Edson: Wilson foresaw League’s failure, daughter reveals (5-9-45)

The Pittsburgh Press (May 9, 1945)

Edson: Wilson foresaw League’s failure, daughter reveals

By Peter Edson

SAN FRANCISCO, California – Woodrow Wilson died with the understanding that it was right for the United States to stay out of the old League of Nations, in 1920. And the day before his death, he prophesied this country would join a new league of nations and that it would succeed. His daughter Eleanor Wilson McAdoo has just revealed these facts, breaking a family secret closely held for 21 years.

Mrs. McAdoo is in San Francisco in connection with her War Bond work and as a radio correspondent covering the United Nations Conference.

This story of her father’s death, making an important footnote to history and today’s big war news, has never been told before. Eleanor Wilson consents to its being told today because this seems the right moment to bridge the gap between the end of World Wars I and II; between the old League of Nations, which her father helped create, and the new United Nations organization being created at San Francisco.

Had Woodrow Wilson died as Franklin Delano Roosevelt did, at the height of his victories, the end of the League of Nations story might have been different.

The day before Woodrow Wilson died, February 3, 1924, he lay on his bed in the house on Washington’s “S” St., where the family had moved after leaving the White House in March 1921.

‘Thinking a long time’

In the room with him, watching him, was his daughter Margaret, Eleanor Wilson’s sister. The ex-President’s eyes were closed. He spoke quietly:

“It was right that the United States did not join the League of Nations.”

Startled, Margaret Wilson caught her breath, came to his bedside.

Woodrow Wilson opened his eyes and smiled. Again he spoke: “You think I’m raving, don’t you? I’m not. But I’ve been thinking about this for a long time.”

Her father had had much time to think, says Eleanor Wilson today. In Paris, he had contracted flu. Asthma had developed from that, and with it came broken sleep. The ability to sleep, to relax completely for five minutes or an hour, had been one of Woodrow Wilson’s greatest sources of strength. From a nap or a full night’s sleep, he could wake refreshed and able to cope with any new task.

But now, with one arm paralyzed and one foot dragging when he could walk, in the long days and the longer nights of wakefulness, Woodrow Wilson had done much thinking.

There was nothing the matter with his brain, Eleanor Wilson declares, and he was anything but the broken-hearted man he has been so commonly and so wrongly portrayed. But he had been thinking about his battle for a League of Nations for a long time. And now he was telling his thoughts to his daughter Margaret.

He said:

If we had joined the League when I asked for it, it would have been a great personal victory. But it would not have worked, because deep down in their hearts the American people didn’t really believe in it.

‘The time will come’

Margaret Wilson rose then and bent over her father’s bed. His eyes were clear, she told her sister Eleanor afterward, and they shone with a light as if he were happier in the assurance of what he had just said and what he was to say next:

The time will come when this country will join such a League, because it will know that it has to be. And then and then only will it work.

He laughed a little.

Eleanor Wilson recalls today:

He was really a gay soul. To us, he was never the cold, austere professor so many people have tried to make him. And he was never an egotist.

He was sincere, and he was a philosopher, and he was reverent at all times. But he had the grandest sense of humor, and that revealed itself in his last hours and his last words with Margaret on the League of Nations:

“You know,” he said, “God really does know better than I.”