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July 06, 1922

Woodrow Wilson On the Emotional Impact WWI Had On Him – Which, In Turn, Led to His Devastating Stroke

Typed Letter Signed
1 page
SMC 1321
The point is not how many strokes Wilson had, before the one which disabled him permanently. The point is that his perfectionist, hard-driving, relentless and micromanaging nature is credited with causing all of them. This he as much as admits here: “I think you will understand when I say that I do not myself now read anything that renews too deeply the emotions of the war time,” he writes. “I am too much affected and upset by it.” It is a striking admission, really, from the man who for the last seventeen months of his presidency, kept secret the massive stroke he suffered at war’s end…

Whether it was his hatred of the carnage wrought by World War I, or his insistence on doing everything himself to secure the peace – including, at the Paris Peace Conference, typing long memoranda and responses; or whether it was the trip he took to urge ratification of the Versailles Treaty, traveling 10,000 miles to make 37 speeches in 29 cities in 28 days - on October 2, 1919, Wilson suffered the stroke that crippled, enervated and effectively ended his presidency and, fantastically, gave rise to his wife’s.

For the rest of Wilson’s term, Edith Bolling Galt Wilson not only kept her husband’s paralyzed and enfeebled condition hidden, but acted, as she called it, as his “steward.” From October 1919 to April 1920, the First Lady controlled all access to the President. No one was allowed to see or speak to him – just herself, his private secretary, and his doctor. She decided what information the President was given, and she was his only spokesperson. And when, and only when, it became unavoidable, she would arrange short, carefully prepared official “visits” designed, primarily, to disguise his true condition. Even after Wilson emerged, impaired, from this sequestration, she continued to closely control his activities. What she called her “stewardship” others, in fact, have called her presidency.

Wilson never recovered. The Versailles Treaty was never ratified. And today, in large part owing to his unhappy example, presidential check-ups are front page news.
Typed Letter Signed, 1 page, quarto, 2340 S Street N W Washington, July 6, 1922. To Frederick Stuart Greene.
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