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Did America Have A Secret President?

The Secret U.S. President


Did America Have A Secret President?

In October of 1919, President Wilson suffered a stroke which caused him to become partially paralyzed. His wife, Edith Wilson, suggested to his doctors that it would probably be a good idea for him to resign from office. The doctors advised against it, telling her that the stress of failure might kill him. However, they also said that he shouldn’t be burdened by government problems.

What was a First Lady to do?

Edith believed that she was the only person who knew the President’s mind and could act as he would wish. So for the next six weeks, she became the power behind the presidency. She on one occasion disputed the claim, where she was quoted saying, “I, myself, never made a single decision regarding the disposition of public affairs. The only decision that was mine was what was important and what was not.”

Secrets Kept From The Public

The Secret President

Edith and Woodrow Wilson

The public and even government officials weren’t told just how ill the President actually was. When members of Congress, the Cabinet, and ambassadors wanted to speak to the President, they had to go through Edith. More often than not, she would convince officials to solve problems within their own departments. Somehow though, she always found clever ways to hide President Wilson’s secret.

Eventually, speculation about President Wilson’s illness and questions were raised about “who was running the country.” Wilson’s opponents claimed the United States was a “petticoat government” and ran by an “acting ruler.” Many in the press called for Vice President Thomas Riley Marshall to assume the presidency. However, despite the uncertainty, there were many journalists who admired her, claiming, “No suggestion is heard that Mrs. Wilson is not proving to be a capable ‘President.’”

Presidential Steward

Despite being successful in keeping the government functioning, Edith was unable to get Congress to approve the League of Nations, something she fought for long after her husband’s term was up.President Edith Wilson President Wilson resumed limited activities by mid-November, but Edith continued to shield him from his political enemies until he left office in March 1921. In her autobiography titled “My Memoir“, she called her role a “stewardship” and stated emphatically that her husband’s doctors had urged that course upon her.

Throughout America’s history, many First Ladies have indirectly influenced the presidency. Mrs. Wilson was the only one who actually took the reins of power into her own hands, and she did it with motives that were selfless. She was quoted saying, “Woodrow Wilson was first my beloved husband whose life I was trying to save.”

Wilson, Edith Bolling Galt. My Memoir. New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1939.
Gould, Lewis L. – American First Ladies: Their Lives and Their Legacy. 2001
Miller, Kristie. Ellen and Edith: Woodrow Wilson’s First Ladies. Lawrence, Kan. 2010.

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