5. Edith Wilson took over at the White House when her husband, President Woodrow Wilson, was incapacitated by a stroke
As almost everyone knows, there has never been a female President of the United States. Or has there? Of course, no woman has ever been elected to the highest office in America. But did Edith Wilson actually function as the president after her husband, President Woodrow Wilson, suffered a debilitating stroke while in the White House? Some scholars believe she may have. Either way, there’s no doubting that Wilson was far more than a subservient First Lady, but instead was an informed and active participant in her husband’s administration.
Wilson was born Edith Bolling in October 1872. She had little formal education, but was still well-read and resourceful. On a trip to Washington DC to visit her sister, she met Norma Gait. As one of America’s most prominent jewelers, he was in a position to offer her a comfortable future. The pair married in 1896. But then, in 1908, Norman died suddenly. Edith was left a widow. She used part of her inheritance to tour Europe and then, a few years after returning to America, she was introduced to Woodrow Wilson, the President of the United States and himself a widower. The pair wed in a private ceremony at Edith’s home in 1915.
For the remainder of President Wilson’s first term, Edith was a constant presence. Then, when he suffered from a stroke in October 1919, she stepped up to become almost the de facto President of the United States. It was Edith who decided what papers her ailing husband could read in bed. If she didn’t think a matter deserved his attention, she never showed it to him – in essence, Edith, who had no experience in politics and who had never been elected to any office, was in charge of the executive branch of the American government. This carried on until President Wilson’s second term of office came to an end in May 1921,
Ever since, Edith Wilson’s exact role, and the justification for it, have been the subject of fierce debate. To some of her critics, Edith actually limited the effectiveness of some of President Wilson’s more ambitious reforms, while others charge that she was in well out of her depth and may even have been acting illegally. True or not, it’s clear she was the real power in the White House for a few years despite never winning a single vote for herself.