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Ellen Louise Axon was born in Savannah, Georgia on May 15, 1860. The daughter of a Presbyterian minister, she met her future husband, Thomas Woodrow Wilson, at a church service. After a whirlwind courtship she agreed to an engagement while he finished graduate work at Johns Hopkins. They exchanged passionate love letters almost daily until their marriage in September, 1885.
Ellen was a good housekeeper who took cooking lessons to help watch her husband's diet. Jokingly insisting that her own children not be born Yankees, she returned to Georgia for the birth of Maragret in 1886 and Jessie in 1887. However, Eleanor was born in Connecticut a few years later. Ellen went without jewelry in her wardrobe so her husband could buy more books and helped the family finances by sewing many of their clothes. She proofread her husband's writings, and when he got into politics she assisted with speechwriting. She was always ready to listen to his problems, offering both a sympathetic ear and sound advice. Wilson was Bryn Mawr's first Professor of History, and then he taught and coached football at Wesleyan. In 1890 he returned to Princeton and soon became the most popular lecturer on campus. In 1902 he became president at Princeton, and this was followed by his election as governor of New Jersey and president of the United States in 1912.
Although she graciously presided over the dinners, teas and receptions expected of the first lady, the events were not lavish because Ellen Wilson was not interested in Washington society. In addition to helping her husband and raising their daughters, she initiated the effort to have restrooms for women installed in government offices. Another interest was improving conditions of black people in Washington D.C.
In March, 1914, Ellen suffered a bad fall in her White House bedroom. After several weeks in bed she was able to make a few public appearances, but she remained very weak. She was diagnosed with Bright's disease and tuberculosis of the kidneys. She died in the White House on August 6, 1914 and was buried in Rome, Georgia, near other members of her family.
Although he genuinely grieved for his wife, Woodrow Wilson met widow Edith Bolling Galt and began dating just seven months later. With the blessings of Wilson's three daughters, Wilson married Edith in December, 1915. It would be her fate to nurse him during his incapicitating stroke.