An Auspicious Beginning – “Graduation Day, 1879”

Of the many interesting documents to be discovered in the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library’s Pamphlet Collection, a good place to start exploring is at the beginning with the oldest artifact in the collection; the 1879 commencement announcement for the College of New Jersey, now known as Princeton University.


Looking at the two-page pamphlet, one side announces, “Appointments for Commencement”, including Valedictory and Latin and English Salutatory. The other page displays the final grades for the class of 1879. Not only was Princeton University called by a different name then, but so was Woodrow Wilson. Wilson was born Thomas Woodrow Wilson, as can be seen in the final grades page of the pamphlet. In fact, Wilson was referred to as “Tommy” in the early part of his life, before assuming the title of “Woodrow.”


The pamphlet also reveals more than Wilson’s highly respectable 90.3 final grade point average. Wilson’s name shares the page with other Princeton graduates who would make their own mark in government. Mahlon Pitney would go on to become a member of the Supreme Court and Charles Talcott was later a U.S. Congressman from New York. However, even a random search of the names of Wilson’s classmates in this pamphlet reveals peers of Wilson who would influence many aspects of society beyond politics. Daniel Barringer became a noted geologist. Fletcher Durell, who gave the honorary oration on behalf of the mathematics department, would later write an algebra book used by school children.


It was from this milieu that the 28th President would come. The 1879 commencement pamphlet at the Woodrow Wilson President Library serves as a reminder of that.

Post written by library volunteer Tim French.

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New Collections Blog at WWPL

As the world’s only museum dedicated to showcasing Woodrow Wilson’s life and career, we at the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library are pleased to welcome over 20,000 visitors each year to view our museum and tour the home where our 28th President was born in 1856. However, only a small fraction of our collection is currently on display.  Our new blog will allow us to showcase the hidden treasures of our object and archival collections. From an antique meat-grinder to old children’s toys, or a military outfit from World War I to propaganda posters from that time period, we have many great objects to share with you. Join us to read about some pretty cool stuff and bring history to life one artifact at a time. We will be posting regularly on some of our favorite items and documents and look forward to interacting with you here and on our Facebook and Twitter accounts.

World War I Poster1975.001.041 2013.003.066     1975.032.022

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Preservation Week, April 21 – 27, 2013

 ImageThe collections staff of the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library (WWPL) announced they will be participating in Preservation Week sponsored by the American Library Association (ALA), the Association of Library Collections and Services (ALCTS), and partner organizations. Preservation Week was created to inspire actions to preserve personal, family and community collections of all kinds, as well as library, museum and archival collections. Utilizing social networks Twitter and Facebook, the WWPL will share ways to preserve family treasures and memories during Preservation Week, running this year from Sunday, April 21 through Saturday, April 27.

As spring cleaning is underway, many in the community may find a need to preserve new-found treasures. From April 21–27, area residents can turn to the archivist and curator at the WWPL to celebrate Preservation Week, a time when libraries, museums and archives across the country will provide information and expertise on ways to preserve treasures such as documents, photographs, books, textiles, audiovisual and digital materials and collectibles.

The library and archives at the WWPL is open to the public by appointment only. Researchers can make an appointment to access books, maps, photographs and other materials.  During the week, the WWPL will offer a series of communications through their Facebook page that will include tips on preserving information and cultural heritage in all collections.

For more information on “Preservation Week: Pass It On” please contact the WWPL Archives at:

Phone: 540.885.0897 x105


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Armistice Day

Armistice Day: Cartoon, 9 Nov. 1921

On Friday November 11, America celebrates Veterans Day in a humble effort to recognize those men and women who have served in the armed forces.

This tradition began with President Woodrow Wilson who proclaimed an Armistice Day for November 11, 1919. This was one year to the day after an armistice had been signed between Germany and the Allies, bringing an end to World War I combat in Europe.

Wilson, battling the effects of his recent stroke, declared: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…”

Wilson was very determined to make sure those who had fought and died for America were remembered and honored. With one of his final acts of office, Wilson signed legislation to inter the remains of an Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery. On the two year anniversary of his Armistice Day proclamation, Wilson returned as a member of a parade to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. He refused a place of honor in the procession and traveled as an ordinary citizen.

On May 13, 1938, Congress passed legislation making November 11 an official federal holiday, Armistice Day. On June 1, 1954, after the world had witnessed another unspeakably violent conflict, President Eisenhower signed legislation changing the name of the holiday from “Armistice” Day to “Veterans” Day to be more inclusive of all and future wars.

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The “Draconian Law That Made Even German Chocolate Cake and Sauerkraut Bad” – Part 2

October 27, 1919: Wilson Vetoes the National Prohibition Act

Stockpiled Barrels of Alcohol

In October 1919, President Wilson was slowly recovering from a massive stroke he had suffered not a month prior, but felt motivated to take a position against the Volstead Act. He took issue with the second part of the Act that called for enforcement of Wartime measures, which he felt were now unnecessary by definition as hostilities in Europe had ended.

In his official veto of the Volstead Act, Wilson warned that when dealing with matters that affected the “personal habits and customs of large numbers of our people” it was more essential than ever that legal procedure be taken most seriously.

However, Wilson’s largely technical civil liberties argument was of no matter to the House of Representatives, who overrode his veto just two hours after receiving it. The Senate agreed and the Volstead Act became law on October 28, 1919, certifying “intoxicating liquors” to be any substance that contained over 0.5% alcohol.

