BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Author of "Edith and
Woodrow," subtitled "The First
Documented Account of the Woman
Who Was President," where did you get
Ms. PHYLLIS LEE LEVIN, AUTHOR, "EDITH AND WOODROW: THE WILSON WHITE HOUSE": My daughter, Kate, gave me a
book called--it was by the chief usher
at the White House, and--it'd be his memoir, and she handed
it to me and said, `Here, Mom, this is about the first woman
president.' So I was curious.
LAMB: What were you doing at the time?
Ms. LEVIN: I had finished a biography of Abigail Adams and I
was beginning to research a book on John Quincy Adams
'cause I was absolutely enamored of the Adams family and
couldn't think of which one I wanted to do more and...
LAMB: You--you've got a picture in here of Mr. Hoover, I
think, is who you're talking about?
Ms. LEVIN: Yeah.
LAMB: He was the chief usher at the White House what
Ms. LEVIN: Before Edith Wilson and after. He died early on,
and I can't remember when. But his--his bi--his memoir was
published posthumously. And so I had forgotten how many
presidents he co--he covered, but a lot, I think.
LAMB: What did he have in there, though, that intrigued you?
Ms. LEVIN: Well, we had his account, which diff--of the night
that Wilson fell ill. That was quite different than Edith
Wilson's. I had then gone and read her memoir, and it was
quite different, enough so that I went and got out his original
papers, and there the account was definite that there was no
one--no one telling it properly about what had happened that
night, and so he thought he would--he would--he would tell
his version of it. And she minded terribly.
LAMB: So, why do you believe Mr. Hoover over Edith Wilson?
Ms. LEVIN: Well, there were other--as I read on and she made
a lot of other differences. She made up a lot of stories along
the way and her versions varied considerably from what I
found to be the truth of the versions when I went to the
LAMB: What did she say?
Ms. LEVIN: She claimed that her husband was just as alive
and alert after this attack and that it wasn't serious at all.
And, of course, the doctors say that he was--he had a stroke
that made him not--unable to govern properly. And then what
my luck--my luck really came--and I call it luck--it was very
sad to find out that about 10 years ago, the original
diagnoses were handed over to--were handed in to Professor
Link, who had been the editor of the 69 volumes of Wilson's
papers. And the original diagnoses were that this man was
unalterably wounded by his stroke and unable to govern, but
Mrs. Wilson prevented these diagnoses from being made
public. And so by that one stroke, Dr. Grayson, the--was
co-opted into what she perceived as--was--as a nervous
breakdown. That was thought to be more respectable than a
LAMB: Let's go back to the beginning.
Ms. LEVIN: Yeah.
LAMB: Woodrow Wilson was president what years?
Ms. LEVIN: He was--he was--from 1912 to '21.
LAMB: And what kind of an eight years was that for him,
overall, leading up to the time of the stroke?
Ms. LEVIN: Oh, I thought he was looked on as quite a hero. I
think until it came to his illness and--and entering in World
War I and the peace conference, and then he--he wasn't
well, even in Paris, and he also was almost a naive American
in Paris as Clemenceau looked at him and David Lloyd George.
He didn't understand that complications and the history of
war. He thought--he was so idealistic, he thought everything
could be overcome, and--and it couldn't. And then, of course,
he was ill. And he listened to no one, you know.
LAMB: 1913, he becomes president. What--what was the
country like then?
Ms. LEVIN: What was the country like? He was interested in
banking system. He was interested in all kinds of
political--political problems that he might solve. There were
railroad problems. There were--what--what else can I say
about him? He--he did--he--he was a thoughtful president
and he was a sensitive man, although it was rather a dour
presidency, you realize, because his wife--his wife became
very ill during that time and they--it was not an open White
House. But he was thought to be a very dearing father and
father to the three girls and a very entertaining man. But then
his first wife died, you know, in 19--it's August of 1914. Yes.
The--almost the days we went to war and Germany invaded
LAMB: He'd been governor of the state of New Jersey and had
been president of Princeton.
Ms. LEVIN: Before. Yup.
LAMB: So was this an intellectual coming to the office?
Ms. LEVIN: Well, I think he thought it was, from what I read.
I--every Wilsonian is going to be very angry at me, but I
didn't admire his writing especially, and I thought he was very
wordy and pretentious in his writing. I think what made him a
hero, his adopting this philosophy of one world that--that we
could have in the league and--and that was--that fired him.
At Princeton, he had a problem about accepting funds that
would--that would permit building an off-camp--taking an
off-campus site for the graduate students. He wanted it all
together, which was an ideal thing. But the money wasn't
given this way and so he turned his back on it. It was
$250,000. And he was simply angry beyond belief that people
did not go along with his ideas. And so I think he was very
glad when he was tapped to be governor, and I think that he
was really quite a hero at the time when he was--he didn't fall
in with all the political machinery that existed, and he was
quite independent. And--and I think that he went along that
way until--and he was just fine until he went--he sort of, I
think, overreached and he was warned against going abroad,
but he very much wanted to do that.
LAMB: Well, when did he go abroad?
Ms. LEVIN: Well, he went abroad for the peace conference,
and he left--What was it?--1918, December 1918, and he
meant to be the hero of the conference and--and to lead us
all into peace.
LAMB: How did he get us--maybe that's--I shouldn't say it
that way--but how did we as a country get into World War I
and what role did he play in it?
Ms. LEVIN: Yeah, well, that--he didn't want to go, you know,
to--into World War I, but I think the usual channels, the Brits
needed help, the French needed help, and the French had
helped us in the Revolutionary War, and so--and there were
people who were very anti-German in this country and there
were people who were very pro-German. But eventually he
had no--and--and, for example, Teddy Roosevelt was very
angry with him, and--but he--he wanted to--he was elected
on--partially because he would maintain peace. But he didn't
maintain peace and--and finally declared war when there was
enough pressure to--on him to do so. So...
