of the -- of his condition? how badly had the stroke affected him? kristie miller: he had a blockage in an artery leading to his brain. and this is usually not a fatal stroke but it did immobilize him for a while. he probably would have recovered fairly rapidly had he not about 10 days later suffered a second medical condition. he had prostate trouble and he had a urinary tract infection with a very high fever. of course, they didn't have
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antibiotics at that time. they debated whether to operate but the specialist felt that to operate on a 62-year-old man with high blood pressure and a stroke would have been very unwise. so, they just tried to let nature take its course and eventually he recovered but it really sapped his vitality. and this kind of one-two punch really did him in for about a month. john milton cooper: it was i think -- kristie is free to agree or disagree -- but i think the worst effect of the stroke on wilson was really on his emotional balance and his judgment. his intellect wasn't impaired. his speech wasn't impaired so that yes, he could function that way but, you know, so much more goes into being a leader, being a president than just being smart and just being able to do these things. and another thing is partly because of that other illness that you just talked about, kristie, they isolated him and that was what -- when you're supposed to keep them away from any stress or whatever and now
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the neurologists say that is exactly the wrong thing to do. what you want to do with a person who's had a stroke is get them back into social interaction and everything as soon as you can. so, they would with the best of intentions they were doing exactly the wrong thing. susan swain: dr. cary grayson's letters are part of the collections at the woodrow wilson presidential library which is in staunton, virginia about two hours away from washington. and we visited there. in the course of putting this program together we're going to learn a little bit more about some of the history grayson captures in his letters. peggy dillard: we have a letter in this box from henry morgenthau who was later writing his -- wanting to write a book about his experiences. and so he's asking grayson if he can use certain information. he wants to use in the book the information you gave me about president wilson and your having
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come to the conclusion that he should resign and how he was influenced by mrs. wilson to give up this plan. so, mrs. wilson was very concerned that her husband would not get better if he did not have something to engage his mind, that he would just deteriorate if he was forced out of the presidency. while president wilson was ill it has been speculated widely among historians that mrs. wilson essentially became the president. we have one document here that sheds a little bit of light on that. it is a telegram from henry morgenthau who is the ambassador to turkey and he's writing to dr. cary grayson asking if the president has any objections to a citizens' meeting to protest against turks being left in control of constantinople. and morgenthau has been asked to speak at this meeting and so
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he's asking basically permission. he doesn't want to embarrass the president so he's asking for advice. and on the -- at the bottom of this telegram, there is a handwriting that is edith's handwriting. we're familiar enough with edith's handwriting to recognize it as such. and at the bottom she writes -- "thinks it well to postpone speaking on such subjects." what we don't know is did edith take this telegram into wilson, ask his opinion, and then write that or did she just come to that conclusion herself. the public was very interested and curious to know the condition of wilson's health. and so, you know, rumors were rampant in the papers even congressmen didn't know what was going on. they only knew what they read in the papers. after it was all over, cary grayson later wrote up a summary of what happened from the time
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of the stroke until wilson left the white house. and on the last page, the decision was made to announce that wilson was suffering from nervous exhaustion. there were no other details given as to what was wrong with him, really nobody knew the extent of his illness, that he really was not capable of doing anything. dr. grayson, thought it wise to issue general statements only. further, mrs. wilson, the president's wife was absolutely opposed to any other course. she did not want it to be known that he was really suffering. again, she was protecting her husband. she wanted him to be able to fulfill his duties as president. she was worried about his legacy. she -- ultimately, she was concerned about his health. and she felt that if he left the presidency, left the white
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house, he would just waste away and die. so, john cooper, the constitution we should say made no provisions for what would happen with an incapacitated president. so, what did washington do? how did they react? john milton cooper: well, a couple of different ways. robert lansing who was the secretary of state and would have been fired if wilson hadn't had the stroke because there had been a bad break -- and that's another story -- but lansing tried to get the cabinet in on it. and i think he even made some communications with the vice president who stayed out of it completely. he just simply said no. i mean, the constitution this is before the 25th amendment which actually is not as much of a protection as we think in the cases of inabilities, they don't talk about disability but inability of the president to perform his duties and what does that mean. well, usually that means the
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president is dead so the vice president succeeds. but if you have a disabled president and this is the one time that we really have had a disabled president and how do you deal with it. and, edith, i have a lot of sympathy for her. you know, she was scared. you know, this is a very scary thing she was in and make it up as you go along. susan swain: on facebook, kristie miller, david welch says what part of personality or intellect thus prepared mrs. edith wilson in a sense to take over for the president during his recovery? what skills did she bring to this responsibility she was taking on? kristie miller: that's a very good question because she'd had exactly two years of formal schooling in her whole entire life. but she comes from a numerous family and she had been chosen by her grandmother to take care of her, to be her caregiver. the grandmother was a very opinionated woman and taught edith basically that it was good
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to have opinions and to make decisions. edith had been widowed relatively young and had inherited galt jewelers which was like the tiffany's of washington. and so, she kept the jewelry store. she had a manager who made a lot of the decisions but she was used to having everything her way. and so, she brought this very decided personality. in addition, woodrow had courted her by showing her a lot of secret papers. henry kissinger used to say that power was the ultimate aphrodisiac and i think woodrow wilson would have agreed. john milton cooper: oh, yeah. kristie miller: and so, he was using this entree to these secret papers as part of his courting, courtship and she was susceptible to that. and so, he shared a great deal of what he was doing, really a great deal of what he was doing with her. so that, i think john said that
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she probably knew as well as anyone what he was doing and what he was thinking because he was a -- he was a real lone wolf when it came to being a president. he didn't have a lot of close advisers wouldn't you say. john milton cooper: that's true. yes, that's true. susan swain: i have a quote to show you both. it's from edith wilson herself. she published her memoirs. and in this big controversy about how much power she took upon herself. here's what she said, "i myself never made a single decision regarding the disposition of public affairs. the only decision that was mine was what was important and what was not and the very important decision of when to present matters to my husband." ok. so, today, we know the gatekeeper to the president is really the most important job. john milton cooper: he or she who controls access to the president to some extent is president. and as she said it's not just who got to see him he was pretty well embargoed for well over a month. nobody from the outside got to see him but also what the president gets to see. and, you know, she would decide
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what was -- what was best for him to see and what not. one of the -- to me, one of the raps on edith in this was that she was putting her husband's health ahead of the good of the country and that somehow that her priorities were wrong there. well, i don't think that was entirely why she did what she did. she knew what he wanted. and that if he couldn't express himself she knew he would not want to resign, that he would want to hang on to this. and she -- as kristie said, she knew his mind better than anybody else. so, if anybody is going to have to act as a substitute in this situation she was, i think, the best person to do it. susan swain: tiffany fannin on facebook says, did anyone try to prevent the first lady from acting on behalf of the president -- you mentioned the secretary of state -- if so, what happened to them politically? john milton cooper: well, the secretary of state got blocked by other cabinet members very quickly. they -- grayson and tumulty, wilson's secretary plus the loyalists like baker and daniels and the cabinet put a kibosh on
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that -- on that very quickly. and nobody knew how much he was doing. kristie miller: well, there was the smelling committee so-called. there were two senators who were detailed to come in and assess the condition of wilson because it came out when lansing went up to capitol hill that he hadn't spoken to the president about a very volatile situation in mexico. so, they deputized one democrat and one republican and edith and dr. grayson really stage managed that very, very well. again, the accounts differs exactly what they did but whatever it was, it was enormously successful including senator fall, the republican who would have been most anxious to show that there was something wrong with wilson said to the press afterwards that the president grasped his hand with both of his. well, that was manifestly impossible because woodrow couldn't move his left hand. but he was so taken with wilson's apparent animation, he
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made a lot of jokes because that part of his thinking came back very quickly. he loved to make puns and he loved to tell jokes and stories and that came back relatively quickly. as really whatqa took a hit. susan swain: and we have a bit of a timeline of the president's incapacitation as to the stroke as john cooper us was in september of 1919. it was not until december that the president took his first steps after the stroke. it was in march of 1920 when he left the house for the first time. and by the way, we have to talk about all of the political intrigue and important decisions going on in the aftermath world war i. his beloved league of nations was rejected by the senate in that time for the first time. in april of 1920, the president had his first cabinet meeting -- eight months not meeting with the cabinet. it's almost unthinkable. how did the government continue? john milton cooper: by routine
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and also wilson was a great delegator except in foreign affairs. other than that, he gave his cabinet secretaries lots of leeway so they were used to running things on their own. or i think it's just very lucky and they -- something of a tribute to that that government functioned as well as it did, not all that well but it kept going. susan swain: and since this is a story about edith, all during that time what really was her role? kristie miller: well, i think one aspect to her role that's been overlooked is the extent to which she tried to make woodrow give way on some of this intransigence about the league of nations. now, in her memoir which is fanciful in places she says that she asked him please to compromise with the republicans in congress to try to get the treaty passed with the league of nations. and he -- she said that he turned to her and said, little girl, don't you desert me to --
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i loved it said he always called her little girl, she was about 5'9" -- and she says in her book that she never tried to change his mind again. but we found evidence that there were at least two other occasions on which she did try to change his mind. she and his what would now be called chief of staff, joe tumulty, had discussed some of the places where they hoped woodrow could give a little ground and then where the republicans could give a little ground. they hoped to find some compromise. and she took some notes very hurried almost shorthand notes of what's obviously a speech that she was going to give to wilson that wound up saying, and for the sake of the country and the peace of the world please consider this. and it didn't work apparently because he didn't change. but she was not a woman to take notes on something and not do
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something about it. and then a little bit later she had some conversations with ray stannard baker who was very close to wilson later became his official biographer and he gave edith some suggestions again some talking points to try to get wilson to change his mind. but he didn't and by the time he refused by that time the republicans were also hardening their line. some of the hardliners were reeling in the republican leadership. susan swain: so, donald blaze on facebook asked specifically i'd like to ask if edith spoke out publicly on the league of nations and if she did, did she support it? kristie miller: she didn't speak out on anything. this is again to correct the big misperception of edith. i do not think she was at all power-hungry for herself. she wanted what her husband wanted. his agenda was her agenda. she used to say to people, "i never make speeches."
