In 1989, Bill and I purchased the Bolling Family Home in Wytheville. At that time, we had an idea, a dream if you will, to somehow share the Edith Bolling Wilson story that began in this small rural Virginia town. This idea would have to wait until our children were grown and until we could find the time and resources to dedicate to such an endeavor. Many years later, we began planning and taking actions we sincerely hoped would best raise public recognition that First Lady Mrs. Wilson deserved.
We established the Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Foundation in 2006 as we believed this was perhaps the most important contribution we could make for our community for a lifetime. Progress that same year included our sponsorship of the Virginia Historical Highway Marker. The historic marker, standing at the front of the Bolling Home, calls attention to this historic site and is an ongoing public tribute to Wytheville’s “Favorite Daughter.” It was a start.
Soon after, we began renovating one of the storefronts below the Bolling Family Home for meetings, exhibits, and museum activities. It was ten years ago on October 15, 2008 that the doors to the Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Museum finally opened. Bolling Family artifacts that had been entrusted to our care over the years, and stored in our home and offices, were now safely protected in the museum space. It is a bit shocking to realize a decade has already passed since we first gathered at this historic site to dedicate its public opening. It is extremely gratifying to know that the story of Edith Bolling Wilson, From Wytheville to the White House, continues to be told to the many children reached through the museum’s school educational programs and to thousands of daily travelers visiting from across the U. S. and around the world.
Over the years, Bill and I have been joined by Mrs. Wilson’s family members, dedicated museum Board and staff members, committed community volunteers, and generous donors who share our vision to preserve this national treasure and acknowledge the importance of Edith Bolling Wilson’s place in our nation’s history. Many devoted people made possible our ideas to give back to a community we love. It is our belief that Wytheville is fortunate to have the birthplace of a First Lady located in the heart of its downtown, which increases tourism for our business community and the region. The Bolling Home is the Town’s oldest remaining brick commercial building. It stands today as the only birthplace museum of a First Lady in Virginia, and is one of only eight historic sites in the country dedicated to the interpretation of a First Lady.
The legacy of Edith Bolling Wilson provides a positive role model not only for our youth, but also for everyone. She was a stellar example of what patriotic stewardship is all about. It is with great pride that the dream Bill and I had so many years ago has turned into a reality that benefits our community, Virginia, and our country by telling the story of one of the most influential and historically significant women of the twentieth century. We feel very fortunate that the future growth of the Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Foundation is being set by a dedicated Board of Trustees and staff and that the story will live on for generations.
With the museum's ten-year anniversary on October 15, 2018, I am pleased that with the able staff of an executive director, an education coordinator, and a visitor services coordinator, in conjunction with a strong board of directors, the museum's future is bright. Having rotated off the board December 31, 2017 and having stepped aside from the museum's day-to-day operations, I look forward to supporting the museum as a steadfast volunteer and will continue my role as Founder and advocate for the work of the Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Museum.
Bill and I are very proud to say this idea and our dream of preserving the legacy of First Lady Mrs. Wilson has come true.
-Farron Smith, Co-Founder
This article appears in the special 10th Anniversary edition of the museum's newsletter. Read the whole issue here.
The Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Foundation and Museum celebrated the ten year anniversary of the museum’s opening on October 15, 2018, the 146th anniversary of Mrs. Wilson’s birth.
Over the past decade, the museum has shared the story of Edith Bolling (Galt) Wilson’s childhood home and her contributions to our country. Mrs. Wilson (1872-1961), the second wife of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson and the 24th First Lady of the United States, served from 1915-1921, marrying the President in December 1915. After President Wilson's stroke, Mrs. Wilson screened the matters of state brought to the ailing president; thus, making her position controversial and helping to inspire the 25th Amendment. The museum counts itself among other First Ladies' Sites and Women’s History Sites; however, it remains the only birthplace museum of a First Lady in Virginia.
The commemoration of this milestone provided a chance for the organization to look back at its accomplishments over the past decade and its work as a public charity. Soon after its opening in 2008, the museum hired its first director and with the co-founders and a small organizing board began offering tours of the pre-renovated birthplace. In 2010, the foundation announced a new board of trustees with Bill Smith, the principal for Smith Enterprises, leading as the original museum chairman. He stated at that time his hope and desire that the museum remains “a strong historical resource and lead[s] us further in becoming a national destination, bringing the importance of Mrs. Wilson’s story to greater public awareness.” This vision, upheld by the current museum staff and Board, remains the same.
Since the museum's opening in 2008, the organization has served over 20,000 visitors - visiting from each of the fifty states and around the world. This year, the museum expects to serve over 5,000 patrons through its tours, school programs, Girl Scout visits, and community outreach events.
The museum's small collection of about three-hundred artifacts, mostly acquired through the tireless work of Farron Smith, relates to Virginia’s prominent Bolling Family. However, in recent years, visitors to the museum have become interested in what happened in Mrs. Wilson’s later years - her becoming the female owner of Galt & Brother Jewelers, serving as First Lady during World War I, and her role as a “steward” of the presidency after President Wilson’s stroke. Through these topics, museum exhibitions, and other interpretive content, we are able to relay Mrs. Wilson's story to our audience in order to educate and inspire them to be leaders like Edith was: fearless, determined, and persistent.
In 2018, the museum also saw marketable organizational growth, including the completion of a federally-funded Museum Assessment Program that provided direction and recommendations for the museum's future growth. Additionally, the museum has revitalized and expanded the Board of Trustees into a working board with an active committee structure which supports an active executive director, visitor services staff, and an education coordinator. The board, who governs the museum, consists of a diverse and international representation of community members, museum professionals, scholars, and those with business acumen. The museum staff and Board continue with the important undertaking of a future strategic planning process, updating exhibits, planning for historic preservation projects, and expanding educational programming. This work provides a pivotal moment for the museum as it positions itself in the future as a historic site of national significance and in telling the relevant and impactful story of Edith Bolling Wilson.
The museum and its dedicated team of staff, Trustees, and Founders want to thank you, our supporters, friends, and community for your enthusiastic support over the past ten years. We look forward to your involvement in the organization as we look to the future.
This article appears in the special 10th Anniversary edition of the museum's newsletter. Read the whole issue here.
Edith Bolling Wilson's 1904 Automobile Operator's Permit was named one of Virginia's Top 10 Endangered Artifacts
In 1904, Edith Bolling Galt (Wilson) became the first documented woman licensed to operate an electric car in Washington, D.C. Like many other early women drivers with independent methods of transportation, Edith questioned contemporary gender roles and societal expectations. Edith’s recollections of driving her Columbia Elberon Victoria Mark XXXI in Washington D.C. are relayed in her 1939 autobiography, "My Memoir." She would later marry President Woodrow Wilson in December 1915, serving as First Lady until 1921.
The museum acquired the object on eBay in the summer of 2017 from a private individual who held onto the prized document for decades. Thanks to the generosity of anonymous donor, the museum was able to purchase the artifact directly from the seller.
In January 2018, it was named one of Virginia’s Top 10 Endangered Artifacts due to its poor and deteriorating condition. The museum’s document is one of ten unique artifacts from across the state, and spanning Virginia’s extensive history from the 1700s to the 20th century, that was chosen following a thorough review process by an independent selection committee of collections professionals from partner organizations, such as the Library of Virginia, Preservation Virginia, Virginia Conservation Association, and Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
Through the Virginia Association of Museum's Top 10 Endangered Artifacts Program, the museum was awarded funding for the full conservation of the document. Carolyn Frisa, head conservator at Works on Paper performed this work in her Vermont studio. Carolyn has a special connection to the document as she grew up in Rose Cottage (Lynchburg, Virginia), the plantation home of the Bolling Family before they moved to Wytheville in the 1860s. Carolyn's father still owns the home today and the family takes pride in the home's history.
Learn more about the process of the document's conservation in this video.
