Ellen Axon Wilson has been painted both as independent and self-sacrificing. Although she continued her art studies before and after her marriage to Woodrow Wilson, she also prioritized her husband’s comfort and career over her own energy. As First Lady, she went against her husband’s policies. She carefully avoided taking up the issue of women’s suffrage and instead focused on housing reform. While her husband condoned segregation in government departments, Ellen Wilson fought to mitigate the poverty and dilapidation of Washington’s slums. Dying from Bright’s disease in the summer of 1914, Congress quickly approved the housing bill she championed so she could be told before she passed on 6 August 1914. Her advocacy was the first instance of the passing of legislation with direct influence from a president’s wife. 
Facts and quotations from First Ladies: From Martha Washington to Michelle Obama by Betty Boyd Caroli. C-SPAN is exploring the influence of First Ladies in its series.
Image: Mrs. Woodrow Wilson (Ellen Louise Axson) c. 1912.  Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.  

Ellen Axon Wilson has been painted both as independent and self-sacrificing. Although she continued her art studies before and after her marriage to Woodrow Wilson, she also prioritized her husband’s comfort and career over her own energy. As First Lady, she went against her husband’s policies. She carefully avoided taking up the issue of women’s suffrage and instead focused on housing reform. While her husband condoned segregation in government departments, Ellen Wilson fought to mitigate the poverty and dilapidation of Washington’s slums. Dying from Bright’s disease in the summer of 1914, Congress quickly approved the housing bill she championed so she could be told before she passed on 6 August 1914. Her advocacy was the first instance of the passing of legislation with direct influence from a president’s wife. 

Facts and quotations from First Ladies: From Martha Washington to Michelle Obama by Betty Boyd Caroli. C-SPAN is exploring the influence of First Ladies in its series.

Image: Mrs. Woodrow Wilson (Ellen Louise Axson) c. 1912.  Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.