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

We are a very happy crowd here today; we are out of quarantine; Jessie has been this morning on the balcony, and this afternoon she takes her first drive. She is to be lifted up & down the stairs, much to her disgust, for she says she doesn't feel weak at all; – and indeed it is wonderful how well she looks. — Yet I have weakened as regards the journey, and have decided to stay on here indefinitely, until there will be no risk to her heart in travelling. It seems to me madness to take a complicated journey with a child just up from dipththeria, and the nearer the time came the more miserable I grew about it. Of course the doctor had authorized it, but I fear Jessie's eagerness to get away had influenced him; – and even he said she must have three drives first, – and that she could take neither the drives nor the journey unless the weather were absolutely right — neither too hot nor too cold,– no wind & no damp! We were allowing no margin for bad weather – and the weather turned very bad, – two days of pouring rain & chill. Jessie's spirits sank to zero at the delay about the drives, &c; so the bad weather, & the fact that her pulse dropped very low one night finally determined me. I don't know what caused it but it dropped to 48 one night, & was irregular too, for the first time. It was the only time; it is normal now all day, & varies from 70 to 76 at night, so with prudence we trust that trouble is over. — I have explained in former letters Jessie's state of mind about Florence; if she were a small child everything would have been simple, for I could stay here ten days longer & still make my steamer. But the suggestion of my missing Florence throws her into a condition that can only be described by the word “frantic”. The doctor & nurse say she simply must be yielded to in the matter or she will be ill again. And so the conclusion of it all is that I have been obliged to postpone our sailing two weeks! Now at last everything is serene. Jessie is as happy as a lark and that nightmare journey is off my mind. But, oh, how I hated to do it, and how desperately homesick it made me to think of the two weeks longer away from my darling! It seems sometimes as though I really can't bear it! (And to leave you in the lurch during commencement and the '79 reunion and all! It is almost too hard. And now a letter has come from Mrs. Hibben saying that she too will be gone; that adds immensely to my distress over the situation, for of course she would have been a tower of strength to you during commencement week. Can't they postpone sailing one week? At any rate it is good that Madge is there & that she has so much self-possession & charm of manner and “savoir faire.” I know she will do the honours beautifully as hostess. Tell her that, in the absence of Mrs. Hibben, I think her friend Mrs. Robbins would be a good one to consult in any little difficulty. She has a great deal of tact and knowledge of the world & Madge knows her well enough to do it.

It is also awkward that I should be away when that committee of women meets. You know Mr. Duffield was to provide me with all the figures as to the expenses of the Infirmary, and the women were to be asked to decide whether they would try to support a young doctor at $1000 a year, or go on as they have done paying for nurses & wards. You will have to send her Mr. Duffield's figures, together with your (or say our) opinion on the whole situation to Mrs. Junius Morgan. I think that in view of everything it would be wiser to let things remain in statu quo one more year, so as to give ourselves ample time to decide what is best to do about a college physician and who would be the best physician to have. In that case it would be better not to mention the subject of a physician at all to the general committee this commencement. But we had more money that than we needed for the extra service last year, and yet we needed money for other things sadly. So I think Mrs. Morgan should be advised to ask the women to vote that whatever money is left after the “service” is provided for can be appropriated for other Infirmary purposes at the discretion of the executive committee; for instance that it can be used for necessary improvements or furnishing at the Infirmary or for helping poor boys pay their doctor's bills &c. &c. There is a surplus now part of which should be voted to pay for all that linen & the general supplies which I paid for out of my fund,– (though it was not given for such things.) and then Mr. Thompson “went and”eucred me out of my surplus! You know I left just at that crisis and am very anxious to know how bad the situation was when Mr. Krespach's bill, & all, came in. Do let me know the worst! I owe Mr. Thompson a grudge for getting me into such a scrape. It was inexcusable in him.