Wythe County Educator, Jacob Spraker, will be speaking at the Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Museum’s Allied Dinner Series: The United Kingdom on Saturday, August 4th. Spraker will present “To War? An Open Question!,” an interactive presentation which seeks to illustrate that actions taken by the United Kingdom and Germany pulled America toward war against both countries, why the US eventually settled on Germany as the world aggressor, and the role the Wilsons had on unfolding events.
Spraker is a former volunteer at the Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Museum and associate of the Town of Wytheville Department of Museums. He currently lives and works in Southwest Virginia as an adjunct instructor of history at Virginia Highlands Community College and a middle school teacher of civics and history at Rural Retreat Middle School. He received Bachelor degrees in social science and history from Radford University and a Master’s degree in history from Virginia Tech.
The Allied Dinner Series honors the legacy of First Lady Edith Bolling Wilson and celebrates the centennial of World War I. The menu for the evening includes: English Summer Salad, Bangers & Mash w/ Onion Gravy, Sherry Trifle, and wine and beverage pairings. Additional Allied Dinners feature France on September 22nd, and Italy on October 27th. All events take place from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. at the Bolling Wilson Hotel in Downtown Wytheville. Tickets can be purchased at the museum’s website at www.edithbollingwilson.org/allied.
The Allied Dinner Series is funded in part by the Virginia World War I and World War II Tourism Marketing Program, Downtown Wytheville, The Bolling Wilson Hotel, Graze on Main, the Wytheville Convention and Visitors Bureau, Dr. James & Deborah Kemper, Betty Evans, and Anonymous.
To honor the centennial of World War I, the Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Museum will host a series of unique dining experiences throughout the summer and fall. The “Allied Dinner Series” features specialty-prepared cuisine and a brief presentation on an allied nation during World War I. The first of the dinner series will be Russia on July 14th followed by the United Kingdom on August 4th, France on September 22nd, and Italy on October 27th. The events will take place from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. at the Bolling Wilson Hotel in Downtown Wytheville. To purchase tickets, visit the events' webpage.
Born and raised in Wytheville, Virginia, Edith Bolling Galt Wilson served as First Lady to President Woodrow Wilson from 1915-1921. During her role as First Lady, Mrs. Wilson made multiple contributions to the war effort by rationing goods, volunteering, and placing a flock of sheep on the White House lawn in an effort to alleviate groundskeepers for war-time duties. The wool, named “White House Wool”, was auctioned and raised nearly $100,000 for the American Red Cross war effort. Mrs. Wilson frequently travelled abroad with her husband, President Wilson, as he lobbied for world peace. She attended the Paris Peace Conferences with Wilson and other leaders of the Allied Nations.
The Allied Dinner Series is funded in part by a grant from the Virginia World War I and World War II Tourism Marketing Program. Additional promotional support is provided by The Virginia World War I and World War II Commemoration Commission, Downtown Wytheville, The Bolling Wilson Hotel, Graze on Main, and the Wytheville Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Museum is located at 145 E. Main Street, Wytheville, VA 24382, and is open to the public Tuesday - Friday 10-4, Saturday 10-2. It currently has two exhibitions on display on the Great War.
The museum's Annual First Lady’s Tea was held at the Bolling Wilson Hotel on Sunday, May 20, 2018 as a fundraiser for the museum. The speaker for the event was the former First Lady of Virginia, Susan Allen. Mrs. Allen served the Commonwealth of Virginia alongside her husband, George Allen, during his tenures as Virginia Delegate, Member of Congress in the House and Senate, and as Governor of Virginia. She promoted Virginia as a primer tourist destination and worked on women’s health and wellness issues, including breast cancer awareness and fitness. Susan serves on many charitable boards and is enjoying her role as Chairman of the Virginia Capitol Foundation. She is an author of a bestselling children’s book, The Remarkable Ronald Reagan and spends time speaking to groups about politics and history. Allen spoke at the event about how the First Ladies of the United States, including Edith Bolling Wilson, served as role models for women’s rights, leadership, and empowerment.
The First Lady’s Tea offered an afternoon of specialty teas, decadent finger sandwiches, and elegant desserts prepared by local bakers and Graze on Main. Guests were served by gracious hostesses who decorated their tables with their own personal china. This year’s hostesses were Lisa Alderman, Carolyn Armentrout, Joyce Covey, Janie Hardin, Bev Hoch, Jane Lacy, Ellen McDaniel, and Kirstie Smith.
The First Lady herself portrayed by Mrs. Betsy Ely welcomed guests and shared her story of becoming First Lady. Attendees enjoyed socializing at the Tea and could be seen wearing beautiful spring hats (much like at the Royal wedding) and pearls. First Lady Edith Wilson was often seen wearing her signature pearls and stylish hats at events while promoting the work of her husband, President Woodrow Wilson. P.R. Sturgill Fine Jewelry graciously donated a strand of the ‘First Lady Pearls’ to be auctioned to benefit the museum. Jen Otey and the Rose Cottage School of Art provided beautiful paper flowers and paintings created by the school’s students and instructors. These items were auctioned to benefit both organizations. Museum volunteer, Frank Repass, served as auctioneer for the Tea.
Sponsors for the First Lady’s Tea were: Alderman Management, Mrs. Ruth Anne Chitwood, Dr. Kay Dunkley, Bill and Farron Smith, the Bolling Wilson Hotel, Graze on Main Restaurant, and the Rose Cottage School of Art. Additional support was provided by About Face, the Barter Theatre, BoJangles, Cedar Bay, Hao Chau, Draper Golf Club, the Farmer Daughter, Fort Chiswell Animal Park, Flourz, Edward Jones, Mary Cassell, Nu-Creation Aesthetics, Patricia BeCraft, Petals of Wytheville, Mary Repass, Susan Allen, Thornsrpings Golf Club, Three Rivers Media, Sabika, Skeeter’s World Famous Hot Dogs, Wytheville Golf Club and Wytheville Office Supply.
Because of the generosity of friends of the museum and the community, the First Lady’s Tea was a success and the event contributed toward sustaining the vibrant educational programs of the Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Foundation.
The Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Museum has ranked in this year's "Best of Virginia Awards" by Virginia Living. Awards include Best "Do Not Miss" Tourist Attraction (1st Place), Best Historic Site (1st Place), and Best Museum (2nd place). Virginia Living’s seventh annual Best of Virginia issue acts as a statewide guide to all that is “best” in Virginia—from dining to shopping to entertainment.
The Best of Virginia 2018 lists the more than 1,300 winners from Virginia Living’s annual Best of Virginia Readers’ Survey, conducted in January. Nearly 40,000 ballots were cast in 105 categories covering the best in Arts, Culture & Entertainment, Living & Recreation, Food & Drink, Shopping and Services across the state.
The Best of Virginia 2018 issue hits newsstands May 18. Virginia Living is available by subscription and at quality newsstands and select Barnes & Noble, BJ’s, Wegmans, Harris Teeter, and Kroger stores.
Girl Scouts during 'The Great War'
We have just recently opened a new exhibition entitled, Girl Scouts during 'The Great War,' which explores the role Girl Scouts played one-hundred years ago during World War I and how their service supported the troops and homefront.
The show is presented in conjunction with the Girl Scouts of Virginia Skyline Archives Group. For two years, the committee has worked to recreate a vintage 1917 Norfolk Suit-style adult Girl Scout uniform for the museum. The suit is on display alongside historic photographs of Girl Scouts performing wartime service activities, including needlework, gardening, and selling Liberty Bonds. Visitors will be able to learn about the specific requirements to obtain badges and service awards during wartime.
In 1917, six months after the United States entered World War I, Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts, asked First Lady Edith Bolling Wilson to become the Honorary National President of Girl Scouts. Mrs. Wilson accepted, saying that she hoped that the organization’s undertakings “may meet in the future with all the success that it has had in the past.” In 1918, the Girl Scouts presented a “Thanks Badge” to Mrs. Wilson that was designed by Cartier in diamonds, emeralds, and a ruby (Edith donated the piece back to the Girl Scouts of the United States of America in 1958).
