Edith Wilson’s name has never officially been listed as the First Woman President of the United States. However, by many accounts, she assumed the duties associated with that office for about 18 months. From October 2,, 1919, through March 4, 1921, at the end of his second term,  the elected President and Edith’s husband, Woodrow Wilson, was, according to historians, incapacitated by a stroke.

He was paralyzed on his left side and only had partial vision in his right eye. And he was bedridden. One neurosurgeon who examined Wilson’s medical records after the President died in 1924 suggested that Wilson’s illness made him prone to “disorders of emotion, impaired impulse control, and defective judgment.”

Most of America (and really the world) had no clue about Wilson’s true condition. Not even his own Cabinet knew the truth. Reports are that, in a meeting held four days after his stroke, the President’s personal physician said the President’s mind was “not only clear but very active,” and that the only thing wrong was a touch of indigestion and “a depleted nervous system.” Uh-huh.

Edith then stepped in to make crucial decisions for her husband. She called what she was doing her “stewardship.” Even in her memoir she apparently never admitted to making any decisions on her own. But those who study such proceedings tend to feel that wasn’t quite accurate.

It was reasonably easy for the Wilson White House to keep the President’s condition under wraps. There certainly was no 24-hour broadcast news cycle. The first commercial radio station didn’t hit the airwaves until November 1920. People got their news mainly from newspapers. There was no such thing as a daily press briefing. Prior to his stroke, Wilson had met regularly with the press, but those were mainly gabfests in the Oval Office – with a lot of information strictly off the record.

There was no 25th Amendment at the time. That’s the one that provides for a transfer of power when a president dies or is disabled.

It’s speculated that Wilson’s wife and advisors purposely kept the President’s condition secret for a variety of possible reasons: 1) Perhaps they didn’t want Vice President Thomas Marshall to become President; 2) World War I had just ended, and they didn’t want the U.S. to be seen as vulnerable; and, most likely, 3) They didn’t want Wilson to be seen as weak and incapable.

During those two years, at least one piece of legislation of great interest became law. The 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote on August 18, 1920, while Edith ran the show.

Today, you would think it would be next to impossible for a president to be so totally incompetent and remain in office. The press, even a sympathetic one, wouldn’t allow that to happen, right? And surely no such news would ever leak damaging information from the White House. From the Supreme Court, maybe, but never from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

More than a few people thought President Donald Trump was off his rocker. But Trump eventually took a cognitive test, passing with flying colors. That may not have assuaged the fears of everyone, but it did alleviate concerns from a clinical perspective.

There are other folks today who feel as if Joe Biden might have some brain function issues. They point to things such as confusion at public events, seldom holding full-blown press conferences, and getting tongue-tied going off-script when giving speeches. Also, at times it seems as if he were being controlled by his staff, or even the Easter Bunny.

No one has publicly suggested the current president is anywhere nearly as incapacitated as Woodrow Wilson, but there is rampant speculation as to just who in the White House is making many of the decisions.

Especially now, with the myriad turmoil going on, not only within this country but around the world, it would not be a good time to have a president who lacks full command of his faculties.

If you’ve over 65, you’ve perhaps been asked some basic cognitive questions during an annual medical exam. What day is it? What year? Who’s the president? And you’re told three unrelated things to remember that you have to repeat later in the conversation. (Quick: What’s the headline of this column?)

Maybe We the People should require all our elected federal officials to take a similar test – and make all of them release the results. It would definitely be an interesting exercise, not to mention perhaps provide an insight into a whole lot about things that go on in Washington, D.C.

©MMXXII. William J. Lewis, III – Freelance Writer