Ellen and Edith: Woodrow Wilson's First Ladies

Overview


The wives of Woodrow Wilson were strikingly different from each other. Ellen Axson Wilson, quiet and intellectual, died after just a year and a half in the White House and is thought to have had little impact on history. Edith Bolling Wilson was flamboyant and confident but left a legacy of controversy. Yet, as Kristie Miller shows, each played a significant role in the White House.

Miller presents a rich and complex portrait of Wilson's wives, one that compels us to reconsider...

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Ellen and Edith: Woodrow Wilson's First Ladies

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Overview


The wives of Woodrow Wilson were strikingly different from each other. Ellen Axson Wilson, quiet and intellectual, died after just a year and a half in the White House and is thought to have had little impact on history. Edith Bolling Wilson was flamboyant and confident but left a legacy of controversy. Yet, as Kristie Miller shows, each played a significant role in the White House.

Miller presents a rich and complex portrait of Wilson's wives, one that compels us to reconsider our understanding of both women. Ellen comes into clear focus as an artist and intellectual who dedicated her talents to an ambitious man whose success enabled her to have a significant influence on the institution of the first lady. Miller's assessment of Edith Wilson goes beyond previous flattering accounts and critical assessments. She examines a woman who overstepped her role by hiding her husband's serious illness to allow him to remain in office. But, Miller concludes, Edith was acting as she knew her husband would have wished.

Miller explains clearly how these women influenced Woodrow Wilson's life and career. But she keeps her focus on the women themselves, placing their concerns and emotions in the foreground. She presents a balanced appraisal of each woman's strengths and weaknesses. She argues for Ellen's influence not only on her husband but on subsequent first ladies. She strives for an understanding of the controversial Edith, who saw herself as Wilson's principal advisor and, some would argue, acted as shadow president after his stroke. Miller also helps us better appreciate the role of Mary Allen Hulbert Peck, whose role as Wilson's "playmate" complemented that of Ellen-but was intolerable to Edith.

Especially because Woodrow Wilson continues to be one of the most-studied American presidents, the task of recognizing and understanding the influence of his wives is an important one. Drawing extensively on the Woodrow Wilson papers and newly available material, Miller's book answers that call with a sensitive and compelling narrative of how private and public emotions interacted at a pivotal moment in the history of first ladies.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Miller (Isabella Greenway: An Enterprising Woman) explores how Woodrow Wilson's two wives influenced his time in office, drawing a close connection between personal struggle and political action. Dying of kidney failure just 18 months after Wilson's first inauguration, his wife Ellen Axson had been "quiet, intellectual, dutiful, and frugal." An artist of modest talent who sought success by dedicating herself to her husband's promising career rather than her own, Ellen broadened Wilson's appreciation of art and literature, made translations and digests for his early writing, suggested revisions for books and speeches, and helped him select advisers. An intensely loving partner who struggled with depression, Ellen tolerated and even abetted Wilson's intense, possibly sexual, relationship with another woman. She was also the first presidential wife to lobby for her favorite cause: urban renewal. Fifteen months after Ellen's death, Wilson married a "flamboyant, confident, and fashionable" widow, Edith Bolling Galt, who would become infamous for usurping executive power after Wilson was debilitated by a stroke during his second term, though Miller maintains a scholarly detachment in recounting these possibly world-changing events. This latest installment in the University Press of Kansas's Modern First Ladies series may alter some readers' opinions of our nation's 28th president. 22 photos. (Oct.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780700621057
  • Publisher: University Press of Kansas
  • Publication date: 4/24/2015
  • Series: Modern First Ladies
  • Pages: 360
  • Sales rank: 816,414

Meet the Author


Kristie Miller is a research associate at the Southwest Center, University of Arizona, and author of Isabella Greenway: An Enterprising Woman and Ruth Hanna McCormick: A Life in Politics, 1880-1944. She is also coeditor of A Volume of Friendship: The Letters of Eleanor Roosevelt and Isabella Greenway, 1904-1953, and We Have Come to Stay: American Women and Political Parties, 1880-1960.
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Table of Contents

Editor's Foreword

Preface

Introduction

Part One: Ellen Axson WIlson

1. The Scholar's Helpmeet

2. The First Lady

Part Two: Edith Bolling Wilson

3. The White House Bride

4. The President's Partner

5. The Regent

6. The Mainstay

7. The Widow

Conclusion

Acknowledgments

Notes

Bibliographic Essay

Index

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