Mrs. Wilson honored the patriotic service of Girl Scouts and encouraged them to be active in contributing to the war effort by selling Liberty Bonds, knitting clothing for soldiers, learning first aid, and communicating in Morse code -- the same activities Edith undertook as First Lady during the Great War.
In the past one hundred years since Edith’s inauguration, seventeen First Ladies have held this position, modeling the mission of Girl Scouts: “courage, confidence, and character.”
The facsimile 1917 Norfolk Suit was the uniform worn by Girl Scout Captains, Lieutenants, Commissioners, and national and local Councilors from 1919 to 1928. It would have been what Mrs. Wilson would have worn in her role as Honorary President. The suit, fabricated by Jane Garnett and Pat Lucas was donated to the museum by the Girl Scouts of Virginia Skyline Archives Group.
An online component for the exhibition is found here.
The Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Museum has been awarded Second Place in the 'Best Museum' category by Blue Ridge Country magazine. The magazine released their annual reader poll in their current 30th Anniversary “Best of the Mountains” issue.
Blue Ridge Country magazine was launched in the summer of 1988 with a goal to celebrate the culture, history, geography and wonderful travel opportunities of the Southern Appalachians from the Virginias south through the Carolinas, Tennessee, Georgia and Kentucky.
Over the ensuing 30 years, the glossy regional publication has lived up to that aspiration with each bimonthly issue, and along the way has won scores of state, regional, national and international awards for its content, design and photography. The magazine’s owner and editor have remained the same over those decades, with their sense of wonder over our beautiful region infused into each issue.
Through the magazine, generations of mountain-loving travelers have come to know and love the very best of these Southern mountains, from beautiful towns and stunning outdoor spots to quirky history and our bounty of culture and craft.
As the longest-running and premier travel publication in this part of the country, Blue Ridge Country is proud to continue its year-long 30th Anniversary Celebration in 2018 with the May/June issue, which is built around reader-poll results for the “Best of the Mountains”, saluting those readers’ favorites in the realms of people, places and much more. These such reader polls are conducted every five years to give our readers a chance to voice their opinions about the mountains they love so much.
Get your free issue today!
On Saturday, March 10, the Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Museum hosted over 50 Girl Scouts from two different Councils. The girls participated in the museum’s Annual First Lady’s Patch Day, which is designed to empower young girls to have them successfully confront life’s challenges and to reach their full potential with confidence.
Scouts explored history with a guided tour of the Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Museum and the Bolling Home where First Lady Mrs. Wilson was born. They learned about Edith’s life “From Wytheville to the White House,” and imagined what life was like for young Edith, who was the 7th of 11 children growing up with her grandmother’s 26 canaries. They also learned about her leadership qualities as a successful women business owner and as First Lady during World War I. The program also featured a visit by “Young Edith,” who shared how her life was similar and different from growing up today. After the program, girls got to take part in a special etiquette lunch at the Bolling Wilson hotel where they learned about proper place settings, table manners, roles of the host, and how to converse with guests.
Edith Bolling Wilson became the first Honorary President of Girl Scouts in 1917. She was named by Juliette Low in 1917 to this position, which began a tradition for future First Ladies. A “Thanks Badge” was specially designed and presented to First Lady Edith Bolling Wilson by the Girl Scout National Board at a ceremony at the White House by the Founder, Juliette Gordon Low. The “Thanks Badge” recognized Mrs. Wilson’s thoughtfulness and encouragement to Girl Scouts. Mrs. Wilson gifted the pin to the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace in 1958. The emerald and diamond pin is still held in their collection today.
For more about the museum’s Girl Scout Programs, visit www.edithbollingwilson.org/scouts.
This program was sponsored, in part, by Summit Community Bank.
Temporary Hours due to COVID-19:
For Fall/Winter 2020, we will be open for tours on Thursdays and Fridays, 10am-2pm. Please email or call ahead to schedule a pre-arranged individual or group tour.
call: (276) 223-3484
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.