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A Sterling Reputation: 1915

A Sterling Reputation: 1915

Dec. 18, 1915. "Mrs. Edith Bolling Galt Wilson. Her jewelry store, Galt & Bro." When her husband died in 1908, Edith Galt took over the management of this store at 1107 Pennsylvania Ave.; the photo was taken on the day of her marriage to President Woodrow Wilson. Harris & Ewing glass negative. View full size.


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Lincoln Watch Inscription

Today's NY Times reports the finding of a secret inscription in Abraham Lincoln's pocket watch, engraved by a watchmaker employed at Galt's on the day the Civil War began. Lincoln's watch was apparently in the shop for a tune-up when the first shots of the Civil War were fired. The passage below is from a 1906 Times article that led officials at Smithsonian National Museum of American History to open the watch case yesterday.

Mr. Dillon, then 84, recounted that he was working at M. W. Galt & Company, a watch shop on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, in April 1861 when the shop’s owner, Mr. Galt, hurried upstairs to tell him, “War has begun; the first shot has been fired.”

“At that moment I had in my hand Abraham Lincoln’s watch, which I had been repairing,” Dillon told The Times, adding that he later learned it was the first watch that Lincoln ever owned.

An immigrant from Waterford, Ireland, he told The Times, “I was the only Union sympathizer working in the shop.”

The text of the inscription is: “Jonathan Dillon April 13- 1861 Fort Sumter was attacked by the rebels on the above date. J Dillon,” the brass underside of the watch movement reads. The inscription continues: “April 13- 1861 Washington thank God we have a government.”

Thanks to Shorpy for providing photographic context to this remarkable story.

Kimball's in Knoxville

There was jewelry store that looked just like this in Knoxville, Tennessee, when I was a kid. My great-grandmother had one of those tiny little diamond watches women wore back in the 30's that was ALWAYS in a state of disrepair. She, my grandmother and I would walk downtown and go to Kimball's to either drop it off or pick it up. It was dark in there with emerald green walls. It closed in 2004 and relocated.

"Secret President" Pocahontas

Edith Bolling Galt Wilson was a descendant of Pocahontas through the famous Native American's granddaughter Jane Rolfs Bolling. Mrs. Wilson was also related to Martha Washington.

Woodrow Wilson's first wife, Ellen Axson Wilson, died of kidney disease on August 6, 1914. Wilson was introduced to Edith in March 1915. President Wilson's intense courtship of the widow Galt drew much attention from the local Washington press. As one wag put it: "When Edith Galt heard the President propose marriage, she nearly fell out of bed." The couple were wed on December 18, 1915 at the home of the bride on S Street in Washington.

When President Wilson suffered a debilitating stroke after returning from France and the Treaty of Versailles negotiations in 1919, Edith assumed many of his duties. She was called the "secret president" and "first female president" by supporters and detractors of the Wilson's "joint" administration.

Where, not why

In response to T.U.M. -- try England. I purchased some small silver items at a store in Cambridge that looked just like this, though somewhat smaller, and the service was the same as if I had spent a few thousand pounds. They do understand how to treat a customer.

Closed in 2001 ...

"Abraham Lincoln's family never did pay off the balance he owed Galt & Bro. Jewelers the night he was shot; the Galt family took back some of the items the president had purchased for his wife, and forgave the rest of the debt. Nor, a century later, did Lyndon Johnson's White House pick up the plaque Galt's made for a gift that John F. Kennedy was to have given the Sultan of Zanzibar in December 1963. Kennedy of course died before he could make the presentation, and the plaque was still in Galt's vault, along with records of purchases made by Jefferson Davis and Ulysses S. Grant, when the 199-year-old Washington store finally closed earlier this year."

Read the rest here.

I wholeheartedly concur!

Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous.


At least she guaranteed no one would give her silverware for a wedding present..

Why, oh, why?

Why don't stores look like this anymore? It would be an uplifting experience to shop there. Also, I wonder what kind of deal Mr. Wilson got on the engagement ring.

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