Woodrow Wilson 28th President, 1913-1921

Birthplace, Staunton, Virginia
Woodrow Wilson was born on December 28, 1856, in the small southern town of Staunton, Virginia. His father served as a Presbyterian minister of this town and Woodrow was born at home. Less than a year later the family moved to Augusta, Georgia. Young Woodrow’s earliest memories were of the Civil War, seeing Union soldiers marching into town, watching his mother tend wounded Confederate soldiers in a local hospital, and witnessing General Robert E. Lee passing through town under Union guard after his surrender at Appomattox Courthouse in Virgina. Woodrow also saw the poverty and devastation that overcame Augusta during the early years of Reconstruction. In 1870, his family moved to Columbia, South Carolina, and then to Wilmington, North Carolina, in 1874.

Although Wilson’s father, the Reverend Joseph Ruggles Wilson, had been reared in Ohio before moving to Virginia in 1849, he was thoroughly Presbyterian and “unreconstructedly Southern ” in values and politics. The Reverend Wilson served as pastor of several southern Presbyterian congregations and taught theology at Columbia Theological Seminary and, much later in life, at Southwestern Presbyterian Theological University. An enthusiastic supporter of the Confederacy, he helped organize the Presbyterian Church of the Confederate States of America. He taught his son the justification of the South’s secession from the Union, a belief in Providence (God as the caring guide of human destiny), predestination (that all events have been willed by God), and the importance of daily prayer. Wilson’s mother, Janet Woodrow Wilson, born in Carlisle, England but raised in America, was a warm and loving companion to Wison’s father and a devoted mother to her four children-Woodrow, his two older sisters, and a younger brother. Later in life, Wilson described himself as a “mama’s boy” who had clung to his mother’s apron strings.

Sitting atop the crest of a hill in historic downtown Staunton is the birthplace of President Woodrow Wilson. This lovely Greek Revival house, formerly the Staunton Presbyterian Manse, is fully restored to 1856 and decorated with period furniture, some of which is the Wilson family’s own. A National Historic Landmark, the site represents not only the birthplace of one of the United States’ most important leaders, but in itself gives an authentic picture of a pre-Civil War Shenandoah Valley home — from the kitchens to the children’s room, the servants’ room to the dining room. Around the Manse are the historic gardens, offering a beautiful restoration of Victorian landscape style.

The house contains period furnishings and decorative arts. Wilson family pieces include his mother’s guitar, his crib, the family Bible in which Wilson’s birth is recorded, two beds, and a number of other artifacts.

The gardens at the Woodrow Wilson Birthplace have evolved in three phases. One of the early garden restoration projects of The Garden Club of Virginia, the Birthplace gardens were designed in 1933 by Richmond landscape architect Charles F. Gillette. A Victorian restoration, suitable to the 1846 construction date of the house, the gardens included two terraces, the lower one featuring boxwood-line bowknot beds, the only bowknot garden, which Gillette created. The gardens were expanded to include a brick terrace designed by landscape architect Ralph E. Griswold in 1967-68. In 1990, Rudy J. Favretti designed a forecourt and lawn around the new Woodrow Wilson Museum and added garden walkways connecting the Museum with the rest of the grounds.

The restoration gardens do not reflect the appearance of the lot on which Woodrow Wilson’s birthplace was built in the 1840′s. Presumably, when Wilson was born here in 1856, the “yard” included necessary outbuildings, a kitchen garden, and other functional plantings.

Boyhood Home, Augusta, Georgia
Woodrow Wilson, later to become the 28th President of the United States, lived in this Manse of the First Presbyterian Church of which his father, Dr. Joesph R. Wilson. It is located at 419 7th Street at the corner of Telfair. Built in 1859 as a speculative real estate investment, this house was acquired in 1860 by First Presbyterian Church to be used as a manse. Woodrow Wilson’s father, the Rev. Dr. Joseph Ruggles Wilson, served as minister of the First Presbyterian Church from 1858 to 1870. President Wilson lived in this house as a boy between the ages of three and thirteen. The house is being preserved and restored by Historic Augusta, Inc.

Boyhood Home, Columbia, South Carolina
Built in 1872, the Wilson Boyhood Home is a cottage, in the Tuscan-villa style, after designs by the architect Andrew Jackson Downing. Characterized by arches and bay windows, reflecting the Victorian fascination with nature, the house has spacious, high-ceilinged rooms. Wilson’s mother, Jessie Woodrow Wilson oversaw the building of the house and the designing of the gardens. She planted three of the magnolia trees in front of the house.

The Wilson family came to Columbia from Augusta, Georgia, in 1870 when Woodrow Wilson’s father, Dr. Joseph Ruggles Wilson, accepted a teaching position at the Presbyterian Theological Seminary. To supplement his income, he also acted as Stated Supply at the First Presbyterian Church. Young Tommy, as Woodrow Wilson was then called, was fourteen at the time.

Although the family built the house with the intention of staying in Columbia, a dispute in 1874 over obligatory chapel service between Dr. Wilson and students at the seminary forced Dr. Wilson to resign his position and accept the ministry of the Presbyterian church in Wilmington, North Carolina. After only two years in the house, the Wilsons left Columbia. However, they retained enduring ties to the city and returned for family occasions. Wilson’s sister, Annie Josephine, married Dr. George Howe and lived in Columbia, and their parents are buried at First Presbyterian Church.

