Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson: Princeton to the Presidency

W. Barksdale Maynard
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 384
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Woodrow Wilson
    Book Description:

    Before Woodrow Wilson became president of the United States, he spent 25 years at Princeton University, first as an undergraduate, then professor, and finally as president. His experiences at the helm of Princeton-where he enjoyed four productive years followed by four years of wrangling and intense acrimony-reveal much about the kind of man he was and how he earned a reputation as a fearless crusader. This engrossing book focuses on how Wilson's Princeton years influenced the ideas and worldview he later applied in politics. His career in the White House, W. Barksdale Maynard shows, repeated with uncanny precision his Princeton experiences.

    The book recounts how Wilson's inspired period of building, expansion, and intellectual fervor at Princeton deteriorated into one of the most famous academic disputes in American history. His battle to abolish elitist eating clubs and establish a more egalitarian system culminated in his defeat and dismissal, and the ruthlessness of his tactics alienated even longtime friends. So extreme was his behavior, some historians have wondered whether he suffered a stroke. Maynard sheds new light on this question, on Wilson's temper, and on other aspects of his strengths and shortcomings. The book provides an unprecedented inside view of a hard-fighting president-a man who tried first to remake a university and then to remake the world.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14270-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Prologue
    (pp. ix-xii)

    He always loved being on stage. Tonight he was playing the villain, to shouts and jeers. Then he switched to the part of the Fourth of July Orator, gesturing wildly to make patriotic points . . . but with feet, not hands! The audience howled. Finally he impersonated, one by one, the classical statues he had bought to fill the niches in the foyer—for this impromptu performance took place in a family parlor on New Year’s Eve, Woodrow Wilson entertaining his wife and daughters, as he delighted in doing. Few suspected that the famously dignified president of Princeton University...

  4. PART ONE Undergraduate and Professor, 1875–1902

    • CHAPTER ONE The Debater
      (pp. 3-19)

      In the cool evening the bell of Nassau Hall was ringing. The sound drifted across campus, through the oaks and elms on the “Quad,” where an old cannon from the Revolutionary War lay buried muzzle down. Over the rooftops of dormitories built of yellowish New Jersey sandstone. Across the dusty field where students fought for possession of a round football in the waning light. And through the windows of a dormitory room, Nine East Witherspoon, where undergraduates were deep in conversation beside a cheerful coal fire.

      The room belonged to Pennsylvanian Bobby Bridges, Class of 1879. Big-eared and ungainly, he...

    • CHAPTER TWO The Study of Books and Men
      (pp. 20-41)

      Father, I have made a discovery,” Tommy wrote home from Princeton as an undergraduate. “I have found that I have a mind.” He had never suspected how much delight could come from reading deeply, nor how much sense of purpose. Great works of history and literature offered heroes for him to emulate, men whose lives were blueprints for an ambitious young man. He did not know it yet, but he would spend much of his adult life trying to figure out how to make other youngsters—future leaders—achieve that same dramatic moment of discovery he had trumpeted to his...

    • CHAPTER THREE Who Shall Show Us the Way?
      (pp. 42-62)

      For the birth of Princeton University, its sons aimed to eclipse the pageantry of the University of North Carolina centennial the year before. Pomp and circumstance were becoming common as schools fought to distinguish themselves and play on age and tradition in the face of numerous upstart rivals. (Woodrow Wilson was not the only East Coast educator lately enamored of things British, for a colorful eighteenth-century Anglo-American heritage was one thing that dusty land-grant colleges on the prairie could never claim.) Latin professor Andrew West was put in charge, a passionate Anglophile and natural showman who knew how to hold...

  5. PART TWO New Princeton President, 1902–7

    • CHAPTER FOUR Like a New Prime Minister
      (pp. 65-82)

      Even after waiting so long for the limelight, Princetonpresident-elect Woodrow Wilson felt curiously unready. What would be the fate of the political volumes he had wanted to write, the continued reading he wished to immerse himself in? “I’m still browsing among books,” he assured a former student who ran into him in the literary section of Wanamaker’s department store in New York. “I suppose I shall always do.” But there would be little time for writing now. To set aside the manuscript ofThe Philosophy of Politics, his intended magnum opus, was especially “heartbreaking,” and indeed it would never be...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Adding a Thousand Years of History
      (pp. 83-95)

      Fueled by his romantic visions of secluded quads and graystone Gothic towers across the sea, Woodrow Wilson helped guide an ambitious, Oxfordian architectural program at New Princeton. He had assistance from many friends in this project, which had begun as early as 1896 and produced what F. Scott Fitzgerald ’17 would call “the loveliest riot of Gothic architecture in America.” (Less impressed was English philosopher Bertrand Russell, who reputedly found Princeton “as much like Oxford as monkeys could make it.”) Each architectural component spoke in an eloquent British accent about Wilson’s liberal studies creed, his pride in Anglo-Saxon and Christian...

