Wilson had similar luck in his other attempts with women until in 1883 he met Ellen Axson of Rome, Georgia. Their meeting and courtship was ironic and rather serendipitous: while on one of his few actual business trips to Rome, Woodrow happened to see the young Ellen sitting in the back pew of the local Presbyterian Church during a Sunday service. She was the daughter of the church's minister–funny, sweet, and devilishly attractive according to Woodrow and all the other eligible men in Rome. He immediately tried to win her heart. Wilson extended his stay in Rome for several weeks to court her, and the two spent many hours together talking, reading, laughing, and enjoying picnics in the park.
Ellen reciprocated Woodrow's feelings, but was under self-imposed pressure not to pursue a serious relationship with him. Her mother had recently died, her father was near death, and she had taken it upon herself to care for her younger siblings. Woodrow returned to Atlanta somewhat crestfallen. The two briefly exchanged letters, but eventually stopped after a few months. By mere chance, however, both met several months later in a train station in North Carolina. Before Ellen's train left for Rome, Woodrow succeeded in winning her hand; the two were now engaged.