Lc Edith Bolling Wilson
Written by Art Chadwick
A version of this article was published in the September issue of Orchids Magazine.
There was controversy in Washington, D.C. in the spring of 1915. It was rumored that President Woodrow Wilson had a love interest. The nation was still in mourning from the unexpected death of First Lady Ellen Wilson just eight months earlier. The President was also in mourning — until he met the widowed Edith Bolling Galt by a chance encounter in a White House stairwell. In order to woo his new sweetheart, he gave her a fresh orchid every day.
Their whirlwind courtship included a highly publicized appearance at the World Series in which she wore a quadruple cattleya corsage. On Dec 28, 1915, Wilson married Edith and she became the new First Lady of the United States.
During her tenure in the White House, Edith Bolling Wilson stood by her husband’s side, supporting his efforts for world peace, and eventually aiding in the nation’s conservation efforts during the First World War. Like everyone else, the Wilson’s observed “Gasless Sundays,” “Meatless Mondays,” and “Wheatless Wednesdays.”
Woodrow Wilson was a popular president and had three cattleyas named after him — 1916 C President Wilson (Fabia x labiata), 1917 Blc President Wilson (Bc Mrs. J, Leemann x Lc Lustre), and the rare yellow 1918 Lc President Wilson (Thyone x C dowiana). But Edith was the orchid lover in the family, and she had no namesakes. That all changed last year, when Chadwick & Son Orchids reached out to the Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Museum to honor Mrs. Wilson with an orchid of her own.
On October 15th, the museum will host their annual fundraiser celebrating Mrs. Wilson’s 145th Birthday. The event will serve as the release party for Lc Edith Bolling Wilson (William Romanoff x C dowiana).
The new hybrid is a fall-blooming purple bred by A. A. Chadwick, who is known for his work with large flowered species and early hybrids. The seedlings, thus far, have yielded a broad spectrum of purple shades and are reminiscent of an earlier Chadwick cross, Lc Powhatan (Princess Margaret x C dowiana) which produced mostly lavenders as well as some stunning semi-albas and even a yellow. The Wilson cross is expected to produce some very dark seedlings and, maybe, some surprises.
One parent, Lc William Romanoff (Cabazon x Morning Star), was originally bred in 1962, and named after the owner of Romanoff Greenhouses in Canterbury, Conn. William and his wife, Sally, operated the nursery from 1947 until 1988.
Lc William Romanoff comes from a long line of dark breeding. The lineage is complex with 11 species being represented. Dark varieties of Cattleya warscewiczii, labiata, and lueddemanniana are prominent.
The other parent of Lc Edith Bolling Wilson is the familiar yellow species, Cattleya dowiana which has been used heavily in breeding for over a century. Hybridizers use C dowiana for a variety of reasons — hoping to pass along the intense lip color (gold veining on a velvety purple throat), the sweet fragrance, or the blooming time, among other things.
In September 1919, President Woodrow Wilson suffered a debilitating stroke that left him temporarily paralyzed. In the White House, the only two people with access to the President were his doctor and Edith. Scholars today debate the role of Edith Bolling Wilson in White House affairs during this period. In Edith’s autobiography, My Memoir, she referred to this time as her “stewardship” of the presidency, and decided which matters of state were important enough to bring to the bedridden president.
Mr. Wilson never fully recovered from his stroke and died a few years after leaving office. Edith outlived her husband by nearly four decades and did not remarry. Until the end, Edith Bolling Wilson continued to promote her husband’s legacy.
Arthur Chadwick is president of Chadwick & Son Orchids Inc.
About the ‘An Orchid Blooms’ Event
For this year’s annual Edith Bolling Wilson Birthday Celebration, the museum is partnering with Chadwick & Son Orchids of Richmond, Virginia, to release a special hybrid orchid named to honor First Lady Edith Bolling Wilson.
The event will be held at the newly-restored historic home, Loretto, and will feature a display of Cattleya Orchids, Mrs. Wilson’s Namesake Flowers; an exhibition of Beth Pendleton's watercolor paintings of historic homes; hors d’oeuvres, a punch and bourbon bar; and special guests President and Mrs. Wilson portrayed by Jim Gearhart and Betsy Ely. Tickets and information.
Summer Hours (April-October)
Tuesday - Saturday
10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
145 E. Main St., Wytheville, VA 24382
The museum is located downtown across from the Bolling Wilson Hotel.
Entry to the museum is by donation. Guided tours of the Birthplace and Bolling Family Home are $5 for adults and $3 for children.