Lightening the Cruel Strain – Mrs. Wilson’s Sewing Machine

P1050014Displayed proudly in the Manse’s front parlor looking out toward what was once the Valley Pike, a 1850s sewing machine stands – an example of formerly cutting edge home appliances and progressive marketing. The design for the sewing machine was patented in 1850 by creator Allen B. Wilson and sold by the Wilson & Wheeler Company out of Bridgeport, Connecticut. The treadle-powered sewing machine would revolutionize Allen Wilson’s company emerging from a small operation in 1850 to having over 1,000 employees by the 1900s.

P1050015The machine itself operates using a wooden foot pedals that when repeatedly pushed up and down would rotate the wheel atop the machine driving the pin through cloth. Revolutionary and state of the art for the time, purchasing the full set from a local business or traveling merchant would run in the range of $250 to $300; a price few in the area had the yearly salaries to afford.

P1050021Earning an annual salary of just over $1,000 dollars a year from the First Presbyterian Church of Staunton, Rev. Joseph Wilson certainly would not have had the finances to purchase such a luxury for his family. Instead, the Wilson’s could have been lucky enough to have had one given to them in exchange for free advertisement. Being a prominent member of the community with visitors passing through for church assemblies, the Wilson’s front parlor would be the ideal location to set up the newest model sewing machine for sale for all to admire. The First Presbyterian Church also could have likely purchased the sewing machine as a gift to their minister to reflect their prosperity through the luxuries of their minister. This practice was popularized during the 1800s and is the predecessor to modern day free sample marketing.

Post written by WWPL intern Brendan Dodson

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Wilson Remembered in Radio’s Beginnings

Commercial radio began during Wilson’s presidency with the first commercial radio station in the United States – KDKA Pittsburgh – beginning to broadcast toward the end of Wilson’s presidency on November 2, 1920. Ironically, KDKA’s broadcast history began with the reading of the 1920 presidential election returns to see who would replace Wilson in the White House.


Magnetic waves in the ether last night carried far and wide eulogies of Woodrow Wilson…” Thus began the Washington Post’s newspaper article from February 5, 1924. Entitled, “Wilson’s Spirit Still Lives: Tumulty Tribute by Radio”, the article describes the eulogies of Wilson following his 1924 death. The memorial broadcast was carried by WRC radio station in Washington, D.C. The newspaper also reported that the radio broadcast “was picked up in remote sections of the country.” This is one of two items related to the early days of radio that can be found in the archival collections at the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library in Staunton, Virginia.


The other item is a pamphlet that contains the transcription of a radio broadcast from station KPO in San Francisco on February 3, 1925. To commemorate the one-year anniversary of Wilson’s passing, former California senator James D. Phelan recalled Wilson’s work and his character via the airwaves.


Post written by library intern Tim French

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Dr. Cary T. Grayson’s Naval Coat

To the lower right of Woodrow Wilson’s sharp 6 button coat in the newest photography exhibit of the president’s month long trip to the western United States stands a dark blue, double breasted American naval uniform presented with Rear Admiral Honors along the cuffs. This naval jacket, with accompanying hat, was donated to the museum by the family of the late Dr. Cary T. Grayson who regularly wore the uniform at the side of his patient President Wilson during their campaign west visiting with the American people and promoting an upcoming vote on America’s possible entry to the League of Nations. Dr. Grayson arguably spent more time with the president than anyone else during the course of his eight years in office from 1913 to 1921.


            Born in the farmland of Culpeper County, Virginia in 1878, Cary Grayson spent much of his early life in school. His academic career begins at the College of William and Mary where he graduated in the spring of 1898 at the age of 20. He began his five years of medical schooling in Charlottesville, Virginia from 1899 to 1902 before completing his schooling at the United States Medical School in 1904. After three years assigned to the USS Maryland, Dr. Grayson would be appointed head medical surgeon of Theodore Roosevelt’s presidential yacht: the Mayflower. Dr. Grayson would continue duty aboard the Mayflower through the succession of President Roosevelt to William Howard Taft and Taft’s duration in office.

            Following the 1913 inauguration of Woodrow Wilson, the new president and his family attended a lunch thrown to honor the new administration in office. The president’s sister Annie Howe, at the age of 61, slipped on the marble of a staircase during the lunch causing a gash across her head. As both army and navy personnel rushed to her aid, Cary Grayson was tasked with applying emergency stretches to Mrs. Howe. Though unfortunate, this event marked the beginning of a unique and intimate relationship between the President Wilson and Dr. Grayson.

