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To Tell the Truth


Edith Bolling Wilson


Gail Skroback Hennessey

* With permission from Mark Goodson Productions

Click here to download this FREE Resource: FREE:First Lady Edith Wilson

Host: Today's guest is Edith Bolling Wilson. Only one of the three on the panel is the REALEdith Wilson. The other two are impostors. Your job is to listen carefully to the information presented and decide which of the three guests is the REAL Edith Wilson.Let's begin by meeting our guests.

Edith Wilson1: Hi, Students. I am Edith Bolling Wilson.

Edith Wilson 2: It is a pleasure to be here today. I am Mrs. Woodrow Wilson.

Edith Wilson 3: Although my name is Edith Bolling Wilson, I'd appreciate your calling me, Madame President.

Host: Let's begin by reading this short summary on Edith Bolling Wilson:

One of 11 children, I was born to Sallie White and Judge William Holcombe Bolling, in 1872. I don't mean to be a name dropper but I was related to Pocahontas and my great-great grandmother was the sister of President Thomas Jefferson!

I was the second wife of President Wilson, marrying him about a year after his first wife died. As a widow, I had a successful jewelry business and I was the first woman in Washington, DC to drive her own car.! I never liked the term, First Lady and asked to be referred to as Mrs. Woodrow Wilson.

I was the first First Lady to travel with my husband, the President, to Europe. We went to visit troops in 1918 and in 1919, I joined the President when he went to France to sign the Treaty of Versailles, ending World War One.

I was a trusted advisor to my husband, Woodrow. He called me "his heart's companion" and shared with me top secrets, taught me his private secret code so I could decode secret messages from world leaders and sought my opinion on issues. I often sat with him when he had meetings with political and foreign leaders.

In 1928, I was considered as a vice presidential candidate and spoke at the Democratic Party's national Presidential convention.

In 1961,in my last public appearance,I rode in President John F. Kennedy's inaugural parade, dying later that year at the age of 89.

Interestingly, I died on what was Woodrow Wilson's birthday. Both Woodrow and I are buried in theWashington National Cathedral, the only presidential couple to be buried in Washington, D.C.


Edith Bolling Wilson

Panelist 1:Any memories of your childhood?

Edith Wilson 1:My grandmother Bolling was very important to me.She taught me something that I carried with me the rest of my life. She once said,"I hate can'ts. Anyone can do anything they try to."My Grandmother Bolling liked me very much. She lived with us and I stayed in her room much of the time after she sustained an injury from falling off of a horse.

Edith Wilson 2: As children, we enjoyed putting on plays for the family.

Edith Wilson3: At the age of six, I was responsible for feeding and cleaning Grandmother Bolling's 26 canaries. About the only fun I had with the canaries is when they died, I got to give them a wonderful funeral.

Panelists 2: What kind of student were you, Edith Wilson?

Edith Wilson1:I developed a photographic memory at an early age.I could remember the hat and dress someone wore to a party years before.I could also recount exact conversations I had with people.It was my dad that helped me to develop such a good memory. My dad once said to me, "Now, be sure to remember everything that happens so you can tell your grandmother. It's the only pleasure she has".

Edith Wilson 2:I only had two real years of schooling. With so many children, father felt it was more important for my brothers to get an education than girls. I learned most of my education from my Grandmother Bolling who taught me to read and do math.She also tried teaching me French.I never learned to write very well. Some say my handwriting was illegible! In addition to my grandmother, my dad also gave me my educational training. Father read many of the classics to us including Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare.

Edith Wilson 3: Until the age of 12, I never left the town in which I grew up.At the age of 15, I left for Martha Washington College to study music. It was an awful experience. The headmaster didn't feed us very much, we pretty much starved. In fact, I got so thin, that I was nicknamed the "Gray Spider". I also froze since there was little heat in our rooms. The music room was especially cold that it was difficult to play the piano.I got sick and went home and didn't return to the college.

Panelist 3: Tell us something else about you and President Wilson’s time in the White House.

Edith Wilson 1:Well, we both loved golf and played almost every day.I was rather good at the game, too.In the winter, Woodrow had special black golf balls made so we could still play in the snow.

Edith Wilson 2: We enjoyed taking trips on the Presidential yacht named the Mayflower.

Edith Wilson 3: When I first came to the White House, some made fun of me because I brought my Singer Sewing Machine.It came in handy during the war when I made pajamas and hospital shirts for the Red Cross.

Panelist 4: Your husband favored a League of Nations, an organization to settle future conflicts between countries. Unfortunately, the Congress voted against his idea to participate in such an organization. Despite the advise of his doctors, Wilson made a national tour trying to gain public support for the Versailles Treaty and the idea of the League of Nations. He suffered a stroke.The year was 1919. He was blind, paralyzed and could not leave his bed. You called this time, your "stewardship". You took charge to maintainyour husband's authority as president.You screened all visitors ,calls and correspondence.Because of this, you were considered a very powerful woman. Tell us about this time.

Edith Wilson 1: Yes, I WAS the real president during this time, the first woman president of the United States, although it was unofficial, of course. President Edith...I liked the role very much.

Edith Wilson 2: Many criticized me during this time calling me the Acting First Man, Secret President and Presidentress of the United States. Others wrote about the United States having a "petticoat government".People said that I assumed many of duties of the President and should have allowed the Vice President to assume the office. I never made a single decision on my own. The only decision that was mine was what was important and what was not, and the very important decision of when to present matters to my husband.