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i think she made a few years after woodrow died but during the time he was in the white house she was asked to present, i don't know, something innocuous like a bouquet of flowers to the girl scouts and she just said i'd like to make a speech but i never have and i won't. she didn't even approve of voting for women, of women suffrage. susan swain: so we need to continue with our story and go back in time. but before we close up this section, the interviews will come back to this later on. but we thought you'd all want to get this out because it's such an interesting aspect and historically important. what's the bottom of this period in american history? how did it affect how we view the role of the president, the role of the first lady and the constitutional issues behind it? john milton cooper: the role of the president. i mean, woodrow wilson follows theodore roosevelt. and these two together acting one after the other made the president the center -- the
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center of the government, the active part. and even, you know, even presidents later such as calvin coolidge especially who wanted to retreat to the sidelines couldn't do it. i mean, now that's what -- that's what really changed there. the first lady role, i think probably, probably in terms of trying to continue that. i think ellen probably had more impact than edith did. kristie miller: absolutely, i couldn't agree with you more. susan swain: well, that's a great segue because we now have to move in ellen's wilson's story. and before we do that, i want to tell you that how you can involved. the beauty of the series, and by the way tonight is a special two-hour program since we have two first ladies to talk about. but our phone lines will be open and you can reach us, 202-585-3880, if you live in the eastern or central time zones. mountain and pacific, 202-585-3881, you can be part of a facebook conversation, go c-span on facebook. and finally, you can tweet us
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using at first ladies or the hash tag first ladies and be part of the conversation that way. so we welcome your involvement as our program progresses. but we're going to roll back the clock and talk about the long marriage of woodrow wilson to his first wife ellen. and to set the stage the stage for that, we're going to visit the wilson house. you saw it on the open, on s street in washington, d.c. it is available for you to visit if you come to the nation's capital. and inside right now in the drawing room is my colleague peter slen. peter slen: that's right, susan. we are in the president woodrow wilson house with bob enholm, who is the executive director of this house. this is the house where president and edith wilson lived post presidency. how did they acquire this house? robert enholm: well, it's interesting. they moved here literally the
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day they left the white house in 1921. this home cost $150,000 and they managed to scrape together the money by -- assembling both president wilson's winnings as the nobel peace prize winner and also donations from 10 of his wealthy friends and political supporters. slen: edith wilson lived here until her death in 1961? enholm: in 1961, it's 40 years to the day. slen: she died right upstairs. enholm: both of them expired in this home. slen: and 1924 for president wilson. enholm: that's right. slen: now even though it was edith wilson's house, there is the presence of ellen wilson here, isn't there? enholm: that's right. we try, at the woodrow wilson house, to remember president wilson's years which include both first ladies, ellen wilson and edith wilson, and of course president wilson's history. and i think it's important when considering figures in history to remember that they had childhoods and experiences that led them to the places that they were. slen: so what are we looking at here, bob? enholm: this portrait here is a painting painted by ellen wilson who was a painter of considerable talent. and even as a young girl she knew that she was a good painter
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and enjoyed it. i think it's interesting that when president wilson proposed marriage to her, she said but i'd like to go to the arts students league in new york, which is where she went to school for a year before they were wed. i think it's interesting that president wilson at that point in his life accepted that and married this woman who was independent and really laid the ground work for his understanding of the growing role of women in society. slen: bob enholm, the story behind this painting, at president wilson's funeral? enholm: his last wishes included the wish that this painting, painted by ellen hang over his casket before he laid to rest at the national cathedral. slen: we are at the wilson house here in washington, d.c. about a mile from the white house. we'll show some more a little bit later. susan swain: well, thanks so much. edith -- ellen, excuse me, axson, was born in georgia in 1860. tell me about her early life. kristie miller: her early life was very difficult. her father was a presbyterian
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minister. he had served in the civil war, but he had to leave because of some stress-related conditions. he later developed a mental illness and died in a mental institution, possibly a suicide. and ellen was very close to her mother but her mother died in childbirth with her fourth child when she was 43. so ellen really had to take over the family. first, after her mother's death, she had to take care of her father, and then after her father's death she had to take care of her brothers and sister. and so, she became a very competent manager. she was very well educated for a woman of her time and place. she would have gone to college if she'd had the money. when her father died, as they mentioned, she had the money to go to the arts students league in new york for a year. and she was very unsure that she would ever meet a man who could be her intellectual equal which she felt was necessary for her marriage. in fact, she had plans to open up a boarding house for women and support it with her art work. and people around town started calling her ellie, the man hater
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because she was so clearly not going to be satisfied with anyone in the town. but then woodrow wilson came to town. he was a lawyer at that time. he had a case. he went to church where her father was preaching and he met her there. susan swain: how important was it that both ellen axson and thomas woodrow wilson, people may not know that he was thomas woodrow wilson, were the children of ministers? john milton cooper: well, in some ways that's the world they grew up in, not so much the u.s. or the south but the presbyterian church. that in many ways is a world unto itself. what it didn't make them know, either of them. and i think this is true of wilson as much as it is of ellen. it didn't make them religious zealots though. it didn't make them obsessed with religion. in some ways religion was so central to them that i think in many ways they could take it for granted. you know, it's in the background. it's always there. it's very important. of the two of them, he actually
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was more the good, strong believer. she's the one who the religious doubts, especially because with the various family troubles, depression ran, really ran in the axson family. and i think probably one brother eddie, who died in a tragic accident as a young man was about the only one who wasn't touched with depression. and she -- ellen was, in some ways, she -- metaphysically and philosophy she was more curious than wilson was. wilson was much more, in some ways, he's more interested in the affairs of the world. but religion was a background to them. susan swain: he is interested in the affairs of the world, but he is so easily smitten with women. he fell -- and this is an important characteristic of this personality that you write about. john milton cooper: well, yes, yes, he was. susan swain: so he knew instantly that he loved his woman. john milton cooper: yes. susan swain: and women played an important part throughout his biography. john milton cooper: oh, yes.
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susan swain: what do understand about women and his psychology and the role that they play with him? john milton cooper: well, i wish i could say that he was a man who -- of great enlightenment and forward looking views -- he wasn't -- he wasn't bad, though. i mean, by the standards of that time he really comes off pretty well as having, you know, believing strongly that women are very bright and very capable. generally, though, i think he still likes the subordinate role. basically he just liked women. and more so, than i think men of that time. you know, he enjoyed the company of men very much, but he just generally enjoyed the company of women and he enjoyed their intellectual companionship. susan swain: but he's so passionate. kristie miller: he is very passionate and very eloquent. and so, when you marry those two traits and the letters that he wrote to ellen after they were engaged are just the most astonishing love letters you will ever see.
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and she was quite eloquent, too. susan swain: some of the love letters of woodrow wilson to ellen are preserved at princeton university's manuscript library. we're going to learn about them next. barksdale maynard: here on these shelves are the correspondence between woodrow and ellen, their love letters, really. and it's got to be the largest collection of love letters exchanged between any future president and future first lady. in fact, these letters were sealed in a trunk when the wilsons moved to prospect house in 1902 and the trunk wasn't opened until the 1960's. so it's a time capsule shedding extraordinary light on the wilsons' life together. woodrow is living in baltimore going to johns hopkins and he writes to ellen, january, 1894, "my own darling, when you come into my study and kiss me as i sit at my desk, it is odd how this attachment of yours to me seems part of the force of my mind.
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oh, darling, i trust it is not wrong to worship you as i do. you are the presiding genius of both my mind and heart. and in that fact consists the happiness and the strength of your own woodrow." i think in this letter we see the extent to which woodrow wilson not only loved ellen but acknowledged in this very, very clear way his intellectual debt to her. now in how many cases can you say that, that the first lady and husband, that he is stepping forward and saying, i acknowledge that you are the source of so much, not only of my happiness but of my intellectual development, that you introduced me to literature, to wordsworth, to browning. they would sit together on the campus, on cannon green, in front of nassau hall and they would read wordsworth together, sitting in the grass. he acknowledges this profoundly important role that ellen plays in his life.
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she writes back to woodrow and she says to him, "how can i thank you, dearest, for the sweet things you say in today's letter. how happy it makes me that you think such things of me even when i feel with a heartache how sadly unworthy i am of it all. i, too, trust it is not wrong to worship you as i do. i had as well question if it would be wrong to breathe. both are inevitable if i had to live at all for i am, in every breath, altogether your own ellen." often she doesn't respond to him quite as passionately as he writes to her because she does tend to be a bit melancholy. but in this, there is an exuberance that is really delightful. ellen was so devoted to him, you sense in that letter how she puts herself second to his needs again and again, throughout their life together, she is serving him and helping him. that was her conception of what her role was as woodrow wilson's wife.
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and as she is dying in the white house, that tragic summer, august, 1914 with the world about to enter into a great international convulsion with world war i about to break out, she's dying in the white house and she grabbed the hand of dr. grayson and she whispers to him, "doctor, if i go away, promise me that you will take good care of my husband." susan swain: kristie, it might be hard to answer this question for regina schrumky on twitter, but she asked, "where would we rank the love between these two amongst all presidential couples?" [laughter] kristie miller: i have not made a thorough study of the love of all presidential couples but it seems to me it would be -- it would be hard to come up to their level. and john cooper pointed out to me this very nice line in arthur link's collection of woodrow wilson's letters. john? john milton cooper: arthur link
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was the greatest wilson scholar there was ever was or i think ever will be. and he edited the papers of woodrow wilson, the 69 volume edition. and in the volume that -- the cover is august, 1914 and ellen's death, the editors and here it is, this is in the introduction of this very stately monumental, scholarly thing, "we, the editors, bid a fond farewell to ellen wilson, whom we have all come to love," you know, and that's -- over the years, that it could affect them that much. susan swain: woodrow wilson, presidential -- says on twitter, "asked ellen to marry him just five months after meeting her. she must have quickly captured his heart." so they got married when? kristie miller: well, they got married two years later. woodrow had a great strategy. he had had a girlfriend before and she had refused his offer of marriage. and so, i think he was, you
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know, once burned, twice shy. so he had decided that he was going to propose to ellen just before getting on the train to go to baltimore and attend johns hopkins in political science, so that if she refused him there would be no awkward lingering he later said. so they had met each other by chance in this town where neither of them lived. they were just passing through and he persuaded her to stay for a couple of extra days and to meet his family. but when he proposed to -- when he proposed to her, she was so startled that she blurted out, yes. she hadn't meant to but she blurted this out and they had hardly known each other, but he was going off to study for two years. so they had a two-year engagement since they didn't know each other very well. it was these marvelous letters through which they became intimate. susan swain: mary kay is watching us in san roselle, california. first question on the phone,
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you're on the air. kay: yes, good evening. thank you so much for this series. i'm loving every minute. i was wondering what the first lady and the president thought of the pickets in front of the white house for suffrage in 1917. kristie miller: well, this would be back to edith. and they were very indignant, especially edith was very indignant. she felt they were rude. at one point woodrow offered to send -- to have them come in to the white house and get warm and have hot coffee and they indignantly refused. as i said earlier, edith did not believe in suffrage for women, and so, she thought that all of this was quite foolish. there were two separate organizations and one of them was trying to go about amending the constitution in a state by state way, in other words have suffrage passed in the various states and then get more people in congress who supported it. and so, woodrow received the members of the national
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association and also the women's suffrage association, national american women suffrage association. and some people believed that it was the extremism of the national women's party with alice paul that kind of allowed the more conservative groups to make progress because they were seeing it's a lot less threatening. susan swain: we're going to come back to his early years with ellen and his life before politics. he's the only president to move from the presidency of a university to politics and into the white house. princeton, of course, a central role in his life, how does he get to princeton and how does he get to the presidency of princeton? john milton cooper: well, first of all he was a presbyterian minister's son and princeton had sort of severed its ties, its official ties with the church. but it still is a very presbyterian school, and if you were a bright, young man of that
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-- and that princeton was a place to go. and it was kind of a step-out from the south too, you know. he did -- up into the world, so he went there as an under-grad and he studied law briefly, practiced law briefly and went to hopkins. and as kristie was saying taught -- his first teaching job was at bryn mawr, you know, a brand new college for women. he actually liked teaching there. he liked the women at bryn mawr better than ellen did. ellen objected more to this sort of modern woman than he did. he got back to princeton in 1890. he became the most popular professor there. basically, he was one of two really, real stars of the faculty. and there was some intrigue among the trustees and everything to get into the presidency but he got chosen president in 1902. and then he tried to reform princeton and succeeded a bit and failed quite a bit, and really got stymied when the new jersey bosses came along and offered him the nomination and the governorship.
