Tags: Presidential History | ellen wilson | woodrow wilson | causes

Ellen Wilson: The Causes That Defined President Woodrow Wilson's First Lady

By    |   Monday, 06 Jul 2015 11:09 PM

Ellen Wilson's legacy as First Lady is seen daily in the Rose Garden she added to the White House grounds, and it is felt through her activism focused on helping the less fortunate. Her efforts served as a blueprint for those who followed and expanded the scope of presidential spouse.

The first wife of President Woodrow Wilson, Ellen Wilson honed her skills as first lady of Princeton University and then New Jersey, during her husband's tenure as President and Governor, respectively. She balanced the increased responsibilities of being a public figure while furthering causes of importance to her, including social reform, music, and art. She didn't particular care for being a hostess but realized it helped advance Woodrow's political goals, according to The Miller Center at The University of Virginia.

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When Woodrow Wilson became president in 1913, Ellen Wilson scaled down the social calendar to a limited number of teas, dinners, and functions. She insisted on the observance of the Christian Sabbath, which meant no Sunday events were scheduled at the White House.

She publicly championed regional arts programs and supported causes intended to help children, such as laws regarding truancy, child labor, and child neglect, and she worked for the construction of recreational facilities at schools.

Ellen Wilson also focused on the improvement of working conditions for some employees at the Postal Service and Government Printing Office and demanded the installation of women's restrooms in public buildings.

Her crusade for the improvement of the alleyway slums in the nation's capital was arguably her most public battle, and greatest achievement, according to The National First Ladies’ Library. At the urging of Charlotte Everett Wise Hopkins, the chairperson of the Women's Committee of the National Civic Foundation's Washington branch, Wilson toured the mostly black, shanty-filled housing conditions around the city, in which residents often had no plumbing.

Wanting to assist those in extreme poverty, her solution was to convert the dilapidated homes into parks. A short time later, she visited newly built model homes for low-income families, each of which had two to four rooms and full utilities. Ellen not only supported the efforts of the privately held Sanitary Housing Company, which built the dwellings, but used personal funds to invest in the project, according to The National First Ladies' Library.

Personally, Ellen took comfort in painting, which she had studied before her marriage. She built a studio in the attic and painted whenever she found free time and exhibited her work to praise from the public and critics.

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Through all of the differences she made, Ellen suffered from a chronic inflammation of the kidneys, known as Bright's disease, throughout her time as First Lady. She died Aug. 6, 1914. In her honor, Congress passed the alley-clearance bill for which she had fought.

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Ellen Wilson's legacy as First Lady is seen daily in the Rose Garden she added to the White House grounds, and it is felt through her activism focused on helping the less fortunate.
ellen wilson, woodrow wilson, causes
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2015-09-06
Monday, 06 Jul 2015 11:09 PM
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