This Day In History: December 18

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On December 18, 1915, President Woodrow Wilson marries Edith Galt in Washington, D.C. The bride was 43 and the groom was 59. It was the second marriage for Wilson, whose first wife died the year before from a kidney ailment. Edith, who claimed to be directly descended from Pocahantas, was the wealthy widow of a jewelry-store owner and a member of Washington high society.

According to the National First Ladies’ Library, the couple was introduced by his cousin and a mutual friend. Unlike Wilson’s first wife, who was shy and avoided politics, Edith shared Wilson’s passion for the subject. Wilson proposed three months later and they married at her Washington, D.C. home. As the 1916 presidential campaign heated up, many of Wilson’s advisors worried that his whirlwind courtship and marriage to Edith so soon after his first wife’s death would become a political liability. By the time of his second inaugural in March 1917, though, Americans soon had more serious matters to think about: America’s entry into World War I.

Throughout the war and the rest of Wilson’s second term, Edith was constantly at her husband’s side and her presence irritated and frustrated his advisors. Wilson enjoyed having her sit in the Oval Office while he conducted business, which led to accusations that she had undue influence over who was allowed access to the president. This was exacerbated when Wilson suffered a stroke in October 1919 while touring the nation to promote his plan for the League of Nations, an international organization designed to prevent further conflicts like World World I. During his recovery, Edith assumed the role of “steward” for Wilson, screening his mail and official papers. In some cases, she was accused of signing Wilson’s signature without consulting him, though she insisted this was not the case and blamed the accusations on her husband’s political opponents.

Wilson recovered from the stroke, but remained partially paralyzed on one side. Though his plan for the League of Nations was never ratified by Congress, Wilson won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1920 for his work on it and in brokering the treaty that ended World War I. At the conclusion of his second term in 1921, he retired, though he and Edith continued to live in Washington, D.C. Wilson passed away three years later; after his death, Edith dedicated herself to compiling her husband’s presidential papers. She died in 1961 at the age of 89.