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he took from them and then he turned on -- and immediately became a reformer. that kind of -- a lot of things made him a frontrunner, quite early, so he made a remarkable transition in two years. he went from being a university president -- susan swain: and the governor of new jersey. john milton cooper: in two years, to being president. i mean -- and the governorship is just a little -- an interlude there, although he's a very effective governor. i mean, wilson is one of these people, with the exception of the law, which his heart was never in, he succeeded in everything he did. he is one of the great political science -- he was a great scholar. he was a great university president. i mean, he was the best known and the most effective university president of his time. he's ranked among the best governors and then he's one heck of an effective president too. susan swain: and one -- we love the interconnections here. grover cleveland, after he left the white house went to princeton to practice law because it was difficult for a former president to do much else
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when you were -- and is it true that the families knew each other and the children even played together? kristie miller: i don't know about the children playing together but i do know that they knew each other. susan swain: well, we're going to show you prospect house which is the house that the wilsons lived in the princeton campus. it was at that time the president's house. today it's used for social functions. but as we look at it we're going to learn about ellen and woodrow wilson's political partnership and how that developed. barksdale maynard: this is the study at prospect house and it looks very much as it did when woodrow and ellen wilson lived here. so this would have been woodrow wilson's office. his desk would have been right here. and here he would have met with students, faculty, university presidents, visiting people from across the world. and it's here that he and ellen might have met to confer, frankly, about university business because ellen wilson was highly involved with woodrow wilson's career. she gave him advice on what jobs he should take, what jobs he shouldn't take when he was up for a post at arkansas industrial university, she suggested perhaps that was a bad
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career move. she was very, very involved and a tremendous help to him, behind the scenes, throughout his academic career. i find this room -- this study at prospect house so evocative because it's right here that we can see woodrow wilson making that transition from academic figure to political figure. ellen wilson helped with all of this. constantly advising woodrow, helping him out and then he decides to run for governor and the reporters descend on prospect. the reporters descend on his study. they interview him right here in this room. they photograph him in the garden and ellen wilson is quite alarmed. she begins to sense that she's going to lose any privacy she might have had. she's going to lose that carefully constructed, very close knit home life that she had valued so much with woodrow and with her three daughters, that's going to slip away when they plunge into politics. so they moved into prospect house as a young academic
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couple, full of dreams, full of ambitions that when she leaves prospect house -- and frankly, they're almost driven out by the trustees in 1910, when she leaves -- she's bitter, she's exhausted and what awaits her is this political life that's going to take a tremendous toll on her, personally, in terms of her exhaustion, in terms of her energy and psychologically. susan swain: and as his supportive spouse, how did her responsibilities change as you move from a university president's wife, she's the first lady of new jersey and then ultimately, into the white house. kristie miller: well, she was building on each of the things that she'd done before. she had been involved in a small way with some social outreach during the time that she was a private person and then when she became first lady of new jersey, she became very interested in social welfare.
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she actually took woodrow on a tour to new jersey to look at state welfare institutions like the home for the insane or the prisons. so she had an early record of activism among social welfare groups. she also, of course, had to do a great deal of entertaining, during the dinner that was given after woodrow wilson's inauguration in 1902, she invited booker t. washington to the horror of her southern aunt, this great african-american educator. so she had a great deal of entertaining to do as the president's wife, more, of course, when she moves into the governor's mansion and at one point, they were down in the -- in the summer home. they didn't have a governor's mansion, but the state of new jersey supplied a summer home down in sea girt, new jersey.
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and a little boy got lost and wandered into sea girt and came out afterwards and he was asked, "did you meet the governor?" and he said, "yes. and she gave me a piece of cake." susan swain: what was her role in the campaign in 1912? john milton cooper: i don't think she did an awful lot in the campaign. kristie miller: what was interesting about the campaign was that she was, i believe, the first future first lady to go on a campaign before the convention. she and wilson went down through the south, especially in georgia where she was hailed as much as he was, unfortunately, they lost georgia. they didn't get the delegates from georgia. and she had a hand in trying to get woodrow to patch up relations with william jennings bryan, who had three times been the democratic nominee was kind of the leader of the democratic party. and john -- i think he was very key in helping woodrow get the nomination. john milton cooper: well, well
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-- yes, it was -- susan swain: bryan, you mean? kristie miller: yes. john milton cooper: she saw -- she saw an opportunity. wilson had come from a different wing of the party. he'd said some things about bryan that some of his enemies had publicized to try to make trouble. and she saw a chance. ellen saw a chance to mend the fences there. and she brought them together and they hit it off very well. bryan and wilson had a good relationship, right down to some of the unfortunate stuff in world war i. so she's playing the same kind of role that she played in his academic career. very -- a very shrewd tactician, a very good facilitator. not out in front. not out in public. she didn't particularly like that role either, but that she was awfully shrewd, awfully shrewd person. susan swain: and it was theodore roosevelt's challenge to his own party by forming a bull moose party in his independent bid that split the republicans and help bring woodrow wilson into the white house. if you had to capsulize his
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political philosophy, what was it? john milton cooper: woodrow wilson's? susan swain: yes. john milton cooper: he called himself a progressive democrat. and he really believed -- he believed in a strong government, but it was a government to make it possible for people to do things for themselves. he once said that i don't want a big brother government. i don't want a government that will take care of me. i want a government that will make sure that other people take their hands off me, so that i can take care of myself. you know, it's very much -- it -- i think it is -- i think it is updated liberalist. it's the individual's happiness, the individual's self-realization, that's the great contrast of theodore roosevelt. that campaign in 1912, i think it is the best we've ever had by far, because what you get is really a debate of political philosophies between these two men. susan swain: lee is watching us from durango, colorado. hi, lee, thanks for waiting. you're on. lee: thank you for taking my
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call. i have a question about the alley bill that was so important to ellen wilson and that did such a wonderful thing for the city of washington, d.c. and also i'd like to comment on edith wilson, she was more of a hindrance than a help. joseph tumulty, a major adviser to the president wrote in numerous letters during his illness and they weren't discovered -- unopened until after his -- after her death. susan swain: thank you so much for your call. we're going to just let her comment about edith's stand, but she asked about ellen's alley bill. what was that? kristie miller: yes. when they came to the white house, ellen felt that as long as she was in the white house, not a place where she particularly wanted to be, she would use her position to do as much good as she could. and she connected with a group called the national civic federation that had been around for 10 years or so. and they were very interested in trying to clean up these little
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alleyways in between the bigger streets of washington where there was tumble down shacks, great squalor. they wanted to tear down these buildings and do what we would now call urban renewal. ellen was so interested in this project that she actually took some of the congressmen in the white house car through the alleyways to show them this -- the conditions of these houses that were right behind the capitol. and she lobbied them to pass a bill that would enable this because at that time washington -- washington's government was run by congress, they didn't have their own government. so she was -- i think the first first lady who lobbied for a cause that wasn't her husband outside of the white house and she was very, very effective at doing this. and i don't know if you want to talk about all of what happened here. susan swain: and we'll come back to that story because it's
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connected with her passing. kristie miller: right. susan swain: she arrives at the white house and the wilsons decided not to have an inaugural ball, why is that? kristie miller: well, it's partly because it's ellen. ellen felt that it would really be a commercialization, something frivolous at what should be a solemn occasion. she was a very thrifty woman. woodrow did not make a lot of money in his early days and she had a habit of frugality. somebody once said, "mrs. wilson looks sweeter every year and that brown dress she wears -- looks sweeter every year," because she never got new clothes. she prided herself on being thrifty. and she just thought the inauguration -- the inaugural balls were frivolous. susan swain: william is watching us in new york city. hi, william, you're on. william: yes. thank you very much. in new york, there's often mention of the wilson girls in society, can you tell us a bit about their growing up and entering adulthood? susan swain: thank you so much,
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about three daughters to white house. kristie miller: yes. and they were all, sort of, roughly marriageable age when they get into the white house, so they go to balls and parties. ellen is on record as saying that she doesn't approve of modern dances like the turkey trot. but somebody else writes and says that the -- i think it's ellen -- morey slayton, who was a very wonderful gossipy wife of a congressman and she kept a diary. and she said that they had been seen down at the military barracks, turkey trotting with the rest -- with the best of them, so she tried to keep a rein on her daughters and two of them, in fact, did get married in the white house and considering that she was only in the white house for 17 months before she died, that's quite an accomplishment. she had a very big wedding for her first daughter who was married in november. she had a very small quiet wedding for this -- for her third daughter who got married
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in may very shortly before ellen was bedridden. susan swain: chad is in baltimore. you're up next. hi, chad. chad: hello. i wanted to know after ellen wilson passed away and before woodrow wilson married edith galt, is it true that his daughter margaret became de facto first lady during the time between the death of her mother and her father's marriage? kristie miller: well, i think she was the hostess. she was the official hostess. there has to be an official hostess. one of woodrow's cousins, helen bones, also helped her -- helped her out in this. margaret didn't much want to be in the official hostess. she wanted to be a singer. and she preferred to go to new york, which is where she felt there were more opportunities to be a singer, so i think that the two of them tried to cope with the -- with the social duties and the social season was curtailed.