This level of trust would be developed over the years spent together as the president’s personal physician monitoring Wilson’s physical health and also prescribing regular stress relieving remedies to maintain a steady mental health as well. This task was very difficult in a time when Woodrow Wilson faced with the death of his first wife, the weight of the First World War and the pull of constant political turmoil. Of Dr. Grayson’s prescribed stress relieving activities, the two would enjoy the prescribed daily dose of golf with a variety of players with the rule of no talk of presidential business. Both took this rule very seriously and would refuse to play with anyone again who broke this rule.

As evidence of this companionship shared between Wilson and Grayson, Wilson promoted Dr. Grayson to a Rear Admiral in August of 1916. This leap in naval status for Dr. Grayson came amidst a time of crucible-like strain on the American people and the Wilson administration as the United States entered the First World War. President Wilson decided that at that point in his presidency, trusted and loyal individuals with a shared vision for peace and victory were of more value than militaristic background, thus the jump in rank for Dr. Grayson. Wilson would continue to rely on Dr. Grayson throughout his lifetime, and Dr. Grayson, in turn, became more and more of a foundational element in Wilson’s life and career. Dr. Grayson even worked alongside Mrs. Edith Wilson after her husband’s collapse in 1919, determining who the President saw and what he handled while recovering from his stroke.

In the troubled time of World War 1, noting the significant impact of Cary Grayson on President Woodrow Wilson’s ability to lead a nation cannot be overlooked. A relationship of chance, the doctor and his patient would share a bond of friendship that many attribute to Wilson’s ability to bear such stress.

Post written by WWPL intern Brendan Dodson

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Christmas in Europe

Rear Admiral Cary T. Grayson, MD, Woodrow Wilson’s physician and friend, accompanied President and Mrs. Wilson to France in December, 1918, prior to the beginning of the Paris Peace Conference. Ever mindful of the history unfolding around him, Grayson kept a diary of his experiences at Wilson’s side. From Grayson’s diary entries, we know that the President had promised to pay a visit to General John J. Pershing at Pershing’s headquarters in Chaumont. The Wilson’s decided to honor this promise over the Christmas holiday, combining it with a review of troops representing the American Expeditionary Forces (A.E.F.). The President asked General Pershing to arrange it so that he and Mrs. Wilson could have Christmas dinner with the doughboys themselves.

The Wilsons, along with Dr. Grayson, left Paris by train late on Christmas Eve and arrived at Chaumont shortly after dawn on Christmas Day. After an official welcome in the city hall, the entourage was brought by motor cars to a field where the President addressed the gathered units on a cold morning, and then reviewed the troops and tanks that paraded past. The group motored to Montigny-le-Roi, the headquarters of the 26th Division, a National Guard unit made up entirely of New England troops.

The President was surprised to discover that instead of dining with the ordinary soldiers as he had requested, he and Mrs. Wilson were guests of the officers of the 26th Division, who printed and hand-colored this memento.




While the printed menu included chicken and turkey, Cary Grayson’s diary recorded that turkey had been impossible to obtain, so the meal consisted of “chicken with celery and other food more or less American in character.” Grayson specifically praised the pumpkin pie, “the typical New England kind, sweetened with molasses.”




Dr. Grayson not only kept the menu for posterity, but had the presence of mind to get the signatures of Woodrow Wilson, John J. Pershing, Edith Bolling Wilson, and James W. McAndrew, who was Chief of Staff of the A.E.F at the time.




Written by WWPL volunteer Danna Faulds

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Ellen Axson Wilson: Artist


Ellen Axson Wilson in 1910.

 Soon after the inauguration of her husband, Woodrow Wilson, to office in March of 1913, Ellen Axson Wilson closed a rental agreement with Author Tedcastle for a four month rental of a summer property in Cornish, New Hampshire. The property, christened Harlakenden, sat on nearly two hundred acres of land adjacent to the Connecticut River. It was during her time spent in New Hampshire – a placed she that described as “a beautiful place in spite of all drawbacks” – where the first lady reignited a talent developed while attending the Art Students League from 1884 to 1884. Her eagerness for expression led Ellen Wilson to join what she noted as a “sympathetic, interesting group of artists” self-proclaimed as the Artist’s Club.


