Woodrow Wilson: Doctor in the White House

Woodrow WilsonThomas Woodrow Wilson was born Staunton, Va., December 29, 1856. His father was a Presbyterian minister, and the family Moved to Augusta, Georgia, when Wilson was two. They were living in the path of Sherman's march in 1864. Wilson was educated largely at home until he was nine. He studied one year at Davidson College, then transferred to Princeton, from which he was graduated in the class of 1879, standing 38/106.

Wilson tried law at University of Virginia Law school, but withdrew because of illness and studied at home. Unhappy as a lawyer, he decided to study politics and history at Johns Hopkins University. In 1885 he published “Congressional Government: A Study in American Politics,” which was later accepted as his Ph.D. dissertation; the degree was awarded to him in 1886. Wilson was married in 1885 and had 3 daughters. He was a good husband and father.

Wilson had always been interested in politics and was very ambitious, as well as a “severe” intellectual and admirer of Robert E. Lee. God was always a strong factor in Wilson's life. His personal idea of democracy might be this: “The very conception of America is based upon the validity of the judgments of the average man.”

He became a professor, taught and coached football at various schools, including Bryn Mawr and Wesleyan in Connecticut. In 1889 his work on comparative government, “The State,” was published. In 1890 he was offered a professorship at Princeton, where he became a popular teacher. In 1902 he became the first non-clergyman to become president. Wrestling with faculty, students and alumni over traditional practices, he instituted many progressive reforms, and he later carried those ideas into the political arena.

In terms of personality, Wilson could be seen as grim, dry, ascetic, professorial. His academic bent derived from his father's influence, from whom he also developed an attitude of moral superiority. Such attributes complicated Wilson's political life and handicapped him. He had few close friends, but in close circles he could be witty and charming. He was voted the most popular member of Princeton faculty four times. Ray Stannard Baker later said Wilson had “the finest mind on public life.”

In 1910 Wilson was invited to run for governor of New Jersey. He resigned from Princeton and was elected. As governor he fought machine politics and built reputation as reformer, although he was called by some opponents “conservative if not reactionary.” New Jersey was a leader in the Progressive movement, and in 1912, after an endorsement by William Jennings Bryan, Wilson was nominated by Progressive Democrats on the 46th ballot. he won the election in the Taft-roosevelt split. Governor T.R. Marshall of Indiana was his vice president.

Wilson has been described as a “transitional figure in the emergence of the new consciousness.” His politics were touched with self-righteousness. despite his academic background, he was no shy, retiring violet in politics—but rather “ambitious, capable . . . and of a disconcerting ruthlessness.” Maybe he had had his eye on White House all along. Physically, however, Wilson was a wreck—he suffered from headaches, indigestion and other minor disorders.

Wilson's wife died in 1914, and he married Edith Galt in 1915, rather suddenly in the opinion of some. During Wilson's later incapacitation following his Versailles Treaty stump, she became for all practical purposes the first woman acting president of the United States.

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