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and i think on the advice of ellen's social secretary belle hagner, she felt that there had been a precedence during the harrison administration when his wife had died, they've curtailed the social season, so there wasn't too much entertaining that margaret had to do. susan swain: despite her short tenure in the white house, ellen wilson also brought us the -- as a nation the famous rose garden in the white house. we'll learn more about that in our next video. mr. maynard: we're in prospect garden here in princeton, new jersey. this is a garden that ellen wilson originally designed when she was resident of prospect house from 1902 to 1910. and i think that here we see the full expression of ellen's esthetic vision. she is an oil painter, very competent. she knows a lot of the american impressionist painters of the day. she loves to paint landscapes and as a corollary to that, she
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lays out this extraordinarily beautiful garden here at prospect house. she plants the cedar trees. she plants roses and all kinds of flowers. and in fact, she loves this garden so much that she hates to leave it when the wilsons enter politics and they leave princeton. when ellen wilson is in the white house, she brings the white house gardener back here to this garden at prospect house. and she says to the white house gardener, "let's recreate the rose section of this garden at the white house." because ellen wilson could look out of her bedroom window in the prospect mansion, she could look right down and see the flowers all day and similarly, she wanted the president of the united states to be able to see roses when he looked out at his window in the white house. and, of course, this becomes the famous rose garden at the white house. ellen tragically doesn't live to see the rose garden completed, however. she's dying in the summer of 1914. she's wheeled out into the space outside in a wheel chair and she watches as the gardener works, but she doesn't live to see the completion of this vision she
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had for roses blooming at the white house. and that's the vision that really begins here at prospect garden in princeton. susan swain: so ellen wilson who didn't live to see it brought us the rose garden, which has really become part of our national lexicon, so often presidential events are held in the rose garden. here again is the photograph of what it looked like during the wilson administration and here's what the rose garden looks like today. and we have -- her short tenure in the white house. we have just a list of things that she did during the 17 months. we talked about the alley clearance bill. we talked about the rose garden. and the fact that she was a professional artist, one of the first ladies who brought her own profession to the white house. how significant was that in setting a standard for future first ladies? kristie miller: i don't think it really set a standard for future first ladies. ellen did earn money from selling her paintings that she donated to a charity that she had set up for her brother in
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her -- in the memory of her brother who had died. i think the only other first lady who earned money while she was in the white house was eleanor roosevelt. that did not become a first lady tradition and just as well, i think. susan swain: next is harran in greenfield, california. you are on the air. welcome to our conversation. harran: hello? susan swain: hello? harran: yes. yes. thank you for taking my call. i've enjoyed your show very much. this is my second time calling. the last time i called, it was during your first season when you were talking about the two wives of john tyler. so i very much enjoyed your show, so far. so my question is about woodrow wilson's first wife, ellen, when she passed away, where was she buried? and when her husband passed away, he was interred in the washington cathedral in washington, d.c. and was his first wife's body re-interred and be buried next
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to him and also where was his second wife buried when she passed away? susan swain: thank you. john milton cooper: well, the answer to that -- to the question about is ellen re-interred with woodrow? the answer is no. she was -- she was buried in the family plot -- the axson family plot in rome, georgia. when woodrow died, edith was pretty determined that he was not going to be buried with ellen. you know that -- you know, and so then the choice was, he'd been the president of princeton and the presidents at princeton are buried in a very nice cemetery down witherspoon street there, but there have been some ill feeling and still was, so that was out. in the meantime a very ambitious bishop of washington, mr. freeman wanted to get famous people buried in the cathedral. and so, he'd gotten admiral dewey. and he -- this is when
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washington cathedral was still a very new building and so he approached edith about this and she liked the idea. freeman wanted to make the cathedral -- washington's westminster abbey and kristie our friend lou gould told me that william howard taft's granddaughter told him that when taft heard about this, he said -- he said that don't let those body snatchers at the cathedral get me. but, yes, i -- to me i think this is wonderful. this presbyterian president -- this most presbyterian of presidents is buried in an episcopal cathedral and edith is buried with him. susan swain: how -- was she sick the entire time that she was in the white house for 17 months? kristie miller: yes, she was. and you saw some of the pictures of her leaving princeton and even being in princeton, she first developed kidney trouble in 1889 when her third child was born. and the wilsons decided at that
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time to have no more children. they used birth control. but she probably had been suffering from kidney disease for some time before she got to the white house would be my guess. susan swain: it's diagnosed -- it's something called bright's disease. kristie miller: right, that's an archaic term that means kidney disease, so i don't think they had, obviously, as sophisticated tests as we do now, although i was impressed that they were able to diagnose it as early as 1889. john milton cooper: theodore roosevelt's first wife also died of bright's disease -- of kidney disease as well. kristie miller: right. right. john milton cooper: although she died quite early in their marriage and woodrow and ellen had been married for quite a while. susan swain: denise mccarthy wants to know in twitter, did woodrow wilson become consumed with ellen's illness and did it affect his performance as president? john milton cooper: not to the very end consumed, not until the very end. by and large it was kept a secret from him. and -- yes -- and so -- and that
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was ellen's wish, too. she didn't want to burden him. kristie miller: well, i think everybody was just in denial. i don't think ellen knew how sick she was. i think she was hoping she would get better. john milton cooper: yes. kristie miller: the doctors kept telling her she would get better. john milton cooper: yes. kristie miller: i think the doctors were in denial. john milton cooper: yes. kristie miller: so i don't think woodrow really knew she was dying until like the day she died. john milton cooper: but i mean that those -- that those last days of hers, when he is literally at her -- at her sick bed every possible minute, you know, the other hand, the world is literally falling apart, with world war i and he's having to deal with that. i mean it's a terrible thing. it's just -- it's terribly affecting. susan swain: holly hahn wanted to know was there a public funeral for ellen wilson. she asked that on facebook. kristie miller: she -- they had the funeral in rome, georgia. and out of the church where woodrow had met her. and i -- the townspeople were there but there wasn't a state funeral here in washington. kristie miller: well, there was a -- there was a little ceremony in the white house i believe. john milton cooper: yes, there
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susan swain: and we are -- already finished our first hour. i told you this would go by so quickly. there are big stories to tell, but here is our guest john cooper's biography of woodrow wilson, if we can show it on screen here. and what i wanted to do as we close out here, actually, mr. cooper is open it up inside and read this paragraph, just a bit of it where you talk about her contributions to him. john milton cooper jr.: certainly. susan swain: "ellen's death dealt him a cruel blow. for more than 30 years, ellen had been his closest, wisest adviser. she had exercised a stronger, more salutary influence over him than anyone else. she had rarely let her family inherited disposition towards severe depression affect him or their daughters. she'd seen wilson through and forgiven -- for him for his infatuation with mrs. peck, a story we didn't tell. ellen had given him so much and he was a far better man for her gifts. he had gone further and accomplished more in the worlds of scholarship, education,
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politics, and government then he could have done without here and he knew it." susan swain: so it is fair to say that without ellen's wilson, there might not have been a president woodrow wilson? john milton cooper jr.: yes. absolutely. absolutely. now, she -- this man blossoms. he met her just as he was about to depart for johns hopkins. he'd been playing around with the law, trying to write, trying to find himself. and love concentrated his mind wonderfully. i mean, it's extraordinary. his two years at hopkins, he's either writing these letters to her, long, involved, wonderful letters, and writing his first book and best book, "congressional government." it's amazing. and then, all along, as kristie said, the different bits of advice to him on how to handle it, i mean, listen, any academic would love to have ellen. a male academic would love to have ellen as a wife. and i think, conversely, a male -- a husband of a female because
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she was such -- such a help, such a support and such a terribly shrewd advisor, and, again, such an emotional support to him. it really is extraordinary. susan swain: well, so -- and we have quite a debate raging about woodrow wilson's legacy among detractors and supporters on our facebook page. [laughter] susan swain: so, whether you loved him or hated him, ellen wilson's basic contribution was getting that man to the white house. john milton cooper jr.: absolutely. susan swain: well, it's time to move on to chapter two of our story. what happened after her death? kristie miller: are we going to talk a little bit more about the alley bill? susan swain: sure, because that's part of the closing days of her life. kristie miller: right. so, as she's dying, the day that she's dying, she tells the chief of staff, joe tumulty, to go up to congress and say she will die more easily if they will just pass an alley bill. and the senate takes action in time for her to learn about it before she loses consciousness for the last time. the house passes it later, but it is never implemented because of world war i breaking out.
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they don't have the money and they need all the houses they can get. this whole issue is dropped until 1933. there was a young woman whose husband was in the wilson administration, the assistant secretary of the navy franklin delano roosevelt. eleanor roosevelt went to the white house many times and met ellen wilson. it was said that nobody could move in polite society unless they could talk alley. she made this whole issue fashionable. the first week that eleanor roosevelt was in the white house, she went back to the national civic federation women, the same women that had worked with ellen wilson, and she began to lobby for an alley bill. as we know, she lobbied for a great many different causes, but i firmly believe that ellen set an example to eleanor and that eleanor, of course, set an
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example to many first ladies who came after her. susan swain: i keep wanting to move on, but there's so many questions to ask. one of the interesting debates about it is really apparent on our facebook page is woodrow wilson's attitude toward african-americans. and here was ellen wilson reaching out to the place of poverty-stricken african-americans in washington, d.c. did she influence woodrow wilson? and what were his views about on the race issue? john milton cooper jr.: well, first of all, i -- much as you could tell, i love ellen just as much as those editors did. that being said, she was a southern woman. and i don't think we could honestly say that she believed in the equality of african-americans. i mean, that's just -- she was a wonderful, warm, loving person, but i think the african-americans occupied their place. and this is -- this is in a maternalistic way that she does
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want to there and it's also to beautify washington, too, you know. that's -- that's not just to be -- not just to be helpful. his own views, i think, his having grown up in the south really has less to do with his views there. his -- the wilson administration's record on race is bad, simply bad. he allowed his southern cabinet secretaries to attempt to introduce segregation into the federal workplace. they made stabs at it. the newly-formed naacp protested it. they backed off. they did it informally. that's bad. there also that very unfortunate incident of showing "the birth of a nation" movie in the white house, which grew way out of proportion as to what actually happened there. susan swain: and that was during the time of edith as first lady? that was during -- john milton cooper jr.: no.
