The Courtship Of Woodrow Wilson


Balto., April 21, 1885 … Don’t it take less time and trouble, darling, to make straight skirts with perpendicular pleats, or like devices, and bodies of the same style, than to make flounced skirts with skewed over-skirts (you must let me use my own terms, however untechnical) and bodies with stiff necks? You know, as I confided in you when we were only friends that I have very decided tastes in ladies’ dress (else I would not dare to venture into this department of inquiry where I don’t know the language.) … I know that for some reason the closefitting, high-necked body of your black silk dress is not at all becoming to you. … Is it because you are best suited by square yokes, open necks, simple pleated skirts, and—but dear me! I must get out of this just as soon as I can. What temerity! …

Ellen wrote, after reading this letter:

New York, April 22, 1885 … Would your feelings be deeply hurt, if you knew how I have been laughing over it? You have Bible authority for not liking “stiff-necked” people but what is a stiff-necked “body”? … You didn’t tell me what sort of hats you like! Pray write full descriptions of them! You do it so well! It will afford me such exquisite delight to read it. Really I think it is very nice in you, dear, to take an interest in such things, and since I find you have such decided opinions about them, I am more than anxious to have them. All suggestions thankfully received! Do you like little bonnets tied under the chin or broad-brimmed hats or “turbans” or “pokes”? And perhaps I had better take your opinion on the colour question. …

While she painted and shopped, Ellen began to worry about those odd women at Bryn Mawr who had taken up “higher education.” They would probably be condescending because she did not know as much as they. When Woodrow sent her Bryn Mawr’s first catalogue, she wrote:

New York, April 26, 1885 … Truly they have a masculine standard “sure enough.” Oh dear me! What a little goose I am! This brings it home to me afresh. I think I had better go to school there—only I couldn’t get in. …

Balto., April 27, 1885 … Sweetheart, I shall agree with you that you are a little goose to bemoan the fact that you don’t know as much as the Bryn Mawr girls are expected to know! What do you think of my case? I am to be one of their instructors, and yet I not only could not pass the entrance examinations, without special preparation, but could not even be an advanced student, much less a Fellow in my own department—because I can’t read German at sight! But that by no means indicates that I am not infinitely better educated than my pupils will be. Both you and I have what is immeasurably better than the information which is all that would be needed for passing Bryn Mawr, or any other college examinations! We have the power to think , to use information. For my part I want to carry as little information in my head as possible. … It is enough if I know where to find it; for corroboration, for illustration, etc.

The day came when Ellen and Woodrow wrote to each other for the last time, or so they hoped and believed. They were sure that they would never be separated after their marriage, never again have to depend on words to express their love. Each tried to capture the essence of the moment. From his sister’s house at Columbia, South Carolina, Woodrow wrote on June 21:

My own darling, It seems altogether too good to be true that our bondage to pen and paper is at last at an end! … This letter will reach you on Monday, and on Tuesday I shall go to my darling, to carry the words of love with which my heart is so full … to consecrate to her my life, that it may be spent in making perfect the fulfilment of all the sweet promises in which our love for each other is so rich. … I feel as if this last love- message were in some sort sacred. My deepest, strongest desire in marrying you, darling, is to make you happy, and I would put into this letter some word of love which would seem to your heart a sort of sweet preface to the book of love which we are about to open together, to read new secrets of sympathy and companionship. I would have you catch a glimpse of my purpose for the future and of the joy which that future contains for me , of the gratitude I feel for your priceless gift of love, and of the infinite love and tenderness which is the gift of my whole heart to you. … Good bye, then, sweetheart, till Tuesday. God willing, I shall come to claim a part of your welcome then: … the next time that I hold you to my heart will be the happiest moment of all my life, and the delicious prelude to still happier hours when you will be constantly at my side to tell me of the love that is more than life to me. Darling, once more I pledge you all my love and honour. I love you. With all my heart, in all my thoughts and hopes and purposes I am Your own, Woodrow