Ellen Axson Wilson to Woodrow Wilson




Ellen Axson Wilson writes to her husband, Woodrow Wilson.


Library of Congress


Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum



Spatial Coverage

Steamship “Hohenzollern," At Sea


My own darling

A week today since we sailed and all well!— the sea deeply, darkly, beautifully blue, as well as very smooth, the sun bright & everybody well & happy! “It was not ever thus”! It was very rough for some three days after the first; poor Lucy was very sick & Mary a close second. Jessie & I have been quite well except for a very few qualms Sunday morning. After that we had our breakfast in bed while the rough weather lasted and kept perfectly well, – rather to our own delighted surprise, for most people were ill. The captain said it was a touch of the equinoxial; and the ship is really far from steady. All declared that they waked in the morning sore from the labour of keeping in bed. One man put his mattress on the floor declaring he “had as well be there first as last.” There were four fences down the table to keep the crockery on, and in spite of them all one day the table was cleared,—the dishes taking the fences gallantly!

Poor Lucy went to bed one night in her shoes & hat,- positively refusing to be touched,– and kept them on all night! They had to stay out on deck constantly because of the sickness, & I had to stay in because of the cold, which was severe. I sat in the corner of my divan with a hot water bag and a book & was perfectly comfortable. Jessie made friends with some Princeton people, Howells '83, with his wife & 14 year old boy. So they played games together & were very jolly. Mr. Howells is a huge good-natured creature, a perfect bruiser in appearance, the wife & boy very nice & good looking.

For the last three four days the weather has been glorious, and all the little ship's company of 70 have been making friends; there are some extremely nice people among them. We are rather unlucky in being at the top of the captain's table among a lot of foreign men who don't please us alltogether. On one side of the captain is an Italian, then a Russian, then an old American army officer & another Italian. On the other side is a Frenchman then ourselves. Neither of the Italians can speak a word of anything but Italian. One is a surgeon in the navy sent over to see how the steerage passengers are treated by the steamship company; the Captain is extremely polite to him! We like him best of the crowd,—possibly because he can't talk! He is a middle-aged man with a beautiful face and a charming manner. The Frenchman is Harry de Windt who lectured in Princeton a few weeks ago on “An overland journey from Paris to New York.” He is a war correspondent & is going to Manchuria;— has seen a great deal of the world & is a rather good talker. The captain is a young widower beginning to “take notice,”— excessively attentive to all the women; a German with a French manner, very good looking but rather underbred. This is his first ship and he has had it only since Xmas. — They changed our berths, by the way, and gave us all perfectly splendid ones! You never saw any so large, — larger than most “hall bed-rooms.” They cover the space of three ordinary state-rooms. Besides the two berths, the large divan, and the two wash stands, they contain a chest of drawers, a large table & a chair. The Smithshave one exactly like ours. Such a comfort as it is especially on such a long voyage!Yesterday morning we passed the Azores & spent the forenoon studying them through glasses, &c. They are beautiful! How we did want to land; They are really very large with a great variety of seenery, bold cliffs, mountains with lovely sky lines, and orange groves & vinyards in profusion. They are very highly cultivated & are said to produce the finest oranges in the world. Sea & sky were both so blue & the air so clear that it is a sight to remember always,— something like one approach to the Irish coast but more beautiful because of the exquisite sky line. There will not be anything else so exciting of course until we reach Gibraltar. We get there at six o'clock Monday morning and will have until noon to go about & see the place. — Ah! if you could only see it with us! — I shall of course add to this after that; the captain tells us that letters reach Americans sooner from Naples than from Gibraltar[.] I had expected to mail one there. I hope you will pardon my writing in pencil. The writing facilities are very bare on the ship & if I went to the only desk I should feel hurried & be brief. It is the only respect in which things are not entirely satisfactory.

The fare is excellent and there could not be a more comfortable boat. The bath rooms are white as the driven snow & we have the most delicious baths of warm salt water up to our necks. Then there is a charming little roof deck where we lie about on the softest cushions & read to each other or dream. I think constantly how much you, who are so fond of the sea, would enjoy this long voyage under such pleasant conditions. My own darling! It is hard to be reconciled to being here without you: in fact it is impossible. Perhaps it will be easier when I am doing something which I know you would not care for as much as this; — doing museums &c. But I know how you love the sea, & you confessed to a longing to see Gibraltar! Oh dear! it is not well to dwell on these things. How I should like to know how the lecture came off last Saturday, and the circus trip, — and in fact everything great & small that has happened from that moment to this! I suppose dear Margaret is reaching home today, and dear little Nell will have a chum for a while. I am so glad.

