Jessie Woodrow Sayre

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Jessie Woodrow Sayre (Wilson)

Birthplace: Gainesville, GA, USA
Death: Died in Cambridge, MA, USA
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the United States and Ellen Louise Wilson, First Lady
Wife of Francis Bowes Sayre
Mother of The Very Rev. Francis B. Sayre Jr.
Sister of Margaret Wilson and Eleanor "Nellie" Randolph McAdoo

Managed by: Private User
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About Jessie Woodrow Sayre

Jessie Woodrow Wilson Sayre (August 28, 1887 – January 15, 1933) was a daughter of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson and a political activist. “She worked vigorously for women's suffrage, social issues, and to promote her father's call for a League of Nations, and emerged as a force in the Massachusetts Democratic Party.”


Jessie Woodrow Wilson was born in Gainesville, Georgia on August 28, 1887, the second daughter of Woodrow and Ellen Axson Wilson. She was a sister of Margaret Woodrow Wilson and Eleanor Wilson McAdoo. Wilson was educated privately in Princeton, New Jersey and at Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland. After her graduation from Goucher, she worked at a settlement home in Philadelphia for three years.

White House years

In July 1913, four months after her father assumed the presidency, the Wilsons announced Jessie's engagement to Francis Bowes Sayre. Her fiance, a 1911 graduate of Harvard Law School, was the son of Robert Sayre, builder of the Lehigh Valley Railroad and organizer and general manager of the Bethlehem Iron Works. At the time of their engagement he was serving in the office of a district attorney. Their November 25, 1913 wedding was the thirteenth White House wedding, and the first since Alice Roosevelt and Nicholas Longworth were wed in 1906. Upon their return from their honeymoon in Europe, they moved to Williamstown, Massachusetts, where her husband began his service as an assistant to the president of Williams College.

On January 17, 1915, she gave birth in the White House to a son, Francis B. Sayre, Jr. (January 17, 1915 – October 3, 2008), who became a noted clergyman and was a social activist like his mother. The following year, a daughter, Eleanor Axson Sayre (March 26, 1916 – May 12, 2001), was born. In 1919 they were joined by Woodrow Wilson Sayre (February 22, 1919 – September 16, 2002).

Massachusetts and Siam

After World War I, the Sayres moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Francis accepted a position on the Harvard Law School faculty. There, she worked in the interests of the Democratic Party, the League of Nations, and the League of Women Voters. She was also involved with the YWCA, serving on its national board. At the time of Woodrow Wilson's death in 1924, the couple was living in Siam (now Thailand) where Francis was working as an advisor on international law at the Royal Court of Siam.

In 1928, she made the introductory speech for presidential nominee Al Smith at the Democratic National Convention. In 1929 her name was mentioned as a candidate for the Democratic nomination for United States Senator, for the seat then held by Republican Frederick H. Gillett. However, she declined. She became secretary of the Massachusetts Democratic State Committee instead.


Sayre died at age 45, after undergoing abdominal surgery in Cambridge. Some reports state that she suffered from a gall bladder disorder, while others state that she had undergone an emergency appendectomy. Two years later, the Boston branch of the Women's Democratic League was renamed the Jessie Woodrow Sayre Women's Democratic League.

She is buried in Nisky Hill Cemetery, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

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Jessie Woodrow Sayre's Timeline

August 28, 1887
Gainesville, GA, USA
January 17, 1915
Age 27
Washington, DC, USA
January 15, 1933
Age 45
Cambridge, MA, USA