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The 'secret president': How Edith Wilson shaped the White House and role of first lady

Edith Wilson is best known for her role running the White House after her husband, President Woodrow Wilson, fell ill. Rachel Campos-Duffy looks into the life and legacy of this historic first lady in Fox Nation’s “Women of the White House.” 

Edith Wilson biographer Rebecca Roberts told Campos-Duffy that looking back on the life of Woodrow Wilson, he was already ill in 1918 and 1919. When he arrived in the United States after spending time in Paris in 1919 negotiating the League of Nations, the president looked “exhausted, and sick, and emaciated, and grey in the face.” 


Roberts went on to note that while Wilson was confined to his bed, Edith acted as the “gatekeeper.” 

“It was to Edith that everything went,” Roberts said. “And people started to learn that it had to go to Edith, so cabinet secretaries started addressing letters to her. And she decided what he saw, what could wait, what was ignored completely.” 

Roberts noted that Edith did not overstep in creating policies, but did owe the American people more transparency as to what was going on in the White House. 

“To be fair, she didn’t really do anything he wouldn’t have done,” she said. “She didn’t start exercising her own priorities and go rogue, and because she had been involved with his intimate policy conversations for so long, she more or less knew what he would have done.” 

Roberts also noted that today, it is common to see first ladies serve a diplomatic role on the president’s behalf. This was uncommon at Wilson’s time, though. 

“She was the first first lady to travel while first lady,” Roberts said. “She’s not a plus one, she is an example of leadership of America on the international stage. Now we think of first ladies playing a diplomatic role all the time…but no one had done that before Edith Wilson.” 

To learn more about the life and legacy of Edith Wilson, watch Fox Nation’s “Women of the White House.” 

Fox Nation programs are viewable on-demand and from your mobile device app, but only for Fox Nation subscribers. Go to Fox Nation to start a free trial and watch the extensive library from your favorite Fox News personalities.

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