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no. that's in this interregnum. that's actually shortly before he met -- he met edith. and that's the time, by the way, that's worst time in wilson's life, except for the stroke, because he was absolutely devastated by ellen's death. he was just -- i mean, the man was in bad, bad shape emotionally. and -- susan swain: so, when gary robinson asked on twitter, "did woodrow give any political bump or political passes on bills or issues because of edith's death?" john milton cooper jr.: no. susan swain: was he even thinking about the affairs of state in the months after? kristie miller: he -- well, he john milton cooper jr.: he -- well, he had to. he had to. yes, he was. and, in fact, that was -- i think he said that's what held him together. you know, he said it was what -- he had to do this. he had to be president. he had to pay attention to these things. otherwise, i think the man really could have deteriorated badly there if he had been on his own. so, that, the presidency was his crutch at this point. his attitude to me, i think, he
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is very much like a white northerner in this period, not a white southerner. a white northerner. the white northerners at this time kind of wanted race to go away, or, you know, it's kind of, "that's just -- oh, yes, that's right. the problems with the blacks down in the south and booker t. washington. you know, we'll make progress," a bit of a benign neglect. wilson is much more like that. the southerners were absolutely obsessed with it. i mean, they're the ones who want to make sure that blacks are in their place, who feel menaced by this, who want to push things like segregation. wilson's sins here i think are more sins of omission. white southerner. a white northerner. the white northerners at this time kind of wanted race to go away, or, you know, it's kind of, "that's just -- oh, yes, that's right. the problems with the blacks than comission. susan swain: before we leave ellen wilson's life, i've been telling you each week we have -- we have this well-populated website,, and it's filled with all the video and all the programs we've done so far in this series. each week, we also have a special feature of -- attached to the first lady we're looking at. and, this week, it is on ellen's artwork. so, if you go to the website, you want to learn more about her work, her easel, look at one of her paintings that was on display at the white house while she was first lady. all there is our featured item this week on first ladies at the website.
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while i'm talking about resources, i want to tell you about one other, which is our partners for this entire series is the white house historical association. they have for many years published this biography series or compendium of first ladies. it is a special version of it. we worked with them to publish it and make it available to you. that same website has the link we're selling this hardcover book at $12.95, at cost, just so you can learn more about these women. there's a short biography of each of them inside. and we'll get it to you just as quickly as you can so you can learn a little bit more about these women before we do the programs and the rest of the series. so this is what it looks like on the screen here. and, as we look at it, we're going to listen to latan in rome, georgia. rome, georgia has a special connection with ellen.
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is that her birthplace? kristie miller: yes, and her burial place. susan swain: latan, you're on air. latan: hello, john and kristie. how are you? kristie miller: hi. john milton cooper jr.: fine. latan: i would like to say that rome, georgia is watching tonight. and, of course, we are the hometown of ellen wilson. and we are very excited that you're doing a program tonight especially on ellen. kristie miller has graciously accepted our invitation to come to rome as we celebrate not only the life, but also the art of ellen wilson beginning in august of 2014. is that her birthplace? kristie miller: yes, and her burial place. susan swain: latan, you're on air. and, you know, it's kind of interesting that in 1914, rome, georgia raised $10,000 for ellen's homecoming back to rome, but, unfortunately, ellen's untimely death prevented rome from having this homecoming. so, in 2014, we'll be marking the 100th anniversary of the homecoming that never occurred. susan swain: thank you very much for your call and for your town's special connection. we're glad to have folks in rome, georgia watching us tonight. any final comments on ellen before we move on to edith? kristie miller: no. susan swain: ok, let's do that. so he was devastated. but we've talked about his connection with women and his love of having women in his life. so he was a widowed president,
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so lots of women were probably interested in him. and how did -- how did he approach this period of his life when he was a widower? kristie miller: well, i don't think that there was a great rush of women to meet him. but his doctor was very concerned about it and he thought that -- a friend of his, edith galt, might be somebody that would cheer him up and so he arranged for helen bones, the woman who was serving as his official hostess after ellen's death, to go walking with edith. because helen herself was having some health problems, he thought it would benefit her to go walking with this nice, hearty, vigorous woman. and they took a number of walks together. and that led to a meeting in the white house between edith and woodrow. and they were immediately drawn to each other. just like with ellen, he very quickly fell in love and very
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quickly proposed to her. susan swain: edith bolling galt was from wytheville, virginia. and if -- here is a map of virginia, you can see where it is in the south-most part of the states. it's about 300 miles away from washington, d.c. we visited there in preparation for this series. you'll see that next. this is the birthplace and childhood home of edith bolling wilson. and, today, it looks very much like it is when the bollings lived here from 1866 to 1899. originally, in the 1840s, this was two houses. they were joined together, which connected the upstairs' bolling home. the downstairs was used as retail space. the upstairs was the home of the bollings. this is the original front door to the bolling home. this is where the bolling family would have entered. let me take you inside. this is the birth room of edith bolling wilson.
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this was the bedroom of her parents. she was the seventh of 11 children born to the bollings. she was one of over 20 family members that lived upstairs in the bolling home. two of the most interesting pieces that we have are the bollling cradle, the cradle that belonged to the bolling family, the cradle that their children would have slept in. the other piece is a child's chair that we know was actually up here in the bolling home. we can just imagine all the bolling children sitting in the chair. the cover is original. and we're so pleased that it hasn't been recovered over the years. this is the bedroom of grandmother bolling. and we know that edith bolling as a little girl slept in the room with her grandmother. her grandmother was an invalid and had back problems, and she was quite spoiled by her grandmother. she was her grandmother's
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favorite, but along with that came the responsibility of being her caregiver. this is the back sleeping porch. this is where edith would gather with her family where they would enjoy evenings together. i think one of my favorite pictures is the picture of the young edith at age 13. she's actually sitting on a stool in this corner. she has her books in her lap. and we're very fortunate to have this picture of her. we see what she's dressed like. we see her books. we see how her hair is fixed. we see her in a place where she was very comfortable and spent a lot of time as a young girl. this is the library of her father, judge bolling. edith parents sent her to washington, d.c., to keep her away from this older gentleman who was wishing to court her. they sent her to her sister in washington, d.c. there, she met and married her
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first husband, norman galt, and it really changed her life. and, there, we learned more about the early life of edith bolling galt wilson. on facebook, janie weber wants to know what did his daughter who served as hostess before his marriage think of his new wife and what did his other daughters think? kristie miller: i think the daughters were very happy to see their father married again because, as john said, he was in deep despair. they were very worried about him. and so they were -- they were happy. i think they were among the happiest people in washington about the marriage. susan swain: what about the press and what about his cabinet? john milton cooper jr.: they tried to keep it out of the press as long as they could. the reactions in cabinet were mixed. i mean, mainly, they're worried about the political fallout. we're getting beyond the old
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victorian convention that widowed people of either gender shouldn't remarry. ok, we got a bit beyond that, but they shouldn't remarry soon. you know, there's the old phrase "a decent interval of time." well, how do you define that? that's the longer, the better, perhaps. and, clearly, for the president to be courting and to want to marry again so quickly. a lot of them worried about it, and several of them tried to hatch something to, you know, to warn him off there. and that backfired very badly. by the way, edith took an instant dislike to colonel house, this advisor of wilson's. and wilson sort of patched it up or -- and had them get together. but i don't think house ever realized what an enemy he'd made in edith wilson at that -- and he had something to do with this, too. susan swain: let's take a call from carl in carrollton, georgia. hi, carl.
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carl: hi. good evening and thanks for taking my call. ok. i just heard the gentleman say that there was a bit of dissention between colonel house and edith. now, was this personal differences? colonel house apparently had living quarters in the white house. was he commanding too much of the president's time as far as edith was concerned or were there -- were there political differences? john milton cooper jr.: well, actually, house -- house did not have living quarters in the white house. he spent a lot of time there, but, no, but he -- he didn't have living quarters there. there's a bit of both. edith, as kristie pointed out very well, wilson courted the widow galt with the presidency and the secrets of the state, and she ate it up. i mean, there's no question about it. and she admits, frankly admits in her memoir later that this was a good bit of her attraction to wilson. she was attracted to him, too, personally. but, definitely, you know, this
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-- this made him just a much more glamorous figure to her. so she's -- okay, she is going to be the advisor. and i think a lot of -- from the very beginning to her is that house, you know, that house as just, you know, and -- and to get him out of the way. house -- house was concerned. house saw wilson as his very valuable property to manage and to keep -- you know, to keep healthy and to keep in power. and i think he was worried about the effect on this. now, he very quickly backed off when he saw how determined wilson was to -- was to marry edith. he turned tail very quickly and then he tried to make up to her a lot. but she never -- she never -- she masked her dislike of house up until the time of the peace conference. susan swain: so -- and he proposes very soon after. she says, "no. i think you hardly know me." there's this wonderful quote that most biographers refer to him talking about how time is compressed in the white house. what did he say?
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kristie miller: i don't remember the exact words, but he said, "time is much quicker here than it is on the outside." and one -- i hate to call it a ploy, but one fact that he pointed out to all three of the women that he was involved with was that he needed them so much. and it was a real, genuine need, as john has pointed out, that he often said that he couldn't do his work unless he was assured of their love. so that was definitely one of the things that he said to edith. and she responded. she said, "to know that you have need of me is very sweet." and that was another very successful courtship tactic. and although she refused him the first time, two months later, he proposed again and she accepted. john milton cooper jr.: kristie, as i recall, the refusal, that was what women were supposed to do anyway, weren't they, you know, the first time they're proposed to? kristie miller: well, ellen didn't refuse. [laughter]
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john milton cooper jr.: but you say she got taken unaware, really, but, you know, that was the convention though -- kristie miller: i think perhaps it was. john milton cooper jr.: that she was supposed to turn it down and -- and then, you know, of course, the guy comes back and then -- kristie miller: but she had every right to turn him down, convention or no convention. they'd known each other about six weeks when he proposed the first time. john milton cooper jr.: i must say, you know, we both read all that -- that correspondence there. i'm impressed that edith's refusal looked to me pretty pro forma, but, you know, you just knew that she was going to accept this guy. kristie miller: and one of my favorite quotes is from the secret service man, colonel sterling, who said, "the lady was retreating, but how fast and with what intention? we don't know." john milton cooper jr.: well, he used to -- he would go over to her house, you know. kristie miller: oh, yes. john milton cooper jr.: he would spend the evening there and then he would -- sometimes, he would break into a dance walking back to the white house. susan swain: this is trying to take the president in their isolation today and project a president going to a date at this woman's house in washington. john milton cooper jr.: it was a different era. it was a different era. susan swain: clearly a different era. clearly, a different era. and because there's such a fanaticism about baseball in
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this town, their first public date was to a baseball game. john milton cooper jr.: oh, yes. yes. wilson, first of all, was a great baseball fan. and he played. he played. he never played on the college. well, he played on the college team at davidson. at the first college he went to, but that's -- that's something. and he certainly was great fan of princeton. and at both wesleyan and princeton, as a faculty member, he helped coached the baseball team, so he's a tremendous baseball fan. and, of course, he'd go to that. and, yes, and that -- that is -- that's their first public appearance together, that photo of her just beaming there. and i think that's when she turns into a political asset for him. susan swain: yes. we have -- we have to -- we're going to have to move on because our time is going to evaporate. but, very quickly, from katelyn on twitter, "what did the general population think of wilson remarrying so quickly?" kristie miller: fortunately, it was not as his advisors feared. the public loved it. they went on a tour about six weeks after they were married to drum up interest in preparedness in case america got into the war.
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and she was seen as a great asset. the press really loved her. the crowds really loved her. they loved the idea of the two of them still essentially being on their honeymoon. and it was a great public relations asset. susan swain: throughout this program, we have been taking you to the wilson house, the place where the first couple lived after they left the white house. and we're going to return there right now. peter slen: and we are currently in the dining room of the president woodrow wilson house in northwest d.c., about a mile from the white house. and standing guard over the dining room is an official white house portrait of edith wilson painted, finished in october of 1920, so nearly 93 years old. bob enholm is the executive director here at the house. bob, what can you tell us about dress that she is wearing in this portrait? robert a. enholm: well, you know, president wilson in his second term president a vision presented a vision of the
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world at peace and a plan for achieving that vision. and he couldn't have found a better helpmate than an energetic and dynamic and strong edith wilson. i think, in this portrait -- and you see this is not a 19th century portrait -- she is wearing a dress that, to say the least, is fashion forward for the 1920s. and at her waist is a brooch executed by lalique in france. that was a gift to her from france when she was the first peace conference in 1919. peter slen: some of the other artifacts from their white house years set here at the table. you have the place setting. robert a. enholm: this is the place setting of the wilson china. edith had a hand in designing this. and while some of the 19th century china relied on botanical designs, you'll see here patriotic symbols consistent with the nation at war. edith -- there's a funny story, and i'm sure the historians can tell about this, that when edith was learning how to ride a bicycle in the basement of the white house, the china was stacked there. and one of the reasons they created the china room, which she created, was so that she
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would have a room to ride the bicycle without crashing into the china. peter slen: and this is lenox. and then you've also got an outfit that she wore as first lady. robert a. enholm: that's right. we remember that president wilson was the first president to go to europe as president. but we need to remember as well that edith wilson was the first first lady to go to europe as first lady and it was important to her to figure out exactly how she should comport herself in meeting kings and queens of europe and also heads of state. she bought this suit at the house of worth in paris. let me just pull this back and show some of the detail. the lining is really spectacular and gives you some sense of the level of detail and attention of the clothing that she purchased there. peter slen: bob enholm, president wilson lived here for about three years after he left the white house. she bought this suit at the house of worth in paris. did -- was there was a purposeful effort to make this house like the white house because of his stroke? robert a. enholm: very much so and that was part of edith's doing as well. she realized that the president
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would be more comfortable in a setting in which he understood, you know, where things were. and so, when they put together his bedroom here it really emulated the white house bedroom he'd been in down to the detail of getting the lincoln bed that he had enjoyed and building a replica of it for the room here. peter slen: well, the next time you come back to us, susan it will be in the library. susan swain: thank you very much and a reminder the wilson house is available for public tour. make it as part of your stop when you do a history tour of washington d.c. well, the wilson presidency, the two terms were very momentous years for this country and really for the world. we have -- it's hard to boil down important things that went on in just a couple of pages but we're going to try to do it. during the wilson presidency, the 17th amendment to the constitution which called for direct election of the senators was passed, major tariff bill that was so much an important debate in is country, the federal reserve act, -- i could tell you our facebook community is talking a lot about the federal reserve -- the role of the federal trade commission,
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its function was also created. then, of course, there was the war, the u.s. declaring war on germany after the sinking of the lusitania, after the war woodrow wilson winning the nobel peace prize. also during his presidency the 18th amendment bringing prohibition and the 19th amendment we talked about that calling finally for women's suffrage in this country. what was edith's role in this important period of time legislatively, public affairs-wise. how involved was she in the substance of what he was doing? kristie miller: i would say very little. she really did not have ellen's acumen, i think, for understanding these things. he liked to show her the papers but mostly what she would do is kind of get all fired and say well, i think you should put this note to germany more strongly or you should put this note to the secretary of state william jennings bryan more strongly. and he liked her to be fiery like that. he encouraged that but she
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didn't really have any understanding. it was funny because a lot of people thought that she had influenced him to lobby as he finally did for women's suffrage but that was not the case at all. she really didn't approve of women's suffrage. so, i wouldn't say she had any effect on his legislative -- john milton cooper jr.: by, the way, he did not support the 18th amendment. he did not like prohibition and he vetoed the implementation legislation of the volstead act which was then passed over his veto. susan swain: how difficult was it for him to make the decision to bring the u.s. into world war i? john milton cooper jr.: very, very -- you said we went to war after the sinking of lusitania, almost two years afterward. i mean, the sinking of the lusitania is the great wakeup call as to how we might be involved in the war. it really is that, comparable to pearl harbor and 9/11. i mean, it's that kind of shocking event. but then it's almost two years in which it's this struggle, you know, to try to get the germans not to sink ships and kill
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people in the seas and yet not to get involved in the war. he actually got the germans to back down for a while. so that the election of 1916 was during this lull in foreign affairs. and this notion that kept us out of war was his great cry. well, yes, but it was -- he kept us out of war with mexico because the threat of war in europe had receded at that point. and then the germans reopened submarine warfare and he -- that was a very, very difficult struggle. he actually unburdened himself confidentially to a newspaper editor, frank cobb of the new york world. and he predicted all the terrible consequences that would happen in this country if we went into the war. it's the most eloquent case against going into the war which comes from the man who actually decided to take us in. susan swain: so, how would you answer sheldon cooper on twitter who asked which wife provided more political clout for woodrow?
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kristie miller: well, i think that it was ellen. ellen really was involved. she lobbied -- you spoke of the tariff bill, she read it. she lobbied for having reduced duty on books and art supplies. and when it was actually passed, she celebrated. it meant a lot to her. and i don't -- i don't really think either of them had a great deal to do with it but i think ellen had more than edith. susan swain: david is in her hometown wytheville, virginia, nice to have you on the line. go ahead. david: thank you. i'm just calling to thank you especially for this segment on edith bolling wilson birthplace museum in wytheville and invite your viewers to visit and join us in our efforts to restore her birthplace and childhood home. but my question is when mrs. wilson visited europe how she was received by royalty of europe and also can you tell us a little bit about her relationship to pocahontas and other notable virginia families. kristie miller: she is a direct descendant of pocahontas and it
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was something that was played a great deal in the newspapers and even by the newspapers in europe when she went over there. and i forgot, what was the other part of the question? susan swain: how she was received in europe? kristie miller: oh, they were received -- they both were received just joyously when they went over there. they looked to wilson to be a savior. there was -- and edith wrote home and said she felt like cinderella. they stayed at buckingham palace. they were received by the king of italy. there were thousands and thousands of people greeting them in paris. it was -- it was a magical time for her. susan swain: oh, here's a question of a similar ilk from nivik johnson. between edith and ellen which had the greater influence on america today? john milton cooper jr.: oh, i'd say ellen. although edith had to handle the country in this crisis of presidential disability and i
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think she has set a pattern of how not do it -- kristie miller: yeah. john milton cooper jr.: because it was a cover-up. it was a cover-up and as i think it was one of the segments that said that grayson really acted on edith's orders, said we're not going to admit he had a stroke. they never -- the white house never admitted that. one of his consulting physicians let it slip out of the bag later but they never admitted that. and in some ways this uncertainty about what the president's condition was i think really contributed to the kind of the political downfall that comes. susan swain: justin, plainfield, indiana, you're on. go ahead. justin: hi. thank you for taking my call and thank you for doing this series. my question is how was edith received in the time leading up to her marriage to president wilson by the media? did she kind of get the princess
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diana reception or more of the rachel jackson reception. susan swain: thanks so much. kristie miller: they really as john said tried to keep it very quiet and the announcement was made at the beginning of october. they got married in the middle of december. so, they really only had to endure the attention of the press for about two months. and, again, it was a very, very different time. and nobody was expected to get out there diana style and be fodder for the press. john milton cooper jr.: kristie, wouldn't you say though i was interested that the caller talked about the rachel jackson. there was an undercurrent though of a little bit of scandal or whatever that he was involved with this woman. kristie miller: well, there were several scandals, one of which and we haven't really addressed it but woodrow wilson was involved with another woman during the time he was married to ellen. he met mary allen hulbert peck in 1907.
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by 1908 he had scribbled on a little note somewhere, my precious one, my beloved mary. i don't think he sent it to her but he was just venting his feelings. ellen was very upset. she accused him of emotional love for this woman but she tolerated mary and tried to protect woodrow from the scandal. there still was some scandal and theodore roosevelt was invited during the 1912 election to make use of it. somebody said that they had letters between woodrow and mary and although they were never as ardent as his letters to ellen had been they were -- they were certainly compromising and roosevelt said no that would be wrong and also that nobody would believe him. john milton cooper jr.: yes, because that was, you know,
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people said that was very noble of theodore roosevelt. kristie miller: oh, right. john milton cooper jr.: but frankly, he said, i can't believe that somebody who looks like the apothecary's clerk could be romeo. kristie miller: that's right. john milton cooper jr.: nobody will believe that, you know. so, he said no, it's not going to work. i think that was -- kristie miller: john cooper doing his best t.r. imitation. john milton cooper jr.: that's right. susan swain: now, this was a momentous time, of course, as the united states enters world war i. what happens in the white house in terms of their social, their entertaining, what did she do to support the war effort. that's an important part of her story. would you talk a little bit about that? kristie miller: well, poor edith gets pitched into the white house in the middle of the war, in the middle of his term without any preparation whatsoever. and she was -- she really rose to the occasion. and she was as i said very popular with the press because of ellen's ill health, the press had not been very taken with her. and edith had the doubly trying situation of having to have two receptions because she couldn't have all the warring ambassadors with each other.
