Thomas Woodrow Wilson was born in Staunton, VA, on December 28, 1856, and grew up in Augusta, GA. During the Civil War, his parents supported the Confederacy. Wilson’s father was a minister in the Presbyterian Church in the United States, which separated from the United Presbyterian Church in 1861.
Wilson struggled with reading and writing in school, possibly due to dyslexia. He attended and graduated from The College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), and then the University of Virginia Law School. He left school due to poor health, but studied law while living with his parents in North Carolina. Wilson was admitted to the Georgia bar, and practiced law in Atlanta for a while, but found it not to his liking. He entered graduate school at Johns Hopkins to study politics and history, and received his PhD in 1886.
Wilson and his wife, Ellen, moved to Pennsylvania where he taught at Bryn Mawr, then to Wesleyan in Connecticut, then to Princeton. The Wilsons had three daughters. In 1902, Wilson became the President of Princeton. Wilson began his political career as governor of New Jersey in 1911. When Wilson was elected President of the United States in 1912 and served two terms. He was the first southerner since the Civil War to hold the office, and the first U.S. President with a PhD.
He began office with four domestic programs: conserving natural resources, reforming the banking industry, reducing trade tariffs, and regulating trusts to allow access to raw materials. Wilson was pro-immigration and vetoed an act that would limit European immigration. He was not in favor of U.S. colonies, but was very involved in foreign policy in this hemisphere as he sent troops to occupy Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti. He also authorized military intervention in Mexico, Cuba, Panama, and Honduras.
In 1914, Ellen died of kidney disease. Wilson remarried, to widow Edith Bolling Galt, of the First Families of Virginia.
Wilson wanted to keep the United States out of World War I, remaining neutral even after the sinking of American ships. After unrestricted German submarine warfare, the United States entered the war in April 1917. In January 1918, Wilson delivered a speech known as the Fourteen Points in which he set forth long-term goals for the war. These included a league of nations that would work together to guarantee individual sovereignty of all nations. Wilson spent six months in Europe working at the Paris Peace Conference at the end of the war. For his work, he was awarded the 1919 Nobel Peace Prize.
After he left office, Wilson wrote and published, but refused to write his memoirs. He did cooperate with a bibliographer. He died in Washington, D.C., February 3, 1924, and is interred in the National Cathedral there. He is the only President buried in the nation’s capital.
To find other items that the Marshall Foundation has on Woodrow Wilson, search “Woodrow Wilson” in the library catalog: https://www.marshallfoundation.org/library/results/
Digitized items in the George C. Marshall archives: