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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Hillary Clinton Will Not Be The First Woman President

Edith Wilson beat her to the punch. Hillary Clinton will be the first elected woman president. A small distinction you might say but Edith did reign from 1919 to 1921 and she had to step into the presidential shoes while her husband convalesced from a massive stroke. Edith Wilson had the end of World War I to deal with, returning  dough boys, a faltering economy, and a husband who was in danger of expiring. Dr. Dercums mandate that she keep all stress from the president cemented her role and put her in the White House until 1921

Edith famously replied to a demand from senators to see the president by saying that she was not concerned with the presidents health she was concerned with the health of her husband. Some say this pointed to a person without the best interest of the country at heart. But we have to give a break to the woman who only had two years schooling and no real experience in government except what she had leaned from Woodrow Wilson. She was doing the best she could as she fielded legislation, appointments, foreign crisis's, and tried to keep her husbands devastated condition a secret.

There was no coronation. No inaugural ball. But Edith did rule and one has only to look at the papers of Woodrow Wilson to see the correspondence pushed her way. Or simply research the presidents condition. Eventually Edith began pushing the president out to the south portico of the White House for air in a Coney Island wheelchair that supported his paralyzed left side. She then showed him movies in the Red Room and eventually took him for drives. But all this was in the care of a very sick man. In her memoir written in 1939 Edith said she was a steward of the presidency but she slipped up twice and called Woodrow Wilson an invalid in a letter to a friend.

 Not a smoking gun per say, but an invalid is not a president.

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How Tough was the First Madam President Edith Wilson ?

 When Hillary Clinton is Elected as the First Woman President  she will have a woman from Wytheville Virginia to thank for paving the way. Edith Bolling Wilson married Woodrow Wilson, a man fifteen years older than her who had just lost his wife the year before. Four years later he had a massive stroke and left Edith Wilson to run the United States from 1919 to 1921.  It is really semantics whether Edith Wilson was the first woman president or not, the fact is that she used presidential authority for two years to close out World War I, fight for the League of Nations, and unwittingly help women get the vote in 1921. Her ghost will be at Hillary’s inauguration along with Alice Paul and Susan B. Anthony.

Imagine this. The suffragettes were chaining themselves to the White House gates while Edith was running the White House. She would stay up late deciphering top secret code from Europe hearing the suffragettes out by the gate. The irony that while women did not have the vote a woman was running the country is truly remarkable. Edith was from the South and disapproved of Alice Pauls tactics of laying down in front of carriages, hunger strikes, and flashing the president with signs under their skirts. She was still enough of a lady from the South to hold such aggressive women in disdain, but she was an aggressive woman herself.

From the moment Dr. Dercum told her that she must not stress the President and take over the White House or the president might die, Edith had to go her own way. When doctors told her an operation must be performed to relieve a blockage in his prostate she vetoed the operation and said nature would take its course. The president survived and Edith began to run the White House, delegating authority, getting bills passed, making appointments. All the while making sure her husband would survive his presidency.  

And when the  crucial vote came to the Senate for the right of women to vote, it was Edith who stepped in and encouraged her husband to violate the Sabbath and speak to the congress.  She was a pragmatist at heart who knew the vote would come eventually for women. And then in 1939 when she wrote about her time in the White House she covered her tracks once again and claimed to only be a “steward of the Presidency.” But others knew better and as time passed Edith Wilson was proclaimed more than once the first woman president.
So now we are looking at the actual election of a Woman to the Presidency of the United States.  The suffragettes, Edith, Alice Paul, Susan B. Anthony, were all soldiers in the long fight for equality for women. Edith proved by experience a woman could handle the job at a time when women were second class citizens. Imagine what a woman can do now who doesn’t have to keep her husband alive and worry about men who saw her still as the “president’s new girlfriend.”  

Edith was a progressive woman who owned her own car and had means and traveled the world. She would approve of another progressive woman who has gone through hell to get to the White House.  Edith Wilson and the Suffragettes could relate. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

On The Book Tour of Madam President in Washington DC

The first thing you are is tired. You have just given everything at a radio interview and there is nothing in the tank but you have more interviews and CSPAN in the afternoon and you are in front of people from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation who might not be crazy about calling Edith Wilson the First Woman President. And it is the first day your book is out.

That alone is a conflict of emotions. Yes the book is a lot like a baby with all that anticipation. But there it is and there is not a lot you can do at a point. Forget that you don't know where you are and everyone knows it you have to focus. So you duck into a Starbucks for cerebral juice and hope you wont be so brain fogged in the next interview. Sleeping in a hotel room puts you behind the eight ball. Who sleeps well in a room that a thousand other people have slept?

But this is it. You either do it or you dont'. When people read your book back to you on the air you wonder who wrote it. They sound so focused, something you are not. No matter. Coffee. Uber. And then a flight back home the next day. Onward.

Madam President The Secret Presidency of Edith Wilson

Friday, October 14, 2016

How A Soaked Book Led To Madam President

I was in the bathtub reading Scott Bergs book WILSON when  I dropped it in the water. It wasn’t a spasm but a reaction to the line I read that basically said Edith Wilson was almost the president in 1919. After I hauled the book out of  the water with blue ink washing down from the cover I read on and then on and on until I reached The Papers of Woodrow Wilson in the Elmhurst Library. There buried in the tombs was a story of a woman who had only been married to the president of the United States for four years and had only two years of schooling and was required in the forty sixth year of her life to take control of the United States government and step in as president.
It is through the correspondence of the day that this story is told. 

There was no email or fax of course so people mailed each other and sent telegrams or letters. In these letters the power flowed from Woodrow Wilson to Edith Wilson as she redirected the presidential river to allow her husband to heal from a massive stroke that made him into a semi invalid who could only be wheeled out to the South portico or shown movies in the Red Room or when he was well enough taken for drives. In these dusty books I discovered that Wilson disappeared for five months and the White House ceased to function and became more like a haunted Victorian hospice than a functioning White House.

And at the center was Edith Wilson signing legislation, making appointments, orchestrating the cover-up, working on official proclamations while trying to fight the battel of the League of Nations. By the time I closed the volumes of letters and official correspondence I had my book and I had my heroine. Her name was Edith Wilson and she was the first woman president. The title flowed out from that idea, Madam President The Secret Presidency of  Edith Wilson.  And as I dug deeper I was surprised to find a love story.

Edith Wilson was a progressive woman who had buried one husband, a child , had been homeschooled by her grandmother and  had been left a failing jewelry company. By the time she met a grieving Woodrow Wilson she was a woman of means with the first drivers license in the District of  Columbia,  an electric car,and a penchant for travel and the good life. The last thing she had on her mind was marriage but Woodrow Wilson woke from his grief and pursued her like a Victorian suitor half his age. Wilson for all his academic frigidity was in reality a sensual man and the love letters would make a woman in 1919 blush. The romantic won over Edith and then he did a very curious thing. He made his new wife his partner in the White House.

 By the time they married Edith had been deciphering top secret codes and had become the President’s closest advisor and effectively began isolating him from the men around him. Edith was fierce, loyal, protective, aggressive,  and smart. The couple navigated through World War I as Wilsons health deteriorated. The final blow coming outside of Pueblo Colorado on a whistle-stop tour to promote the League of Nations. When they returned to Washington the blood clot in his brain squeezed off circulation and Wilson collapsed, paralyzed on his left side. The Edith Wilson presidency began.