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so she had to have a party for the allies and a party for the central powers. but she really was terrific and everybody was impressed with her good, firm handshake and very impressed with her sense of style, no poor little brown dress for edith. so -- susan swain: she was a wealthy washington socialite and she was a business executive. kristie miller: i wouldn't say she was a socialite because her husband had been in trade meaning he was a businessman and that was not the creme de la creme of washington society, so there was a certain amount of dubiousness about that. but as john said there were -- there were scandals also about the extent to which she and woodrow had been intimate and later on she makes a big protest, a big international scandal really out of -- out of refusing to accept the designated british ambassador because his assistant was telling naughty stories about them.
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susan swain: back to the wilson house on s street in washington d.c. peter slen: and we are in the library in the wilson house with bob enholm who is the executive director. you can see some of the artifacts in this room from the wilsons. and bob enholm, there's a couple of things in here that are very related to edith and woodrow wilson. why don't you tell us what this is on the desk? robert a. enholm: well, here we've displayed the pen that was used to sign the declaration of war in 1917. and what i think is interesting is that it was edith wilson's pen. and, you know, we've been discussing on the program that edith was very much with the president, participated in his deliberations on a variety of issues. when the declaration of war was passed by congress and actually brought to the president at the white house residence, the president was with edith and not near a pen of his own and she offered one of hers to sign that historic document. so we have that here.
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it's also known that edith was part of the president's regular routine in dealing with policy issues and the business of government and every day after dinner they would retire to the office that was in the white house, the president's office, and go through what he called his drawer which we might think of as an inbox and actually we have either that box or a box like it here. you can see this is a box that has a lock and key where the president's important papers to be delivered to him and then he would be able to go through them. the president and mrs. wilson would go through these papers together. it was her habit to, you know, put them in order while he was reviewing one, she would be reviewing the others. and they would actually decipher together coded messages. so, i think it's interesting that this lays the groundwork for her role later as steward of the presidency when the president was disabled. peter slen: bob enholm, our guests back on the set have been talking about edith and ellen wilson. what do you think of the legacy
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of edith wilson? what is the legacy of edith wilson? robert a. enholm: well, i think the most important thing that edith wilson did was to bring the role of the first lady into the modern era in the sense that she supported the president and was aware of some of the issues that he was involved with. and, you know, i might take on her role in the stewardship. it's a little different from some because i think that her authority within the government relied almost entirely on the president's for her, trust for her, respect for her. i think it's -- you wouldn't expect that she would betray that trust in order to go to the cabinet or go to the vice president or someone else. so, i think she had that important role of being the helpmate to the president in a very modern way. peter slen: and we are at the wilson house in northwest d.c. this is where edith wilson lived post presidency until 1961 when she died in this house.
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we've got one more visitor here and it's kind of a special guest that we're going to introduce you to in a little while. susan swain: thanks, bob enholm, for bringing us into the wilson house tonight and showing some it to our viewing public. well, we should say that when woodrow wilson makes a decision to go into the war he goes all in. and you're right about the fact that what america really could contribute was manpower to this war. john milton cooper jr.: well, yes. i mean, it was a stalemate although russia collapsed and the bolsheviks when they came in -- lenin's policy was peace at any price. and that's pretty well, it's what he did, he paid a terrible price but it meant that the germans could finally fight the battle they wanted to fight, the war they wanted to fight. in other words, try to do the franco-prussian war over again so they could throw everything at france. and that's just what they had the chance to do in the spring of 1918 and it's a race against time for us to get the doughboys there. now, the british and the french
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-- bless their hearts -- held on that one last time and blocked that german offensive. but they were able to do it because they know the yanks are coming. that material, money we really bailed them out. the allies were, you know, they were bankrupt. they were bankrupt by that time. and we were able to bail them out. susan swain: so, we provided the doughboys, the foot soldiers and -- john milton cooper jr.: and the dough. susan swain: the dough. john milton cooper jr.: the dough, yes. susan swain: and how many casualties -- american casualties -- in the war? john milton cooper jr.: about 140,000. susan swain: and when was armistice day? john milton cooper jr.: november 11, 1918. susan swain: and then wilson moves from war president to peacemaker. john milton cooper jr.: peacemaker-in-chief, that's right. now, he decided very early that he was going to go to paris and was going to be our chief negotiator because he wanted to shape the peace as best he could there. and he knew we had come into the
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war later than the others and for different reasons and he knew that there were real differences. susan swain: edith travels with him on that trip. i want to take a call and then have you come back and talk to us about how that was staged, what her role was and how important that was ultimately to the peace that was shaped. louis, los angeles, you're on the air, welcome. louis: yes. my question is what was or how was the league of nations a -- what did they -- whether the triumph for the president or failure to president wilson and how did mrs. wilson take it because she lasted a little bit longer? she lived a little bit longer than president wilson, how was it on their legacy that the league of nations fails? thank you. john milton cooper jr.: well, it's both, it's a triumph and a failure. i mean, the fact that there was a league of nations at all was
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because of wilson. he was able to take the situation in paris. he was able to whip it together, get this league covenant put together in an astonishingly short period of time and it was terrific. john milton cooper jr.: but then -- bu\t then his failure, of course, was to be able to get the senate to consent to it and it's -- this terrible stalemate and eventually we never joined the league of nations. that's what happens -- in world war ii there is a posthumous apotheosis of woodrow wilson. here's the prophet that we did not honor. here's the prophet whom we did not heed. here was the man who predicted this. if we had listened to him we wouldn't have had this terrible second war. i think that's quite overdrawn but still there's a kernel of truth to that. i mean, it's hard to imagine that we wouldn't have played at least some kind of more constructive role in world affairs if we had gone into the league of nations. kristie miller: and edith was after woodrow's death very active with the league of nations herself and not in a
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leadership way but she used to go to geneva every year for their meetings and she would go to any country in the league that wanted to honor woodrow for his work in bringing it together. susan swain: i should note that it's united nations week even as we do this and all the world leaders will be gathering in new york city, they -- kristie miller: but, john, wouldn't you say that if it had not been for edith and if woodrow had resigned that we might have joined the league. john milton cooper jr.: yes -- he should have left. i mean, he should not have continued as president because he -- it wasn't functioning and again, this warped judgment of his that would not compromise. if he had resigned some kind of -- some kind of something to get him out of the way we would have joined the league. now, we would have joined it on a very conditional basis with lots of hedging around it but frankly that would have simply been a more openly stating what all the other nations were doing anyway.
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but it would have gotten us into a leadership role in world affairs a generation before we did. and i think -- i think that was what was lost. i think what was lost was a generation of experience of world leadership. susan swain: we hope you saw the beginning of our program because it was edith wilson who made a critical decision with the advice of his doctors to keep him in the white house and to serve as the gatekeeper to him and keep the affairs of state going during those years when he was really that was when he was very, very critically ill. kristie miller: and i don't think it was with the doctor's consent. susan swain: cary grayson, you don't think -- kristie miller: oh, not a bit. in october he wrote a memo that should he be subpoenaed to congress he wanted to have something on paper early on saying that he did not, you know, saying exactly what was wrong with the president. susan swain: but in her memoirs i've read several citations
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where she said doctors advised her -- kristie miller: of course, she did. and i said to you that those memoirs are quite fanciful. john milton cooper jr.: there is a -- kristie miller: she was her own public relations expert. john milton cooper jr.: edward weinstein who was a very distinguished neurologist wrote a medical biography of wilson. and he said in here -- he just takes it straight on what edith said that doctors said, oh no, keep him in office that's -- he said no responsible physician would have said that, that she's making that up. susan swain: how about that? so, i asked about her -- if their trip europe as the great peace maker they travelled by ocean liner to get there on a very specific day in december. what was the wilsons as the presidential couple arriving there, how were they received by the other heads of state? how important was that to what went on there? kristie miller: well, they were received, i think, especially in england on terms of that would have been accorded to royalty. and everywhere they went they were cheered by the populace. so, in the beginning it was
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wonderful. but once the negotiations got underway, edith suddenly went from this fairytale existence to being extremely concerned for wilson's high blood pressure. he had had some kind of episode when he was only 39 years old where he had a lot of numbness in his hand. he had very high blood pressure all of his adult life or at least from the age of 39 onwards. and cary grayson had been very insistent during the time he was president that he got a lot of exercise and that he got a lot of rest. but during those negotiations he couldn't either rest or exercise and edith was trying her best. she would try to get him to go for a walk and the woman who was with her, her secretary said that she herself would never go out if there was a possibility that she might be able to take woodrow for a walk. but it was -- it was not enough. susan swain: when he came back,
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he embarked on a multi-city tour of the united states to try to sell the concept to the league of nations to the united -- to the people of the united states , ultimately leading to his exhaustion and ultimate stroke that we spoke about earlier. and we have only 15 minutes left in our program so we're going to have to compress a lot of history in that time. [laughter] susan swain: we'll return to the wilson house and introduce you to a member of the family. peter slen: susan, this is cary fuller from westchester new york. mr. fuller, what's your relationship to edith wilson? cary fuller: edith was my great aunt. peter slen: and how much time did you spend here in the wilson house growing up? cary fuller: a lot of time really. coming over to visit not only my great aunt but my grandfather and my great aunt and great uncle all of whom edith took care of here. peter slen: and so, there's only about three relatives of edith wilson still alive, correct? cary fuller: at this point, yes. peter slen: what would you do --
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we're in the library here, what was it like to visit with aunt edith? cary fuller: it was called playing cards. we came over. we had a good meal, we played cards, prompted by my mother to let her win every once in a while. she was a fierce person in terms of winning. peter slen: canasta? cary fuller: canasta was the game. and that was easy to let her win if i just held the cards and let her go out. peter slen: now, there's a deck of cards here. are these cards, this is the card box that you would use? cary fuller: the cards were always on the table. the table was over here. peter slen: it was over here in the library. cary fuller, did she ever talk about being first lady what it was like? cary fuller: no. it was very interesting. she very rarely referred to the past. and if she did she would refer to woodrow wilson as the president. but there were no past memories really. it was -- it was interesting. peter slen: were there any special visitors while you were here that would drop in? cary fuller: no. no, not while i was here. it was really family. i mean, she loved her family so much and she spent a lot of time with them. peter slen: and here in the house, the post presidency house , she would also take in family, correct to live with her?
