Love And Guilt: Woodrow Wilson And Mary Hulbert


Money was indeed dangled before Mary, but the overtures came from the President’s enemies, not from his friends. She was offered bribes by Wilson’s adversaries that ranged from fur coats and limousines to provisions for extensive travel if she would hand over Wilson’s letters. Her indignant refusals eventually led to an offer of half a million dollars for the correspondence, but her loyalty to Wilson was not for sale. Where Wilson’s political enemies failed, representatives from the Department of Justice, acting to protect his interests, tried diligently to succeed. Mary Hulbert was plagued by covert attempts to get possession of the letters, until her son requested—and received—an appointment with Wilson. Allen vowed to the President of the United States that if the Department of Justice did not let his mother alone he would kill the next man who came. Wilson moved with dispatch to ensure that the annoyance ceased.

Although Mary Hulbert was not the kind of woman who would betray an intimate friendship, she was unable to stay out of financial difficulty. By her own admission, she had “no money sense.” One possible source of funds was to try to publish carefully chosen excerpts from Wilson’s letters to her, an idea she sold to George H. Doran & Company. With a ten-thousand-dollar advance, Mary provided Doran with an exceedingly circumspect, chatty manuscript (now in the archives at Princeton University) making the whole correspondence sound like that of an affectionate brother writing to his favorite sister. During the eight years that Wilson had known Mary Hulbert, and called her “Dearest Friend,” he would have done almost anything for her, but this time, the necessary publication rights to Doran were understandably denied.

The letters remained in Mary Hulbert’s possession until after Wilson’s death in February, 1924. At the end of that year, she relied upon them to some extent to write for Liberty magazine ten equally circumspect articles that appeared from December 20, 1924, through February 21,1925. In the midst of this series, announcement was made in the press that Ray Stannard Baker had been chosen as Woodrow Wilson’s authorized biographer.

A Midwesterner of impeccable character, Baker had served in 1919 as director of the press bureau of the American Commission to Negotiate Peace at Paris. He had published in 1922 a three-volume study, Woodrow Wilson and World Settlement—A History of the Peace Conference , that had pleased the President. Edith Wilson admired Baker, not a trivial consideration in that she was to read and evaluate every sentence he composed for the eight-volume biography.

Edith offered her full cooperation to Baker, urging him “to see everybody—both friends and enemies; because only in this way can you get the whole picture before you.…” Assisted by her bachelor brother, Randolph Boiling, she sent sixty-seven cases of papers from the White House to Baker’s home in Amherst, Massachusetts, where he was to do his research and writing. After describing the shipment, Edith noted that “there are still the personal letters in Mr. Wilson’s own desk that I have not been able to go over, and which I will send you if they seem of interest. …”

Were the Hulbert letters to Wilson among the “personal letters”? Whether or not Edith or Randolph disposed of many of these, Baker was determined to acquire, or gain access to, the other side of the correspondence. In early March, 1925, he wrote to Mary Hulbert, now residing with Allen at 49 West Forty-fourth Street in New York City, and asked for an interview. Baker explained that he sought “every possible source of knowledge upon Wilson’s career and without bias.” (He had written to a colleague that “I am going to print everything I have or can find out that I believe to be true regardless of whom it hits.”)

Mary courteously responded, giving Baker an appointment; but she would not part with the letters, allow him to use them, or, apparently, even let him read them. On hearing this, Edith Wilson was disturbed. The letters represented a sizable portion of her husband’s personal correspondence that was virtually out of her control. Mary Hulbert’s articles in Liberty magazine had not served to endear Wilson’s former confidante to Edith.

As the months went by, Baker began to devise a more realistic approach to acquiring the Wilson letters from Mary Hulbert. He knew that they had considerable value on the manuscript market, and that she hoped for and expected appropriate remuneration. When he had met Mary in 1925, Baker, somewhat to his surprise, had liked her very much. Whatever plan he proposed must be equitable. But how to obtain funds of this magnitude? Perhaps Bernard Baruch could help. Not only was he wealthy, but he was also a staunch and loyal admirer of both the President and Mrs. Wilson.