The Courtship Of Woodrow Wilson

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Meanwhile, in New York, Mr. Goodrich was becoming too attentive to Ellen for Woodrow’s peace of mind. He added a rather stern postscript to a letter dated December 18, 1884: P.S. I had meant to say something about Mr. Goodrich, in answer to your letter of this morning; and though it is very late, I will even now add a few words while the matter is on my mind. You were quite right in your forecast of my opinion on the subject of his attentions to you. I do not believe in the possibility of the “platonic schedule” at all . Of course I have perfect faith in your discreetness; but you must remember that he is in ignorance of your engagement, and that not the broadest hints conceivable can make him “understand” so long as you continue to wear your ring as you have been wearing it. Not to wear it on the significant finger is in effect to conceal our engagement, my pet, and nobody can be expected to understand hints in the face of the testimony of his senses. Your faith in the power of the New England climate to change human nature may be well founded; but I think it would be much fairer to me if you would wear your ring as an engagement ring. I have not insisted upon this before … but now I trust that my darling will see fit to observe my wishes in the matter, if she has not done so already. …

So Mr. Goodrich, to his pain, was admitted to the secret that Ellen was engaged. But he begged her to let him continue to see her, and promised to “acquit her beforehand of any painful consequences to him.” Would Woodrow mind if she still saw him once in awhile? He minded—so much that on the day he heard from Bryn Mawr’s board of trustees, he wrote five pages of protest before telling her the good news, relenting only so far as to say that he would not object to her accepting Mr. Goodrich’s escort to church. “Though I shall pity him and fear that he won’t derive much benefit from the church services,” he added with uncharacteristic sarcasm.

Now their letters were full of plans. But Ellen Axson, artist and lover of poetry, was, at the same time, an exceedingly sensible and practical woman. She had given her consent to the Bryn Mawr appointment, because she could not bear to disappoint Woodrow, but when she sat down to examine facts and figures, she was worried. Would it not be better, she asked, to put off their marriage for another year, so that Woodrow could save for the high cost of living at Bryn Mawr? The letter he wrote in reply may not have lessened her anxiety, but it stopped any further objections.

Balto., Jan’y 22, 1885 … How does the case stand, then, with me? If I am to spend another year without you, it will be simple prudence to decline the Bryn Mawr offer and spend that year here . I would only break myself down by undertaking such a situation alone. Pecuniary anxieties, should I be weak enough to yield dominion to them, could not torment me half as much as the double burden of novel responsibilities and loneliness. … Take counsel of your heart , darling, not of your fears. And above all have no fears for me! … Have you so little faith in love that you think the inconveniences of imperative economy, which can have in it no actual want, enough to outweigh it with me? …

Ellen promised to marry him in June, and he could hardly believe it:

Balto., Sabbath afternoon Jan’y 25, 1885 … The crowning, the most precious sentence in this sweet note [is] “So it must be as you wish.” As I wish! Can it be true that I am to have, as my heart’s most inestimable treasure, the loving wife for whom my life has so long waited? … Are you really to be my bride, my life-long sweetheart, the joy and pride of my manhood, and, if God will, the comfort and strength of my old age? Yes, you have promised! And I? What will I give in return? There is very little that I can give—except love. That is much—and you shall be rich in that. … If love can make a true husband, I will be one to my darling …

A day came when Woodrow’s worldly wisdom was confirmed. Poor Mr. Goodrich, unable to control his emotions, proposed to Ellen. She told him sternly that he could never see her again, and described his reaction in a letter to Woodrow, whose indignant response arrived by the next mail.

Balto., Sabbath afternoon Feb’y 8, 1885 … So Mr. G. sought his fate, did he? My brave, true little sweetheart! You have acted just as I would have you act. But what shall I say for him? If he pleaded and protested, and thought himself unjustly treated, I don’t wonder that you saw how weak and unmanly the whole thing was on his parti Why, Eileen, I can’t conceive of a man’s making it necessary that you should have a “scene” with him. … He is either a fool or a knave; but I have no inclination to abuse him. I can only pity and despise a man who hasn’t the manliness to see that he owes it to you to anticipate your wish to have nothing more to do with him; and I cannot sufficiently rejoice that you are finally rid of the attentions of a man whose lack of true gentlemanly instinct must have exposed you to repeated mortification. I sincerely hope that he will leave the house. …

From some of her New York acquaintances Ellen heard disturbing talk about “a woman’s right to live her own life,” and Woodrow was moved to vehement comment: