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Who is Woodrow Wilson?

By Cathy Rogers
Updated May 23, 2024
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Woodrow Wilson served as President of the United States from 1913-21. As the 28th American President, he is remembered for progressive reform and international leadership. Wilson presided as the leader of the U.S. during its entrance into World War I. He served two terms as President.

Born Thomas Woodrow Wilson in 1865 in Staunton, Virginia, he graduated from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) and the University of Virginia’s Law School. After earning a doctorate from Johns Hopkins University, Wilson taught political science on the collegiate level.

In his early career, he taught at Bryn Mawr College, near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Next he taught at Wesleyan College in Connecticut before accepting a position at Princeton, where he taught for twelve years prior to accepting the college presidency.

Woodrow Wilson’s political career began with his election to Governor of New Jersey in 1910. Only two years later, he was nominated for President of the United States by the Democratic Party. His campaign, known as the New Freedom, promoted individual and states’ rights. Known as an idealist, writer, thinker and diplomat, Woodrow Wilson is nicknamed the “Schoolmaster in Politics.”

Because of his success in expanding the federal government’s ability to manage the economy, protect the interest of its citizens and establish foreign policy, Wilson is considered by some to be one of the greatest American presidents. Important pieces of legislation passed during Wilson’s administration include: the Underwood Act, a tariff reduction; the Federal Reserve Act, which was successful in providing the U.S. with elastic money; and a piece of anti-trust legislation that established the Federal Trade Commission. In 1916, Wilson supported a law to prohibit child labor and one that limited the work day of railroad workers to eight hours.

Other important acts during Wilson’s administration include the Revenue Act of 1913, the Federal Farm Act of 1916, the National Park Service Act of 1916, the Jones Act of 1917, the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918.

Woodrow Wilson married Ellen Louise Axson, a native of Georgia and the daughter of a Presbyterian minister, in 1885. The Wilsons had three daughters: Margaret Woodrow Wilson, Jessie Woodrow Wilson and Eleanor Randolph Wilson. His first wife was not particularly enamored by the life in the public eye, although she handled the role gracefully. Art and painting became her creative outlets. She died of Bright’s disease in 1914.

Wilson married Edith Boling Gait, of Virginia, in 1915. Gait was the daughter of a judge. In 1919, Woodrow Wilson suffered a stroke which left him partially paralyzed. His wife, Edith took over some of Wilson's more routine responsibilities at that time, while allowing heads of departments to handle major decisions. The Wilsons retired in 1921 to Washington. Wilson was said to be a car enthusiast and baseball fan. He died in Washington, D.C., in 1924 and is buried in Washington National Cathedral.

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Discussion Comments
By anon1001494 — On Apr 26, 2019

Wilson was an aggressive bigot and racist who re-segregated government employees and undid the progress and gains made by African-Americans since the Civil War.

By anon130431 — On Nov 28, 2010

Well just to help you with that. Just read Woodrow Wilson by Carol Dommermuth-Costa. It has a ton of information and it helped me with my project.

By anon81788 — On May 03, 2010

i am doing a project on him. any help?

By mentirosa — On Feb 23, 2010

President Wilson died so young? He was only 59 years old, and he lived only three years after he left the White House.

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