Wilson the Virginian

Virginia Born

It is sometimes noted that Thomas Woodrow Wilson, born December 28, 1856, in the Presbyterian Manse in Staunton, Virginia, left his native state just after his first birthday, when his father accepted a position as pastor in Augusta, Georgia, and moved the family there. Once the family moved, "Tommy" retained strong ties to Virginia throughout his lifetime. As a boy, he spent summer vacations in Virginia, visiting relatives on the Woodrow side of the family.

After he graduated from Princeton in 1879, Wilson attended law school at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. His first Christmas holiday as a law student was spent back in his home town of Staunton, visiting relatives and enjoying the company of five female cousins attending the Augusta Female Seminary, now known as Mary Baldwin College. The following winter and spring, the young law student frequently took the train over the mountain to court one of these young women, Hattie Woodrow. Cutting classes to attend Hattie's graduation in the spring of 1880 provoked an official rebuke from the University of Virginia law school faculty!

In the summer of 1880, Tommy, now known as Woodrow, enjoyed a holiday in the mountains of western Virginia with his family. Eight years later, Wilson was almost lured back to Virginia by an appealing offer to become the president of the University of Virginia, but his Princeton classmates rallied and countered that offer by guaranteeing him an annual salary of $6,500 for five years, at that time the highest salary offered at Princeton.

Virginia Homecoming

The very first "Wilson for President" club was launched in Staunton; however, the southern primaries did not give Wilson strong support and, at the 1912 Democratic Convention in Baltimore, he found the Virginia delegation initially in an opponent's camp. In the eleventh hour, however, Virginia supported its native son. After Wilson's election, Staunton lost no time in organizing a proper homecoming celebration for the newly-elected president, a 56th birthday banquet. Although suffering from a bad cold, Wilson thought the clear mountain air of Virginia would benefit him. He slept in the Manse where he was born, and from which he could view Mary Baldwin College, the former Augusta Female Seminary he had visited so often during his law school days.

It was love that brought the President to his native state a final time. His second wife, Edith Bolling Galt, was a native Virginian. Eluding reporters after the small wedding ceremony, they spent their honeymoon at the Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, Virginia, in December 1915. Some years later, the residents of Staunton hoped their famous son might be buried in his home town, but Edith Wilson laid him to rest in the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., the only president to be interred there.

Virginia Advisors

Several prominent Virginians played active roles during Wilson's administration. Carter Glass, a native of Lynchburg, Virginia, served as chairman of the House sub-committee on banking and was instrumental in guiding the bill establishing the Federal Reserve System through Congress. Later, Glass served as Wilson's Secretary of the Treasury from 1918 to 1920. To appease Virginia senators, Wilson appointed as Ambassador to Italy Thomas Nelson Page, a novelist known for glorifying the Old South. Wilson's personal physician and confidant, Admiral Cary T. Grayson, was born in Culpeper, Virginia.

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