October 2

This Day in History

Presidential

Oct 2, 1919:

Woodrow Wilson suffers a stroke

On this day in 1919, President Woodrow Wilson, who had just cut short a tour of the country to promote the formation of the League of Nations, suffers a stroke.

The tour's intense schedule--8,000 miles in 22 days--cost Wilson his health. He suffered constant headaches during the tour, finally collapsing from exhaustion in Pueblo, Colorado, in late September. He managed to return to Washington, only to suffer a near-fatal stroke on October 2.

Wilson's wife Edith blamed Republican opponents in Congress for her husband's stroke, as their vehement opposition to the League of Nations often took the form of character assassination. Edith, who was even suspicious of the political motives of Vice President Thomas Marshall, closely guarded access to her husband. She kept the true extent of Wilson's incapacitation from the press and his opponents. While Wilson lay in bed, unable to speak or move, Edith purportedly insisted that she screen all of Wilson's paperwork, in some cases signing Wilson's name to documents without consulting the convalescing president. Edith, however, denied usurping her husband's position during his recovery and in her memoirs insisted she acted only as a "steward."

Wilson slowly regained his health, but the lasting effects of the stroke—he remained partially paralyzed on one side--limited his ability to continue to campaign in favor of the League. In 1921, Republican Warren Harding's election to the presidency effectively ended efforts by the League's supporters to get it ratified. Wilson died in 1924.

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