The First Lady: Museum pays tribute to Edith Bolling Wilson

Posted by | October 15, 2010

The following article by Joe Tennis ran yesterday in the Bristol Herald Courier.

Wytheville, VA — Happy birthday, Edith!

The First Lady – Edith Bolling Galt Wilson – was born in a second-story apartment in downtown Wytheville, Va., on Oct. 15, 1872.

In 1915, she became the second wife of President Woodrow Wilson. She also won the fabled title as “America’s First Woman President” or even “The Shadow President,” as she worked behind the scenes after President Wilson had a stroke in 1919.

But never mind all that – well, at least for the most part.

The focus on Edith, at her birthplace museum in Wytheville, is to tell the story of this First Lady in her early years, growing up as the daughter of Judge William H. and Sallie White Bolling.

Edith Bolling Wilson, wife of Woodrow WilsonThe judge, by the way, is said to have
delayed court on the morning of his daughter’s arrival – just to be on hand to greet the newborn baby.


Open since 2008, an ever-evolving museum showcases Edith’s early life at the Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Foundation and Museum on Main Street.

Storyboards display various anecdotes
of the family.

“It’s about the life history of the second wife of Woodrow Wilson,” said Leslie King, the director of the Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Foundation and Museum.

Over the past century, several businesses have been located in the Bolling Building, since the Bolling family left Wytheville in the 1900s. Among them is Skeeter’s, famous for having sold millions of hot dogs since the 1920s.

“It’s Appalachian history, but it’s this urban-sort-of Appalachian history,” King said. “Not that many places depict a household above a commercial setting.”


Today, the downstairs of the privately funded, non-profit museum features furniture of the period when Edith called Wytheville home.

Here, you’ll find artifacts paying tribute to Edith’s early life.

Among them: a postcard noting how Edith spent a year attending the Martha Washington College – now the Martha Washington Inn – in Abingdon, Va., in 1887.

Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Museum

Upstairs, in Wytheville, where the Bollings lived in the late 1800s, rooms remain in a wrecked condition; all still await complete restoration. But here, in a bedroom with peeled wallpaper, is believed to have been the birthplace of Edith, King said.

“Nothing’s really been renovated,” King said. “But we’ve stabilized the building so that nothing’s going to fall. And the back porch has been stabilized completely.”

Once a dance studio, the upstairs is now open for special tours of “Edith’s birthplace,” King said.

But, as the restoration continues, King said, mysteries remain.

“We’re still trying to figure out where the walls were – what’s original,” King said. “And what’s not.”


What: Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Foundation and Museum

Where: 145 E. Main St., Wytheville, Va.

When: Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

How much: Seasonal birthplace tours are $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and $2 for students (younger than 18). The tours are held May-October on Fridays at 1:30 p.m. and Saturdays at 10 a.m.

Info: (276) 22-EDITH



Mrs. Wilson’s Annual Birthday Party on Oct. 15, 3 p.m., is being held at the museum. The event features a book signing release party with Kristie Miller, the author of “Ellen and Edith: Woodrow Wilson’s Two First Ladies” ($34.95). Reservations are requested. Contact Leslie King at (276) 223-3484 or

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