Wilson’s Musical Mother

Born in Carlisle, England in December of 1830, Janet “Jessie” Woodrow was the daughter of a Presbyterian minister. After spending a brief time in England until the age of six, the Woodrow family immigrated to New York in 1836. From New York, Jessie’s father would feel called to take his ministry briefly to Canada before finally settling in Ohio in the latter half of 1837.


It was in Ohio as a young woman Jessie Woodrow developed her passion for music. Having regularly attended her father’s sermons and church events, Jessie would feel that her greatest contribution to her father’s ministry would be through the expression of music. Considered very gifted, she would learn to play both the harpsicord and guitar in addition to already being a talented singer.


Her French six string guitar is now on display in the Manse of the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library (WWPL). The guitar is constructed of a maple wooden outlie with spruce used as the surrounding top. In laid on the face of the guitar, a mother of pearl ring. Her guitar was presented to her as a gift of affection from either Joseph Wilson or her father and is known to of been made in France in 1850. Commonly used in the parlor, leading to the commonly used nickname of a parlor guitar, the guitar and its music would provide nightly entertainment to visiting guests as well as the entire Wilson family. In addition to entertainment, Jessie and her guitar could offer both comfort and celebration when used for funerals, weddings and other church gatherings hosted in the Wilson’s parlor and dining room.P1050008

A key characteristic of guitars found in America and Europe of the time is the presence of the sixth string which was not widely used until the early seventeen century in Europe. Having derived from the Renaissance era four string guitar, six double string guitars gave way to the six single string guitars in the early eighteen hundreds. This guitar is considered the transition instrument toward the modern day guitar.

Visitors to the WWPL can view this beautiful instrument on a tour of the Manse. For tours and information, visit our website: woodrowwilson.org.

Post written by WWPL intern Brendan Dodson


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