By many accounts, Essie Mae Washington had one overwhelming emotion when her mother took the 15-year-old to meet a circuit court judge and told her this unexpected truth: The judge -- Strom Thurmond, who went on to become governor of South Carolina and a U.S. senator -- was her father.
"Now that was a shock to the system," said Washington's daughter Wanda Terry, who lives in Columbia, S.C. "She felt it opened up a whole other life for her that she had to try and deal with."
Washington, who became Washington-Williams after marriage, is 85 and experiencing the early stages of dementia, according to her daughter. She didn't publicly claim Thurmond's paternity until after his death in 2003.
The revelation last week that former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger reportedly has a 14-year-old son with a housekeeper once again puts the spotlight on infidelity, hidden children and what the effects of secrecy are on those involved.