Rebecca Boggs Roberts
Untold Power: The Fascinating Rise and Complex Legacy of First Lady Edith Wilson
A nuanced portrait of the first acting woman president, written with fresh and cinematic verve by a leading historian on women’s suffrage and power.
While this nation has yet to elect its first woman president—and though history has downplayed her role—just over a century ago a woman became the nation’s first acting president. In fact, she was born in 1872, and her name was Edith Bolling Galt Wilson. She climbed her way out of Appalachian poverty and into the highest echelons of American power and in 1919 effectively acted as the first woman president of the U.S. (before women could even vote nationwide) when her husband, Woodrow Wilson, was incapacitated. Beautiful, brilliant, charismatic, catty, and calculating, she was a complicated figure whose personal quest for influence reshaped the position of First Lady into one of political prominence forever. And still nobody truly understands who she was.
For the first time, we have a biography that takes an unflinching look at the woman whose ascent mirrors that of many powerful American women before and since, one full of the compromises and complicities women have undertaken throughout time in order to find security for themselves and make their mark on history. She was a shape-shifter who was obsessed with crafting her own reputation, at once deeply invested in exercising her own power while also opposing women’s suffrage. With narrative verve and fresh eyes, Untold Power is a richly overdue examination of one of American history’s most influential, complicated women as well as the surprising and often absurd realities of American politics.
[Recorded on 16 March 2023]