EDITH AND WOODROW by Phyllis Lee Levin


The Wilson White House
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A carefully researched study of a curious, well-hidden episode in American presidential history.

Shortly after the death of his wife Ellen in 1914, newly elected president Woodrow Wilson met and quickly fell in love with society matron Edith Bolling Galt, described by former New York Times reporter and historian Levin as a woman of “opulent figure and commanding air.” Edith, who soon married Wilson, made for an unusually diligent First Lady, studying world events and Wilson's own voluminous writing, and familiarizing herself with the intricacies of party politics. Their pillow talk evidently touched on matters of state as much as anything more personal, as when Wilson “discussed with Edith his apprehensions about the serious effects of [Secretary of State William Jennings] Bryan’s resignation on the country and on his administration” and the wording of his official remarks on the U-boat sinking of the Lusitania. (The two also shared a vigorous loathing for the prospect of women gaining the vote. “Nothing in the course of those tragic years of war,” writes Levin, “seemed personally to repel Edith or Wilson so much as the women activists who picketed for suffrage.”) When, midway through his second term, Wilson suffered a massive stroke, Edith was well up to the task of serving as his proxy—a role that the White House steadfastly denied, insisting that the president was merely unwell, and remained fully in control. Edith kept up her side of the ruse, but, imperious and fiercely loyal, she also managed to alienate politicians already opposed to Wilson's programs, chief among them Senator Henry Cabot Lodge. Had Wilson ceded control to the vice president instead of retaining it through his wife, Levin suggests, then he might have been successful in gaining support for the League of Nations instead of enduring a disastrous political defeat.

Of much interest to students of political history, and sure to excite discussion in academic circles.

Pub Date: Oct. 11th, 2001
ISBN: 0-7432-1158-8
Page count: 608pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2001


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