Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson

28th President, 1913-1921

Early Life and Pre-presidency

Official Presidential portrait of Woodrow Wilson

Official Presidential portrait of Woodrow Wilson

  • Born Thomas Woodrow Wilson on December 28, 1856 in Staunton, Virginia.
  • Parents: Joseph Ruggles Wilson and Jessie Janet Woodrow. Siblings: Marion Morton, Annie Josephine, and Joseph Ruggles.
  • His family moved to Augusta, Georgia when Wilson was a year old, then to Columbia, South Carolina when he was 14, and finally to Wilmington, North Carolina when he was 18.
  • Home schooled by his father and local schools. He learned to read when he was 10 years old and may have suffered from dyslexia. He also taught himself shorthand.
  • Enrolled at Davidson College in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1873 but stayed only for one year due to his poor health.
  • Enrolled at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) in 1875 and graduated in 1879.
  • Entered law school at the University of Virginia in 1879 and studied for one year. He returned to his home in Wilmington, North Carolina to study law on his own.
  • Moved to Atlanta, Georgia in May 1882, opened a law practice with a partner, and passed the bar exam in October 1882.
  • Enrolled at Johns Hopkins University for a graduate degree. He earned a PhD in History and Political Science In 1886.
  • Married Ellen Louise Axson (1860–1914) on June 24, 1885; Edith Bolling Galt (1872–1961) on December 18, 1915. Children: Margaret Woodrow (1886– 1944), Jessie Woodrow (1887–1933), and Eleanor Randolph (1889– 1967).
  • Lectured at Cornell University from 1886 to 1887, then joined the faculty of Bryn Mawr College until 1888. From 1888 to 1890, he taught at Wesleyan University. He joined the faculty of Princeton University in 1890.
  • Became President of Princeton University in 1902 and served until 1910.
  • Elected Governor of New Jersey in 1910 and served until 1912.
  • Nominated by the Democratic Party as its Presidential candidate in the 1912 election.
  • Won with (a low) 41.9% of the popular vote but with a majority of the electoral vote.


Wilson in 1912 Photograph by Pach Brothers

Wilson in 1912
Photograph by Pach Brothers

  • Took his oath of office on March 4, 1913 at the East Portico, U.S. Capitol.
  • For the first time since the second U.S. President, John Adams, President Wilson gave his State of the Union address in Congress in person on April 8, 1913.
  • Signed the Underwood–Simmons Tariff Act in October 1913. The law reduced tariff rates considerably.
  • Signed the Federal Reserve Act into law on December 23, 1913. The law created a Federal Reserve System.
  • Signed the Clayton Anti-trust Act in October 1914. The law added more substance to the Sherman Anti-trust Act of 1890 by prohibiting anti-competitive practices in their infancy.
  • The “Great War,” or World War I, breaks out in Europe in July 1914. Wilson initially declares neutrality, but when a German submarine sinks a British passenger liner carrying 114 Americans in May 1915, relations between the U.S. and Germany deteriorate..
  • Wilson won re-election for a second term in the 1916 Presidential elections.
  • On April 2, 1917, Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war against Germany to “make the world safe for democracy.” Congress passed the resolution and Wilson signed the declaration on April 6.
  • Congress passed the Selective Service Act in May 1917. The Act required men to be drafted by lottery. Not since the Civil War had the U.S. passed a conscription act. By June, the first U.S. troops landed in France.
  • In his address to Congress in January 1918, Wilson outlined his “14 Points” objectives for a lasting peace. One of his “points” called for the creation of a league of nations to guarantee independence and security for all nations.
  • In November 1918, a revolution in Germany overthrew Kaiser Wilhem II of the German Empire and German and Allied military leaders agree on an armistice.
  • In January 29, 1919, the Eighteenth Amendment to the Consititution was ratified. The Amendment banned the sale and distribution of alcoholic beverages.
  • During the Paris Peace Conference in February 1919, Wilson presented his draft of the League of Nations but failed to gain support for it. On June 28, 1919, the war officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. Wilson presented the Treaty and his League of Nations draft to Congress but failed to gain approval for both.
  • On August 26, 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution became law. The law gave American women the right to vote.
  • On November 20, 1920, Wilson was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to secure peace in Europe.


Wilson while in office, 1919 Photograph by Pach Brothers

Wilson while in office, 1919
Photograph by Pach Brothers

  • Retired to a home he purchased in Washington, D.C.
  • Because of a stroke he suffered in the White House in 1919, Wilson’s health steadily declined. The stroke paralyzed his left side and blinded his left eye. After he left the Presidency, he withdrew from public events.
  • Formed a law partnership with his former Secretary of State, Bainbridge Colby. However, because Wilson was too weak to carry out any work, the partnership was eventually dissolved.
  • Attended the ceremonies leading up to the burial of the Unknown Soldier at the Arlington National Cemetery on November 11, 1921, Armistice Day.
  • Attended the state funeral of President Warren G. Harding on August 8, 1923. President Harding was Wilson’s successor.
  • Published The Road Away from Revolution in August 1923.
  • Delivered an Armistice Day speech on the radio on November 10, 1923. The next day, he spoke to a crowd of 20,000 outside his home.
  • He considered running for a third term in 1924 to seek a referendum on his proposed League of Nations.
  • Served as President of the American Historical Association in 1924 but died before completing his one-year term.
  • Died February 3, 1924 of a stroke. He was buried at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. He is the only President to be buried in the capital.
  • Wilson’s residence in Washington, D.C. and its contents were entrusted to the National Trust for Historic Preservation upon the death of his second wife. The home was opened to the public as the Woodrow Wilson House in 1963. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964.
  • The house where Wilson was born in Staunton, Virginia became the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum. It was dedicated in May 1941 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
  • The Woodrow Wilson Boyhood Home in Augusta, Georgia is open to the public. The manse was purchased in 1991 at a public auction and underwent a series of repairs and restorations.
  • The Woodrow Wilson Family Home in Columbia, South Carolina opened as a museum in 1932. It is currently undergoing renovation.
  • Wilson was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame in 2010.