Ellen Wilson was the first wife of the 28th U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, and First Lady of the United States in 1913-1914. Following her death Congress enacted legislation in her honor for funding to improve living conditions among the economically disadvantaged of Washington.
Ellen Louise Axson was born in Rome, Georgia, on May 15, 1860. Like Woodrow Wilson’s, her father was a Presbyterian minister. Shortly after Ellen was born, the two ministers had a meeting. Joseph Wilson took along his son, Woodrow, who was four, and it was the first time that Woodrow and Ellen met.
Ellen was not outwardly politically active. Her influence on the president, then, was more subtle and behind-the-scenes.
After Wilson became president of Princeton in 1902, she redesigned the presidential grounds, and she was also active in helping to improve student living conditions, including the modernization of the colleges infirmary. In 1914, Ellen Wilson was slowed by Bright’s disease - the most common form of nephritis, an inflammatory kidney disease. Following her death in August 1914, Congress enacted legislation in her honor for funding to improve living conditions among the economically disadvantaged of Washington.
Shortly after her husband’s election, she became active in promoting better living conditions for federal employees and for residents in the nation’s capital. Astonished at the slums and alleyways of Washington, she led a delegation of congressmen on a tour of those areas, hoping to convince them that they should enact legislation to clean up the federal city.
“I am naturally the most unambitious of women and life in the White House has no attractions for me. ”
Ellen Wilson was a modest and artistic woman who preferred, small dinners at the White House over large scale parties and lavish balls. She had a studio room with a skylight built in the White House living quarters where she could practice her painting.