Edith Bolling Galt Wilson

Posted: November 4, 2008 in Decision Makers, First in Her Class, Uncategorized

225px-edith_wilson_cropped_2In honor of Election Day, I am going to devote this entry to all things presidential. Edith Wilson (1872-1961), second wife of Woodrow Wilson and First Lady of the United States from 1915-1921, is remembered by a number of titles including “The Secret President” and “The First Lady to Run the Government”, but I like to think her as the “Unofficial First Female President of the United States”. The ultimate Decision Maker.

The Bolling family hailed from the great Commonwealth of Virginia during colonial times. Edith herself descended from a fantastic line of people including Pocahontas and George Washington. The daughter of a judge, Edith grew up a proper Virginian lady, married a prosperous jeweler, Norman Galt, and lived a comfortable life in Washington DC. After the death of newborn son in 1905 and the unexpected death of her husband in 1908, Edith was a widow for 7 years before being introduced to President Woodrow Wilson through a cousin and marrying him after a very brief courtship.

With Wilson being 58 to Edith’s 43 years, Edith spent the majority of their marriage trying to keep her husband in good health under the strain of the presidency during World War I. Edith lost that battle and Woodrow had a stroke in September of 1919.

Not trusting the Vice President, Thomas Marshall, to assume control, Edith immediately cut off all access to her husband. All communications went through Edith who then decided what to present to Woodrow and what not to present and delegate elsewhere. This is where thing get interesting. According to Edith, as written later in her memoirs, she claims not to have made a single decision and insists every thing was passed by Woodrow for him to decide.

edith_wilsonNow this is matter of much debate. Many medical experts claim that due to the severity of his stroke, Woodrow Wilson would not have been in any condition to make any decisions. It is due to this assumption that many consider Edith to responsible for the numerous diplomatic errors during Woodrow’s confinement.

So let’s consider this. If Edith did in fact pass everything by her husband that she deemed important, that’s still a highly influential act. We all have biases and prejudices that affect our judgement and Edith would be no different during her “screening process”. What she deemed unimportant and delegated to someone else may have had sweeping consequences. That person may have had radically views from her husband and may have approached whatever was passed on to him in a completely different manner. To the level of which this happened we’ll never know.

The hope of all intelligence analysts is that the Decision Maker understands what the hell they are trying to brief them on. Edith was obviously a well-educated women, but you still have to wonder what exactly came before her during that time and how much she really understood.

But I’m not going to go as far as to say this is a bad thing. Yes, the first Lady is not an elected official. But look at the amazing women who have been First Ladies. Given their intelligence, their acumen, their experience of having lived a life of politics, well, let’s just say that Abigail Adams or Eleanor Roosevelt certainly would have had no problem getting my vote.

As we know, Woodrow Wilson died three years after leaving office. Edith herself passed on at the ripe old age of 89 in 1961, the same day that the Woodrow Wilson Bridge was to be dedicated in Washington DC.


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