Wilson was still an infant, “very plump and fat and remarkably quiet,” when his father, Joseph Ruggles Wilson, moved the family south from Staunton, Virginia to Augusta, Georgia in late 1857. He spent his boyhood in Georgia, and in Columbia, South Carolina, coming of age eventually in Wilmington, North Carolina. How then, did Staunton become home to Wilson’s Presidential Library?
“Tommy” Wilson visited Staunton often as a child, regularly calling at the home of his uncle, James Bones. In 1866 and 1867 his sisters, Marian and Anne, were students at the Augusta Female Seminary, now Mary Baldwin University, and ten-year-old “Tommy” came to Staunton with his mother to visit them. Then from September 1879 to December 1880 he was studying law at nearby University of Virginia, and spent many of his weekends in Staunton, visiting friends of the family and courting one of five attractive cousins who then happened to be enrolled in the seminary. His highest ambition was to be a senator from Virginia, so strongly did he identify with his native state.
Ill health forced Wilson to leave the University in 1880, but he retained a lifelong love of the place, and despite the fact the he was an alumnus of Princeton University, and Johns Hopkins, he liked to tell people that the University of Virginia was his “academic home.” He always spoke of Virginia with the affection of a true native. In 1912, while campaigning for the presidency in Baltimore, Wilson, then governor of New Jersey, was asked if he considered himself a Virginian or a Georgian. “I am a born Virginian,” said Wilson proudly. But, the woman continued, he had only lived in Virginia as an infant! “Yes,” replied Wilson “… a man’s rootage is more important than his leafage.”
Woodrow Wilson’s last visit to what he called his “Home Place,” Staunton, Virginia, was on December 28, 1912. He had just been elected president and at the request of a local group, the Woodrow Wilson Club, accepted an invitation to spend his 56th birthday in the Presbyterian Manse where he had been born. This was one of the few invitations he accepted after his election. He said at the time, “After long following of stranger faces, by untried hills and over fretful foam, after long wandering in alien places, tonight, I sleep at home…” Certainly Staunton, Virginia should be considered an appropriate home for the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library.