“The ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people” – Woodrow Wilson
Woodrow Wilson Biography
Woodrow Wilson is perhaps best remembered as being the 28th president of the United States, serving two terms in office during which he guided America through World War 1 and played a large part in the creation of the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations. However, he is also widely recognised as one of the most outstanding orators in U.S. history in addition to being a dedicated and enthusiastic scholar.
Wilson was born on December 28th 1856 in Staunton Village, Virginia to Jessie Janet Woodrow and Joseph Ruggles Wilson. He was the third of four children and he spent much of his early youth in transit, with the family moving to Georgia early in his life before eventually settling in Columbia, South Carolina, where his father became a teacher at the Columbia Theological Seminary.
While there Wilson was party to the American Civil War, with his family dedicating themselves to the Confederate cause. He would eventually witness the marching of Jefferson Davis through Augusta in chains and also claimed to have recalled looking up into the face of General Robert E. Lee following his defeat.
Though he would later be recognised as one of the foremost scholars of his era, as a boy Wilson had a fairly innocuous record in school and didn’t learn to read until he was 10 years old. Today many believe that he suffered from a form of dyslexia, however, this did not prevent him from later becoming a distinguished scholar.
It was during this early period that Wilson developed a passion for debate and oratory, learning much of what he later used in his political career from his father, who was a Reverend and keen speaker in his own right.
As his academic career progressed, Wilson enrolled in Davidson College but eventually transferred to Princeton when his father took a position in the area. He went on to study law at the University of Virginia and also earned a doctorate in political science and history at John Hopkins University. It was this keen mind that eventually led him to a career within the university system.
Wilson constantly worked towards attaining a professorship at Princeton, finally achieving his goal in 1890 before going on to become the college’s 13th president in 1902. It was principally through his efforts to improve academic standards and focus on innovation in learning that the former College of New Jersey evolved to become the famed Princeton University that is recognised as one of the most prestigious academic institutes of the modern era.
His progressive attitude and caring demeanor became legendary at the institution, with Wilson himself parlaying his academic experience into his interest in politics. As a result, he was eventually recognised by the Democrat party and attained the position of governor of New Jersey in 1910.
Wilson carried over his passion for innovation and progression into his new role, quickly becoming a popular politician. He was especially popular amongst those who aimed for further social upheaval, which eventually led to his nomination as the Democratic candidate for the presidency only two short years into his political career.
Running on the ‘New Freedom’ platform, Wilson succeeded in his election bid and was inaugurated as the 28th president of the United States on March 4th 1913. Wilson’s ascent was made easier by the fact that the Republican vote was split between the incumbent William Howard Taft and Theodore Roosevelt, who had launched his own campaign for the presidency as a result of dissatisfaction with the current regime.
Wilson’s early presidency was marked by his eventual support of the women’s suffrage movement, with his speech before the Senate in January 1918 endorsing the right for women to have the vote believed to have been the turning point in the eventual success of the movement. Following further campaigning alongside his daughter, Wilson was successful in his efforts to have the 19th Amendment ratified, granting women the right to vote in elections.
Wilson also supported small businesses, with his Federal Reserve Act being widely credited with making loans more accessible to normal American citizens. He worked tirelessly to ensure that workers were provided with adequate rights and was a supporter of the labour unions, ensuring that labourers had the right to strike and engage in peaceful demonstration against unfair working conditions.
Upon the outbreak of World War 1, Wilson announced that the United States would be a neutral party. However, despite his best efforts to negotiate peace, the United States was eventually drawn into the conflict as a result of Germany’s refusal to accept this neutrality.
Following the war Wilson played a large part in the creation of the Treaty of Versailles, including proposing the ‘Fourteen Points’ that would make up the bulk of the treaty. It was during this period that Wilson created the idea of a League of Nations, which was the precursor to the United Nations that we know today. He would continue to campaign in support of the League throughout his later life and was eventually awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1920.
He continued this work following his departure from office and right through to his death on February 3rd 1924 at the age of 67.