Ellen Axson Wilson

Facts about Ellen Wilson

Ellen Axson Wilson died at 54 years old
Born: May 15, 1860
Best known as: President Woodrow Wilson's first wife

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Ellen Axson Wilson Biography

Ellen Louise Axson Wilson was First Lady of the United States during the first 17 months of her husband Woodrow Wilson‘s first term as president. She died at the White House from Bright’s disease (nephritis) in 1914. Ellen Axson was the daughter of a Georgia Presbyterian minister, and she studied art in New York City before marrying Woodrow Wilson in 1885. She brought up three daughters and followed her husband’s academic and political career, from Bryn Mawr and Princeton to the New Jersey State House and the White House. All the while, Ellen retained her interest in art (she was a painter influenced by the American Impressionists of the time) and helped her husband with research and translations (she was fluent in German). By the time Ellen Wilson was First Lady, she was in failing health, having had kidney problems since the birth of their third child. Nonetheless, in the short time she was in the White House, Ellen Wilson got a lot done: she advocated for women, children, African Americans and the residents of Washington’s slums, she guided construction of the Rose Garden and she hosted two weddings, one for daughter Jessie in November of 1913 and another for daughter Eleanor in May of 1914. By the summer of 1914 Ellen’s health was getting worse, and she died in August, just hours after the passage of a bill she had championed for poverty-stricken residents of the District of Columbia.

Extra credit

Ellen Axson Wilson had three daughters with Woodrow Wilson: Margaret (1886-1944), Jessie (1887-1933), and Eleanor (1889-1967)… Eleanor Wilson married William Gibbs McAdoo at the White House in 1914; he was a widower with six kids who was President Wilson’s Secretary of the Treasury… Woodrow Wilson married Edith Bolling Galt Wilson in December of 1915, 16 months after Ellen Wilson’s death.


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