    • CHAPTER SIX Fifty Stiffs to Make Us Wise
      (pp. 96-110)

      The centerpiece of Woodrow Wilson’s New Princeton was his preceptorial system, which, like the campus architecture, was inspired by Oxford University. When President McCosh had begun reforming Princeton after the Civil War, he hired many new teachers and pioneered the use of tutors with a handful of “college fellows.” In his preceptorial system, at first called the “tutorial” system, President Wilson followed a similar course, but on a grander scale, as his fifty young preceptors would number more than the entire count of professors in the school’s first century. The goal was to shrink class sizes and bring students into...

  6. PART THREE The Quad Fight, 1907–8

    • CHAPTER SEVEN The Pleasantest Country Club in America
      (pp. 113-128)

      Like a cute tiger cub that grows overnight into a ravening beast, the upperclass eating clubs were threatening to devour Woodrow Wilson’s ideal Princeton. Their numbers had tripled in ten years, so that by 1906 there were thirteen, and more on the way. They embodied everything that had lately gone wrong with the American university, he thought—the corrupting power of wealth, the multiplication of social distractions, the introduction of a culture of mere pleasure-seeking as “the sons of very rich men” who would never need to work now flocked to college because it was fashionable. Wilson the minister’s son...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT The Quad Plan
      (pp. 129-139)

      What woodrow wilson dreamed up in the Lake District was nothing less than the transformation of the American university into “the perfect place of learning,” as he had spoken of in his sesquicentennial address a decade earlier. He would fuse the best of the old college with the new; he would achieve community and an organic wholeness, forcing the grayest professor to rub shoulders with the greenest freshman; the school would produce not prigs and pedants or good fellows and club men but instead the healthy all-rounder, eager to serve his country. To make this happen, Wilson envisioned a “social...

    • CHAPTER NINE Aristocracy of the Stomach
      (pp. 140-151)

      Commencement weekend 1907 was supposed to be a lark . . . class reunions, the P-Rade, Oughty-Four dressed as scarlet devils with His Satanic Majesty on a float pretending to roast a Yale bulldog. But in the midst of all this fun, a deadly serious circular announcing the Quad Plan was delivered up the brick sidewalks to the Prospect Avenue eating clubs. The circular was read aloud in smoky, oakpaneled club rooms on Friday night, that very Friday that eager freshmen first spilled down the avenue with red fire and Roman candles. “If Wilson had deliberately sought to discover a...

    • CHAPTER TEN The Brutus of the Conspiracy
      (pp. 152-167)

      Oh, hemighthave let someone else second the motion!” exclaimed Ellen Wilson’s sister Madge as she burst into tears on hearing what Jack Hibben had done. It seemed incomprehensible that the Hibbens, their closest friends through all the years in Princeton, had turned on them. Someone recalled how Ellen and Madge’s brother Stockton, sick and delirious with appendicitis at Library Place years before, wouldn’t allow the amiable Hibben into his room. His strange words now seemed prophetic:

      “I don’t want you in here, you black traitor!”¹

      “We have all been under such a terrible strain,” Ellen told her daughter...

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN I Am a Good Fighter, Gentlemen
      (pp. 168-192)

      As the Quad Fight dragged on, Woodrow Wilson baffled friend and foe alike by refusing to compromise. Abolish the hat bands?—eating club zealots would establish something else, he argued. Create a club for the sad birds?—no one would join it. Appoint a committee to oversee the clubs?—that gave the university’s stamp of approval. Force the clubs to take every junior and senior?—this still left the rift between under-and upperclassmen. (He rejected, too, millionaire Junius Morgan’s Machiavellian deal that Ivy Club would cooperate with him if it could be left the only club standing.) Older and younger...

  7. PART FOUR The Battle of Princeton, 1908–10

    • CHAPTER TWELVE We Must See Who Is Master
      (pp. 195-210)

      As bitter as the Quad Fight was, it paled before the ferocious struggle over the Graduate College. This imbroglio, too, played out against the backdrop of tumultuous events in Woodrow Wilson’s personal life.

      Back in 1905, Ellen Wilson’s younger brother, Edward, who had lived with them when he attended Princeton, drowned along with his wife and infant child when their carriage plunged off a ferry into a Georgia river as they were going to a baseball game. Ellen and Woodrow were devastated, as was her young sister Madge, whom Woodrow tried to console in the study at Prospect. He spoke...