LAMB: What was his relationship with his first wife like? And
her name was?
Ms. LEVIN: Oh. Ellen Axson Wilson. And that was a true love
affair of a very young man and a very young woman and she
was very intelligent. She was very educated for her time and
she was an artist, and some of her paintings have been on
exhibit at the Wilson House here on S Street. And she
translated German for him. She was helpful, a wonderful
helpmate all the way, and I think quite a wise woman
and--and very eager. They--they--she was quite taunted
because she was very interested in--in helping the poor and
going--righting the slums and so on.
That is a very sad picture of the two of them, and there is an
interim correspondence that--that Wilson had with a woman
named Mary Peck, and how much of an influence it was on
their marriage, I--I don't know. But I think she--she, at that
point, had had somewhat of a nervous breakdown herself
be--and--and her family were very frail. Her
brother--her--was frail, and so I think that Wilson, in his great
need to pour out his heart to someone, wrote these extensive
letters to this Mary Peck, and there was great--during
the--both campaigns, it was--it was a problem to him.
LAMB: By the way, what did she die of, Ellen?
Ms. LEVIN: Bright's disease, a kidney ailment. And she died--I
think it was just the day--was it August 3rd? I can't
remember. But just the day that we--that the Germans
invaded Belgium. And so she went. And then what happened
was that by March he had met his second wife.
Ms. LEVIN: And--Edith.
LAMB: Go back to Mary Peck for a moment. You've got a
picture in here. It's hard to see her in here.
Ms. LEVIN: It's very--it was the best one I could get, sadly.
LAMB: She's the one standing next to him?
Ms. LEVIN: She's standing--she's a plump lady. Yes, she's in
back of--of Mark Twain. Can you see her at all?
Ms. LEVIN: And...
LAMB: Right in the middle there with...
Ms. LEVIN: Yeah. And she looks a little plump and apparently
had almost like a salon in--in Bermuda. She was very
unhappily married for the second time and very attractive. Her
correspondence is--is quite exuberant for a long time and very
supportive of him.
LAMB: Where did you find the correspondence?
Ms. LEVIN: That's at Princeton. Princeton and at the Library
of Congress, both. There's more of his letters to her. I've
for--I've forgotten the proportion, but they exist. She's been
a footnote. She's been sort of a pain to historians. They tend
to--if they acknowledge her at all, it's in the tiniest type at
the bottom of the page. But other than that, they don't. Or
they ac--or they--there's the other side of the coin when
they'll say that--that there was a true physical romance
relationship, and I--I don't know that that's true at all.
LAMB: How long was his relationship with Mary Peck?
Ms. LEVIN: Well, he--it--he met her in 1907, and oddly
enough, when he went on his--well, and then the
correspondence came, petered out, and it came to an end
when he--not an end, but it dwindled com--radically, when he
met and married Edith Wilson. But he did stop--when he made
a tour of the country on behalf of the League of Nations
trying to sell his Fourteen Points--he did stop in Los Angeles
and asked Mary Peck to come to lunch and introduce her to
Edith Wilson. So there was some sentimental connection for
all, I think, his life. Whatever the depths of it was, I don't
know. But he had great need of her.
LAMB: You--you wrote about basically the three women:
Ellen, Mary Peck and Edith.
Ms. LEVIN: Yes, I think I did.
LAMB: And Mary Peck--I mean, what--what did you learn
about Woodrow Wilson in the language that he wrote to all
the women in his life?
Ms. LEVIN: That's interesting. It was impassioned as a young
man to Ellen and it was most becomingly--excuse me--when
he was a young man. `There was never such a lover as I,'
that kind of a thing to his first wife. And then with--with Mary
Peck, it was more confessional. He--the days were so long for
him. There was nothing interesting about the presidency.
He--I--I don't--I'd like to think he wasn't really, truly sincere
on how lonesome he was, 'cause his wife, you know, was so
lonely in the White House and that sort of thing. It was so
confessional, I didn't quite understand how this president
could have the time and the patience or the need to--to lean
on this lady so much. And...
LAMB: Who was she?
Ms. LEVIN: She was the so--the wife--she was married to a
proper--I think he was a manufacturer in Williamstown, New
York. Quite prosperous. She had lived abroad when her first
wi--her first husband died. I think she spoke French and she
had quite a worldly outlook and apparently she was very
attractive in Bermuda when Wilson went alone. He was always
recovering from kind of little semi-nervous breakdowns or
such. When the tension was too much, he would go--have to
go away. And when there was a problem at Princeton, he
went off in 1907 to Bermuda to recuperate and met her there
and quite admired her and struck up this almost lifelong
LAMB: Why was he going--why--how would he go to Bermuda
and why did he go so often?
Ms. LEVIN: Well, I don't know how often--let's see--but four
or five times. Well, I think he felt that it was a refuge for him
and he honestly loved it and his wife would--Ellen understood
his nature and he just needed to recuperate and he needed
peace and he needed solitude in a way. And that was
part--he was a--he was a very nervous, sensitive man and if
crossed, he just couldn't tolerate any kind of dissention, as
far as I could see, reading these letters so closely as I did.
LAMB: Lyn Nofziger, who used to work for Richard Nixon,
wrote a review of your book in the last couple of days and he
reminds the reader that his old boss, Richard Nixon, his
favorite president was Woodrow Wilson. Can you see that?
