A Death and Burial Abroad

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Courtesy of the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library

Margaret Wilson, the oldest daughter of Woodrow Wilson spent the final years of her life as a part of the Hindu mystic Sri Aurobindo’s ashram in the Pondicherry, French India. She died there on February 12, 1944 from a uremia, and her family was notified by a letter that is now housed in the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library’s archival collection.

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Margaret Wilson (Second from Left) with members of the ashram in Pondicherry, India. Courtesy of the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library.

Sri Aurobindo wrote to Eleanor Wilson McAdoo, Margaret’s sister on March 18, 1944 regarding her death and our library has a copy of the very letter. Postmarked from Pondicherry, French India, the letter details Margaret’s declining health, her death, and the decision not to return her body to the USA.

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Regarding Margaret’s health, Aurobindo explained to Eleanor “there were always ups and downs in her health and some years ago she had a strong attack of uremia rising to I.9 and the doctors hardly expected her to recover, or if she did, to live more than two years at the very best.” However, Margaret was able to recover and the uremia shrunk, putting her back into good health. Her good health would not last, and in July 1943, she had another and while she recovered, in January 1944 she took a turn for the worst. She was treated by a Dr. Andre, who was in charge of the Government Hospital and a Dr. Bassett, the chief medical officer of French India who though that Margaret would pull through as her heart was strong and there were no grave symptoms or complications. However, congestion in her lungs and kidney trouble caused her heart to become affected. It was only a matter of time before she became quiet and it was clear that she had passed.

In regards to the burial decision, Eleanor was informed that her sister had already been buried in Pondicherry.  It is noted that there was no arrangement for Christian cremation and that French colonial law did not allow a body to be disinterred until a full year. Aurobindo explained that Margaret had “never expressed any idea or wish for her body being sent back to America” and how “she had been firmly determined to not leave Poindicherry under any circumstances.” Margaret’s personal effects were to kept at the ashram until arrangements could be made for railway transit.

The letter ends with his expressing his condolences and sympathy for the death of Margaret and how “she was always as if one of the family” to him.

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