    • CHAPTER THIRTEEN The Owl, the Eel, and the Soap-Fat Man
      (pp. 211-225)

      Just when things looked darkest for Andrew West, something extraordinary happened. In May 1909, Cooper Procter ’83, head of Procter and Gamble soap company in Cincinnati, came forward with a fabulous offer: five hundred thousand dollars for the Graduate College, provided the university could raise an equal amount. A million dollars finally to get it going!

      But oddly enough, the announcement came in a letter not to President Wilson but to Dean West, who, it turned out, had taught Procter years before at Cincinnati’s Hughes High School and had tutored the young heir for Princeton. And the letter stated that...

    • CHAPTER FOURTEEN Licked by Ten Millions
      (pp. 226-240)

      He returned from Bermuda ready to resume the fight with his adversaries, whose scalding letters filled the pages of thePrinceton Alumni Weekly.“I feel as if the whole air about me were poisoned,” Ellen Wilson said. She thought her husband’s hand was stronger than ever, though, and if Momo Pyne stubbornly continued to support Andrew West, “it sets you free again to leave if you wish,—that is to accept the nomination for governor.”¹

      An alumni trustee vacancy had arisen, and the candidates took sides in the Battle of Princeton: Adrian Joline of New York, who had helped defeat...

  8. PART FIVE Governor, President—and Aftermath, 1910–24

    • CHAPTER FIFTEEN Kicked Upstairs
      (pp. 243-261)

      If an academic with no practical experience could win the New Jersey governorship, it would be a political miracle. Just wanting to get rid of him, Wilson’s Princeton opponents were praying that it happened. A story went around that they had actually promised the machine bosses of the state that they would bankroll his campaign! These foes were sure he was unfit for the job, anyway. Trustee Joseph Shea warned Wilson “as a very sincere friend, although at times an unwilling opponent” that public office would overwhelm him with “the strains, the worry . . . they would break your...

    • CHAPTER SIXTEEN Big Three Election
      (pp. 262-278)

      Even as Governor Wilson was being touted as the next Democratic candidate for United States president, he had never met his party’s often-defeated stalwart, William Jennings Bryan. The opportunity came at last in March 1911. Driven up in a car from Burlington, New Jersey, Bryan addressed a Princeton Seminary conference in Alexander Hall on “Faith.” “It was the first time I had ever heard him speak, and I was exceedingly pleased,” Wilson said. Over dinner in the Princeton Inn dining room, Bryan charmed the governor: “A truly captivating man, I must admit.” Nell Wilson was intrigued at how Bryan disregarded...

    • CHAPTER SEVENTEEN The Loneliest Place in the World
      (pp. 279-297)

      In the morning President-elect Woodrow Wilson needed to clear his head. So much had happened so quickly! After posing for photographers on the porch, he sauntered five miles with a bodyguard his Western political backer Colonel Edward House had provided, grizzled Captain Bill MacDonald of the Texas Rangers, who toted a sawed-off gun on either hip. Well-wishers came up constantly. From a corner of the grandstand at University Field, Wilson watched football practice, as he had done, it was said, three or more times a week during all his years in Princeton. (Days later, on November 9, he would return...

    • CHAPTER EIGHTEEN The Old College Life Is All Shot to Hell
      (pp. 298-316)

      The Professor and His Lady,” the White House staff affectionately called the Wilsons behind their backs—for Woodrow and Ellen had the common touch. The servants were less fond of their spirited daughters, who loved practical jokes—placing orders and then pretending they hadn’t, jumping out from dark corners to scare the servants into dropping things; taking the public tours disguised as ordinary visitors and then loudly badmouthing the Wilson girls. The president amused the staff with his frugality, not allowing them to turn on the electric lights, for example, until it was dark outside.¹

      The Wilsons tried to retain...

    • CHAPTER NINETEEN And After That the Dark
      (pp. 317-342)

      For a beleaguered commander in chief in wartime, Princeton memories—the happy ones, at least—offered a welcome respite. Many times in cabinet meetings “he regaled us with stories having a Princeton flavor,” Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels remembered. Three weeks after the declaration of war, Woodrow Wilson ate waffles with syrup for lunch and told funny stories about Princeton’s President McCosh. Jimmy’s tactless fundraising style back in the 1870s was to invite a rich alumnus over to Prospect House and unroll the blueprints: “I have all the money except $10,000—what do you say?”¹

      In challenging times, old...

  9. Abbreviations
    (pp. 343-344)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 345-368)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 369-378)
  12. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 379-381)
  13. Illustration Credits
    (pp. 382-382)
  14. Index
    (pp. 383-392)