Friday, March 22, 2013


Who was the first female Native American female president of the United States?
(a) Pocahantas
(b) Hiawatha
(c) this is a trick question, isn’t it?

If you answered (c) you’d be right. Because no, there has never been a female American president, never mind one with Native American heritage. 
Well, sort of. Historians are divided.

the first female president of the United States
 The woman that divides opinion is was the wife of President Woodrow Wilson - Edith Bolling Galt Wilson. 

Wilson’s family were descendant of Pocahantas on her father’s side. Pocahontas married John Rolfe, an early British settler. Her family had a plantation before the Civil War, and were staunch southerners and confederates. 

Edith was frankly racist; to her death she adhered to the view that the family’s “darkies”, as she called them, liked being slaves before the Yankees came and ruined everything.

She had little formal education, and was home schooled by her grandmother. Edith read only a few books in her life and her handwriting was so bad it was illegible.

Vivacious and pretty, she met and married a prosperous jeweler, Norman Galt, in 1896 and lived for 12 years in the capital. Her husband died suddenly in 1908.

The still young widow met President Wilson through a friend of hers, Helen Bones, the president’s cousin.
She was glamorous and tall and had no interest in politics or government, She later admitted that at the time of the election of 1912, which sent Woodrow Wilson to the White House, she could not have named the candidates.

Wilson had only recently been widowed but fell in love with her with scandalous haste. According to a Washington insider joke at the time, when she heard him propose marriage she was so surprised she nearly fell out of bed.

The Washington Post didn’t make thing easier for the President’s press officer. Writing about the his theatre outings in its social pages they were meant to report: "... rather than paying attention to the play, the President spent the evening entertaining Mrs. Galt." 

What was printed was: " ... rather than paying attention to the play the President spent the evening entering Mrs. Galt." 

The Post has never been kind to Presidents. 

Despite the scandal, Wilson, then 58, married the 43-year-old Galt  in 1915 at her Washington home in a small affair attended by 40 guests.

She became his political confidante as well as his wife, sitting beside him during Oval Office meetings. He even trusted her with a secret code to a drawer holding classified information.

But the very active woman suffrage movement won no support from Edith Wilson. She referred to them as “those devils in the workhouse.” Her husband's shift on the suffrage question—he eventually favored a national amendment granting women voting rights—resulted from political considerations, not from any influence of his wife.

But she was the first person besides the President to receive permanent Secret Service protection when America entered the War. As First Lady she introduced 'gasless Sundays' and 'meatless Mondays' at the White House to set an example for the federal rationing effort. 
She had sheep graze the White House lawn to save money on mowing it.

After the war she became the first First Lady to make international visits with European royalty. She was both Jackie Kennedy and a Sherman tank. 

But it was in September 1919, when Wilson suffered a stroke, that she left her mark.

Vice President Thomas Riley Marshall
At the time there was no Constitutional provision for replacing an incapacitated President and she didn’t want the Vice President to take over. So she misled the public and the Congress as to how gravely ill as he was. 

She said he just needed bed rest. In fact he was totally incapacitated on his left side.

She and Wilson's physician kept his true condition hidden from the nation for six weeks; you could do that in those days, before investigative reporters and Wikileaks. 

She couldn’t vote but she could run the country. 

She took over his routine duties and decided which matters of state should be brought to the bedridden president. She stayed up late reading briefing papers and hand wrote Presidential orders that she said came from her bed-ridden husband. Considering her handwriting was ineligible her Cabinet relied on her interpretation of them. 

She claimed she only decided which matters to bring to his attention and what could be resolved without him. Depending on how you read this statement, it sounds like running the country without him.

In her memoirs she called her role ‘stewardship.’ Many historians disagree.

"It's nothing dear, just a declaration of war on Canada."
Although the nation faced many serious problems while Woodrow was incapacitated—including strikes by miners and steelworkers—the White House dithered. To many it seemed that no one at all was making decisions, and one journalist wrote that “our government had gone out of business.”

One senator charged that the nation was under a “petticoat government,” and rumors spread about an “Assistant President.”

When there were disagreements over her husband's envisioned League of Nations, Edith held fast, refusing to take requests for a compromise to her husband. The discussions broke down - a failure that contributed to the Second World War.

A frail Wilson muddled through the last year of his Presidency.  

In 1921, she and the president retired to their Washington home. He died in 1924. 

She accompanied Franklin D. Roosevelt when he went to Congress on December 8, 1941 to declare war on Japan; she attended JFK’s inauguration in1961.

She died later that year at the age of 89 on what would have been her husband's 105th birthday - the first female president of the United States.

Colin Falconer is the author of the internationally bestselling CLEOPATRA, DAUGHTER OF THE NILE and over twenty other novels. 

See more history from Colin Falconer at  



From History and Women


Mystica said...

I certainly did not know anything of that! thanks.

Peppermint Ph.D. said...

Very there any historical fiction with Mrs. Wilson in the spotlight?