The President Woodrow Wilson House was the abode that President and Mrs. Edith Wilson called home after his retirement from office in 1921. Wilson was the only president to remain in Washington D.C. after his term until Barack Obama in 2017. While Wilson lived at the house only three years until his passing in 1924, Mrs. Wilson kept residence there until her death in 1961. She donated the entire site and its contents to the National Trust for Historic Preservation as a memorial to her late husband, the 28th President of the United States. The house, built in 1915, was added to the National Register of Historic Places and designated a National Historic Landmark due to its association with the Wilsons.
Thomas Woodrow Wilson (in office March 4, 1913 – March 4,
1921) was the 28th President of the United States. A member of the Democratic
Party, he is best known as a leading force in the Progressive movement, the
creation of the Federal Reserve, and for his efforts to establish the League of
Nations during the negotiations that resulted in the Treaty of Versailles at
the Paris Peace Conference. Owing to opposition in the Senate, the United
States never joined the League of Nations, but the idea of an international
organization dedicated to maintaining world peace would carry over into the
1945 establishment of the United Nations.
In the last months of his second term, President Wilson
purchased a home in the Kalorama District along Embassy Row and gifted to his
second wife, Edith Bolling Wilson. Mrs. Wilson played a significant political
role in the White House. She married Wilson after the death of his first wife,
Ellen, while in office. Her greatest influence came in 1919, after the President
suffered a debilitating stroke that left him partially paralyzed. Mrs. Wilson determined
which matters to bring to the President’s bedside and which could be given to other
federal authorities. Though they worked to keep the President’s health
conditions private, Mrs. Wilson earned nicknames like the Secret
President and “First woman to run the government.”
The Wilsons moved into their retirement home on March 4,
1921, the inauguration day of the succeeding president, Warren Harding. Upon
his retirement, President Wilson remained active in the Washington, D.C.
community, opening a law office, giving speeches, attending local theatre, and
serving as president of the American Historical Association. He was the only
president to remain in Washington D.C. after serving as head of state until
Barack Obama chose to stay in the District in 2017.
President Wilson’s health continued to be a struggle. In
1924, he suffered another stroke and died in the residence. He was entombed at
the Washington National Cathedral. Mrs. Wilson remained at the house until her
death in 1961. She donated the entire site and its contents to the National
Trust for Historic Preservation as a memorial to her late husband. The
President Woodrow Wilson House opened to the public in 1963.
The design of the estate and grounds was the
responsibility of Waddy Butler Wood, who completed his work on the Georgian
Revival style house in 1915. Before it was the residence of President Wilson,
the property was owned by the executive of Bigelow Carpet Company, Henry Parker
Fairbanks. The structure was altered from its original state to accommodate President
Wilson's needs after his stroke, which he had suffered in 1919. Additions
included an elevator and upstairs balcony to help him avoid stairs, as well as
a larger room to house his 8,000-tome library. It was from the balcony of this
house that Wilson made his last public appearance in 1923.
The Woodrow Wilson House was designated a National
Historic Landmark in 1964. The National Trust for Historic Preservation now
owns the house and operates it as a museum. Very little inside or outside the
house has been changed since the death of President Wilson in 1924. The
structure stands alongside the homes and offices of dignitaries and diplomats
from around the world, making it part of Embassy Row.