CHAPTER XVI
AT HOME IN THE WHITE HOUSE

DURING WILSON'S FIRST HOURS in Washington, Princeton associations were perpetuated. On the evening of his arrival a cheering mob of undergraduates escorted him to the Willard Hotel, where eight hundred alumni honored him at dinner and heard him say: "As I stand here upon the eve of attempting a great task, I rejoice that there are so many men in the United States who know me and understand me and to whom I do not have to explain everything . . . I thank God that it is so, and thank you profoundly for this evidence of it." The next day Princeton colleagues came to lunch at the White House, and in the evening he shared his exalted hopes for his country with the old boys of the Class of '79.

He had asked that he be allowed to take office without any extravagance that might overtax his physique or his pocketbook. As it was, he had to borrow a large sum--for the first time in his life--in order to finance the move to Washington and to outfit himself and his family. Ellen Wilson bought suitable jewels and dresses for her daughters, and a handsome gown for herself--not because she cared for clothes, she explained, but to do justice to Woodrow's inauguration. Her husband insisted on giving her a diamond pendant that became known, en famille, as "the crown jewel." But he decided that--for the first time since the inauguration of Princeton's other American president, James Madison--there would be no inaugural ball. He disliked making himself and his family the center of social and commercial aggrandizement. It was bad enough that his wife had come home from a shopping expedition complaining that she had felt, under the gaze of vulgar eyes, like an animal in a zoo. The ladies of the family wished to carry themselves with the easy grace that had marked them in the South as "quality," and though their man found it difficult to take himself seriously as a political figurehead, and danced around his Ellen in the privacy of their hotel room chanting "we're going to the White House today,"1 nevertheless, he assumed in public the dignity that he thought befitting the

____________________
1
Alice Wilson McElroy to the writer, April 30, 1950.

-262-

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