Ms. LEVIN: Oh, yes, I can--it's sort of black and white. You'd
believe in--in--I shouldn't be so hasty, but, yes, he stood for
what he stood for and you--and you were right. You thought
you were right, and therefore, you were right. And also, these
were not men who had great--I don't think--I don't know as
Nixon leaned on anybody for real advice. I think he
probably--this was quite a singular man and I think in a way
this man was quite the same kind of personality. Certainly I
don't mean the darkness of--of--of--of--of the Nixon as I
have followed him through the years. I don't mean that. But
the one man he was close to, Mis--Colonel House, there was
a closeness, but it was not--there wa--there was not the
depth of closeness there. And I don't know anyone else he
was close to except his--except his--the women in--that he
seemed to have more of an affinity for.
LAMB: Here's a picture of the president and Edith, his second
wife, and Colonel House. Who was Colonel House?
Ms. LEVIN: Colonel House was a Texan of some wealth, who
had ambitions politically, but felt somehow he wasn't strong
enough to pursue them and was introduced to Wilson, and the
two of them thought alike as far as the League went and had
great aspirations and--and--and idealized--and ideals. And
Edith Wilson, unfortunately, was immediately put off by the
relationship. And it eventually foundered, perhaps when Wilson
needed someone to temper his ideas.
LAMB: How close was he to Woodrow Wilson?
Ms. LEVIN: Well, according to Hoover, and according to...
LAMB: This is Ike Hoover, the--the chief of the ushers?
Ms. LEVIN: Irwin, yeah.
LAMB: Although you used the word Ike in here. I wanted to
ask you about that. Somewhere--maybe it was a mistype.
Ms. LEVIN: Don't tell me.
LAMB: Yeah, somebody--anyway, I saw that, I thought
maybe that was his nickname.
Ms. LEVIN: Oh, my. Oh, my word, no. Irwin Hoover--well, he
was called Ike Hoover. Yeah, he was. But he was never called
Irwin, as a matter of fact. He came, he would stay overnight.
They welcomed him at lunch. They took carriage rides
together and they really both had the same idea in mind. It
would be wonderful if the world would unite in the name of
peace and--and to get all the nations together. And it had
been an idea that had been floating around for some time and
adopted and sponsored by many--many, but certainly a
number of people. And to Wilson's credit, he grasped it
completely and--and House really fortified his dreams. He
went abroad a little bit. He was kind of the eyes and ears
for--for this man for a long time. But Edith immediately
painted him as a weak vessel and didn't really like him and
not--and wasn't comfortable with him and then eventually
developed a case against him and he was out of the picture
LAMB: How did Woodrow Wilson meet Edith Wilson?
Ms. LEVIN: Oh, very romantically.
LAMB: And this is a picture from when she was young.
Ms. LEVIN: Dr. Grayson, his--his physician, was in love with
the young woman Edith had traveled with, and I think--and he
knew Edith very well--and I couldn't trace this. He knew Edith
when he was an intern, and it may be that he had known her
when she gave birth to her child. She had a son by her first
marriage, and--who didn't live. And I think he had his eyes on
Edith, thinking she might cheer the president up, because he
was really in the depths of despair and the White House
was--was just the most gloomy place in the world, and as
described by his brother-in-law, they just sort of sat around
and reminisced about what old times had been.
And any rate, Dr. Grayson then persuaded Edith
s--Wils--Edith Galt, as she was known, to come and meet
the--cousin of Wilson's. Her name was Helen Bones. And then
there is this picture of two ladies having tea, and in came
Wilson and Grayson, I guess from a ride of the golf course,
and he was immediately taken with Edith Wilson, who in her
memoir says she was glad she was wearing a marvelous
French outfit. And--and so I think he invited her immediately
to the--come back for dinner, and it was a done deal.
LAMB: This is after the death of Ellen, his first wife?
Ms. LEVIN: Yes. Ellen--Ellen had died in August, and they
were introduced in March, the following March.
LAMB: You keep mentioning the--the doctor and Mr.--Admiral
Grayson, big important part of your book, though, Admiral
Ms. LEVIN: Admiral...
LAMB: The doctor.
Ms. LEVIN: Admiral Grayson is a very important part of her--of
the book, because he carried on Edith's me--message. If
he--I think--I can't remember quite--but did--were there 30
announcements of how--after he had his stroke, of how it
was a--just a nervous breakdown and he was getting better
and he would soon be better and so on. And he wasn't getting
better. Dr. Grayson had turned in diagnoses that said that he
was irre--irrevocably wounded by this stroke. But I think Edith
must have been such an alluring creature that she sort of
co-opted Dr. Grayson to be part of this whole--What--What
shall I say?--staged this whole thing that meant he was well.
LAMB: Put the time frame on this. In 1912 was when he was
elected, took office in 1913...
Ms. LEVIN: Yeah.
LAMB: ...war started in 1914. When did he have the major
stroke that Dr. Grayson is...
Ms. LEVIN: The major stroke was in October. I think October
6th, October 3rd, 1919. And that was when he was found on
the floor--or on the bed and that was--that was--that was
the stroke that--that called--that was really such a radical
stroke, that--that all the--there was many--there were many
consultants, maybe four or five con--were brought in. Dr.
Grayson was quite a good doctor. First, I was suspicious of
him. He was very well-trained and I thought maybe he didn't
diagnose things well 'cause he didn't have the background.
But he did. He--he had had good schooling and he was very,
very bright. And with that, at some point in
that--in--immediately, he and a Dr. Dirkam, who was also an
outstanding doctor, wrote these analyses, and then
Edith--and Dr. Grayson read it to Edith Wilson and she said
that was not the way it was to be. And so from then on, if
you look at The Times, which I did, you follow them
through--the boxes were...
LAMB: The New York Times?
Ms. LEVIN: The New York Times daily came out. I was just
looking for some water, but I don't...
LAMB: Right there.
Ms. LEVIN: Oh, thank you. Then--then it was always a
nervous breakdown. He would get better.
