Woodrow Wilson, 28th president of the United States (1913-21), secured a
legislative program of progressive domestic reform, guided his country
during WORLD WAR I, and sought a peace settlement based on high moral
principles, to be guaranteed by the LEAGUE OF NATIONS.
Early Life and Career
Thomas Woodrow Wilson was born in Staunton, Va., on Dec. 28, 1856. He
profoundly influenced by a devoutly religious household headed by his
father, Joseph Ruggles Wilson, a Presbyterian minister, and his mother,
Janet Woodrow Wilson, the daughter of a minister. Woodrow (he dropped
Thomas in 1879) attended (1873-74) Davidson College and in 1875 entered
College of New Jersey (later Princeton University), graduating in 1879.
Wilson studied (1879-80) at the University of Virginia Law School,
practiced law in Atlanta, and in 1883 entered The Johns Hopkins
for graduate study in political science. His widely acclaimed book,
Congressional Government (1885), was published a year before he received
the doctoral degree. In 1885 he married Ellen Louise Axson; they had
Wilson taught at Bryn Mawr College (1885-88) and Wesleyan University
in Connecticut (1888-90) before he was called (1890) to Princeton as
professor of jurisprudence and political economy. A popular lecturer,
Wilson also wrote a score of articles and nine books, including Division
and Reunion (1893) and his five-volume History of the American People
(1902). In 1902 he was the unanimous choice of the trustees to become
Princeton's president. His reforms included reorganization of the
departmental structure, revision of the curriculum, raising of academic
standards, tightening of student discipline, and the still-famous
preceptorial system of instruction. But Wilson's quad plan--an attempt
create colleges or quadrangles where students and faculty members would
live and study together--was defeated. Opposed by wealthy alumni and
trustees, he also lost his battle for control of the proposed graduate
The Princeton controversies, seen nationally as a battle between
democracy and vested wealth, propelled Wilson into the political arena.
George Harvey, editor of Harper's Weekly, with help from New Jersey's
Democratic party bosses, persuaded Wilson to run for governor in 1910.
After scoring an easy victory, he cast off his machine sponsors and
launched a remarkable program of progressive legislation, including a
direct-primary law, antitrust laws, a corrupt-practices act, a workmen's
compensation act, and measures establishing a public utility commission
permitting cities to adopt the commission form of government.
Success in New Jersey made him a contender for the Democratic