Ellen Axson Wilson to Woodrow Wilson





Ellen Axson Wilson writes to her husband, Woodrow Wilson, during a trip with her daughters to Italy.


Library of Congress


Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum



Spatial Coverage

Hotel Leone, Assisi, Italy



My own darling

I will begin this letter as you did yours on a certain memorable occasion, by telling you that I have some good news for you! Of course it wont strike you so at first, but if you were here you would be quick to agree with us that we have the profoundest cause for gratitude. Jessie has had dipththeria, but her throat is already perfectly clear and has been since yesterday morning. It was a short sharp attack, — extraordinarily short. Of course she is not to raise her head from the pillow for a week more, to guard against heart trouble, and every possible precaution is being taken just as it would be at home, but the disease itself is already conquered. She had antitoxin twice, — given once by the Italian doctor here, and then by the doctor, whom I telegraphed for, from Rome.We le The rest of us are perfectly well and I have a splendid trained nurse from Rome, an English nun, sent me by Dr. Bull himself. You can't imagine how kind & good everyone is to us. The hotel keeper & his wife are really wonderful, – so sympathetic & kind, and not in the least afraid. She is a pretty young Englishwoman, and that last fact saved my reason, I think, when the blow first fell, for the doctor could not speak a word of anything but Italian and she was apparently the only person in Assisi who could act as interpreter. She has two pretty little boys of her own and you may imagine how I feel to have her exposed, but she simply says “it is all as God wills,”—half saint & half mad-woman one would think. But of course after the nurse came she was no longer exposed. The doctor from Rome says it is not nearly so contagious here as in northern countries and much milder in every way, “more bland” as he expressed it. It seemed a great disaster that we got away from Rome to this primitive place before the disease developed, but that too turns out for the best, for Dr. Bull says she will make more progress toward complete recovery in two weeks here than in four weeks in Rome, the air here being so singularly fine and pure.

We left Rome Monday at twelve, you know; I wrote & cabled you both, that morning, that we were all quite well. Jessie was looking splendidly. She had said early in the morning that she felt a “very slight roughness in her throat.” I gave her rhinitis & told her to use my listerine and it seemed to pass away. But about five as we were driving up from the station to Assisi, which is on a mountain top, she put her hand to her throat & said it was beginning to hurt “a good deal”. As soon as we reached the Inn I looked at it & to my horror saw a huge solid white patch larger than a silver dollar. I sent at once for the doctor (a very kind, intelligent man; and Dr Bull pronounced him an excellent doctor.) He is of German ancestry & looks like Bro. George, especially in his expression; — Jessie & I confessed to each other that our confidence in him was greatly increased by the fact that he didn't look Italian!) He thought it was dipththeria,– and was sure the next morning when it had spread all over the throat, though she was treated through the night every hour. So early in the morning I telegraphed to Dr. Bull, “physician to the American embassy,” and the only doctor in Rome whom I ever heard of, saying (and I am sure you won't blame me this once for working your position for all it was worth!) The young daughter of Pres. Wilson of P. U. is seriously ill with dipththeria at—&c. I implore you to come at once prepared to give antitoxine.” It did not reach him, – as he was out—in time for the morning train & there are but two in the day. A telegram at five said, “My first, best assistant will leave for Assisi at 10 PM” In the meantime Dr. Alari had sent to Perugia for the “serum” & gave it Wed. night. The assistant – Dr. Wild, a Swiss,—came early Thursday morning and again injected serum of a very superior quality. He staid until the next morning & as he was at the hotel he saw her every two hours & himself gave all the treatment. The nurse came Thursday afternoon bringing various necessaries,–you can get nothing here—not even toilet paper. Then to my surprise Dr. Bull telegraphed that he would come himself & he arrived Friday afternoon. The throat was already improving wonderfully & Saturday morning when Dr. Bull left it was perfectly clear of the white, and the doctor pronounced us “out of the wood.” She has scarcely suffered at all and looks as bright and well as can be, and is a perfect little angel I never saw such a child. Of course Mary Hoyt and the Smiths are as good as gold. Mary & I nurse her during the day while the nurse sleeps. The Smiths, of course, I have not allowed to be exposed to it since she was put to bed, and they will leave for Florence tomorrow. Dr. Bull was so kind as to volunteer to take our “circular tickets,” for which of course we have no use now, back to “"Thomas Cook and Son" type="org">Cooks” & get them to refund the money. He is quite sure that we will be able to sail as we expected on the 26th Ask Mr. Westcott to tell you about Dr. Bull,– it will make you feel better about us! One very seldom sees a man who impresses one so instantly and so profoundly with a sense of his power & efficiency. It is a very strongly marked individuality,— a good deal of brusqueness in manner, but such kindness with it all. He is an old man & not well,– says he wouldn't have come if we had not been Americans. I suppose the bill for such a great man will be something frightful, but I am sure you will understand that there was no help for it. You can imagine what a blackness of desolation it was that first night and day. I am so inexpressibly grateful to God for so tempering the wind.

Of course to be perfectly frank I am still miserable on the subject of heart failure, but the doctors are most reassuring, and Dr. Alari seems to understand as well as Dr Bull that it is the point to be guarded against. She is doing well in that respect as in all others; the nurse has stricknine to inject in case of need, she has stimulants constantly &c. &c. Dr Bull wishes us, if all goes well, to go at the in about two weeks to a “convalescent convent home” at Fiesole near Florence so as to break the journey to Genoa, and he says I must of course, keep the nurse until we sail, as she must for a month be treated & watched scientifically. He says Mary & I are all right & in no danger and he gave us a gargle to use. Mary begs you not to let Margaret Wilson tell Florence Hoyt that anything has gone wrong. Ah me! that my darling must know is very grievous to me! I swear, my dear one, that I am keeping absolutely nothing from you,—that at this moment all is well, and will, we have every reason to trust, remain so. I love you inexpressibly,–too much to talk about it today.I have taken precautions as regards this letter, as Dr Bull directed. Still don't let anyone touch in but yourself & disinfect your hands after.

Your devoted little wife, Eileen

Original Format





Wilson, Ellen Axson, “Ellen Axson Wilson to Woodrow Wilson,” 1904 May 1, WWP15013, Ellen Axson Wilson Letters, Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum, Staunton, Virginia.

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