Woodrow Wilson’s Children

Woodrow Wilson served from 1913 to 1921 as the twenty-eighth President of the United States. He served as the 34th Governor of New Jersey before becoming President, and he was a professor of political science and the 13th President of Princeton University before that.

In this article, find out who are the people who surrounded this accomplished man and his daughters.

Margaret Woodrow Wilson

Portrait of Margaret Woodrow Wilson

Margaret was born on April 16, 1886, in Gainesville, Georgia. As Ellen Wilson approached her first child’s birth, Margaret, looking for maternal warmth and encouragement, agreed to move temporarily to the home of her late mother’s sister, her aunt Louisa Hoyt Brown, in South Bradford Lane. She was also a midwife in the town of Gainesville, in northern Georgia. It was sometimes wrongly believed that her middle name was chosen to honor Woodrow Wilson; however, “Woodrow” was his legal middle name, Thomas being his given name, and celebrating her parental grandmother’s family.

Her mother’s biographer described Margaret Wilson as independent, extremely intelligent, highly self-conscious, and sensitive to others. Margaret Wilson was introduced to classics, Shakespeare, and Latin at an extraordinarily early age, being home-schooled by her mother.

Margaret Wilson was also significantly involved during the seventeen months her mother lived as a presidential partner, already working as an assistant to the First Lady.

When Margaret Wilson turned twenty-eight years old, a month after her father’s inauguration, she defied society’s expectations that women of her age, history, and education should forego personal pursuits. It was a conventional life as a wife and mother, remaining unmarried and pursuing a professional singing career with singular intent.

Margaret Wilson resumed her full-time residence in New York City when the Wilson presidency ended in March of 1921 and spent weekends with her father and stepmother in Washington. She contracted a severe kidney infection in early 1944 and developed uremic poisoning, resulting in her death on February 12, 1944. Though Margaret Wilson came to rely on Sri Aurobindo’s guidance, he was incredibly moved by the sincerity of her pursuit of inner peace. Long disciplined to keep his feelings concentrated and unexpressed, when informed that Margaret Wilson had died, his attendant was surprised to see his eyes filled with tears for the first time.

Jessie Woodrow Wilson

Portrait of Jessie Woodrow Wilson

Jessie Wilson, born in Gainesville on August 28, 1887, was the most politically active of President Wilson’s daughters, but not always in the direction he favored. She was described as the “prettiest” of the three daughters, being “tall and slender, with a sweet, serious face. She was like them, trained by a governess at home until she was ten years old, and then told to choose her life course. She has blonde coloring, a delicate rose complexion, and wide blue eyes. As she illustrated in her studies at the Woman’s College of Baltimore, where she displayed an enthusiasm for political science and social change, Jessie’s preference was politics.

Jessie married New York lawyer Frank Sayre at a sumptuous White House wedding on November 25, 1913. She had no intention of quitting her public life, even though they had three children. Jessie may have had some role in convincing her hesitant father to support women’s right to vote, as a vocal supporter of women’s suffrage.

Jessie also became an active member of the League of Women Voters, the League of Nations, and the Y.W.C.A. She taught Democratic Party candidates for the presidency, and in her adopted state of Massachusetts, as an accomplished public speaker. Even though Jessie Wilson Sayre died relatively young in 1933, at the age of 45, but the cause of women’s political activism was a memorable example.

Eleanor Randolph Wilson

Portrait of Eleanor Wilson

During her father’s time at Wesleyan University, Eleanor “Nell” Wilson was born in Middletown, Conn., on October 16, 1889. She was described as tall and dark, with an imposing presence; she looked more like the oldest to many observers than the youngest of the President’s children.

Nell showed her independence even more in her choice of partner. Her parents were surprised to hear that she had fallen in love with William Gibbs McAdoo, President Wilson’s campaign manager, who also happened to be her senior for twenty-six years. “She later joked that, supposedly because of his skills, she had previously encouraged her father to choose McAdoo as his Treasury Secretary, but simply “because he was so beautiful.” In 1913, President Wilson selected McAdoo, and on May 7, 1914, he and Nell were married in the White House. They had two children, and in 1934 they divorced when McAdoo was elected to the U.S. The California Senator.

Eleanor Wilson McAdoo wrote a book about her family’s time in the White House in 1937, The Woodrow Wilsons. In 1944, the novel, which portrayed the Wilsons’ experiences intimately and lovingly, was made into a film with Vincent Price playing Nell’s ex-husband’s role.

During World War II, she advocated for war bond drives. Nell was not as politically minded as Jessie nor as introspective as Margaret in favor of Democratic presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson in the 1950s. She occupied most of her time with art and writing before her death on April 7, 1967, but particularly in the company of friends.

 

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