LAMB: And by the way, you worked for The New York Times
from what year to what year?
Ms. LEVIN: Oh. I worked on and off from--let's see--about
1950, something like that, on and off. I had--between all my
children--and I kept going back and they kept having me
back. But I--I just couldn't--the pace of it, of which I adored,
was not conducive to being where I needed to be, and so...
LAMB: And what was your byline there?
Ms. LEVIN: Well, my byline at the beginning and--was Phyllis
Lee Schwaldy. It wasn't a famous one, but we were on the
women's page. It was called Four F's: food, family, fashion
and furnishings. And...
LAMB: When did you leave The Times?
Ms. LEVIN: Well, when I finally--the last time I wrote for them
was for the travel section a number of times, and it's probably
more like 15, 20 years ago then.
LAMB: And this is what book for you?
Ms. LEVIN: That's my fourth.
LAMB: What was the one--what were the two before the last
Ms. LEVIN: Well, the first book I did came out of my Four F
experience, and it was called "The Wheels of Fashion," and I
did profiles on Richard Avedon and Diane Vreeland. It was the
first time that we had dignified the--you know, the fashion
industry and the marvelous talents that there were there. And
the second was on historic houses, and that's where I
found--I had to write about Adams family and Quincy and fell
in love with Abigail. And that was--that was my great
romance. So I loved--loved writing about them and I spent
days at the Massachusetts Historical Society and really would
have gone on with them forever until Edith and Woodrow
LAMB: If you're in love with Woodrow Wilson, what are
the--what are people who read your book gonna think of him
after you reading--read this?
Ms. LEVIN: Oh, not in love with Woodrow Wilson. No.
LAMB: No, I say if you are.
Ms. LEVIN: Oh, I think--well, I think I told you that this
morning I spoke at the Wilson House on S Street and there
was one gentleman who was in love--well, not in love, but he
really admired him to pieces--and Edith and--and
the--Professor Link, and he really took great exception to
what I had written. In the--in my defense, I can only say that
I had document--I didn't--I didn't expect to find all the
material. I don't know why others didn't look at the
dis--documents and see her name over and--everything and
not think that was important.
LAMB: Now what's new, if I understand it correctly, is that
this material didn't come to the public until 1991, the new
mat--the material about the doctors' analysis.
Ms. LEVIN: The--the--absolutely not. The--that was
given--Dr. Link, Pro--Professor Link, I should say.
LAMB: Who is he, by the way?
Ms. LEVIN: Now he was the editor in chief of the 69 volumes
of the papers of Woodrow Wilson, published by Princeton
LAMB: And he's not alive any longer?
Ms. LEVIN: No, he died just a few years ago, and he felt that
it had been a God-given assignment and he truly admired
Wilson, the--and gave a great deal of his life to it and he sat
on the fifth floor of the Firestone Library and lived with great
dignity, and various staff members came and went, and tea
was served at 11 and 3. I doubt if there's such a gentlemanly,
scholarly corner anywhere else on Earth.
LAMB: And you got into that life a little bit with him. Didn't
you go up to the library? Didn't they...
Ms. LEVIN: I commuted there for three weeks, and I had
a--he was not so anxious to have me. He--he had jurisdiction
over two important papers, Dr. Grayson's and Professor Axson,
Ellen's brother. And so I had--I tried very hard to see those,
and at first he was very put off. He didn't think they were
important, and I mustered up enough courage to say that
would be for me to decide. And so he was gentlemanly enough
to receive me, and then it turned out that a lot of people
didn't acknowledge his scholarship and went off and
pretended it was their own, and so I assured him I would, and
I sent him a copy of "Abigail Adams," which is extravagantly
noted. And so then he was very accepting and so I had an--a
little office there--or a desk for three weeks and worked away
at what I needed to. And then the papers, the state
documents are all in the Library of Congress, but they're also
on microfilm at the Graduate Center in New York City, which
was very nice for me. So that's where I found all her
signatures, and I found a lot of wonderful press coverage. A
lot of women reporters in those days, which are--a lot more
than--than I would have bargained for, and very--and very
discerning about her.
LAMB: But--but go back to the--the--in 1991 when these
papers came out, did anybody publicize--the information, I
Ms. LEVIN: No, not really. You know, I--this--I don't--I don't
mean to be negative, but anything like that that came to
ruffle the Princeton Papers was always put in the finest print,
so only if you were me, you'd go through the
ad--ap--appendix, you'd go look at the letters and you'd see
in the left-hand corner the f--the initials inferring that they
were in someone else's handwriting, if, as his secretary wrote
some things for them, there'd be JPTH, or E--well,
Edith--BWH. And so that was the only way. Otherwise,
everything was--was, you know, very straight--looked very
LAMB: So, again, setting up the--the scene, it--he--he had
this stroke, where was he, specifically, when he had the--the
Ms. LEVIN: In--in his bedroom.
LAMB: At the White House?
Ms. LEVIN: Yeah.
LAMB: And what happened immediately after that?
Ms. LEVIN: Well, immediately after that was--immediately
what happened--and he must have fallen on the floor of the
bathroom and cut his head, though, according to Hoover, but
Edith Wilson said she never saw that blood. But what she did
do was call Hoover to call Grayson to come immediately, and
Hoover and Grayson came immediately, went--opened the
door, came out, made some motion as if to say, you know,
`Something's happened,' and that was it. And then no one
was able to see him. Tumulty, the secretary, for three weeks,
a stenographer for two months. And--but what Grayson did
do was call a conference, and a very respectable group of--of
physicians came to analyze what was wrong with him and...
LAMB: And you're sa--and you saw those documents. And
those were all...
