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Our History: Featured Alumni/ae: Wilson, Woodrow, 1880

Over the decades our graduates have developed distinguished careers as justices, members of Congress, ambassadors, educators, business people, and community leaders in many fields. This site features some of those late graduates.

Arthur J. Morris Law Library

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Woodrow Wilson

U.S. President

Thomas Woodrow Wilson was born in Staunton, Virginia on December 28, 1856. He spent a year at Davidson College in North Carolina and three at Princeton University where he received a baccalaureate degree in 1879. After attending the Law Department of the University of Virginia, he practiced law for a year in Atlanta, Georgia. He then entered graduate studies at Johns Hopkins University in 1883 and three years later received the doctorate. In 1885 he published Congressional Government, which analyzes the difficulties arising from the separation of the legislative and executive powers in the American Constitution.

As president of Princeton University from 1902 to 1910, Wilson became widely known for his ideas on reforming education. He then entered politics and was governor of the State of New Jersey from 1911 to 1913. Wilson won the presidential election of 1912 when William Howard Taft and Theodore Roosevelt split the Republican vote. Upon taking office he set about instituting the reforms he had outlined in his book The New Freedom, including the changing of the tariff, the revising of the banking system, the checking of monopolies and fraudulent advertising, and the prohibiting of unfair business practices. In the early days of World War I, Wilson was determined to maintain neutrality. The American electorate re-elected Wilson in 1916, reacting to the slogan “He kept us out of war.” However, on January 31, 1917, Germany announced that “unrestricted submarine warfare” was already started; after four American ships had been sunk, Wilson on April 2 made the formal request to Congress for a declaration of war, and on April 6, Congress granted it. During the war, Wilson outlined his Fourteen Points, his vision for a peaceful world after the war. At the 1919 Versailles Peace Conference, he secured the adoption of the Covenant of the League of Nations, which the U.S. Congress chose not to accept. While attempting to create public support for the League, Wilson collapsed after a speech in Pueblo, Colorado, on September 25, 1919, and a week later suffered a cerebral hemorrhage from which he never fully recovered. An invalid, he completed the remaining seventeen months of his term of office and lived in retirement for the last three years of his life until his death on February 3, 1924.

Papers of Woodrow Wilson in Special Collections, University of Virginia Library, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va.


Congressional Government (1901)

History of the American People (1902)

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