President Woodrow Wilson proposed to the Widow Galt only two months after they met.
The Wilson Secret Engagement
Woodrow Wilson had adored his wife of thirty years, and was understandably devastated and depressed when she died, only fifteen months after his inauguration as president. Eight months later, the grieving husband met Edith Bolling Galt, an attractive widow, fifteen years his junior. Within days after meeting her, his mood had lifted dramatically. Invitations to luncheons and dinners and carriage rides followed, all properly chaperoned. Edith may have been overwhelmed by the attention, but she realized early on that she was being wooed, and Woodrow Wilson was a very ardent wooer. He telephoned her daily. He wrote passionate letters. He sent flowers. He was also a stubborn man, determined to get what he wanted, and he wanted Edith. He persisted.
Edith had been a widow for several years, but she had never been truly wooed before. Her four year courtship with Norman Galt was pleasant, but hardly romantic. She had been fond of him, but the marriage was more friendship than romance. Edith was no match for the President’s persistence. Besides, she was falling in love with him.
Politics and Remarriage
It was still the Victorian Age, even though the old Queen died more than a decade earlier. Custom still demanded long mourning periods. President Wilson did not care about mourning traditions. He was in love and marriage was the only option. He proposed. She finally consented – but it would be kept a secret.
Private citizens can do whatever they want when it comes to love and marriage, but the President of the United States is something else. Another election was due in 1916, and Wilson was a shoo-in for re-nomination, if not re-election. The rather dour schoolmaster had become surprisingly popular. Meanwhile, war had already erupted in Europe with repercussions around the globe. Political stability at home was essential.
A second marriage “so soon” would be political suicide, they said. He would be defying convention. The public-at-large would never condone such a scandalous action. Silly as it seems today, in 1915, these matters were very important. Edith Galt was a savvy woman. Even though she had no background in politics or government social circles, she intuitively understood that the morals of a society directly affect their ballots. Women still did not have the vote, but they exerted subtle influence on their husbands’ votes. If they were outraged at the President’s disregard of social custom, he would never be re-elected. She offered to wait until the end of his second term.
Wilson had no intention of waiting. He wanted Edith more than he wanted to be President.
The President Announces the Engagement
Four months after he had met Edith, Woodrow Wilson let it be known that he planned to remarry. It was barely a year after the first Mrs. Wilson’s death.
His three grown daughters had met Mrs. Galt, and if it made their father happy, they would be happy for him. Edith’s family was understandably thrilled to have the President as an in-law. The big surprise was the country. They were not the least bit scandalized. They were happy for their President. President Grover Cleveland had married a girl barely out of her teens thirty years earlier – well within memory of many Americans – and the country had been delighted!
But the politicians sniffed potential trouble. They believed Mrs. Galt had entirely too much influence with the President, and he, according to some of them, was besotted by her. She, on the other hand was becoming suspicious of the politicians who she believed were trying to come between her and her beloved. Time would prove them both right.
Nevertheless, Woodrow and Edith went everywhere together. She was attractive and stylish. Her big cartwheel hats and ever-present orchid corsage were becoming to the statuesque woman. The President became a snappier dresser himself. They went to baseball games and vaudeville shows. They went on daily carriage rides. Wherever the President went, she went. Their photographs were printed in the newspapers. She was photogenic and enjoyed the publicity. She could not sit beside him at official functions, since they were not yet married, but he insisted that she be nearby, so the White House staff made suitable arrangements.
Woodrow Wilson and Edith Galt Marry
The President had no intention of waiting until the next election – a whole year away. He was only fifty-seven, and love made him feel a lot younger. Besides, they were both mature adults who knew their own minds. There was no need to wait other than politics, and he didn’t care.
With minimal fanfare, President Woodrow Wilson married Edith Bolling Galt in her Washington town house on December 15, 1915. There were barely fifty people in attendance, only family and a few close friends. No political associates were invited. It was only fifteen months after Ellen Wilson’s death.
The bridegroom was now a happy man! The morning after their wedding, an aide accompanying them on their honeymoon train reported seeing President Woodrow Wilson dancing a little jig, and whistling “Oh You Beautiful Doll.”
· Hatch, Alden – Edith Bolling Wilson: First Lady Extraordinary, 1961, Dodd, Mead
· Levin, Phyllis Lee – Edith and Woodrow – 2001, Lisa Drew Book
· Schachtman, Tom – Edith and Woodrow – 1981, GP Putnam’s Sons
· Wilson, Edith Bolling – My Memoir – 1939, Bobbs Merrill