Ms. LEVIN: And those are all--the--that--that they came,
yes, that he called them, and that they were--that they
ca--I--but the doctor--the doctors themselves, the only two
original documents, were the ones in nine--s--19--in '91 are
the ones you--the two by Dr. Dirkam and Dr. Grayson giving
the exact diagnosis, 1919, were only seen 70 years later. And
those I--those you see. And those are printed in the book as
well, in fine print in the ap--appendix, of volume 64.
LAMB: You show in your documentation that The New York
Times and other papers back in those days basically took the
word of the White House.
Ms. LEVIN: They did.
LAMB: That this man was all right and getting better all the
Ms. LEVIN: Yep. Yep.
LAMB: And every time that Admiral Grayson would issue a
press release saying he's getting better, he's getting better,
they'd just take it like it was.
Ms. LEVIN: Yep.
LAMB: Did anybody back then question it?
Ms. LEVIN: Yes, there were, but very few, and it--it seemed
to be a gentlemen's agreement that you didn't question
things. There must--there were--there were a couple of
newspapers. There was something called The War Weekly,
and they wondered after a time, after several months, where
he was, because, you see, he wasn't seen until March. I...
LAMB: This happened, again, in October, did you say?
Ms. LEVIN: Id--in October to March was the first...
LAMB: He was not seen by the American people?
Ms. LEVIN: No.
Ms. LEVIN: Uh-uh. No. So...
LAMB: W--in--in that time period, 1919, the war was over.
What was the status of either the League of Nations or the
Ms. LEVIN: Well, the League of Nations then was--that's
what--that's why this was so important, because the votes
were being taken in the--in the Senate, and Henry Cabot
Lodge, who, at some point, you know, he's been--What?--he
has been dismissed and so tarred and feathered as such the
evil, it's a `but for him we would have joined the League of
Nations,' and that really isn't true. He was a very, very bright,
intelligent man. I read all of his correspondence at
Massachusetts Historical Society, and he was in favor of a
league at one point. He was in favor of some compromise.
There's evidence of that.
But Wilson--I think, one thing--he didn't know how unlucky he
would be with his thing. He could not get anyone to see that
he--that--that he had to compromise, and I think Edith made
one stab, and then he s--according to her, said, `Little girl,
you, too,' as if she was betraying him. And so that was the
end of it. And my feeling was, had he been married to Ellen
Wilson, he might have--well, I don't think she would have
allowed him to stay in office, being so ill. I don't think she
could have been party to such a vast--What was it?--sort of
a pantomime of some kind.
LAMB: Henry Cabot Lodge was a Republican from
Ms. LEVIN: Yes. Yes.
LAMB: Is he the grandfather of the Henry Cabot Lodge that
ran with Richard Nixon?
Ms. LEVIN: Yeah. Yeah. And he was the...
LAMB: Were the Republicans in charge in the C--in the Senate
in those days?
Ms. LEVIN: Yes. Yeah.
LAMB: So you had Woodrow Wilson with a Republican
Ms. LEVIN: Yeah.
LAMB: ...and where--what was the status again of the
Versailles Treaty and the League of Nations? Were
they--They weren't attached, were they?
Ms. LEVIN: Well, he wanted them attached, and that was a
great, aggravating point in that--so that the whole--the
Versailles Treaty--that the whole idea was held up because
he insisted that the Fourteen Points be part of everything,
and--and he would not give an inch on it, and when it came
then to the--to--they had signed the Versailles Treaty, but
when it came to the league, he just couldn't let go. And so
when it came--the--the--the--the crucial point was when the
Democrats asked him how to vote. If they voted for a
compromise, would it--would he allow them to vote for a
compromise? And he said no. And so that was after--after
several attempts, that was the end of--of the league, and
then I think he--then he thought he had to run for a third
term. He would have to run for president again to champion
his league, as sick as he was. So it's a very strange way to
feel, and very sad. And...
LAMB: He lost the vote 53-38.
Ms. LEVIN: Yeah. Yeah. I think that--yeah.
LAMB: So--and when did the vote come? Was it when he was
in--had the stroke--when...
Ms. LEVIN: Oh, well, they--they all came after. He--he had
the stroke in October, and then all the voting took place the
LAMB: But he was not out front when this happened.
Ms. LEVIN: And he was not out front. And he was--and there
was a Gilbert Hitchcock, who was the Democrat, who seemed
to be his representative, and there was all sorts of
maneuvering and private meetings. And then poor Colonel
House was writing to him to--and--and various people came
by; Bernard Baruch and different people came by, or wrote, I
should say, to ask him to please make the compromise with
Lodge because it wouldn't matter. The small points could be
ironed out and the big point was for us to have a league that
he so wanted. And I don't think he was well enough to
understand, although a corner of me feels that he had been
so stubborn in the--in the Princeton era over where the
graduate center would be, that he might have stuck to his
guns on this point as well.
LAMB: You paint a picture of Senator Hitchcock and Senator
Ms. LEVIN: Yeah.
LAMB: ...coming to visit him in his bedroom at the White
Ms. LEVIN: Yeah. Mm-hmm.
LAMB: Were they the first people to see him...
Ms. LEVIN: Yes. The first out...
LAMB: ...from outside?
Ms. LEVIN: Yes, the first outside people. Yeah.
LAMB: Do you remember what month that was?
Ms. LEVIN: I think it was December that they came.
LAMB: So he had his stroke in October and this was in
Ms. LEVIN: Yeah. Yeah.
LAMB: What was the scene?
Ms. LEVIN: Well, apparently, it was just brilliantly laid. I think
that what they did, they covered--What did they do? They
covered his arm so that...
LAMB: Which arm was paralyzed?
Ms. LEVIN: It--Was it his right arm that was paralyzed?
And--I think--you know, the cover is--is a deception as well.