Tuesday, March 29. We have now been to Gibraltar & are again on our way, & you I hope have our cablegram from there. I also hope you could read it! I find the code very unsatisfactory,– none of the words mean what I wish to say; am so sorry we did not arrange a code for ourselves before I left. Two weeks after landing I shall (on the theory that you have received this letter.) begin to cable the word “Charcos” to mean, “All quite well, lodgings satisfactory, and everything going smoothly and happily.”

You may send me the same word to mean the same things. I should like two cables, one just after you get our Rome address & one just before I sail, sent to the steamer at Genoa. If I write “Charcose” it will mean all well except me & I have only a trifling indisposition. “Charcosj” will convey the same idea about Jessie , while adding Le. M. or H. will simply mean that one of the Smiths or Mary Hoyt is a little out of sorts. It is hardly worth while while to cable such unimportant facts, but perhaps it is just as well to be truthful!

Yesterday was a wonderful day from dawn to sunset! We were up long before sunrise watching the approach to the rock, for it is most imposing at that hour. At eight we went over in a little steam tender to Gibraltar, where we had three hours of sight-seeing[.] We could scarcely make ourselves believe that it was not all a dream; everything seeming so stupendous, so enchantingly beautiful, so strange and so picturesque. The town itself is exactly like the pictures of Algiers, & there were magnificent looking Moors strolling about alongside of smart English officers and I think every other possible variety of human being. We took a carriage & drove for two hours, seeing the fortifications[,] the “Alemeda” a magnificent English pleasure ground, &c. &c. The Alemeda is like an English park & an Italian garden combined & both set up on end as it were. It was a perfect wilderness of semi-tropical bloom,—and oh! the views from it,-the blue, blue Spanish hills & the bluer sea, seen down long vistas of pine or ilex! We also drove across the “Neutral ground” (with the English & Spanish sentries pacing back and forth within three hundred yards of each other,) to the gate of the Spanish town, leaving our cab there and walking through it. So we have been to Spain! Then we came back & had another hour to stroll about the streets & markets of Gibraltar. The Moorish market was fascinating,—especially the Moors themselves. One superb fellow was commending his wares to us while we stood solemnly around gazing fixedly at him,—utterly oblivious of his baskets! At last he broke into the merriest laugh—perceiving plainly enough how the case stood.We came back to the ship, ate a hasty lunch, and then spent four hours watching from the upper deck the snow-clad Spanish mountains. It was an incomparably gorgeous panorama. Such colour effects I have never seen before, beginning with deepest blue in the sea and bold strong outlines and purple shadows in the mountains, and fading softly until, just before sunset, sea & sky and mountains were all one glory and mystery of rose and violet, silver & gold — opalecent tints blending & changing so subtly and wonderfully that it was almost more than one could bear. There was a real “Alpen glow” on the snow-covered peaks. The pageant finally ended with a magnificent sun-set spread over the whole circumference of the heavens. I really went to bed completely exhausted,—as if I were a musician and had been listening to Wagner operas for fifteen hours! Oh if my darling were only with me! I longed for you so at Gibraltar that it was a positive pain. I would feel over and over a catch in my throatt that was almost a sob,—I wanted you so.

I have not changed my “time” from that of Princeton yet,—(on my watch I mean), and I find a great pleasure in looking at it and imagining what you are all about. It is one o'clock at home now and nearly six here. I can almost see you sitting in the study,—though perhaps you are not even in Princeton. But I can't dwell on the subject,—it makes me choke!

We are all perfectly well, and the weather is still ideal. Tomorrow is our last day at sea so I must close this now. We reach Naples about sunrise on Thursday, but of course do not land for some hours.

My dear dear love to all, kisses too to my darling little girls, and for you sweetheart all the love that you want. I cannot tell you how devotedly absorbingly, passionately I love you, my darling, my Woodrow, my own love.

Always and altogether,

Your own Eileen

Original Format





Wilson, Ellen Axson, “Ellen Axson Wilson to Woodrow Wilson,” 1904 March 26, WWP15004, Ellen Axson Wilson Letters, Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum, Staunton, Virginia.

Transcribe This Item

  1. http://resources.presidentwilson.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/WWP15004.pdf