Edith Wilson was a unique first lady in more ways than one. For one, she was the great-great-great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter of Pocahontas, making her one four-hundred-eightieth Native American. But she made sure people knew about that connection. Despite coming from one of the oldest English families in Virginia, the Bolling family had fallen into poverty after the Civil War freed their slaves. Throughout her youth, Edith was excluded from high society. Her key to notoriety before becoming first lady was by claiming this heritage. After widow Edith married widower Woodrow Wilson in 1915, this fact was an interesting conversation starter at events.
But Edith’s more important legacy was as the unofficial first woman president of the United States. From the moment she married the incumbent President, she got to work helping him as the US entered World War I. He gave her access to classified war documents and she sat in as an advisor in meetings. Then in 1919, President Wilson had a stroke that incapacitated him. The First Lady assured everyone that he simply needed rest. She took any memos or papers for him into his room to be “reviewed” and returned them with notes. She fired the Secretary of State who held a cabinet meeting without the president. She even sent the British ambassador packing after he refused to fire an aid who had made a vulgar joke about her. She carried on like this for seventeen months, although publicly she insisted she never made any presidential decisions.