Edith Wilson handled her husband Woodrow Wilson's presidential business, heavily so, after his stroke until the end of his term. As

"In My Memoir, published in 1939, Edith Wilson justified her self-proclaimed role of presidential "steward". Wikipedia:Edith Wilson

This has garnered her a legacy of being the "first" female president. Heedless of how many may describe her role as First Lady, she was no doubt involved extensively and profoundly impacting the federal government's decisions by proxy.

However, one leapfrog chain of logic I have seen floated around on the Internet, regardless of if it's a serious or not is this:

  1. In 1919, the president has a stroke.
  2. His wife, a female, influences what political matters he has access to.
  3. In 1920, the 19th amendment is passed, granting women the right to vote.

Of course, the president alone cannot pass a constitutional amendment. But, most certainly, they can influence Congress and the state legislatures through their party and backroom political deals and compromises. As Woodrow's effective executor, Edith at least had a role in the whole process, irrespective of historical circumstances.

Thus, the question comes about: To what extent, if any, did Edith Wilson have in influencing the passage of the 19th Amendment?

Searching through Google doesn't yield much beyond stating Woodrow Wilson's advocation for the change, but Edith's relation to him in his support for it appears unstated. Any surviving documentation may be a miracle on its own.


2 Answers 2


As Abraham Lincoln once said, 75% of the stuff on the internet is made up. Searching for "Edith Wilson" Women's suffrage reveals,

"Not only did she oppose women’s suffrage, but. . . " woodrowwilsonhouse.org

The very active woman suffrage movement won no support from Edith Wilson. When her husband ordered the arrest of suffragists demonstrating in front of the White House in 1917, she referred to them as “those devils in the workhouse.” Britannica

"While some have argued that in those months Edith took up the mantle of President of the United States—and was therefore the first woman to do so—evidence and her own memoirs suggest that she did not act to directly shape policy, rather she simply determined what issues were important enough to be brought directly to her husband’s attention. More often than not, most were sidelined until the President more fully recovered. " woodrowwilsonhouse.org

  • 12
    The second quote in there is effectively saying that at most she was acting as a modern White House Cheif of Staff.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Feb 21, 2023 at 14:49
  • 6
    The first sentence in this answer is now my favourite quote. Commented Feb 22, 2023 at 2:41

Constitutional amendments are one of the few constitutional realms where the Executive branch has little role. It can of course have a leadership role, principally with Congress where the POTUS himself has leverage (particularly with his own party). That leverage rests largely on the POTUS's popularity with voters and ability to campaign for/against a legislator.

Of course after his stroke in Octover 1919, Wison was not in any shape to be pressuring anyone, literally or figuratively. More importantly, by then it had already passed Congress, and was with the States. In fact, nearly half of the required states (17 of the required 36) had already ratified it.

It still did end up being a close thing. The political calculus for a state ratifying an amendment changes a great deal after it has already been ratified, turning it into a position statement with no practical affect. That being said, post-national ratification only one more state ratified it that year, and after that only 2 more that decade.

  • 3
    Thank you for catching that. I looked at the dates, and I knew something was there, but I didn't put it together the way you did. Well done
    – MCW
    Commented Feb 21, 2023 at 16:44
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    @MCW - This was the first thing that lept to mind for me. The amendment process usually takes quite a while, and by t(ratification) - (1 year) all the heavy political lifting has usually been long done. What didn't occur to me, and I feel silly for not thinking of it, was checking to see if Mrs. Wilson even was in favor of it in the first place. That was well done.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Feb 21, 2023 at 16:53

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