Death in the White House - Ellen Wilson

Ellen Wilson
First Lady 1913 - 1914

Ellen Axson Wilson was an important partner to her husband and they deeply cared for one another. None of the candidates in 1912 took a strong stand on suffrage, but privately she supported it. Ellen was an artist and had exhibited her works winning several awards. As First Lady she brought public attention to art and assisted the Southern Industrial Association by using the White House to have mountain crafts displayed for sale. These mountain women did not want charity; they wanted opportunities. Ellen supported the nomination of Catholics to appointed offices. Her strong cause became the National Civic Federation. She helped raise eighty-five hundred dollars to improve the housing of poor black laborers in Washington. Her alley-clearance bill for better housing passed just before she died.

On March 1, 1914, Ellen fell in the White House. After a medical examination it was determined that she was suffering from Bright's disease, a kidney ailment for which there was no known cure. On August 6th, as her condition worsened she told her husband, "I would go away more peacefully if my Alley Bill was passed by Congress." The message was sent to Congress and the legislation passed the Senate that day. The House promised to pass it the next day. The good news was delivered to Ellen at the White House; an hour later she died.

Funeral Procession
Indianapolis News, August 7, 1914, reported,

Washington has not yet recovered from the shock of Mrs. Wilson's death. President Wilson and his daughters remain in grief-stricken seclusion in the White House, the former denying himself to all except his family and his secretary. The funeral plans have not been arranged, but it is expected Mrs. Wilson will be buried either at her girlhood home at Rome, Ga., or at Princeton, where she spent so many years while her distiguished husband was president of the university.

Mrs. Wilson was the third wife of a president to die in the White House. Mrs. Benjamin Harrison died Oct. 25, 1892. Mrs. John Tyler also died there.

The death of Mrs. Wilson came after an interim of twenty-two years without a death in the immediate family of the executive in the mansion. The last death of a member of a residential family in the White House was of Rev. John Witherspoon Scott the venerable father-in-law of President Benjamin Harrison...

Private services were held in the East Room of the White House at 2:00 p.m. on Monday, August 10, 1914. Massed with flowers, the bier was placed at the north end of the East Room near the President and his daughters. After the services the body was removed to the special funeral train. The train arrived in Rome, Georgia, around 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday where final burial rites were held. The chief officiating clergy came from the Presbyterian Church where Mrs. Wilson's father had been pastor for many years. She was buried with her parents at Historic Myrtle Hill Cemetery.

Indianapolis News, August 10, 1914, reported,

The funeral party on the special train will include the president, Miss Margaret Wilson, Secretary of the Treasury and Mrs. McAdoo, Mr. and Mrs. Francis B. Sayre [daughter], Prof. Stockton Axson [brother]... An entire refrigerator car will be required to carry the flowers from Washington to Rome."

“An American citizen could not be a good citizen who did not have a hope in his heart.” ~ Benjamin Harrison

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