Because--well, that's another story. That was taken by The
Times--that--that story--that was posed to show that Wilson
was well enough to run for the third term, and the Pulit--and
the man who...
LAMB: So he's home at--on the S--at the S Street home here
in Washington at this point?
Ms. LEVIN: Yeah. Yeah.
LAMB: And he has got his left hand. Was he left-handed? Did
he write left-handed?
Ms. LEVIN: Right. No, so--so that's what--that's what--his
right hand was paralyzed, I think, and--and it must have
been. I had forgot--forgotten. But that was the scene, and
they both thought he was very bright. The lights were
lowered. And Dr. Grayson stood in--in the room, and
Mrs.--Mrs. Wilson was in the room, and everybody stood at
attention. And Mrs. Wilson took notes there in the--in the
library of so--because she didn't trust Fall in--at all to--to be
honest. So she was worried about what they report--would
report. And they--he apparently pulled it off, and the press
gave Wilson high marks for it.
LAMB: And Fall, who was a Republican...
Ms. LEVIN: Yeah, exactly. So that--that--I think that, of
course, the Congress was so suspicious that--it was on the
pretext that `What to do about Mexico?' We were always
in--having a problem in Mexico. But what should we do about
Mexico? And in--and so--but the pretext was to send this
little--as, I think it was called a fishing expedition.
LAMB: This is the same Albert Fall that went to jail
Ms. LEVIN: Yeah. I was sort of sympathetic with him,
originally. I think he was quite a nice man. I think he was very
pressed financially. And--and then Mrs. Wilson was very glad
that he had gone to jail, and--it turned out. But it was the
same Albert Fall. But he had been a reliable and good public
servant until the point--up to a point.
LAMB: From what you could find out, how many strokes had
Woodrow Wilson had before he had the big one?
Ms. LEVIN: Well, that--that, of course, is the important
question. What was it? In 1906, he had--I--I th--he had
some sort of a problem and he lost the sight in one eye.
Ms. LEVIN: Yeah. And he never, never gained his sight again.
And then certainly in Paris--I shouldn't say--the way I say,
`Certainly'--but from all that I have read, there were two
doctors who turned up and they both claimed that they were
there on a social visit, a Dr. Thouless and another doctor,
very resp--these are very good--these are good men with
good credentials. But I think Dr. Grayson must have been
worried and sent for them, and it came out that there, again,
he'd had a form of a stroke.
And then in--Was it in July?--he was bundled onto the SS
Washington, and it was thought to hide him because then
again, he had suffered another episode, as we say. So he was
sick. And of course, you--you have to realize that he
was--when he was at college--he was at Davidson and he
left. He felt the wear and tear made him so nervous. Then he
went to Princeton, and then there were--he was at Johns
Hopkins and--and the University of Virginia, and he never
really seemed to--he always needed to finish his papers on his
own time. So--strange.
LAMB: What--why would a man who was so s--according to
your profiling, so sick and so feeble, and--and also,
apparently, so out of touch with so many people, be so
Ms. LEVIN: I--but, you know, this morning it came out, he
kept the flame alive.
LAMB: What flame?
Ms. LEVIN: The flame of a united world. One of the things I do
think is that Mrs. Wilson and President Wilson chose his
Ms. LEVIN: And s--Baker. And I think that perpetuated his
reputation, embellished it, and then, of course, you remember
the film that was made. That was made word for word from
her book. And she had total control over it, if you read the
papers, of--of their correspondence between the producer,
director and herself. And so they all showed her--you know,
Geraldine Fitzgerald played her, and Alexander Knox was Mr.
Wilson, and it was all just a beautiful story. And the only thing
that was wrong was Henry Cabot Lodge.
LAMB: So go back to--over a couple things. The memoir that
Mrs. Edith Wilson wrote came out when? They were out of the
White House in '21.
Ms. LEVIN: In 1936, '7. 1936 to 1937.
LAMB: So it took her from '21 to '36-'37 to write the memoir?
Ms. LEVIN: Well, I believe she started it because Mary Peck
had published her memoir as a magazine serial, and Mrs.
Wilson--it was suggested that Mrs.--Mrs. Wilson was so angry
that--she claimed, that she wrote her memoir on--in the--on
the train and everywhere, and a dus--so she did scraps and
scraps of it. And she got very, very angry, and used very bad
language in her diary and in--and in her initial volume of this
letter. And then her--Bernard Baruch had a very renowned
journalist named Marcus James come and look at it, and he did
and he said, `This is yours and you must keep your spirit in it.'
And--and so that was published. So I think she's been the
great publicist for--for--for her husband…
LAMB: You mentioned Bernard Baruch a couple of times. Who
Ms. LEVIN: He was a New York financier, and he had a very
special affection for Woodrow Wilson, whom he admired very,
very much. And Mrs. Wilson enjoyed him very much. He was
affluent. He was extremely generous to her, provided
wonderful weekends, a trip around the world, a fur piece. He
was very protective of her, and also bought the property next
to the S Street house to protect their privacy at one point,
LAMB: You say that in her--by the way, how long did she
Ms. LEVIN: Till '61.
LAMB: You say that she paid a lot of attention to the Stanton
House in Stanton, Virginia, where he was born...
Ms. LEVIN: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: ...to the National Cathedral where he's buried...
Ms. LEVIN: Yeah.
LAMB: ...to the S Street house, and there's a picture here
back when--the S--S Street house here in--in Washington.
Ms. LEVIN: And she shopped a good deal before she settled
on that house, and they fixed it all over. I think the Stanton
House--I think the people credit her with its existence,
actually. And she got a lot of support from Bernard Baruch
and a--a--a number of Princeton friends, and they give--and
if you read her papers, she--there wasn't a detail--I don't
think there was a fringe that went up on a curtain that she
didn't supervise as a memorial to her husband.