A grassroots movement in 1928 saved the house from demolition and it opened in 1932 as a museum. The collections in the house are period from the 1850s – 1870s pieces; however, only a few belonged to the Wilson family. The most important object is the birth bed in which Wilson was born on December 28, 1856 in Staunton, Virginia. The Woodrow Wilson Boyhood Home is the only house the Wilson family ever owned.

Home, Princeton, New Jersey

Woodrow Wilson occupied three houses during his time in Princeton: 72 Library Place, 82 Library Place, and 25 Cleveland Lane. Graduating from Princeton in 1879, Wilson served as professor of law from 1890 to 1902, and as president of Princeton University from 1902 to 1910, during which time he revolutionized the school’s curriculum and teaching system. He was governor of New Jersey between 1910 and 1912 and president of the United States between 1913 and 1921. The house at 72 Library Place is a Federal-style house that was built in 1836 by Charles Steadman. The Woodrow Wilson family, with its three daughters, rented and moved to this house in 1890. The house was the first in its vicinity to have an indoor toilet.

Home, Princeton, New Jersey
In 1895, Woodrow Wilson commissioned New York architect Edward S. Child to design the Tudor Revival house at 82 Library Place, which was next door to his rented house. In 1902, after being chosen the President of Princeton University, the Wilsons moved from this house into “Prospect,” the university president’s residence on the Princeton campus.

Home, Washington, DC
Too stricken in body and spirit to remain for the inauguration of his successor, Woodrow Wilson left the capitol and motored to his new residence on March 4, 1921. To his surprise, several hundred people were waiting to watch him enter the house where he would spend the last three years of his life. Each year, thousands still visit the final home of the twenty-eighth President. The house remains for us today, as it was when he lived here, a place for insightful reflection on his career as educator, social reformer, and world statesman.

The house is a fine example of the Georgian revival style, built in 1915 by architect Waddy Wood. After purchasing the property in 1921, Wilson and his wife Edith remodeled it to suit their needs. The structure and its interior have been carefully preserved to reflect the era of their residence here. The remarkable collection offers the visitor unique insights into the personality of one of America’s greatest leaders. On display are objects from the White House, family items, memorabilia, and elaborate gifts of state from around the world.

The house is also a living textbook of “modern” American life in the 1920s — from sound recordings to silent films, flapper dresses, and zinc sinks. In the elegant dining room, the Wilsons hosted family, friends, and world leaders. The fare was prepared in a kitchen that documents the changes in domestic design during and after World War I. On the third floor, the principle bedrooms were on either side of an open loggia from which Wilson could enjoy a view of the garden. In these rooms today, personal and wardrobe items offer visitors an intimate picture of the lives of the former President and the wife who so fiercely protected him.

Gravesite, Washington National Cathedral, Washington, DC
In complete seclusion following his stroke in 1919, Wilson left office on March 4, 1921, after riding to the Capitol with his successor, Warren G. Harding. He did not stay for the Inaugural, however, and rarely appeared in public from that day to his death on February 3, 1924. He retired to his recently purchased home in downtown Washington, where he tried to practice law in partnership with his former secretary of state, Bainbridge Colby. But he was unable to do much more than consult with his partner at home. Nearly blind, he had trouble reading and spoke bitterly about his loss of the League battle with Congress. He appeared in public at the funeral of President Harding in August 1923. His last public words were spoken to a gathering outside his home on November 10, 1923. Four months later, he died quietly in his sleep and was laid to rest at Washington National Cathedral.

The plan for a national cathedral began in 1792 when the Plan of the Federal City set aside land for a “great church for national purposes.” The National Portrait Gallery now occupies that site. A century later in 1891, a meeting was held to renew plans for the cathedral. In 1893 the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral Foundation of the District of Columbia was granted a charter from Congress to establish the cathedral and the site on Mount Saint Albans was chosen. Bishop Satterlee chose Frederick Bodley, England’s leading Anglican church architect, as the head architect. Henry Vaughan was selected to be the supervising architect. The building of the cathedral finally started in 1907 with a ceremonial address by President Theodore Roosevelt. When construction of the cathedral resumed after a brief hiatus for World War I, both Bodley and Vaughan had passed away; American architect Philip Hubert Frohman took over the design of the cathedral and is known as the principal architect. The Cathedral has been the location of many significant events, including the funeral services of Woodrow Wilson and Dwight Eisenhower. Its pulpit was the last one from which Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke prior to his assassination. The Cathedral is the burial place of many notable people, including Woodrow Wilson, Helen Keller, Admiral George Dewey, Bishop Satterlee and the architects Henry Vaughan and Philip Frohman.

Museum, Staunton, Virginia
This Museum offers a look into Wilson’s public life, from his Princeton study to his historic World War I peace efforts. The Museum houses seven exhibit galleries, detailing through objects, portraits, and period photographs, the life and times of Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the United States. Wilson’s 1919 Pierce-Arrow limousine is housed in an attached garage-like exhibit adjacent to the adaptively renovated chateau style mansion. Also, a computer archives presents 1850s newspapers, historic photographs, Civil War rosters, and more.

Serving from 1913 to 1921 as the 28th President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson is considered one of the greatest Presidents and the nation’s first international leader. His pursuit of world peace and security has now been taken up by many. His influence is still present in today’s headlines.