Posts Tagged ‘Edith Wilson’

Woodrow Wilson’s Interment Site

Woodrow Wilson’s Interment Site

In addition to the distinction of remaining a resident of the National Capitol City after leaving office in 1921, President Woodrow Wilson also has the distinction of being the only President whose final resting place is in D.C.  The 28th President is interred at Washington National Cathedral, which is located at 3101 Wisconsin Avenue (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Cathedral Heights neighborhood. And on today’s 91st anniversary of his death, it was the destination for this bike ride.

Thomas Woodrow Wilson served as President from 1913 until 1921. While still in office, President Wilson suffered a severe stroke in October of 1919, leaving him paralyzed on his left side, and with only partial vision in his right eye. This was compounded by the effects of a previous stroke he had while sleeping one night in 1906, which had caused blindness in his left eye. As a result, he was confined to bed for weeks and sequestered from everyone except his wife, Edith Bolling Galt Wilson, and his physician, Dr. Cary Grayson. As there was no clear constitutional precedent at that time for what to do if a president became unable to perform his duties, Edith Wilson effectively led in his place.

Wilson served as President during a time prior to ratification of the 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which limits a President to two terms in office. And had it not been for his significant health problems, he would have run and most likely been elected to a third term as President. But by the following year his disability had diminished his power and influence, and the Democratic Party ignored his tentative plan to run for re-election.

Despite his poor health limiting the time he was able to serve in office, Wilson was not only one of the more effective Presidents in history, but one of the more interesting ones as well. In addition to being the only President to live in D.C. after leaving office, and the only one to make D.C. his final resting place, the following are just a few of the more interesting facts about him.

Although he could not read until he was 9 years old and was mostly home-schooled, he went on to be the only President, so far, to earn a PhD.  He went by “Tom” or “Tommy” for most of his life, and didn’t switch to going by his middle name until he headed off to law school, because he thought it sounded more impressive. While living there, he was the first person to ride a bike in the city of Wilmington, North Carolina.  Afterward he remained an avid bike rider.  He was the first President to cross the Atlantic Ocean, as well as the first President to hold a press conference. He holds the record for spending more time outside the U.S. than any other President. Wilson was the first President to attend a World Series game, throwing out the first pitch of Game 2 between the Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies in 1915.   Wilson holds the record among all U.S. Presidents for the most rounds of golf, having played over 1,000 rounds, or almost one every other day.  As President, Wilson issued a declaration creating Mother’s Day. His nickname is Professor because he was one at Princeton, where he was voted as the most popular professor for six consecutive years before becoming President of the University. He was married twice, and his second wife was a direct descendant of legendary Native American Pocahontas. He let flocks of sheep stay on the White House lawn. And after running on a platform of keeping the U.S. out of World War I, and then leading the nation into the war, Wilson won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1919 for his efforts to avert future world wars. The Second World War would begin two decades later.  And the last thing he said was his wife’s name, Edith.

President Wilson retired in 1921, and he and his wife moved into an elegant 1915 town house on Embassy Row in northwest D.C.’s Kalorama neighborhood. Less than three years later, on February 3, 1924, the 67-year old former President died at home of another stroke and other heart-related problems. He was buried at the Washington National Cathedral, which was under construction at the time. Thirty years after his death his body was moved inside the church, where he was interred in a sarcophagus. Edith Wilson stayed in the home another 37 years, dying there on December 28, 1961, after which she was also interred at the Cathedral, below the tile in front of President Wilson’s crypt.

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Calvary Baptist Church

Calvary Baptist Church

On this day in 1933, the 21st Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, repealing the 18th Amendment and bringing an end to the era of national prohibition of alcohol in the U.S. It should be noted that the consumption of alcohol was never illegal under federal law. Prohibition focused on the manufacture, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages. However, exceptions were made for medicinal and religious uses. Nationwide prohibition did not begin until 1920, when the 18th Amendment to the Constitution went into effect.  Thirteen years later, what President Woodrow Wilson referred to as “America’s noble experiment” ended.

The movement for the interdiction of alcohol that eventually resulted in Prohibition actually started much earlier – in the early 19th century, when Americans concerned about the adverse effects of drinking began forming temperance societies. By the late part of the century, these groups had become a powerful political force, campaigning on the state level and calling for national liquor abstinence. The Anti-Saloon League was one of the most prominent of these organizations, and eventually spearheaded the lobbying for prohibition in this country.  Calvary Baptist Church, a bright red brick church located at 755 8th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Penn Quarter neighborhood, is where the first Anti-Saloon League meeting was held. It was also one of my destinations on today’s lunchtime bike ride.

On this ride I also went by a couple of other D.C. locations with connections to Prohibition – The Woodrow Wilson House and D.C.’s Temperance Fountain – despite the fact that I have been to and written in this blog about these locations previously.

While most presidents at that time happily retired back to their home state, Wilson decided to stick around and continued to live in the national Capitol city after leaving office. His second wife, Edith, had lived in D.C. before they met and received a small fortune when her former husband, a prosperous local jeweler, passed away. Woodrow and Edith moved into their newly-acquired Embassy Row home at 2340 S Street (MAP) in 1921.  But it wasn’t an easy move. Prohibition was in effect at the time, and since it forbade the transportation of alcohol, it presented a problem for Wilson, who did not want to leave his fine wine collection behind in the White House for his successor, especially since the recently elected Warren G. Harding was known to be a heavy drinker.  Wilson appealed to Congress, and Congress passed a special law just for him that allowed one person on one specific day “to transport alcohol from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to 2340 S Street.”

My last destination for this prohibition-themed bike ride was the Temperance Fountain, located at the corner of Seventh Street and Indiana Avenue in downtown D.C. (MAP).  A temperance fountain was a fountain that was set up, usually by a private benefactor, to encourage people not to drink alcohol by providing safe and free water instead. During the earlier temperance movement, beer was the main alternative to water, and generally safer. The temperance societies had no real alternative as tea and coffee were too expensive, so water fountains were very attractive. One such fountain still exists in D.C. It was one of the ones built by Henry Cogswell, a dentist and a crusader in the temperance movement. It was his dream to construct one temperance fountain for every 100 saloons in the U.S. It is unknown exactly how many Cogswell actually built, but the fountain in D.C. is one of only four that still remain.

After the repeal of the 18th Amendment in 1933, some states continued Prohibition by maintaining statewide temperance laws. Mississippi, the last “dry” state, didn’t end Prohibition until 1966. To this day there continue to be areas within states where prohibition remains in effect, commonly referred to as “dry counties.” There are currently more than 500 counties and municipalities in the U.S. that are dry, including 83 in Alaska. Nearly one half of Mississippi’s counties are dry. And in Florida, four of its 67 counties are dry, all of which are located in the northern part of the state, an area that has cultural ties to the Deep South. And although Moore County, Tennessee, is the home of Jack Daniel’s, a major operational distillery of whiskey, it is also a dry county, so the product is not available at stores or restaurants within the county.

By comparison, D.C. is not dry, and it is very different place today than it was when the Anti-Saloon League was meeting at Calvary Baptist Church and people were drinking water from the Temperance Fountain.  There are currently over 1,900 establishments and businesses that possess liquor licenses to sell alcohol to the 646,449 residents in the 68-square-mile area known as the District of Columbia.  This works out to a bar or liquor store for every 340 residents of our nation’s capitol.

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