Edith Wilson 3: It was a very sad time for me seeing my husband so very ill. I did what I could to help him. Also, I must admit, I loved living in the White House and being First Lady. Had the Vice President assumed the presidency, Woodrow and I would have had to leave. This was just not an option to me!

Panelist 5 : When President Wilson traveled to Europe to sign the Peace Treaty ending World War I, you were at his side. Critics said this was unacceptable behavior for a first lady since during this time most first ladies did not take an active role in the duties of the President. What else was it like being first lady?

Edith Wilson 1: I just loved being the First Lady. I loved being able to use the bowling alley in the White House and also loved sitting out in the Rose Garden. Few know this but when the British tried to burn down the White House, I ran inside and saved the famous portrait of George Washington. Fortunately, I also had suggested to my husband to installed a sprinkler system , so little damage was done.

Edith Wilson 2: As First Lady during World War I, I observed gasless Sundays, meatless Mondays, and wheatless Wednesdays wanting to set an example for the public during wartime. I also kept sheep on the White House lawn to keep the grass short , selling their wool to aid the American war efforts. Would you believe $50,000 was raised from the wool?

Edith Wilson 3: Did you know that I invented jello?I loved serving the jiggly dessert to our guests especially at state dinners. It was so amusing watching our guests try and balance the dessert on their spoons. A few managed to drop some of the dessert onto their laps, having difficulty keeping the moving blob of gelatin onto their spoons. The Queen of England especially liked my lime flavored jello.

Panelist 6:First ladies often have issues that are of importance to them.What is an issue that you supported or did not support while First Lady?

Edith Wilson1: I supported the suffragist movementbelieving that woman should be treated equally to men and have the right to vote. When there was a demonstration outside the White House, I joined in the protest and got arrested.

Edith Wilson 2: I opposed equal rights for woman such as the right to vote. When suffragists were demonstrating in front of the White House in 1917, I supported my husband's ordering their arrest. Those women were just trouble makers. Why would women want the right to vote anyway?

Edith Wilson 3: I supported makingfree wi-fi mandatory in all public buildings. It was because of my efforts that places such as Starbuck's offered free wi-fi. After my husband and I left the White House, people would often email me saying how much they appreciated my efforts.

Host: It is now time for the panelists and members of our audience to decide who is the REAL Edith Wilson.Please vote for number 1, number 2 or number 3.Alright, the votes have been cast...Will the REAL Edith Wilson, please stand up?

Discussion Questions:

1. Would you have liked Edith Wilson for a friend? Explain why or why not.

2. Were you surprised that Edith Wilson didn't support the suffragette movement?

3. What is something about Edith Wilson you found most interesting?

4. When did you suspect the other two Edith Wilsons were impostors? Why?

5. If you were President or First Lady, what would be the 3 most important issues that you'd wish to promote while in office?

Fun Facts:

Lucy Webb Hayes was the first wife of a president to be called "First Lady".

Only First Ladies Abigail Adams and Barbara Bush were a spouse and a mother to a President of the United States.

First Lady Dolly Madison as the first American to answer a telegraph message sent by Samuel Morse.

First Lady Pat Nixon was the first First Lady to wear pants in public!

Hillary Clinton was the first First Lady to become a U.S. Senator(of New York State) and a candidate for President. She was also the first First Lady to become Secretary of State(under President Obama).

Teacher Page:


  1. Before doing the play, you may wish to explain the format of this play based on a very popular game show called, To Tell the Truth. There is also a video clip you could share with your students:Here’s the link:
  2. Remind the students that only the REALEdith Wilson must answer the questions truthfully. As students read the play, consider pausing between one or more of thepanelists’ questions to review the information students have heard. Invite opinions about which guest may be the realEdith Wilson encouraging students to share their reasoning along with their responses. Remind the class that only the real guest must always tell the truth.
  3. Have 3 students being the guests sit in front of the classroom. Have the host also sit in front of the classroom. Have all the students have a play to follow along. Assign a panelist role to the students.
  4. Stop from time to time to discuss information in the play encouraging text-to-self connections.
  5. Encourage the students to “act” out their roles.
  6. As the play proceeds, ask students who they think is the real guest and what other guests have stated that made them think they are impostors.

Time for the REAL Edith Wilson To Please Stand Up!

Once all the votes have been cast, establish that Edith Wilson____2__

is the real Edith Wilson . Then review the play, making sure that students are aware of the correct facts from each section of the play:


All responses to Panelists #1, #2 and #3 are correct

First Lady Dolly Madison saved George Washington's Portrait when the British burned the White House during the War of 1812.

Mrs. Wilson WAS opposed to the suffragette movement which seems unusual especially because she drove a car when most women did not do so and played such an important role during her husband's presidency.

Additional Resources for teachers:

Edith Bolling Wilson First Lady Extraordinaryby Alden Hatch


I have lots of other Reader's Theater Scripts on first ladies in my To Tell the Truth series. (Michelle Obama, Eleanor Roosevelt, Hillary Clinton, Lady Bird Johnson, Mary Todd Lincoln, Martha Washington, Dolly Madison, Abigail Adams and others) Additionally, I have plays on Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Blackwell, Sacagawea, Amelia Earhart, Marian Anderson, Bessie Coleman, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and more…

I also have plays on Sequoyah, Marco Polo, Abraham Lincoln, da Vinci, Michelangelo, a Leprechaun, a Gold Prospector, the Tuskegee Airmen, Simon, a victim of the Black Death

Gail Hennessey

Note: Photograph from: