This review first appeared in the Canon City Daily Record.
Social media and technology have made the private and secret choices of our nation's leaders hard to dispute or ignore. Yet following World War I, something unheard of happened in the White House: a woman became President of the United States. In Madam President: The Secret Presidency of Edith Wilson, William Hazelgrove describes how for five months Woodrow Wilson lay incapacitated and his second wife, Edith Galt Wilson, acted as leader and chief.
In the fall of 1919, while campaigning for the League of Nations across the country, President Wilson suffered a stroke that left him victim to paralysis, paranoia, unpredictable mood swings and cognitive loss. In her devotion to the man who courted and married her during his incumbency, Edith built a fortress of protection around her deathly ill husband. She governed "by assigning importance, and nothing was more important that the president's health." In short, quick moving chapters, Hazelgrove tells us how without much push back from Vice President Thomas Marshall - he didn't want the job of commander in chief - Mrs. Wilson was able to man and run a petticoat government with the minutest of help. This was unprecedented.
The last time a president was unable to perform the duties of his office was after the assassination attempt of President Garfield. Now, a self-taught woman would lead the country in the days after devastating war and destruction had rocked the world.
With dramatic storytelling in this easy to follow narrative, Hazelgrove has introduced us to an ardent love story - full of romance and courtship - of a US President, a story of political intrigue and the tensions of war and government. Because it was a different time - a different era - this puppet presidency became a possibility, and a reality. Warfare tactics had changed; women were demonstrating for the right to vote; politics became an even more world-wide endeavor and the draft had become a nightmarish reality.
This is the true tale of the folly of love and medical ignorance. The morality of the life of a man or the term of a president is examined in a very human and logical way. With good solid and inclusive information, we are invited to see how exhaustion, stress, temperament, limited education and insular world views influenced weighty political decisions made with the signature of Edith Wilson. There were many who were incensed, and yet powerless to do anything about it.
In a romantic sort of irony, Mrs. Wilson died on Woodrow Wilson's birthday, in 1961. It was then that she was finally recognized, in European and American papers, as the "First Woman President."
Photo credit: https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/41PuMuxrdrL.jpg
I received this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.