LAMB: So you say her memoir and the film--which came out in
Ms. LEVIN: '44, I think. Is that right? '44.
LAMB: And the Baker biography...
Ms. LEVIN: Yeah.
LAMB: ...which year did that come out?
Ms. LEVIN: That--well, now what would you say, '47,
something like that? I'm not--I've--he began right away--he
began to write it right away, and he wrote three other books
that weren't biography. They were simply history. You know,
he was their press officer in Paris...
LAMB: Ray Baker.
Ms. LEVIN: Ray--Ray Stannard Baker. Would you say about
'47, '49, something like that? But he did it--you know, the
eight volumes of them, so he did...
LAMB: And all this led up to, eventually, at the United
Nations. So is he credited with the--the...
Ms. LEVIN: So then...
LAMB: ...original idea with--the League of Nations that led to
the United Nations?
Ms. LEVIN: Well, I think that people then say his idea came
that much later. The other thing, of course, is to think
that--that if we had joined the League of Nations in the First
World War, maybe we wouldn't have been into the Second
World War so soon as we were. And maybe everything would
have happened in a different way. Of course, that's
LAMB: Well, as you know, the--a lot of people have criticized
the Versailles Treaty as being too tough on the Germans.
Ms. LEVIN: Oh, incredibly so.
LAMB: But what was Woodrow Wilson's position on that?
Ms. LEVIN: Oh, he did as well. He--he cap--he capitulated. At
the beginning, I think, he--his dreams were all just perfect,
and at the end, I think he--he--he gave in on a number of--of
things, certainly on that issue. And that is--that is the crux of
everybody's issue. And House was extremely worried by that
LAMB: In the middle of his term, how often did he go to Paris,
and how long did he stay there?
Ms. LEVIN: Oh, he--he went--he went on--when he--he
went--he went in December, 1918. He came back in February
for a Senate meeting, thinking he would sell his whole plan,
Fourteen Points, and then he went back--he was just here a
week and he turned around and went back again, and then he
came back in June.
LAMB: You quote Mrs. Wilson, Mrs. Edith Wilson, as calling the
suffragettes detestable and despicable.
Ms. LEVIN: Mm-hmm. I didn't make that up.
LAMB: Yeah. Well, here's a sign outside the White House.
Ms. LEVIN: Yeah.
LAMB: As active as she was and as--as strong as she was,
why would she be against other women being in it?
Ms. LEVIN: I can't--that is part--partially my problem with
her. You would think she was the first--she owned one of the
early--she was one of the first women to own an automobile.
She was somewhat of an Edith Wharton character in that she
went--a Henry James character. She went abroad. She
traveled abroad quite a lot as a widow, bought her dresses
where the--Edith Wharton brought--bought hers and so on.
So--and y--and she ran a business. She claimed she had little
to do with her husband's business, but she kept a fine eye on
Galt Jewelers, and that's where her money came from. And
that's what supported her whole family. But she loathed the
suffragettes, and in her own handwriting, that's in her diary.
And that's the one thing my love that she--you know, she
really brought it--the issue up several times. She really
couldn't stand them. So...
LAMB: You also have a picture of Alice Longworth, the
daughter of Theodore Roosevelt.
Ms. LEVIN: Oh, yeah.
LAMB: Alice Longworth--Roosevelt Longworth. You--you paint
a picture of her not--not caring a whole lot for Woodrow
Ms. LEVIN: No. She--and that's in print, I didn't...
LAMB: She was at the train station when he came back from
Ms. LEVIN: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
LAMB: Standing there and kept telling everybody...
Ms. LEVIN: Standing--very sensa--yeah. Very sinister--Isn't
it?--that--and praying that, you know--I think she didn't
mean--I think she was a very mischif--mischievous
lady, anyway, but I think she--she--in her
biography, `I'm gonna rain on him. I'm gonna rain on him,'
because her father didn't understand us not going to war right
away. And Theodore Roosevelt didn't approve of--of watchful
waiting of--policy of Mr. Wilson, and--and she was very
antagonized by Edith Wilson's orchids and her whole fluffy
LAMB: Well, one question I want to ask you is about the--the
relatives. You--you talked to relatives of some of the
principals in here in your research. Wasn't there--didn't
Colonel House have a--one of the...
Ms. LEVIN: Oh, indeed. Indeed. And--well, his papers are so
explicit, you know. They're at--at--his--his diary is at Yale,
and it's finally on microfilm. It wasn't when I was there. But it
was kept meticulously day by day by day, and his papers, and
I've talked to his grandson, and...
LAMB: Edward House Auchincloss?
Ms. LEVIN: Yes. Yeah.
LAMB: Where did you find him?
Ms. LEVIN: He's right in New York City on East End Avenue.
See, occasionally, things are very accessible. The person who
was enormously helpful was a woman named Judy
Schiff--Judith Schiff, and she's chief archivist at Yale, s--and
she is the one who pointed me in the direction of a historian
named Arthur Wallworth, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his
Wilson biography in the 1950s, and I got in touch with him,
and I saw--his papers were at Yale. Those were a total
surprise to me, and he had done the most recent interviews
he--with Helen Balms, with a stenographer, with all kinds of
people who were on the spot and had left--some of them had
left records, but none as clear as these. And so those--those
were most helpful to me, and then--then I just went on from
there, and one person sent me to another one.
LAMB: Did your--what are some of your conclusions after
going through this, about either history or the Wilson
Ms. LEVIN: I have thought a lot about it, how...
LAMB: I should say, historians.
Ms. LEVIN: ...I--I should--Pardon me?