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cary fuller: yes, my grandfather, her brother and her sister all died here in the house. peter slen: cary fuller, did she ever talk about ellen? cary fuller: never. but, i mean, that wouldn't have come up. you know, seeing ellen wilson's picture in the house is sort of funny. it's just, you know -- it was just not a part of what we would have discussed. peter slen: what about jackie ever talk about ellen? kennedy? cary fuller: i was close to jackie kennedy by sitting in the car and letting my mother and my aunt into the house. i was not here. i was waiting to pick them up afterwards. peter slen: and that's when she was first lady, right? cary fuller: when she was first lady. and edith was so -- edith is what she wanted us to call her. she was so excited about john kennedy and that presidency. and that she got to live to see it was, you know, wonderful. peter slen: cary fuller, we're here on the main level of the house, up one stair case from the entrance. where would you sleep when you were visiting here? cary fuller: upstairs, only
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twice did i stayed here for the night. there's a little room in between her room and the president's and that was -- just as i say -- two occasions. peter slen: so, there's three of you left. is there any -- are you active in an edith wilson family at all? cary fuller: no. peter slen: i mean, is there any legacy? cary fuller: not so much as a family, but certainly, with wilson house and also with the birthplace. so, i'm involved with both of those which is wonderful. peter slen: cary fuller of westchester, new york is here with us at the woodrow wilson house, upper northwest d.c. and we want to thank bob enholm and his staff for allowing us to come in with the cameras and show you a few of the artifacts here at the house. susan swain: thanks so much, peter. and she made it to john kennedy's inauguration. kristie miller: yes. and she made it through 1961. she was supposed to dedicate the woodrow wilson bridge that all of us who live in washington know well. [laughter]
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kristie miller: and she was going to dedicate it on his 105th birthday, december 28th, 1961. but she was 89 and she contracted pneumonia and she couldn't make it -- and she died on his birthday. susan swain: and the woodrow wilson center which is so active in this town, as a policy at the same time, when did that get started? john milton cooper jr.: that get started -- excuse me -- i got started in the 19 -- actually, i think it was authorized under kennedy. it's -- susan swain: he authorized the commission, but then -- john milton cooper jr.: right. and then, it gets started -- the first director, it's the late 1960s. it was originally in the old smithsonian building. it's now in its -- its own part of, oddly enough, the reagan building. [laughter] john milton cooper jr.: you know, it's -- and i think that's a very fitting memorial to wilson because it really does bring together scholars and policymakers.
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and wilson was no ivory tower intellectual. i mean, he really believed that scholarship, that learning should be brought to bear in public affairs. i mean, that was himself. i mean, this man took the lessons that he had learned, the insights he'd gotten from the study of politics and put them into practice. i mean, this is a man who really got a chance to practice what he'd been preaching all along. and i've said this a number of times and people think it's hyperbole, but it isn't -- i don't know if any other career in american history or in any other history i can think of that better justifies the study of politics as a preparation for the practice of politics than woodrow wilson's. susan swain: john, in childress, virginia, you're in the air. john: yes. yes. i'd like to make a comment. this woman, edith bolling wilson, is an appalachian woman, the first and only appalachian woman to become first lady.
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and i wonder if the experts would be interested in commenting on her appalachian role as caregiver and the fact that she was a caregiver for the president and on into his legacy and really might be responsible for a lot of the emulation and legacy that president wilson has in our national history. kristie miller: i don't know that being an appalachian woman made her stand out at that time in america. i think women then, and to a certain degree still today, are the principal caregivers of family members.
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and edith -- i mean, ellen also, came from rome, georgia which i think might technically be called appalachia also. she was very interested in the appalachian mountain crafts. she remodels part of the white house, the president's room with quilt and hangings and fabrics. she had set up a scholarship fund there in memory of her brother with her -- the earnings that she got from her paintings. and edith -- i mean, ellen also, came from rome, georgia which i think might technically be called appalachia also. so, i kind of feel that she was the one who focused more on the appalachian nature or character more than edith did. susan swain: so, as we finish up here, i just want to really frame her life, she met woodrow wilson just shortly after ellen died. he proposed very soon. she became first lady very quickly without much preparation for the role. how soon after that, he become ill and then, how long she take care of him? kristie miller: well, she was president -- she was first lady susan swain: so, as we finish up here, i just want to really frame her life, she met woodrow wilson just shortly after ellen died.
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to a functioning president in about four and a half years and she was nurse-maid to a president another four and a half years. susan swain: and then, he lived for how long also incapacitated after he left the white house? kristie miller: well, that would include the time that he was incapacitated -- john milton cooper jr.: just under three years. susan swain: three years, all together. john milton cooper jr.: yeah. susan swain: yeah. and so, he dies when? kristie miller: february 4, 1924. susan swain: and then, how is he memorialized at his death in this city? was there a big public funeral? john milton cooper jr.: oh, yeah. it was -- it's really quite lovely. they had -- edith, president coolidge offered the capitol to have a state funeral. she declined. they had a service at the house, presided over by both a presbyterian clergyman and the bishop -- the washington bishop. edith, by the way, was episcopalian and she did not change to be a presbyterian when she married him and he made no push for her to do that. and then, there's a procession up massachusetts avenue to the cathedral.
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there is the interment. in those days, there wasn't too much to the cathedral that's down in that crypt. his tomb has been -- was moved up in interestingly enough, in the centennial year of his birth, 1956 up to the then finished the principal part of the cathedral. so, that -- it's a -- it's charming. it's a lovely ceremony. and to me, one of the nicest touches was that -- when the funeral was -- at the end of the service, a bugler played taps and they had a hookup and -- by a telephone. and they had a hookup to arlington. so, they knew the exact moment, so the bugler in arlington also played taps. susan swain: and she lived how long after he died? kristie miller: i think something like 37 years. it was an extraordinarily long time. i mean, he died in 1924 and she died at the end of 1961. susan swain: and what was her life like? kristie miller: she spent all the rest of her life being woodrow wilson's widow. and she tried to ensure his legacy. she chose his first biographer.
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she controlled access to his papers very, very closely. she controlled how his image was portrayed. she wrote her own memoir, as i said, with her own spin on it. she collaborated with darryl zanuck, who made a movie about wilson. she really had a tight rein on what he was allowed to do. but, to me, the most important thing that she did when she supported something that he had supported during his lifetime, the woodrow wilson commission, is it called? john milton cooper jr.: foundation. kristie miller: foundation. and they helped create the united nations and they also collect these papers that arthur link and his team edited so that there are 69 volumes of woodrow wilson's letters and other significant papers, many of the letters from the first ladies, even letters from mary peck. and i think that's her biggest legacy. susan swain: we have some videos -- actually it was a film of frances cleveland in edith out
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of princeton university, can you tell us that story? kristie miller: i don't know a story about them. john milton cooper jr.: it's at the bicentennial at princeton, 200 years. and they gathered all the living first ladies together. and this is mrs. cleveland who was much younger than grover cleveland and lived in princeton. and so, she was there and there was edith. and bess truman, i don't know that eleanor roosevelt was there. they tried to have them all. but -- and there's a picture of president truman, actually, with these three first ladies. yeah. kristie miller: i know that ellen wilson had to entertain theodore roosevelt at an army navy game when woodrow was president of princeton. and she did contact frances cleveland for advice on how to entertain ex-presidents. susan swain: did she come back to the white house? kristie miller: who? susan swain: edith. did she ever go back to the white house again? kristie miller: i don't know.
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john milton cooper jr.: with the kennedys. yes. yeah. kristie miller: i assume. yeah. john milton cooper jr.: and i think -- kristie miller: and probably with the roosevelt. john milton cooper jr.: probably the roosevelts and the trumans. yeah. kristie miller: one thing that i thought was very interesting is that when fdr went to congress on december 8, the day after the bombing at pearl harbor, he invited edith wilson to come and sit in the gallery and she had sat in the gallery when woodrow wilson called for war in the first world war. susan swain: dan, omaha, nebraska, your question. dan: yeah. i have a question here about the president's illness. when edith was covering up or not letting the nation know about his illness. did she get investigated for that or did she commit a crime by doing this? john milton cooper jr.: i don't know there was a crime. i think it was a big mistake. no. there was no congressional investigation.
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i mean, kristie had mentioned the smelling committee sending the senators up to check on him. that's about as far as they got with it. susan swain: as we close out here, first of all james m. wants to know about edith wilson's funeral in 1961, when she died, what was that like? kristie miller: i have no idea. susan swain: was there anything special about it? john milton cooper jr.: it was a quiet funeral. susan swain: quiet. john milton cooper jr.: but she was buried with him in the cathedral. susan swain: and we also talked about first -- they were the first and only presidential couple to be buried in the national cathedral in washington, d.c. those of you who have had the fortune to go to europe and see many of famous figures buried in the cathedrals here, they're trying to emulate that in washington and they got to one president and the first lady and that's it. kristie miller: that's right. yeah. susan swain: so, in the close of your book, and i want to show kristie miller on screen, so people can see your biography of the two wives, edith and -- "ellen and edith, woodrow wilson first ladies." and if we could put that on screen, so people can see the cover.
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i'm also going to open it as i did the last time. you have conclusions and i want to close with you talking a little bit about this. "edith wilson undeniably had an impact on history. she took over after woodrow wilson's stroke, enabling him to remain in office. had he resigned, the u.s. probably would have joined the league of nations, subject to certain conditions" you also write, "regardless of whether edith wilson had an effect on international relations, her actions almost certainly changed american constitutional law. her assumption of power during woodrow wilson's illness was well-known to the drafter of the 25th amendments on presidential succession." this is a part i wanted to go to. edith wilson did not use the power of presidential spouse, edith wilson did not use the power of presidential spouse, you're referring to, as constructively as she might have. most notably, she made no effort to model better relations between the races and indeed, might have encouraged her husband's racism. susan swain: her personal style however did warm up woodrow's stern image in the public eye and her leadership during world war i, knitting selling bonds, working in a canteen, provided a good a role model for american women in wartime. so, wrap a bow around all of this. what we shouldn't think about, edith wilson's tenure in the white house and her contributions to the role of first lady and to the country. kristie miller: i think, as john
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suggested, unfortunately, her biggest contribution is what not to do. even as late as 1987, william safire was writing to nancy reagan -- writing a column that said to nancy reagan, "don't you be an edith wilson. don't you meddle in presidential politics." and i'm afraid that that, in some ways, is her greatest legacy as first lady. susan swain: what an interesting story tonight. thanks to both of you for being here and telling us about the two first ladies in woodrow wilson's life and in this country's history. thanks. ♪
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[captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2015] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit] american history tv is featuring c-span's original series at 8:00 eastern on sunday nights throughout the rest of this year. next week, we look at florence harding. this is american history tv, all
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weekend, every weekend on cspan3. wives and mothers. some had children and grandchildren who became presidents and politicians. they dealt with the joys and trials of motherhood. the pleasure and sometimes chaos of raising small children, and the tragedy of loss. first ladies looks at the personal lives of every first lady in american history, many of whom raised families in the white house. lively stories of fascinating , and entertaining and inspiring read based on original interviews from c-span's serious published by -- series. from your favorite bookstore or online bookseller. >>


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