President Woodrow Wilson, a man known for many things, starting the Federal Reserve, pushing for the federal income tax, and kicking the Central Powers’ asses in the Great War. While this seemingly shy and professorial president might not come off that way, ‘ol Woodrow also had a passionate romance during his first term in the White House. Here is the story of Thomas Woodrow Wilson’s incredible storybook love affair a relationship that may have saved his life.
Woodrow Wilson married Ellen Axson and by all accounts, their marriage was a true love match. Ellen supported her husband’s academic career (his many achievements included time as president of Princeton University) and political career.
According to the book H.W. Brand’s biography, Woodrow Wilson: The American Presidents Series, Woodrow was a devoted husband, but like some men, he succumbed to temptation. During some time in Bermuda, Wilson (who had not reached the Oval Office yet) apparently engaged in a dalliance with a woman named Mary Peck. Whether or not Mrs. Wilson knew remains unknown, but Mr. Wilson regretted the infidelity calling it “a contemptible error”
Tragedy struck early on during President Wilson’s first term when Ellen developed kidney disease and passed away in 1914. Wilson was devastated. A private man with few close associates, Wilson had relied on Ellen for counsel and support. Her death left him suicidal. The book Woodrow Wilson: The American Presidents Series, tells the story of Wilson and his confidante Edward House taking a walk when Wilson reportedly told House how lonely he was and that he wished someone would kill him.
It was a dark time for Wilson and then, salvation appeared in the form of one Edith Boiling Galt. Galt, whose husband had died seven years prior, operated her husband’s jewelry business and was financially independent. Wilson was smitten and one of his friends arranged for a meeting, hoping that a relationship might heal Wilson’s shattered spirits.
The relationship turned into a wild romance with Woodrow Wilson showing he still had lots of game. Wilson wined and dined the widow (whether he 69ed her is a question lost to history). Wilson couldn’t get enough of his new love, writing her often including poetry and other love letters. The fact that Edith was roughly 16 years younger than “Mack Daddy” Woodrow probably didn’t hurt.
By 1915, Woodrow’s passion for Edith was obvious and some White House aides felt he might be too preoccupied with his new sweetheart. While there was some concern, there’s no truth to the urban legend that when told of the sinking of the Lusitania by a German U-boat, Wilson said, “To blazes with the Lusitania, this is my third date with Edith and you know what that means!”
As Wilson found himself caught up in the tender trap, marriage proved inevitable and the happy couple tied the knot in December 1915. Woodrow found love and a renewed commitment to politics. After his first wife’s passing, Wilson had little desire to run for a second term. However, his romance with Edith put the bounce back into his step and dare I say it, it helped Woodrow get his wood back.
While historians and citizens will forever debate President Wilson’s place in history, the story of his storybook romance with Edith Boiling Galt is one that resonates with anyone looking for a feel-good story and the hope that love can happen to anyone and at any age.