On this day in 1885, future President Woodrow Wilson marries his first wife, Ellen Louise Axson, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister. The two had met at her father’s church in Rome, Georgia, in 1883 and were instantly attracted to each other, sharing strong religious beliefs and a passion for the arts and reading.
Two years after they met, Ellen and Woodrow married at her grandparents’ house in Savannah, Georgia. While Woodrow taught history at Bryn Mawr and Princeton, Ellen raised three children (one died in 1905) and encouraged her husband to pursue his interest in politics. She joined an art colony and learned to paint to help her deal with the loss of her child, her father’s descent into mental illness and her memories of losing her mother at an early age. It was Ellen who cultivated her husband’s relationship with the Progressive Democratic politician William Jennings Bryan, whose support helped Wilson win the presidency in 1912.
A year into Wilson’s presidency, Ellen succumbed to kidney failure brought on by Bright’s disease. In her short time as first lady, Ellen advocated for social welfare legislation, including better housing for Washington’s poor and stronger child labor laws. She also established an art colony in New Hampshire in 1913 before passing away in August 1914.
Wilson was not a widower for long. He met and married Edith Bolling Galt, a direct descendant of Pocahantas, in December 1915.