Of the members of the Artist’s Club, many of whom were former classmates of Ellen’s at the Art Students League, Robert Vonnoh would be among the most influential. Tasked with first term presidential affairs, which included diplomatic negotiations with Mexican military dictator General Victoriano, husband Woodrow Wilson spent very little time at Harlakenden never spending longer than eight days duration. Time apart revitalized the marriage between the Wilson’s; however, the time away from her husband caused loneliness and became “sadly lacking in self-confidence” which affected her willingness to continue her artistic expression publically. While visiting Harlakenden on a summer’s morning, Robert Vonnoh surprised Ellen by taking time to critique his own painting of her and her daughters the famed “Ellen and Daughters” which now hangs at the Wilson House in Washington D.C. After his self-criticism, Robert Vonnoh would express to Ellen his opinion of her as a “real artist with amble opportunity and talent to become “very distinguished”.

The kind words of a fellow artist inspired Ellen Wilson to complete a wide display of nature landscape paintings before her death the following summer. Of these paintings, currently one is on display at the museum of the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library.


Prospect by Ellen Axson Wilson

The painting is of a garden located behind Prospect, the President house of Princeton University.


Ellen and Woodrow Wilson in the gardens at Prospect in Princeton, NJ

Post written by WWPL intern Brendan Dodson

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Artists in the Foxhole – Trench Art at WWPL

In early December of 1918, President Woodrow Wilson set sail on the USS George Washington on a nine day route to France. Becoming the first United States president to visit Europe while in office, President Wilson would spend the vast majority of his time in France leading conference and delegation for a peace treaty to end World War I. Though abroad, President Wilson would spend Christmas day of 1918 with his fellow countrymen touring divisions of American soldiers stationed in France. It was on this holiday in 1918 that American soldiers stationed in France gave their Commander-and-Chief a gift of appreciation and respect. The gift, which is now housed in the museums collection of the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library, was a spiral carved cane with bullet casings inserted around the handle and along the arc. At the base of the handle is the engraved name of Woodrow Wilson.

The cane presented to Woodrow Wilson is a prime example of trench art created by many soldiers throughout the First World War. The term “trench art” is in reference to decorative war souvenirs created from recycled wartime materials. Bullets, artillery shells and shrapnel scraps were among the most commonly used mediums for creative expression.

P1050041After the initial assault into France and Belgium by the Germans in 1914, much of the Great War was spent in gridlock with soldiers dug deep in trenches across France. The “hurry up and wait” nature of World War I created a need for soldiers to remain occupied during lulls in battle. Many psychologists argues that the psychological toll on men in the days, weeks, and sometimes months waiting for fighting to resume could potentially do more harm long term to the unit then the fighting itself. To prevent these minds from breaking under the strains and stresses of war, it was common for soldiers to encourage one another to keep the mind sharp through creative artistic expression. Whether simply carving one’s identification and location into a used artillery shell or constructing a letter opener with used bullet casing and a dull knife, the presence of this art indicates the need to remain psychologically attentive a midst horror never before experienced by mankind.

P1050055 P1050052 P1050050

The increased interest in trench art in recent years has revived study of the World War I era. The buying and selling of Trench Art throughout the United State and Europe has errupted into a million dollar industry with carved bullets going for anywhere between $60 to $100 dollars each in a recent Bonham’s auction in London. The vast majority of items sold however are handled through online auction websites which has led to a creation of replica pieces diluting trust in the industry.

Post written by WWPL intern Brendan Dodson

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The Present Task of Ministry

The early 20th Century was a time of great technological change and scientific discovery; the airplane, radio and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis was entering the mainstream, as well. In light of these developments, Woodrow Wilson had concerns about the direction of humankind’s spiritual life.

1918_task_ministry_cover1918_task_ministry_2Published in 1918, this pamphlet contains the transcription of a 1908 speech given by Wilson to the Hartford Theological Seminary. During his speech, “The Present Task of the Ministry,” Wilson said,

…I sometimes think that men in our age are either losing their spirits or thinking that they have lost them. It is a very confusing age for a man of conscience. In the modern organization of economic society, for example, no man is a complete whole, every man is a fraction…


Wilson goes on to tell the graduating seminarians of the importance of their role as a “mediator between our souls and our knowledge” and of the importance of their calling to the ministry.

Wilson was a spiritual man and one of America’s most deeply religious presidents. A visit to the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library can be combined with a tour of Wilson’s birthplace located on the same site; the Presbyterian Church manse. The visitor can then experience Wilson’s religious influences from birth to presidency.

Post written by library volunteer Tim French

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