America Already Had Its First (Acting) Female President

By Zane D on Friday, March 21, 2014
Edith-Wilson-and-her-electric-car
“The basic discovery about any people is the discovery of the relationship between its men and its women.” —Pearl S. Buck

In A Nutshell

In October 1919, President Woodrow Wilson suffered a massive stroke leaving him paralyzed and unable to perform his duties. Before 1967, the constitution did not specify how to act in an event where the President was incapacitated, so First Lady Edith Wilson effectively acted as de facto President of the United States for 17 months in order to keep Vice President Thomas R. Marshall from assuming his duties, whom she felt was incapable of being President.

The Whole Bushel

Decades before First Lady Hillary Clinton turned into a presidential candidate (or was even born for that matter), another first lady set her sights on the Oval Office, albeit in a more unofficial sense.

Widowed at the age of 36, Edith White Bolling Galt was introduced to the recently widowed President Woodrow Wilson by a mutual friend well into his first term as President in March 1915. Feeling instantly attracted to each other, the pair was married within nine months, just 16 months after the death of the former First Lady.

As the United States entered World War I in 1917, Mrs. Wilson was shining in her duties as First Lady, but as the war grew, her role as hostess was quickly abandoned. To set an example for the federal rationing effort, she famously observed gasless Sundays, meatless Mondays, and wheatless Wednesdays while employing sheep to graze the White House lawn instead of stealing manpower from the war effort.

The war ended in November 1918 and the First Family embarked on a National Tour to rally support for the League of Nations (the precursor to the United Nations). The tour, however, took its toll on the president’s health and on October 2, 1919, he suffered a severe stroke which left him partially paralyzed. Initially, Mrs. Wilson suggested he resign from office, but his doctors advised against such an action, and instead told her not to burden him with “government problems.”

Predating the 25th Amendment (which gives the Vice President the ability to assume the duties of the President in an event where the President is incapacitated) by almost 50 years, Mrs. Wilson, believing only she understood the President and his manner of thinking, took it upon herself to decide which matters were pressing enough to bring to the bedridden President, and which matters to delegate to his cabinet. No one but the first lady was allowed to see the President, and virtually everyone was kept in the dark about his situation, including Vice President Thomas R Marshall, whom Edith disliked very much. Along with President Wilson’s closest advisor, Joseph Tumulty, Edith did not believe Marshall was suitable to be president. Believing that any official communication between the presidential and vice presidential staff about his failing health would give Marshall the right to seek the duties of the president, they refused to give Marshall or cabinet members an update on the president’s failing health.

Afraid that his attempt to seize control of the White House would not only be seen as a ruthless attempt to gain power, but would also set a bad precedent for future Vice Presidents, Marshall allegedly waited six weeks before demanding word on Wilson’s health. Mrs. Wilson and Tumulty obliged by sending word to Marshall through Baltimore Sun reporter J. Fred Essary that the president was on his death bed. Stunned, Marshall still refused to do anything for fear of appearing disloyal to the president. In fact, from October 1919 to February 1920, Secretary of State Robert Lansing presided over cabinet meetings in the absence of the both the president and the vice president, something he was later fired for despite his claims he only did so in order to make the public believe the government was still functioning.

While the president slowly regained the ability to perform some of his duties, the First Lady continued to act as President (claiming she never made a single decision herself) until Wilson left office 17 months later. He died just three years later.

At the end of his term, a bitter Vice President Marshall quickly retired from the public life saying, “I don’t want to work, [but] I wouldn’t mind being Vice President again.”

Show Me The Proof

Featured image via History By Zim
Edith Wilson: The Secret President
Encyclopaedia Britannica: Edith Wilson
President Wilson Suffers a Stroke, 1919
Vice Presidents of the United States: Thomas R. Marshall

  • inconspicuous detective

    why’s it matter what gender or sex you are? if you can lead the goddamn country i’d think you’re more qualified than any candidates we’ll have in the next decade or two e.e

    • edzyl blane

      Being a president is not all about leadership. Part of being a good president is the credibility. Historically speaking, many leaders are male. This makes a public impression that females lack the power to rule. Now, if the public won’t trust a female leader of being effective, she may face great challenges ahead even if she can run a country well.

      • lonelydisco

        Thus, being a scary b**** is necessary!

