Monday, November 3, 2014

Mrs. Wilson's Travels

           After President Woodrow Wilson’s death in 1924 his wife, Edith Bolling Galt Wilson, remained dedicated to her husband’s work and memory. She personally worked with President Wilson’s biographer and with those responsible for writing the 1944 film, Wilson.[1] Mrs. Wilson was also responsible for preserving her husband’s birthplace in Staunton, Virginia as a museum, and it was Mrs. Wilson who donated their S Street home in Washington, D.C. and its contents to the National Trust for Historic Preservation after her death.[2] However, the former First Lady was not satisfied in protecting her husband’s legacy in the United States, and she often traveled abroad in order to continue her work around the world.
            Mrs. Wilson became familiar with international travel during her husband’s time in office. After World War I, Mrs. Wilson accompanied her husband to Europe while he negotiated the Treaty of Versailles, making her the first current First Lady to travel to Europe.[3] After President Wilson’s death, Mrs. Wilson felt that, in addition to guarding her husband’s historical reputation, it was her duty to travel the world in order to continue the work that he started with the League of Nations.
President and Mrs. Wilson in Paris, Photo from Library of Congress
           In 1929, Mrs. Wilson set off on a world tour, during which she visited China, England, France, and Japan. Her cousin, Rudolph Bolling Teusler, was the head of the St. Luke’s International Hospital in Tokyo at the time, and he came to the United States in order to be with Mrs. Wilson as she traveled from New York to Paris. Teusler’s wife, children, and one of his coworkers from St. Luke’s eventually joined the party in France.[4] Mrs. Wilson made more trips in the 1930’s to new places, such as Egypt, Poland, Germany, and Mexico. Every year, Mrs. Wilson traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, the head quarters of the League of Nations, in order to “observe the workings of the organization her husband has labored so hard to establish.”[5]
            However, while Mrs. Wilson certainly worked to support the League of Nations after her husband’s death, other Americans continued to reject the idea. Many people in congress were afraid that the United States would become a de facto member if they worked too closely with the League of Nations, and Washington therefore avoided working with Geneva whenever possible. Furthermore, the League’s association with the very flawed Treaty of Versailles soon caused the international community to lose faith and confidence in the League of Nations.[6]
President Roosevelt signing the Declaration of War with Japan, Photo from Library of Congress
             However, the idea of an international organization did not disappear. On December 8, 1941, with Mrs. Wilson in the audience, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on the Japanese Empire, bringing the United States into World War II. The war ended a little less than four years later and the American public, by then veterans of two global conflicts, supported the idea of a new organization, which would become the United Nations.

-Sophia Vayansky, Fall 2014 Intern

[1] “First Lady Biography: Edith Wilson,” National First Ladies’ Library.
[2] Caroli, Betty Boyd, “Edith Wilson,” Encyclopedia Britannica.
[3] “First Lady Biography: Edith Wilson,” National First Ladies’ Library.
[4] Streich, Mary, “Edith Wilson & the Orient: 1928, 1932.”
[5] Streich, Mary, “Edith Wilson & the Orient: 1928, 1932.”

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