We visited Woodrow Wilson’s house in Staunton, Virginia on our last just-the-four-of-us vacation, the one where Jeff was in charge of the video camera, so once again, I don’t have a lot of photos to scan. (Staunton, Virginia is also the home of the Statler Brothers, just in case you were wondering … and just down the road from where the memorial is to Ken’s great grandfather – but that’s a whole other subject.)
Actually this beautiful home (again, on video rather than an actual photo) was the manse for the First Presbyterian Church of Staunton. Woodrow’s father was pastor of the church at the time of Woodrow’s birth. Some said Pastor Wilson was the best preacher Virginia had ever had. But then he was called to Georgia and that’s where Woodrow grew up. In fact, Pastor Wilson was a chaplain in the Confederate army. Fast forward several years – Woodrow began college, thinking that he, too, would become a Presbyterian minister. Because of poor health he needed to drop out and rest. When he regained his health, he also changed his goals deciding to become a lawyer and entered Princeton to pursue his studies.
After law school, he once again changed direction – becoming a history professor at Bryn Mawr College. By this time he had married another Presbyterian preacher’s kid – the lovely Ellen Louise Axson. He returned to Princeton as a professor and after twelve years, became president of Princeton. The politcal leaders of New Jersey watched his presidency of the college and convinced him to run for governor of the state – which he did and won.
Because of his background, he believed strongly in predestination and told the other politicians he wasn’t interested in playing games “God ordained that I should be President of the United States.” He also added that anyone who disagreed would be a fool. He felt God had put him in the position to work toward world peace. Instead he found himself in the middle of a World War.
I remember many of the exhibits at the house and museum focusing on Wilson’s first wife and his three daughters, rather than the more well-known Edith Galt Wilson whom Woodrow married while serving as President. (Ellen died shortly after he took office.) Ellen was a refined lady who was interested in arts, literature and music and that’s the way she raised her daughter – all successful in their own way. Jessie, especially, was quite accomplished working on the National Board of League of Women Voters and the YMCA.
Ellen was also an accomplished painter and even today her paintings are compared favorably with other professional artists at the time.