Happy Birthday, Mr. President

by Editorial
The pool at Primland Spa.

They had a Victrola, radio, telephones and a graphoscopein the library so the president and his guests could watch silent movies. Their modern kitchen had a huge black iron stove and one electric plug – “cutting edge” for its time. The elaborate butler’s pantry was supplied with hot and cold running water and large sink made of zinc, so if any of their fine crystal or china were accidentally dropped, it wouldn’t break.

The couple also moved walls and added rows of shelves for the president’s collection of over 8,000 books. It’s interesting to note that Wilson, who was probably dyslexic and didn’t learn to read until he was ten years old, became a renowned scholar and was the only president to hold a Ph.D.

Wilson’s terms in office were full of remarkable accomplishments, but he suffered one stunning defeat from which he never recovered. He had gone to Europe at the end of World War RI with a peace plan and d an idea of an international forum that would allow countries to avoid war by mediating their differences. It was called the League of Nations, but the President was never able to get it ratified in his own country.

Wilson literally ruined his health during a grueling cross-country campaign to sell his idea to the American people. The tour was cut short when he suffered a series of strokes that left him partially paralyzed and mentally impaired. Hew as able to stay in office because he was shielded from public scrutiny and even from his own staff by Edith Wilson, who filtered everything he saw and heard. It’s not surprise that she was often called “the secret president.”

Wilson left the presidency when Warren Harding was sworn in, frail and still saddened by the League of Nations loss. Observers said he departed the White House without a backward glance. When he and Edith came to the home on S Street, he was moved to see a large crowd of well-wishers gathered to cheer him on and show their respect.

He passed his time watching silent movies, attending vaudeville shows and going to baseball games at Griffith Stadium, where his car was allowed to park on the outfield so the Washington Senators’ most famous fan could watch the game at close range. As often as possible, he enjoyed drives through the city and the Virginia countryside in his beloved 1919 Pierce Arrow. Each year on Memorial Day, larger and larger crowds gathered in front of his house to watch him depart for the services commemorating the end of World War I.

Woodrow Wilson died in 1924, and Edith lived in the S street house to the age of 89, tirelessly promoting the memory of her husband. She died on December 28, 1961 – Woodrow Wilson’s birthday. Edith bequeathed the house and its furnishings to the National Trust for Historic Preservation to be used as a museum open to the public, which it is today.

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