Tuesday, October 25, 2016

How Tough was the First Madam President Edith Wilson ?

 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.”  

Books by William Hazelgrove