Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921)
The Disabled Presidency

Woodrow Wilson, the 28th President of the United States, served two terms in the White House. Wilson appeared to be in good health when he was elected president in 1912. He was re-elected four years later, and the beginning of his second term was dominated by World War I. At the conclusion of the war in 1918, Wilson went to Paris to personally negotiate a peace treaty with our Allied partners. Wilson advocated his own peace plan, which included the creation of a League of Nations. The President neither consulted the Senate when preparing the plan nor when negotiating it with the Allies. This was a political blunder on Wilson's part. When he presented the treaty to the Senate, Wilson expected its passage with no changes. Republican senators vowed to defeat the treaty unless changes were made.

Physically exhausted from the intense treaty negotiations, Wilson in August 1919 embarked on a grueling speaking tour to seek the support of the American people. During the trip, Wilson complained of headaches and sleeplessness. He collapsed in Pueblo, Colorado. The trip was canceled and Wilson returned to the White House, where he suffered a stroke. From that time on the President was incapable of carrying out his duties. Wilson's inner circle, consisting of the First Lady, his personal physician, private secretary, and Secretary of State, kept the President's condition a secret. No one was allowed to see him. The Cabinet and press were told that Wilson had suffered a nervous breakdown. Vice President Thomas Marshall was never informed. The American people never knew that their President was an invalid. Wilson completed his second term in office in 1921. His health improved only slightly. He died in retirement on 3 February, 1924.

President Woodrow Wilson

This photograph shows Wilson in 1912, the first year of his presidency. Some historians have claimed that Wilson suffered three strokes before he became president and thus should never have been elected. These contentions cannot be proven, however.

World War I and the negotiations that ended the hostilities dominated President Wilson's second term until his stroke in 1919. When Wilson arrived in Paris for the peace negotiations, he received a hero's welcome from the French people.


President Woodrow Wilson Arriving in Paris

Wilson did not attend a cabinet meeting until almost six months after his stroke. When he finally attended one in April 1920, his feeble condition shocked cabinet members. Most of Wilson's cabinet still did not know the true state of his health.


Former President Wilson Takes an Automobile Ride with Former First Lady Edith Wilson

After leaving the presidency, Wilson moved to a house in Washington, D.C. Here he lived the life of an invalid. He rarely appeared in public, except for occasional automobile rides with his wife.


Dr. Cary T. Grayson was President Wilson's personal physician. Out of loyalty to the President. Dr. Grayson refused to declare Wilson disabled after his stroke. He never admitted publicly that Wilson had suffered a stroke. Dr. Grayson was, along with Mrs. Wilson, one of the inner circle that prevented people from seeing the sick President.

Former President Wilson on the Front Porch of His Washington Residence