The passions of Woodrow Wilson

Bolling was the first woman with a driver's license in the District of Columbia. "She had wheels, yeah, she did," said Berg.

Wilson lobbied hard for her.

"Who has time to write three love letters a day while the world is falling apart?" asked Rocca.

"Well, Woodrow Wilson made the time," Berg said. "He would tell you, that this was more important, because he couldn't serve as president unless he had the woman he loved, basically."

Wilson wooed her during long drives in his own car, a 1919 Pierce-Arrow. Edith became the second Mrs. Wilson.

"She was buxom, yes," noted Berg. "And don't think Sigmund Freud didn't make a lot of that when he wrote about Wilson and his marriage."

"Oh, that he needed kind of like a mothering thing?" asked Rocca.


Wilson was re-elected as the man who kept us out of war. Within weeks of his second inauguration, he would declare, "The world must be made safe for democracy."

"It is an about-face, and it is the underpinnings of our foreign policy to this day," said Berg.

America sent two million doughboys to Europe and defeated the Germans. In Europe, Wilson was welcomed as the savior of the world.

President Woodrow Wilson, with his second wife, Edith Bolling Galt, in June 1920. Library of Congress

"It was bigger than anything Napoleon saw [or] Caesar saw," said Berg. "Now, does all that adulation somehow affect you? I think he remained a preacher's son, with a Christ complex!"

He would spend six months in Paris. Wilson's mission: to establish a League of Nations to prevent all future wars. He believed, said Berg, that an international parliament, where every nation could sit, could ostensibly stop all war.

But the U.S. Senate balked, so Wilson took his case to the people -- a grueling, 29-city tour.

Outside Pueblo, Colo., he collapsed. Days later, he suffered a stroke and took to his bed, the left side of his body paralyzed.

Edith took control -- how much control is still debated.

"Was Edith Wilson the first female president of the United States? She would be the first to tell you she made no decisions he would not have made," said Berg. "That being said, nothing got to the president without passing through Edith's hands first."

But even she couldn't convince Wilson to compromise on even minor details concerning the League of Nations. The Senate would vote down Wilson's peace plan; the U.S. would not enter the League, dooming it.

Rocca asked, "Do you think it could have prevented World War II?"

"Yeah, I'll go on record. I think a League of Nations, Wilson's League of Nations, could have stopped World War II," replied Berg.

A controversial take on a controversial president, whose influence is still with us today.

The most lasting piece of the Wilson legacy, said Berg, "has to be that one line: 'The world must be made safe for democracy.' For good or for bad, that really has become the foundation of our foreign policy. And whenever this country even thinks of intervening, in Syria or in Egypt or Iraq or wherever, it's really that Wilson notion, that there is a moral obligation."

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