Margaret Wilson: A Spiritual Journey

Margaret Wilson. Courtesy of the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library

While many know that Woodrow Wilson had three daughters and his oldest daughter, Margaret Wilson served as First Lady after the death of her mother, Ellen Wilson in 1914, few know that Margaret lived and died in India after her father’s death. Going from her Presbyterian roots, to practicing Christian Science, and then later becoming a devotee of the guru Sri Aurobindo, Margaret’s life was a spiritual journey.

Courtesy of the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library

The eldest daughter of Woodrow and Ellen Axson Wilson, Margaret Woodrow Wilson was born on April 16, 1886 in Gainesville, Georgia. Her mother, a native of Georgia, had traveled from their home in Pennsylvania where Woodrow was teaching at Bryn Mawr College to be near her family for the birth of her first child. Margaret enjoyed a happy childhood with her sisters growing up, and after completing her education, she set out to be a trained singer even recording a rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” in 1915 that was sold as a fundraiser for the Red Cross.

While her sisters married and moved away from the White House, Margaret remained with her parents until her mother’s death in 1914, and served as her father’s social hostess until he married Edith Bolling Galt in December 1915. After her father’s death in 1924, Margaret continued to search for a place where she could live and be happy, and she finally decided to join the Ashram of Hindu mystic Sri Aurobindo in Pondicherry, French India. In letters back to friends and her sister, Margaret remarked that she was happier in India than she had even been in her life.

With the help of Swami Nikilananda, a scholar and founder of the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center in New York, Margaret edited the English translation of The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna.  The work was published by the Center in 1942. She would never return to the United States, and she died in India from uremia in 1944.

Margaret Wilson, bottom right, in Pondicherry, India. Courtesy of the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library.

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