The Birthplace and Museum

Sitting atop the crest of a hill in downtown Staunton's Gospel Hill historic district is the birthplace of President Woodrow Wilson. The house is often referred to as a manse which is the term the Presbyterian Church uses to identify the residence of their minister.

Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum in historic Staunton, Virginia offers a variety of experiences for visitors of all ages.

Retrace the inspiring journey of our 28th president at The Woodrow Wilson Museum as you take a self-guided tour through seven galleries which explore Wilson's early years, his eventful presidency, suffrage, prohibition and World War I. The President's restored 1919 Pierce-Arrow limousine is a highlight of the museum. Immerse yourself in the new, state-of–the-art World War I trench exhibit complete with lights and sound to experience what life was like for soldiers as they engaged in battle. See authentic weapons and uniforms as you discover the unforgettable story of the doughboys.

Enjoy an engaging guided tour of President Wilson’s birthplace, a beautifully restored Greek Revival manse, and experience what life was like when he was born there in 1856. An authentic example of a Shenandoah Valley home during the pre-Civil War era, this National Historic Landmark is decorated with Wilson family treasures and period furnishings.
In January 1846, church session minutes record an appropriation for building the manse. Mrs. Smith's father, the Reverend James Morrison of Rockbridge County, Virginia wrote, "The congregation has contracted to have a house built for Mr. Smith, which it is said will be the best house in Staunton when it is finished. The lot on which it is to be built is one of the most beautiful situations in Staunton. . ." The ladies of the church held a fair in June 1846 and raised $300 to pay the balance on purchase of the building lot.

The handsome Manse erected on the lot may have been designed by the Reverend Rufus W. Bailey, founder of Augusta Female Seminary in 1842 (now Mary Baldwin College), and designer of its classical main building (1844), for he served on the church's building committee. The manse and the college's old building are strikingly similar in style.

Builder of the manse was John Fifer of Augusta County. His son, later Governor of Illinois, recalled that the bricks were fired just west of Staunton along the Parkersburg Turnpike, and that some of the construction workers left the job to become soldiers in the Mexican War. Church records indicate that the total cost of constructing the 12-room Greek Revival style brick house with its center halls and four chimneys was about $4,000.

In December 1854, the Reverend Joseph Ruggles Wilson, a professor at Hampden-Sydney College, accepted a call to be pastor of Staunton Presbyterian Church.  Mr. Wilson, his wife, Jessie Woodrow Wilson, and their daughters Marion and Annie moved into the Staunton manse in March 1855. One year and nine months later on December 28, 1856 the third Wilson child was born "at 12¾ o'clock at night" as his proud father recorded in the family Bible. The child was named Thomas Woodrow Wilson for his maternal grandfather.

Only four ministers' families occupied the manse following the Wilson family. To cover debts from construction of a new church, the Presbyterian trustees sold two sections of the large lot surrounding the manse in 1874. Woodrow Wilson returned to Staunton many times during his childhood. His Aunt, Marion Woodrow Bones, and her family lived here, and his sisters and several cousins attended Augusta Female Seminary under its principal, Miss Mary Julia Baldwin, a friend of his mother. But Woodrow Wilson did not visit the manse again until the year 1912 when, as President-elect of the United States, he returned to Staunton to celebrate his 56th birthday on December 28th in the house in which he was born.

Following President Wilson's death in 1924, the trustees of Mary Baldwin College determined to raise funds for a memorial building to the President. The congregation of First Presbyterian Church gave its approval in 1925 to the sale of the manse to the college for $30,000 and the college held it until a group could be formed to preserve and interpret the home as a Birthplace museum for the late President of the United States. The Woodrow Wilson Birthplace Foundation was established in 1938. The first restoration of the manse started in 1940 and was completed in 1941 bringing the Presbyterian Manse back to its appearance of 1856 when Thomas Woodrow Wilson was born. In May 1941 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt came to Staunton to dedicate the restored Woodrow Wilson Birthplace as a "shrine to freedom."

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Wilson was president throughout World War I. He attempted to keep America out of the war and even won reelection with the slogan "He kept us out of war." Nonetheless, after the sinking of the Lusitania, continued run-ins with German submarines, and the release of the Zimmerman Telegram, America became involved. with the Lusitania, the continued harassment of American ships by German submarines, and the release of the Zimmerman Telegram meant that America joined the allies in April, 1917.

Woodrow Wilson was President when the 19th amendment was ratified in 1920 giving women the right to vote.

Wilson piloted the ship that brought America onto the world stage. He made the first steps of leading us out of isolationism, violating Washington's tenet of avoiding foreign entanglements.

He led America during World War I. His fervent hope was for the US to join a League of Nations, the precursor to the United Nations.

A Woodrow Wilson Quote: "Life does not consist in thinking, it consists in acting."

A Woodrow Wilson Quote: "The Constitution was not made to fit us like a straitjacket. In its elasticity lies its chief greatness."

A Woodrow Wilson Quote: "I believe in democracy because it releases the energies of every human being."

The Seventeenth Amendment was formally adopted on May 31, 1913. Wilson had been president for almost three months at the time. The amendment provided for the direct election of senators. Prior to its adoption, Senators were chosen by state legislatures.

Wilson was the first president to receive a PhD which he got in Political Science from Johns Hopkins University. He had received his undergraduate degree from the College of New Jersey, renamed Princeton University in 1896.

Woodrow Wilson could not read during the first decade of his life. Though undiagnosed, he may have suffered from a learning disability

Woodrow Wilson was known as "Tommy" until his college years.

Woodrow Wilson during his boyhood, helped establish the "Lightfoot Baseball Club" with his friends. Wilson played second base and was an avid sport fan throughout his adult life.

Woodrow Wilson was the first president to attend the Major League Baseball Fall Classic. He saw the debut of a young 20 year old pitcher by the name of George Herman "Babe" Ruth.

Woodrow Wilson was a graduate of Princeton University and Johns Hopkins University and the only president to hold an earned doctoral degree.

Woodrow Wilson image is on the $100,000 bill although it is no longer in circulation