Kurt's Historic Sites

Wilson 1 Cathedral

Edith Wilson

Interment LocationVisited 
Washington, D.C.June 12, 2004 

Photographed June 12, 2004.

The second-largest church in the United States is the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the City and Diocese of Washington. Known colloquially as the Washington National Cathedral, it holds weekly Episcopal services. When called for it hosts major events such as funerals of prominent individuals. The cathedral is also the final resting place of several notables, such as First Lady Edith Wilson, wife of the 28th president. She and Woodrow Wilson are the only first couple laid to rest in the nation’s capital.

My father and I explored the cathedral on June 12, 2004. The day prior, former President Ronald Reagan’s funeral services were held in the building. On Woodrow Wilson’s page on this website I mention how the occasion put seven presidents in the same room — two deceased, and five living. The solemnities likewise united seven first ladies: Edith Wilson was in her place of repose in the Wilson Bay, while Betty Ford, Rosalynn Carter, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton, and Laura Bush observed Ronald Reagan’s funeral from chairs in the nave.

Photographed June 12, 2004.
Photographed November 8, 2021.

The lid to Woodrow Wilson’s grave bears his name, birth and death years, and a large crusader’s cross. Edith Wilson is not entombed within a matching sarcophagus but rather in a vault beneath the bay floor. This information is inscribed in the wall beside the president’s sarcophagus.

In October 1919 Woodrow Wilson suffered a massive stroke at the White House. Though he survived, the occurrence left him debilitated. At this time there was no constitutional provision to grant authority to the vice president in the event of the commander-in-chief’s incapacitation. Rather than Vice President Thomas Marshall assuming the duties of the highest office, Woodrow Wilson continued to wield the powers of the executive until their term’s conclusion in March 1921. In those challenging final 17 months of their White House tenure, Edith Wilson took a hands-on role in the president’s affairs. She was the arbiter of which documents, issues, and callers merited her husband’s attention. Some people have gone so far as to regard Mrs. Wilson as the de-facto president of the United States during this period. Her legacy as first lady is unlike that of any other presidential spouse.

Photographed May 31, 2015.

Fast Facts

Born: October 15, 1872 in Wytheville, Virginia

Spouses: Norman Galt (m. 1896-1908); Woodrow Wilson (m. 1915-1924)

First Lady Tenure: 1915-1921

Died: December 28, 1961 in Washington, D.C.

Cause of Death: Congestive Heart Failure

Age: 89

Interment: Washington National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.

Sources Consulted and Further Reading

“President’s Widow Dies.” Living Church 144, no. 2: January 14, 1962. https://books.google.com/books?id=fobkAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

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