This law, designed to regulate even the lightest beers, technically also made naturally fermenting recipes like sauerkraut and German chocolate cake illegal; a rule that documentarian Ken Burns dubbed “draconian.”

Wilson was never an outspoken supporter of either the “wet” or “dry” positions, and even took care to avoid the polarizing debate in his 1916 election campaign. While he garnered support from both sides of the issue, he was no teetotaler and was known to take the occasional glass of scotch in the evening. Before he left office Congress even passed a special law so he could transport his wine collection from the White House to his new home in 1921. 

However, Wilson was a firm believer in progressive action and lawmaking, and was an outspoken supporter of civil liberties. His veto attempt was ultimately informed not by the size of his wine cellar, but by his desire to protect the rights of citizens from improper legislation.

The Prohibition Amendment, the only addition to the United States Constitution to inhibit a freedom rather than expand one, did decrease alcohol consumption, but also created a boom in organized crime and corruption. Thirteen years after Wilson’s veto the failed “noble experiment” known as Prohibition was repealed by the 21st Amendment, on December 5, 1933. Once again German chocolate cake and sauerkraut were recognized as fully legal foods.

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The “Draconian Law That Made Even German Chocolate Cake and Sauerkraut Bad” – Part 1

October 27, 1919: Wilson Vetoes the National Prohibition Act

The crowning achievement of the Prohibition movement that swept America in the early part of the 20th century was the ratification of the 18th Amendment in 1919. What many people don’t know is that the Amendment itself simply banned “intoxicating liquors,” and that the actual regulations regarding Prohibition were set up by the Volstead Act of 1920.

Prohibition Agents at Work

It is natural to assume that since the Prohibition Amendment was passed during Wilson’s presidency that he must have been a staunch supporter. However, on October 27, 1919, Wilson, a casual drinker although never to excess, vetoed the Volstead Act, more commonly known as the National Prohibition Act.

There was immense public interest in the debate over “going dry,” but Wilson and Congress were tasked with making the smart and proper decision, not just giving in to whoever shouted the loudest. In 1918 the War Trade Board Committee, chaired by Herbert Hoover, advised, “no industry should be absolutely prohibited” and recommended a “policy of curtailment, rather than complete prohibition.”

The first curtailing steps were taken on June 30, 1919, when the temporary Wartime Prohibition Act was enacted, declaring all production or sale of substances containing over 2.75% alcohol to be illegal. This Act was not passed to prevent drunkenness or immorality, but was enacted as a way to save grain for the war effort.

You might be asking yourself, wait, wasn’t the war over in 1919?

Actually, in 1919 the United States was technically still at war because Congress rejected the famed Versailles Treaty, which Wilson was so invested in. (The only time the United States has ever rejected a peace treaty.) President Harding would see Congress’ Knox-Porter Resolution finally allow for a formal treaty signing with minimal pomp or circumstance between American and Germany in Berlin on August 25, 1921.

So when the Volstead Act was passed by the House and Senate and set before Wilson in October of 1919, it contained two sections: one that provided for the enforcement of the new Constitutional Amendment, and one that sought to enforce Wartime Prohibition. With conflict at an end, the war was over in the minds of most Americans and the nation was ready to move forward.

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The Fall Classic

“Yale Yale can’t play ball, what in the Hell do we care now.”

On October 9, 1915, the former 2nd Baseman for the Lightfoot Baseball Club of Augusta, Georgia threw out the first pitch for Game 2 of the World Series. Woodrow Wilson was an avid lifetime fan of America’s Pastime and took every opportunity he could to be involved with the sport.

In fact, his first stint as a president took place in his parents’ loft in 1870 as he led the Lightfoot Baseball Club’s meetings. Then, during his one year at Davidson College in 1873, “Tommy” Wilson played center field for the Fighting Wildcats. Unfortunately, the level of his passion for the game didn’t necessarily extend to his play and he failed to make the team at Princeton, but went on to serve as the team’s assistant manager. The cheer “Yale Yale can’t play ball, what in the Hell do we care now” was a popular taunt following a win in the highly contested Princeton-Yale baseball series. A Princeton man through and through, Wilson would later teach and serve as the president of the college and while there are no specific records of this, I strongly suspect that those words may have crossed his lips.

While in office, Wilson attended 11 Major League Baseball games and made several historical appearances. On April 4, 1913 Wilson threw out the first pitch for the Opening Day match up between the Washington Senators and the New York Yankees. This was the first game played by a team formally recognized as the Yankees. The team formerly known as The Highlanders had moved to the newly rebuilt stadium at Polo Grounds, and had adopted the new name “Yankees,” coined years earlier by sportswriter Jim Price, which had become extremely popular with fans.

Perhaps Wilson’s most memorable game was his attendance of Game 2 of the 1915 World Series, the first ever Fall Classic game attended by a president. He was not in attendance for the starts in Games 1 and 3 by the legendary Grover Cleveland Alexander, but Boston pitcher Rube Foster put on a show of his own in Game 2, pitching 9 innings of 1-run ball and driving in the winning run of the game himself in the ninth inning. The 1915 World Series is often remembered as George Herman “Babe” Ruth’s postseason debut, but what is often forgotten is that his “debut” amounted to going 0-1 in his sole appearance in the series: as a pinch hitter.

Four years later, December 1919 saw Ruth infamously traded from the Red Sox to the Yankees, and Wilson awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Wilson suffered a stroke late in 1918 and was unable to attend any more baseball games, but if he had he would have done it just like any other fan. Despite having a “presidential lifetime pass,” a tradition starting with Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson always opted to pay for his ticket.

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