    • rincewind

      It is interesting as, at that time, women didn’t have the vote. Even if she had been allowed to stand for the presidency (unthinkable!), she wouldn’t had been allowed to vote for herself!

      It wasn’t until the following year, 1920, that the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was passed, which provided: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

      • Chester

        ya we dropped the ball on that one, Title 9 to, Dick Nixons only mistake lol.

  • Check

    Sounds like the most important thing she did was keep a bad leader from running the country. Which in itself is quit commendable.

  • Shaitanwampir

    To think that in this day and age we still look down upon women as an inferior species. Unfortunately men have been afraid of women since the dawn of time so the backward thinking patriarchal societies always have had laws and rules forbidding women from ascending to any places of power.
    It is ludicrous. Lately I have been thinking women would make way better rulers than men.

    • Nathaniel A.

      “Unfortunately men have been afraid of women since the dawn of time.” Do you have anything other than hunches and guesses to back up this outlandish statement?

      • rincewind

        You want to know about scary women? Meet the wife…..

        • Lisa 39

          Oooh i’m telling her you said that!

        • Andy West

          Passport photos, I think I’d tell her to go for the top one.

      • inconspicuous detective

        that’s just carol marx’s dupe account and that is a direct quote from her “feminist manifesto”. don’t buy into the

        F E M I N I S T P O I S O N

    • Chester

      Women and Politics don’t mix they lack the testicular fortitude and proper hormones to get the job done, they overcompensate and tend to just be ineffective cunts as a result. Also you have the problem of a women leader not being respected internationally especially by enemy’s who will see a women in charge as a sign of weakness(which it is) and be emboldened to pursue their aggressions.. Consider for a second that at the dawn of time men where smarter (larger brains) and more physically powerful then women i fail to see how they were afraid of females…Also those said rules and laws tend to favour women specifically that Laws were meant for men hence why you see less time given for the same crime (murder) and women constantly prevailing in cases of contract law (divorce).

      • rincewind

        Be afraid, be very afraid……………

      • lonelydisco

        Though you’re obviously the disgusting kind of chauvinist pig, some of what you say pretends sense. It doesn’t, really, but still. If you can remember your stern old B* of a grandmother – who you probably had – then I think you’ve seen that how a woman instills fear is the perfect way for politics. Men don’t have that naturally. And, women can be soft. Pitiable. To a country that needs something akin to pity, say, Sudan or Ethiopia, women are perfect. Playing with emotions is their shtick.

        • Chester

          I love all t all women even the ugly as shit ones but dont tell me to trust them when it comes to power n pollitics cause every woman pollitician comes with a gaping hole evrn my 8 incher cant fill.

          • lonelydisco

            Also, I’m the Guest. Sorry about the redundancy.

      • lonelydisco

        Part of what you declared rings true, though you are the disgusting kind of chauvinist pig. But, as Mr. rincewind over here pointed out, women can be as terrifying as men, but in a political way. And, if women are pitiable, then that can be exploited by a political entity which needs pity in a particular case; like Ethiopia, or Minnesota.

        • Chester

          Lol what? Men.have never had that??? Its called power strength and ruthlessness its literally why were here today because of male leaders kings emperors they all have something women never will have…a fucking pair.

          • dasdisqus

            lol, read this list. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_female_rulers_and_title_holders

            we had and have so many female rulers. some of them were and are successful, some of them not. just like men do.

            educate yourself.

          • lonelydisco

            Haven’t you read what I have just posted upon, you, you, uh, Chest-NUT! … Chestnut? Sorry. That was terrible.

            Women might not usually have an impressive metaphorical set of metaphorical testicles, but they do on occasion! Look at Margaret Thatcher, or Boadicea, or Joan of Arc, or the Lioness of Britanny, or Billie Holiday!

          • Chester

            Thatcher had a pair who you fuckn kidding she 100% was a man lol. Also whats that like 4 examples in all of history, women dont make good politicians its just fact Women and politics are like milk and mustard.

          • lonelydisco

            Milk and mustard make a good sauce for roast chicken.

    • Scott

      Lol you’re afraid of women?

      • lonelydisco

        Mother. Grandmother. Face it, the 30-40-ish male isn’t the only power around. There’s male elders, female elders, elephants, weather …

  • Andy West

    Does gasless Sundays simply mean no cruciferous vegetables?

    • lbatfish

      And no legumes, either. They tend to distract from the sermons.

  • James