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The Courtship Of Woodrow Wilson
October 1962 | Volume 13, Issue 6
A lew weeks before, Woodrow wotdd have readily-agreed to this plan, but ever since he had left Rome he had been haunted by a pair of luminous brown eyes and tormented by the thought that he had not made a good impression on Miss Ellie Lou Axson. He knew now that he was in love with her, and he was afraid that if he went to Johns Hopkins he woidd lose her. He knew one thing for certain. He must see her again —soon—and try to find the courage to tell her that he loved her. If she returned his love, he would try to overcome his distaste of the law and make a success of it. Jn June, like an answer to prayer, Uncle James Bones asked him to come again to Rome for further consultation.
A few days later, in a hired buggy, Woodrow drove Ellen through the apple orchards of the countryside near Rome, doing his best to be impressive but not impetuous. Ellen was very shy, Woodrow painfully selfconscious. She had very little to say. He talked too much. But after he had left her at the parsonage, he comforted himself: she had listened closely to everything he said, and agreed with most of it.
Uncle James Bones, briefed by his daughter on the budding romance, deliberately prolonged his consultations with his nephew. So Woodrow staved on for a week or more and saw Ellen as often as possible. He called on her, escorted her to prayer meeting, took her to a conceit, and monopolized her at picnics arranged by Jessie Brower. Again and again he tried to tell her that he loved her, but kepi pulling il off, wailing for some sign thai she cared for him. Then, one clay, there was a sign. Jessie had planned another picnic, and in reply to Woodrow’s invitation, Ellen wrote:
Mr. Woodrow, Very unwillingly and with the firm conviction that I am the most unfortunate of mortals, I write to tell Jessie that I won’t be able to go on the picnic. … I last evening made an ill-timed engagement to take a boat ride on that afternoon and, like Sterne’s starling, “I can’t get out of it.” … There is no reason, not even—strange to say—any disinclination , to prevent my saying most truthfully that I will be happy to walk with you this afternoon. With love to Jessie, I remain, Your sincere friend, Ellen L. Axson
He read it again. For a very reserved young lady it was a breath-taking note. And she had called him “Mr. Woodrow”! The probability that this was due to absent-mindedness was significant. He was Woodrow now in her secret thoughts. He decided that, during their walk, it would be safe to at least hint that he was in love with her. He wrote later: … I remember walking one afternoon in the early summer with a certain sweet friend of mine. We had chosen the railroad bed because it led along the bank of the river and would lead us to where we would find a seat near the water on a big jutting—rock which stood with its feet in the river commanding a view of one of the prettiest bends of the stream. Not an incident of that walk have I forgotten … I was quite conscious that I was very much in love with my companion and 1 was desperately intent upon finding out what my chances were ol winning her.
Nothing conclusive happened, although, as Woodrow wrote Ellen afterward, he thought she must be aware of his feelings.
… You knew that I loved you before I told you, didn’t you, love? Why, I hud told you often enough by plain enough signs, and even by pretty plain words. Do you remember the verses I gave you as we rode home from a picnic? I remember the charming blush with which you read them, but did not dare interpret it as 1 wished 1 might. Did you imagine that I had copied all those lines to give you just because I thought them pretty and hoped they would interest you from a literary point of view? …
Their next meeting was not planned. Ellen and Woodrow were always sure that it was arranged by the kind Providence in which they both believed. When the firm of Renick and Wilson finally gave up the struggle to make ends meet, Woodrow decided to go to Johns Hopkins for one year, although he was not happy about the financial sacrifice his parents would have to make. Before going to Kaltimoie, in September, he went to Asheville, North Carolina, at his father’s request, to take care of some matters connected with Dr. Wilson’s work with the Southern Presbyterian Assembly. And there, standing at the window of his hotel room, he saw the figure of Miss Ellie Lou Axson vanishing down the street. He had not known that she was in Asheville, and he might have failed to recognize her if it had not been for one small detail—the way she coiled her hair at the back of her head. Woodrow Wilson got to the street in a matter of seconds, caught up with Ellen, found out where the friends she was visiting lived, and begged her to see him very soon.
There followed three enchanted days. On the last afternoon, too desperately in love to remember his uncertain future, Woodrow proposed, and Ellen, immediately and joyfully, said “Yes.”
He could hardly believe it. Weeks later he wrote.