Jessie Woodrow Wilson
The sixth White House wedding of a presidents' child.
Jessie Wilson and Frances Bowes Sayre
Nov. 25, 1913
Nov. 25, 1913
She was not of this earth
The American public was fascinated by Woodrow Wilson and his tight knit family. He was the intellectual Princeton educator turned politician, and his family, devout Presbyterians, included three eligible daughters. They were a remarkable contrast to the Roosevelt’s who had dominated the public stage for so many years. While the Wilson’s were a distinguished family they were not as wealthy as the Roosevelt’s, having given their lives to education. Nor was Wilson’s resume as complicated; he had served as president at Princeton and then governor of New Jersey. If Theodore Roosevelt was dynamic, Woodrow Wilson conveyed intellectual honesty. Historians would consider both men as great presidents.
Woodrow Wilson was fiercely possessive of his daughters and protective of their privacy. Margaret was twenty-six, Jessie, twenty-five and Eleanor, or “Nellie” as she was called, twenty-three. While for years they had hosted an extended family of needy relatives, brothers and sisters and uncles and nieces, the Wilson’s always managed to carve out time for themselves alone. For years they had spent their evenings reading together as a family, sometimes openly pining about the dreaded day when their little circle of five would be broken. Some historians saw Wilson as an American Disraeli in his dependency on the women in his life. Others ridiculed him for it. Wilson came alive when he assumed the role of the teacher, and his daughters, each with questioning minds of their own, were willing pupils for him to instruct. Woodrow Wilson shocked Washington by declining an inaugural ball, spending his first evening as president alone with his family and retiring at a reasonable hour.
Of course, the presidency represented a great adventure for the family, but there were conflicted feelings. Even without the added pressure of the public spotlight, the tight family circle was beginning to crack. The two younger daughters, Jessie and Nellie, were secretly engaged. The White House would be adding its own unknown stresses on a family that was reaching a critical period of transformation. “Suddenly,” recounted Nellie, “we became goldfish in a bowl.”
Nellie’s first impression of their rooms in the White House was that they were “terrifyingly large.” The suite given to her and Jessie was complete with bedroom, dressing room and bath. Nellie, the baby in the family, marched through the huge bedroom with its fancy gilt mirrors and marble mantel into the small dressing room beyond. It had cheerful, flowered curtains with a blue carpet, her favorite color. She dropped down onto the little white iron bed and announced, “This is where I live.” The press, still savoring the excitement of the Alice Roosevelt wedding seven years before, was very curious about the Wilson daughters. At a tea, held early in the first weeks of the new administration, a reporter rushed up to them and gushed, “If any of you girls are engaged and I don’t find out about it, I shall never, never get over it.” Nellie just smiled, inwardly thrilled that the circle of five still had the will and the loyalty to hold off an insatiable press. Nellie and Jessie’s rooms together were perfect, as they would be able to laugh and chat and plan their upcoming weddings.
Read the whole story: All the Presidents' Children