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Ellen Wilson
by John T. Marck

 



 

  Ellen Wilson

First Lady: 1913 to 1914

First Wife of President Woodrow Wilson

Born: May 15, 1860 Died: August 6, 1914

Ellen Louise Axson was born in Savannah, Georgia, the daughter of Samuel Edward, a Presbyterian minister, and Margaret Hoyt Axson. When Ellen was young, her father was transferred to Rome, Georgia where she was raised. It was here in Rome that Ellen met Woodrow Wilson. Soon after they met, they both went through hard times. Ellen's mother had died and her father was suffering from depression as a result of his wife's death. Woodrow was also at his lowest, as he had failed to establish a law practice, and thus decided to go back to school to study to be a teacher. He had two more years to go at Johns Hopkins University before he could teach, so marriage, he thought, would not be possible. Ellen and Woodrow did however become engaged. Shortly thereafter, Ellen's father died, so she went to New York to study painting at the Art Students League. Woodrow finished his schooling and began teaching at Bryn Mawr. Woodrow contacted Ellen, who then went to Savannah, where they were married on June 24, 1885.

They traveled around as Woodrow changed jobs from Bryn Mawr to Wesleyan College, to finally Princeton University. Living was not easy on the salary of a professor, but in spite of this, they managed well and were also excellent parents. They had three children, Margaret Woodrow, Jessie Woodrow and Eleanor Randolph. During their Princeton years, Woodrow began to earn more money through his writings and finally became quite wealthy through his position as President of the University for eight years. Upon moving into politics, Woodrow was elected Governor of New York, but refused a salary. For two years during his term, things were difficult, resulting in their sharing a house with friends. Upon his election to the Presidency in 1913, Woodrow and Ellen walked to the train station in Princeton, to board the train for Washington. Ellen handled her duties in the White House in a most able manner. At times she would retire to the studio she set up in the White House to paint. She also started a garden on the White House grounds, and lobbied Congress for new housing in slum areas for blacks. She arranged two White House weddings, for her two daughters, Jessie and Eleanor.

One day about a year after becoming First Lady, she suddenly developed a kidney disease. Ellen died from this disease on August 6, 1914.

Copyright© John T. Marck. All Rights Reserved. This article and their accompanying pictures, photographs, and line art, may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission from the author. From The First Ladies of the Unites States by John T. Marck.