1914: A Momentous Year

1914: A Momentous Year
Ellen Wilson: Law, Politics and Govt

Skill: Middle School
Time Required: Four to Five class periods


   First Lady Ellen Wilson experienced much turmoil during her life with President Wilson.  Her husband influenced many major changes in the financial structure of the nation, and watched Europe begin World War I.  As First Lady, Ellen Wilson felt the emotion as she supported her husband.  What the family and the American people did not realize was that Mrs. Wilson was beginning to experience an illness that would eventually lead to her death only two years into her term as First Lady.


Students will research, using the Internet and other library materials, information about national and worldwide events of 1914.
Students will chart the brief elements of America’s involvement in World War I.
Students will know what killed Ellen Wilson and the illnesses that can lead to Bright's disease. Students will review and write a letter to President Wilson concerning the World War I and Mrs. Wilson’s illness.

Materials Required:

Research materials (books, articles, magazines, etc.) Internet access (website suggestions listed in resources) 1914 timeline link Computer(s) Spreadsheet program (Excel) or chart paper Word processor (or paper and writing utensil)


1.  Introduce the lesson by asking students to read a brief biography of Woodrow and Ellen Wilson.

2.  Have students consult the First Ladies Timeline (this web site) for a look at worldwide and national events of 1914.

3.  Further instruct the students to investigate Bright's disease, the final diagnosed cause of Ellen Wilson’s death.

4.  Each student should select at least one event that took place in 1914, and research that event (including Ellen Wilson's death).  Then, each student shoul do one of the following:

  • write a letter to a friend describing the event
  • write a "news" account reporting the event, with as many details as possible
  • write an essay in which the student's reaction to the event is detailed

Extending the Lesson:

  • Encourage students to do the same kinds of research and writing about a current event.

Sources & Resources:


This lesson was developed by Marian Maxfield, Kent State University