- Historic Sites
The Courtship Of Woodrow Wilson
October 1962 | Volume 13, Issue 6
Now that Woodrow was settled and happy in the sure knowledge of Ellen’s love, he was able to concentrate on his work. Every day except Sunday was taken up with classes and long hours of study, yet he never failed to write to Ellen two or three times a week and to read her letters over and over. It was difficult for her, brought tip to conduct herself with extreme reserve and modesty, to write a love letter. Woodrow was also reserved, to a fault, but he had no inhibitions where his beloved was concerned. He opened his mind and soul to her, as well as his heart, and, pleading, teasing, and praising by turns, tried to persuade her to follow his example.
Balto., Md., Sept. 29th, 1883 … Your sweet letters … fill me with indcscribahle delight: all the more because I know that such confessions cost you a little struggle with your natural shyness in such matters. I love you with all my heart, my darling, and it makes me unspeakably grateful to know that I have won your first love and won it so completely, by I know not what attractions. I am really, then, the only man you ever met that you thought you could love ? …
Are you thinking, my love, as you read this, that you were not the first to win my love? And did I guess right when I guessed that what you were hesitating to ask was about a certain un-named lady of whom I told you once as we walked by the railroad? Well … to make the asking easy (if you want to ask) I’ll volunteer one piece of information, which is that I never knew what love was until I knew you, and that, if it was love that I felt for the character which I supposed that lady to possess, it was a very contemptible dwarf beside the strong passion that is now at large in my heart and which leaps with such tremendous throbs of joy at the thought of your love. You need not shrink from hearing me speak of what I have hitherto taken for love: for no woman, my darling, ever had more entire love given her than I have given you …
Slowly, and with frequent relapses, Ellen’s courage grew. She never again called Woodrow her “Dear Friend.” And, when her own words embarrassed her, she let the great poets she knew so well speak for her.
East Rome, Oct. 2, 1883 This morning brought me at once your two letters—of the 27th and 29th—and therefore this day has been like the day on which I last wrote, “high holiday.” “All its moments lightly shaken sow themselves on golden sands.” I wonder if you would laugh, or what you would say, if you knew how perfectly daft your letters make mel But no-one could be expected to receive such letters and keep very cool … The ring also came this afternoon. It is a perfect beauty in every respect. … I can’t tell you, my darling, how much I prize it. You are very, very, good—but are you not also very extravagant? Please excuse my impertinence, but really I was startled and amazed at the unexpected apparition of a diamond . You know it is not absolutely necessary to wear that particular sort of ring in order to “feel engaged.” … I was writing to Beth [a school friend] the other night—about you … I could honestly say that I had found my—yes, I must say it—my “ideal,” though I am a little out of humour with that much abused word. Now I know you will laugh at me, but it is so! Why even those lines which Beth and I selected together, years ago, as best expressing our ideal were written for youl I never saw so perfect a description of anyone. A “jersey” jacket couldn’t fit more closelyl You may remember the words, for with calm audacity I once quoted them to you myself, knowing that you could not read my thoughts as I did so.
“A mouth for mastery and manful work A certain brooding sweetness in the eyes, A brow the harbour of grave thought.”
She wore the ring on her right hand because they agreed to keep their engagement a secret from everyone except their families and intimate friends.
Woodrow had never been able to talk to anyone about himself, but now, because he was afraid that Ellen would be disappointed if she did not know in advance exactly what sort of man he was, he wrote the first of many letters of self-revelation.
Baltimore, Oct. 2nd, 1883 … I dreamed about you all last night, my darling. … That was a joyous dream … I woke up laughing. I had been doing in the dream what I have never done in reality; had been showing you a side of my disposition that you have never seen. I dreamt of the jolliest frolic that we had together … and so it was that I awoke in glee. You don’t know what a goose I can make of myself upon occasion, when I am with people of whose esteem I am sure and who will think no less of me for my nonsense. Can you love me in my every humour? or would you prefer to think of me as always dignified? I am afraid it would kill me to be always thoughtful and sensible, dignified and decorous.
Ellen’s letter of October 2 did not, for some reason, arrive for a week. Then he wrote,