 And now almost a hundred years later we entertain the possibility of our first elected woman president. The Edith Wilson Presidency has nibbled at the pages of history for a long time and maybe now with Hillary in the final stretch it is time to shine the light on the dusty pages that reside in the books never checked out. But in those pages is the story of Edith Wilson and her secret presidency. Hillary should take note of the woman who ruled before women even had the vote. She too, had it all against her. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Women Went Through Hell for Madam President

They laid down in front of carriages. They froze out by the White House gates. They endured hunger strikes and force feedings and were committed to insane asylums. Some died in obscurity after being shunned by society. A few were recognized for their efforts. Some were beaten and jailed and fined. They were viewed as modern terrorists and had to back down a world of men bent on never giving them the vote. And even when the law passed and Edith Wilson was running the White House no one was sure if the states were going to ratify the amendment.

It is amazing to think that African Americans had the vote fifty years before women. We always assume that blacks were far more oppressed than women but women weren't even seen as citizens. They did not vote and they had no power. So when we think of Edith Wilson taking over the White House and running it for two years it is amazing she could get anything accomplished in a world run by men. But she did and she worked in the White House as the suffragettes protested outside the White House gates.

And now we are entertaining the first woman president. Hillary Clinton has gone to hell and back to end up where she is. There is little doubt her way was paved with women who gave everything... so that in the year 2106 a woman could be elected to the highest office in the land.

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Friday, October 7, 2016

Madam Presidents Close Election in 1916

Edith Wilson had a close election of her own in 1916. And it was about as nasty as this one. Woodrow Wilson was running for re-election and Edith had only been married to the President for one year. She hoped and believed he would lose and they could go live their new life together. Wilson was running against Charles Evans Hughes and many thought he would lose. The country had war fever yet Wilson did not declare war against Germany. Teddy Roosevelt accused the president of everything but treason and then he accused him of that as well.

Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick became Wilson Speaks softly and carries a dishrag. But more than that the people seemed ready for a change and Hughes played on war fever and many saw Wilson and his new wife Edith as finished. The day of the election the New York Times called it for Hughes before voting was even finished. Wilson acknowledged defeat and said he would telegram Hughes in the morning. He went to bed. Edith followed him up and found him awake.

"Well my dear, it seems you will get your wish and we can do all those things you have been wanting to do." He then went to sleep. The returns from the West had not come in and especially California with its high number of delegates. When Wilson woke he found the election undecided. All the next day the counting continued but was slowed by a snowstorm in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Ballots were counted by hand and horse drawn wagons carried the ballots thorough the snow. Finally the next day all the votes were counted and Wilson won by a whisper.  Madam President braced herself for four more years. Little did she know her own presidency would begin in a few years.

Madam President The Secret Presidency of Edith Wilson

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Edith Wilsons Love Hate Relationship with the Suffragettes

She really didn't like them. They were pushy and flashed the president as he drove by. They chained themselves to the White House gate and burned Edith's husband in effigy. They put their bodies in front of the presidential  limousine. Then when they were arrested and went on hunger strikes and called her husband foul names. The suffragettes were getting no love from the woman who would take over the White House and run it from 1919 to 1921.

Edith Wilson was from the South and even though she had an electric car, traveled the world, had a somewhat racy affair with a sitting president; she still believed a lady should like a lady. And she didn't particularly care about getting the vote. She was doing just fine and she had made her way after a dead husband and a dead baby and escaped poverty by grit and determination. So why should women need any more power than they already had?

But then the story veers. When Woodrow Wilson was approached to speak to the Senate on behalf of the women's right to vote he said no citing protocol and the Sabbath. But then a sudden switch of heart and he consented. Wilson didn't believe in an amendment giving women the right to vote. He thought of it as a state issue. But within hours after the request he mysteriously changed his mind. All the facts point toward Edith. She was at the bottom practical and saw that the vote would come eventually for women. Woodrow could secure his place in history by pushing it through.

Woodrow  Wilson used Edith as a sounding board and on this issue his young wife certainly had a voice. Edith Wilson was a woman who went her own way and he we can see her dismissing protocol and the sabbath with a snap of her fingers. It is fitting the  First Woman President should have had  a hand in the struggle to get women the vote.

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