The Courtship Of Woodrow Wilson


Balto., March 1, 1885 … I don’t wonder that you can have no sympathy with that false talk … The family relation is at the foundation of society, … and the women who think that marriage destroys identity and is not the essential condition of the performance of their proper duties—if they think so naturally and not through disappointment—are the only women whom God has intended for old maids. … Women have a right to live their own lives. They have mental and moral gifts of a sort and of a perfection that men lack: but they have not the same gifts that men have. Their life must supplement man’s life; and it cannot supplement man’s life without being in closest wifely communion with it. This is not putting their lives in a position subordinate to the position allotted to men. The colours of the spectrum supplement each other, but without all of them we should not have the full splendour of the sun.

As June drew nearer, both of the lovers had last flickers of misgiving about their adequacy.

New York, April 3, 1885 … I have yet to learn whether the most perfect love, the tenderest service, the most passionate loyalty can make me, without certain qualities which love cannot give, such a wife as yours should be. But I know that, notwithstanding the demand is so much greater, I will be a better wife to you than I could ever have been to a small man, because no other but yourself could have so stirred my nature to its utmost depths, could have inspired me with such passionate longing toward my own ideal of womanhood …

Balto., April 5, 1885 … It may shock you—it ought to … to learn that I have a reputation (?) amongst most of my kin and certain of my friends for being irrepressible, in select circles, as a maker of grotesque addresses from the precarious elevation of chair seats, as a wearer of all varieties of comic grimaces, as a simulator of sundry unnatural burlesque styles of voice and speech, as a lover of farces, even as a dancer of the “ can-can ”! … But you’ll find out soon enough what an overgrown boy you have taken as your “lord and master (?)”

New York, April 5, 1885 … But query!—if you know a woman so well that you are sure beforehand what she is going to say, or what she would like to say on any given subject, what special interest do you find in hearing her say it? Why isn’t she an unmitigated bore? … I am inclined to think it would be hard to find any way to ward off that danger from a purely intellectual marriage. … If one married a Macaulay simply to hear him talk , one would grow tired of it in the course of years, if one didn’t exhaust his resources. The novelty would wear off and the flashes of silence would be like balm to the suffering. But I know now that a true man and woman never weary of true love and sympathy. It is a possession which time doesn’t cheapen. I remember when such questions as those I asked you above seemed to me among the greatest difficulties in the way of marriage. What do they talk about! I should think they would wear each other out or suffer from a most embarrassing dearth of remarks! What a foolish school-girl’s idea it seems to me now! As if marriage were like an evening call where long pauses are awkward and must be avoided at any cost. … A never-ending eveningcall!— horrible!

Ellen had set the month for their wedding, but not, in spite of Woodrow’s urging, the date. Now, at the end of a long love letter, she mentioned an approximate date, and he wrote, joyfully,

Balto., April 18, 1885 … Somehow it seems to me that the sun shines brighter today than it ever did before. For does not this precious letter close with one of those “By the ways” which often serve my lady to introduce the most important things she says? … Do you think, Miss, to escape in that way the embarrassment of fixing a particular day? To say “any day between the 24th and the gist of June” means that we will be married on the 24th; for I shall certainly take the earliest date you offer. …

But it was not so simple as he supposed to fix a date for the wedding. A bride must have a trousseau, and Ellen’s would take more time than usual to assemble for she had been in mourning ever since her father’s death and needed an entirely new wardrobe. And, because she could not afford to buy it, she planned to make all her dresses herself when she went back to Savannah. But she had paid her tuition fees at the Art Students’ League in advance until June, and she was appalled at the thought of spending money and getting nothing for it.

New York, April 19, 1885 … Being a man it is probable that you think three weeks more than time enough for anything! Perhaps I should make some concession to masculine ignorance and explain more fully. There is a great deal of sewing which I must do. I can’t afford to have it all done for me. Here in New York the material for an inexpensive dress costs just half as much as the making of said dress, and in Savannah it is almost as bad. It is positively ruinous to “put out” anything but a handsome dress. So you can see my predicament—one must have some time to prepare even the most modest trousseau. …

To her great amusement, Woodrow had something to say about her trousseau.