LAMB: I should say historians instead of history. I mean,
Ms. LEVIN: Well, you--how little we know about what really
happens at the seat of power, still, I think; how little we are
privy to, how vulnerable people--leaders are. I used to, when
I was very small and not so small, think that they had maybe
some charisma, some knowledge, some intellect that was so
profound that they would lead us through anything. And now
I--you know, they're just regular folk who happen to have
more ambition or energy and land in the same--in the seat of
enormous power. And one hopes they have enough humility
and enough intelligence to seek lots of opinions, because we
keep repeating ourselves. And--and I was astonished to find
that--in this setup to prove that Wilson was able to run again
for the third term, that a Times photographer and a Times--or
a Times reporter, would write it, win a Pulitzer Prize. So you
have to examine everything you...
LAMB: For--for what? The story?
Ms. LEVIN: For--for--for the story, that--how strong he was
and how well he was.
LAMB: Won a Pulitzer Prize for that?
Ms. LEVIN: Yeah.
LAMB: When he had been kind of busy still at the White
Ms. LEVIN: And it was all a setup. And it was a setup, the
LAMB: And a New York Times reporter and photographer did
Ms. LEVIN: Yeah. I don't--I can't remember if--the
photographer, but the--but the reporter--and his name
escapes me, but he did win a--win a Pulitzer Prize because he
had the first access to an interview at the White House. So I
think that I've become--I don't think I'm a skeptic. I think I'm
an optimist. But on the other hand, I read everything, and
then I wonder.
LAMB: What do you think now of Arthur Link?
Ms. LEVIN: I think I wish that some of the fine print had been
in bigger print. I wish that the letters that he didn't write
were, let's say, authored--let's say `Woodrow Wilson to
so-and-so,' and then in parentheses, `Joe Tumulty' in the
top, because I think then it would--it was really dissembling.
LAMB: Meaning that Joe Tumulty had written it?
Ms. LEVIN: Yeah. Or that Edith Wilson had conspired to write
with a group of people. I wish that--that that had been more
in the forefront and was in the forefront of those because
it's--if you're a student, if you're running through trying to
think it, you take it absolutely at its face value, and I think
one must always examine...
LAMB: Are you the first person to do a critical book on--like
Ms. LEVIN: Well, no. I gather that a Mr. Bullit and Mr. Freud
did a job on him. But I didn't--I don't mean that kind of a
thing. But I think I'm probably the first person to document
what I saw. I think l--I think a number of people have
suspected that things weren't going well. But I think I've tried
with all my heart to not make up one--well, I didn't make up
any quotes at all and...
LAMB: Here's a picture from Paris in 1919 that says `Viva La
Ms. LEVIN: Oh, he was never so popular. He was--that was
what was so dismaying when he went, and the English family
treated him as royalty. And when he went to Italy, they just
were--they were just on--absolutely on top of the world. But
he was no--you know, the--he had none of the seasoning of
a Clemenceau. He was...
LAMB: Who was Clemenceau?
Ms. LEVIN: He was the premier of France. And then you
had--he just didn't understand the trauma that they'd been to
and how much they'd been put upon over so many centuries,
and--and he could not--he had no gift for compromising of
any kind, of listening to people at all. So when you say he
kept the flame, the flame might have burned stronger earlier
to--you know, to--and to more--greater fulfillment.
LAMB: Woodrow Wilson usually appears in the top 10 or so of
American presidents out of--out of--in history, out of 42, or
wherever. Where would you put him?
Ms. LEVIN: Oh, dear. I think it's a special category. I
don't--I--I feel so badly to say--but I can't put him there
because I--just because you espouse an idea, I just don't
think it's good enough. I really--I n--I--I come down on the
side of Keenes and of Lodge. It's just not good enough to
have an idea when you can't fulfill it, and you might have
been able to with a different disposition.
LAMB: Do you give him any credit for winning World War I?
Ms. LEVIN: Yes, certainly. I--I give him credit for--for caring
and for--for--for being brave enough to go over there and
think that he could do something. That was--but the fact
that he had no way to get along with these people and no
background in understanding, I think, was too bad. And if you
realize he didn't see a Secretary of State, he didn't consult
with his secretary of State. He didn't consult with anyone
when he was over there, anyone to speak of. And so how
could you know what's going on? He sat home in the evenings
and--with Mrs. Wilson and Ray Stannard Baker and Miss
Benum--Miss--who became Admiral Helms' wife. And...
LAMB: Secretary--secretary to Edith Wilson?
Ms. LEVIN: Yeah. Exactly.
Ms. LEVIN: And so--you know, which was rather narrow
circumstances for--to represent the world and take care of
the world, you know.
LAMB: Given the criticism of your book, why would the folks
over at S Street here in town, the Woodrow Wilson House,
invite you in?
Ms. LEVIN: Oh, they were--they were darling. I didn't know--I
thought it would be canceled once they read the book. I
didn't--I don't mean it funny--I don't mean this as humor,
because it was--it's very hard to write a negative--you know,
to deal with people on a negative way, and I didn't mean to.
And at the end, I had so many adjectives, `horrendous' and
this and that, and the four people--each critic said, `You
have got to get rid of them,' and that--`Let your research
stand on its own.' But I was horrified by what had been
perpetrated, frankly, because so much was at stake.
LAMB: How many years did you work on the book?
Ms. LEVIN: Well, on and off for 10--10 whole years. You
know, so it's a lot. And I kept burrowing in and finding things,
and the original papers just alarmed me beyond belief. And
courting a lady and sending her State Department documents
wasn't--I just wasn't on. If you realize today what was going
on, I'd--you'd be quite alarmed, I think. One would be,
LAMB: "First Documented Account of the Woman who was
President" is the subtitle of this book, written by our guest,
and it's "Edith And Woodrow." Thank you very much, Phyllis
Ms. LEVIN: Oh, thank you for having me. Appreciate it very
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