This week, we began a process to revamp and reconfigure the downstairs storefront museum to make room for a new exhibition. Opening as a part of First Lady Edith Bolling Wilson’s 145th Birthday celebrations, “World War I: From the White House…and Abroad” is the first comprehensive exhibition presented by the Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Foundation.
The exhibition focuses on the leadership and contributions of Wytheville-native First Lady Edith Bolling Wilson during World War I and how her involvement in international and domestic affairs affected the home front. On view from October 14, 2017 - February 28, 2019, the exhibition corresponds to centennial of World War I.
Frequently cited as one of the most controversial women of the twentieth century, Edith Bolling Wilson’s role as First Lady has been heavily scrutinized, particularly in the aftermath of President Wilson’s debilitating stroke in 1919. During the last seventeen months of Wilson’s presidency, Edith assumed the “stewardship” of the executive office, acting as the gatekeeper of the west wing and protector of her husband’s health and political legacy.
Edith Bolling Wilson’s role as “presidentress” frequently overshadows her work as First Lady during the Great War. During this time, she functioned as President Wilson’s personal assistant, advisor, and confidante. Like few First Ladies before her, she became active in political causes to support and advance her husband’s policies. Heavily involved in domestic conservation efforts, Edith Bolling Wilson served as a model of wartime sacrifice at an important time in American history.
President and Mrs. Wilson with wounded soldiers on board the U.S.S. George Washington, July 7, 1919. Courtesy of the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library, Staunton, Virginia.
Along with narrative text panels, the exhibition will feature a selection of photographs and artifacts on view from various private and public collections, including the President Woodrow Wilson House in Washington, D.C.
The exhibition will be on view to the public during museum open hours, Tuesday - Friday 10:00 am - 4:00 pm and Saturday 10:00 am - 2:00 pm. A special opening reception will be held on Saturday, October 14th starting at 9:00 am. The event will include a tour of the exhibition by Executive Director, Shiloh Holley, and complimentary donuts and coffee (an homage to the Salvation Army’s "doughnut girls," who in 1917 distributed fresh doughnuts to homesick soldiers in France).
“World War I: From the White House…and Abroad” is funded in part by a grant from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Additional promotional support is provided by the Virginia Tourism Corporation, Virginia World War I Centennial Commemoration Commission, Bolling Wilson Hotel, the Wytheville Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Virginia Region of the American Red Cross.
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.
In August, the last brick was placed in front of the Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Museum marking the completion of recent sidewalk renovations, one part of Downtown Wytheville’s Streetscape Improvement Project. The new brick sidewalk extends for several blocks along both sides of Main Street downtown.
The original renovation of the museum's sidewalk began in 2014 when the organization was awarded a $2,000 grant by Preservation Virginia. This seed money, provided through the “Preservation-Pitch” program, served as the initial funds to begin renovations on the sidewalk to create an attractive, accessible entrance for visitors to the national historic site.
Building on the success of "Preservation Pitch", the museum launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign raising an additional $5,000 for the “Buy-A-Brick” campaign. Personalized engraved bricks were offered to donors who supported the project. Over one hundred businesses and individuals secured bricks in the initial round.
The Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Museum continues to offer the “Buy-A-Brick” program to support the museum. Engraved bricks, in two sizes, can be personalized as a lasting tribute. This fundraising campaign offers the local community and museum visitors an opportunity to support the museum’s efforts to preserve the birthplace home of Edith Bolling Wilson.
For more information on how to purchase an engraved brick, contact the museum or download the Buy-A-Brick form.
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.