We have come back from the first drive, and Jessie says she feels “perfectly well”. Oh what a blessed relief it is to have it practically all over! How unspeakably thankful I am; — in spite of all minor difficulties, — in spite even of the $550.00 which it seems probable this attack of illness is going to cost us,– counting extra board, travel railroad tickets for the nurse, & everything. And of course I must travel first class now. — I was getting on so well too in the matter of expense, — expected to start from Genoa having spent but $500.00. It is a great blow to have had to cable today for more. We went, Mary & I, to Perugia yesterday to get money from the bank there,—could'nt be had here, & I have today sent off $200 to Drs. Bull & Wild & the Rome druggist. Now that we are out of our troubles Mary is to go on to Florence, Friday or Sat. I have almost to turn her out of the house, she hates so to leave me,–dear girl. Indeed I should never succeed at all but that she too is burdened with a “Cook's ticket” for the Italian lake district which must be used early in June.

We had a beautiful day at Perugia yesterday; we drove over of course, 2 hours — and it was an enchanting drive. It is “perhaps the most wildly picturesque town in Italy”, and it has a few really great works of art. It was as of course you know, the centre of the Umbrian school of art and the only place where one can see Perugino and his pupils at their best. And Perugino's “best” was indeed a revelation to me; I always thought him very sweet and tender & charming both in colour, line & expression; yet over-sentimental and often weak. But his frescoes at the Cambio are superb, – great and noble in their every quality, – worthy of Raphael, whom of course they constantly suggest. (You know Perugino was Raphael's master.) I came away with almost the same feelings with which I leave the Vatican, with a sort of uplifting of the whole nature, moral, intellectual and aesthetic. They are a series of elaborate compositions illustrating the cardinal virtues and the Christian graces, and the result is a noble company of the great ones of the ages, the heroes & sages of Greece and Rome, and the prophets sybils and saints. And ones sense of beauty is completely satisfied by the fact that these beautiful pictures form the wall decoration of the most beautiful little room I have ever seen. The ceiling is also by Perugino, treated decoratively in rich soft colouring, yet full of interesting symbolism too,— an exquisite piece of work. All the wood-work of the room,–doors, panels, desks, chairs, – is of dark walnut and every inch of it carved and inlaid with the most wonderful, delicate 15th century work. The richness and harmony of the whole effect is indescribable, — and all this glory merely to adorn a little council-chamber in a guild-hall! The other two superlatively fine things in Perugia are the glorious 13th Cen fountain by the two Pisano's and the perfectly lovely facade of the Oratorio of San Bernardino by Duccio. Both fountain & facade are largely covered with panels in bas-relief, the latter having also large figures in niches. The colour of the facade is a dream, the carvings of old ivory with backgrounds of robins-egg blue combined in the subtlest manner with rose-coloured marble. And then the figures,— so light and graceful in pose and in their flowing draperies, so charming and joyous in expression, and so strongly individualized. I could run on about them for pages if I only had time.

I am so glad to think that Jessie will not miss these particular treats, since they and many other beautiful things in Perugia can be seen from a carriage. The train for Florence leaves here at seven A. M. & it is a hard journey so when we do start from here we will drive to Perugia & spend perhaps two days there.

Jessie has been getting several letters lately from her school-mates greatly to her delight,— but none yet from Margaret & Nellie! Mary Scott quoted the lines in the faculty-song about Stockton which greatly pleased us. I am perfectly delighted to hear that the new course of study went through so smoothly. Delighted not only for the sake of the reform itself, but because it proves so conclusively that you have a united & loyal faculty behind you,– and that the Hibbens raised a false alarm on that score early in the year. — I am perfectly well –& as happy as a woman can be who “drags a lengthening chain” that separates her from her husband! – and who is going to miss his bachelaureate, that is the crowning blow of all. I am not able to think about that with any degree of fortitude, and certainly not to write of it. – Patience, patience! Jessie joins me in devoted love to all. I love you unspeakably, my darling, I won't try to say how much, nor what I feel about the further separation, and the necessity of adding to my dear one's cares and anxieties. Oh, how I hated to send the telegram today with that word “dipththeria” in it. But we decided it was better you should know that then imagine it was Roman fever.

With love inexpressible

Your little wife, Eileen

Original Format





Wilson, Ellen Axson, “Ellen Axson Wilson to Woodrow Wilson,” 1904 May 11, WWP15017, Ellen Axson Wilson Letters, Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum, Staunton, Virginia.