Empire Mine gold created wedding ring for First Lady Edith Wilson
Special to The Union
In October of 1915, Miss Dorothy Starr, daughter of Managing Director of the Empire Mine George Starr, headed to Washington, D.C. with a delegation of women. The purpose of their trip was to invite President Woodrow Wilson to travel to San Francisco to visit the Panama-Pacific Exposition. Miss Starr also had another purpose in mind.
The Panama-Pacific Exposition was an international event that highlighted the completion of the Panama Canal along with the rebuilding of San Francisco after the devastating earth-quake and fire of 1906. The exposition drew tens of thousands of people to view the magnificent Towel of Jewels and today’s only remaining landmark, the Palace of Fine Arts, in San Francisco’s Marina District.
Miss Starr and the delegation of women were able to meet with Wilson and present him with a petition signed by 300,000 Californians urging him to visit the Exposition. Wilson accepted the petition and expressed hope that he could travel to San Francisco prior to the Exposition’s closing in December. The delegation also was able to present the President’s new fiancée with a bouquet of orange blossoms before departing.
Starr also carried with her two boxes, as The Union reported on Oct. 17; “a dainty little box containing a tiny bar of gold and a beautiful specimen of gold quartz in its natural state.” Starr expressed to the President that she hoped that the bar of gold could be molded into a wedding ring for his new fiancée, Mrs. Edith Galt. “That is a very happy thought,” said Wilson upon receiving the gifts.
President Wilson’s first wife of 31 years, Ellen, had suddenly passed away in 1914 from Bright’s Disease and the President had recently become engaged to Edith Galt, a widow, 17 years younger than Wilson. The President was not able to attend the Panama-Pacific Exposition as his focus was on Edith, whom he married in mid-December of 1915 in a small ceremony at Edith’s Washington DC home.
On Dec. 21, 1915, The Union reported, “that Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, the first lady of the land, will carry through her life, on her wedding finger, a band of gold from a Grass Valley mine.”
Edith and Woodrow became exceedingly bonded to each other. When Wilson suffered a massive stroke in 1919, many historians point to the extraordinary role that Edith played in helping to conduct domestic and foreign affairs of the country while Wilson was recovering from his stroke during the last year and a half of his Presidency.
Edith Wilson lived to the ripe old age of 89 and wore her Empire nugget with pride. She was the first First Lady to vote and kept up her political activism throughout her many years. She was a guest of every President in the White House from Harding until her last visit in 1962 with President John F. Kennedy.
Terry McAteer is the former Nevada County Superintendent of Schools and a current member of The Union’s Editorial Board.
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