White House Weddings: Wilson’s niece next in line

Published 2:14 pm Tuesday, September 12, 2023

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By  Betty Etchison West

For the Enterprise

A third White House wedding occurred while Woodrow Wilson served as President. Wilson and his wife, Ellen, had three daughters, two of whom were married in the White House.

The other White House wedding during his watch was not that of the oldest Wilson daughter, who never got married, but it was that of a niece.

Alice Wilson, the daughter of President Wilson’s brother, Joseph, and her fiancé wanted to get married in Baltimore, and she wanted her uncle, Woodrow Wilson, to attend her wedding.  Her uncle did not feel that he could be away from the White House long enough to attend a wedding in Baltimore because the United States was so deeply involved in World War I in 1918. That is the  reason that President Wilson invited his niece. Alice, to get married at the White House.

That is exactly what happened.

Alice Wilson and the Rev. Isaac Stuart McElroy Jr. were married in a formal ceremony in the White House Blue Room at 8 p.m. on Aug. 7, 1918, with about a dozen guests.  Even though there was strong anti-German feeling in the country because of the war, the bride did want the traditional “Lohengrin” and Mendelssohn wedding march played. The Marine Band followed the bride’s wishes and played those songs as the President and his wife led the wedding party down the stairs. The bride then entered the Blue Room on the arm of her father, Joseph Wilson.

The bride chose as her trousseau one befitting for the wife of a missionary because Rev. Isaac McElroy planned to become a foreign missionary.  Her wedding dress is described in the book, White House Brides, by Smith and Durbin in the following manner.  “It was an ankle-length gown of white georgette over ivory satin, hand-embroidered with beads “  The bride carried a bouquet of roses and lilies of the valley.  The ceremony was performed by the Rev. I. S. McElroy of the Presbyterian Church of Columbus Georgia.

After the ceremony, the President and his wife led the way to the State Dining Room where a fine dinner was served.  There were about 16 guests at the dinner so the Wison/McElroy wedding and dinner were indeed a small when compared to all of the other White House weddings.

After the dinner, the newlyweds left for a honeymoon in the mountains with the Alice wearing a dark brown georgette dress with a dark brown velvet hat trimmed with black blue burnt ostrich feathers.  After a few days, Alice and Isaac went on to White Sulphur Springs where the groom would serve as pastor of the Presbyterian Church for a year before he and his wife left for a five-year missionary assignment in Japan.

The McElroys had five daughters, who gave them 16 grandchildren.  The Wilson/McElroy White House wedding resulted in a long and happy marriage, but when asked if she would advise another bride to have a White House wedding if such a thing was possible.  Alice said, “No,” and she added,  “The White House is not a place you can revisit later as you could if you were married in a church.”

President Wilson was followed by President Warren G. Harding, who died after serving two years; Calvin Coolidge, who served six years; and Herbert Hoover, who served four.  There was not a White House during the terms of those three presidents.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected President of the United States in 1932. The Roosevelts had four sons and one daughter.  During Roosevelt’s term all of his five children were married once and one was married twice.

There were six Roosevelt weddings while Franklin Delano Roosevelt served as president, but none of them took place in the White House.  (A surprising fact; all told, the children of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt had 15 marriages among them, including those before, during, and after their father served as president.)

There was one White House wedding while Franklin D. Roosevelt served as president, the wedding of Mr. Roosevelt’s top assistant, Mr. Harry Hopkins, to Mary Gill Macy on July 30, 1942.

The bride, Mary Gill Macy, is described in the book, “The White House”, by Smith and Durbin, as being ”a slim, smart-looking 36 year old former Paris editor of ‘Harper’s Bazaar,” who had operated a dress shop in New York since her return from Paris at the beginning of the war.”

The noon ceremony was held in the President’s Study which was later the Oval Drawing Room in the First Family’s private quarters on the second floor of the White House.  The bride wore a street-length dress of deep blue crepe.  The President served as the groom’s best man. The only people who attended the wedding were: the President, his wife, and the two families, which included the grooms’ 9-year-old daughter and her three half-brothers.

After a brief wedding trip, the Hopkins and his daughter, Diana, lived at the White House in the suite where Hopkins had lived before the wedding.  Harry Hopkins died in January 1946, four years after he married Mary Gill Macy. Mary Gill Hopkins got married again in September 1947 to Geoffrey Gates, director of the Parsons School of Design in New York. She lived until 1963.

Harry Hopkins’ daughter, Diana, who was 9 when her father married Miss Macy, grew up, married a lawyer, and had two children.  She loved to tell her children about living in the White House.