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Don’t Know Much About® Woodrow Wilson

“Who was the last president born in a slave holding household?”

Thomas Woodrow Wilson 28th POTUS(1918) Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Thomas Woodrow Wilson 28th President (1918) Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

It might seem like a piece of trivia. But the answer is not trivial. President Woodrow Wilson was born in Staunton, Virginia, on December 28 ,1856, the last of eight presidents born in Virginia. He was the son of a Presbyterian minister who did not own slaves himself. But the house in which Wilson was born was the property of the church Wilson’s father led and slaves came with the house. His father was a leader in the creation of the Southern Presbyterian Church which split from the main body of the church over slavery in 1861. Born Thomas Woodrow Wilson, the 28th was raised in Virginia, Georgia, and South Carolina. He later recalled seeing Robert E. Lee as small child.

Wilson was elected in 1912 after one of the most extraordinary campaigns in presidential history. He defeated both the incumbent Republican William Howard Taft and third-party candidate Theodore Roosevelt.

Fast Facts

-Wilson was the first and to date only president with a Ph.D. He had also served as the President of Princeton before becoming Governor of New Jersey.

-Wilson’s first wife Ellen Louise Wilson died in the White House of “Bright’s disease” (kidney failure) on August 6, 1914.

-Wilson married Edith Galt Wilson on December 18, 1915 in the home of the bride in Washington, D.C. Their engagement and wedding caused some scandal at the time coming only a little more than a year after the death of Wilson’s first wife.

-Edith Galt Wilson accompanied her husband to and from the Capitol at his second inaugural in 1917, establishing a new tradition. It was also the first Inaugural Parade in which women participated.

-Wilson delivered the annual message to Congress (“State of the Union”) to a joint session of Congress in person in 1913, the first time a president had done so since Thomas Jefferson began sending a written message in 1803. He also also established a tradition of regular press conferences.

_While negotiating the Versailles Treaty in France following the end of World War I, Wilson fell ill with the flu. The illness, which may have been “Spanish Influenza,” left him weak and seemed to change Wilson, leading to speculation that the illness affected his decision-making at this crucial moment in history. Read more in More Deadly Than War

-Wilson collapsed on September 25, 1919 and suffered a stroke, leaving him partially paralyzed. His wife, Edith, kept him sequestered in the White House for five weeks, in one of the most serious cases of presidential disability in history. During this time, Edith Wilson served as his “steward,” as she described it, selecting which business he could tend to and making at least one important policy decision.


The Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library is in Staunton, Virginia adjacent to the Woodrow Wilson birthplace.


Posted on December 28, 2018

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