Thomas Woodrow Wilson
Burial Location Visited President Grave #
Washington, D.C. June 12, 2004 8th Visited

Located in the northwest quadrant
of the capital city, the Washington
National Cathedral contains the
remains of select notables, such
as President Woodrow Wilson and
First Lady Edith Wilson.

The president's sarcophagus as seen from
within the Wilson Bay. His tenure as chief
executive was intertwined with women's
suffrage, World War I, Jim Crow Era
segregation, and failed American entry
into the League of Nations.

Here, I am pictured standing
within the sanctuary beside
President Wilson's sarcophagus.
The day prior, President
Ronald Reagan's
 state funeral
was held at the cathedral.

This presidential seal decorates the floor of
the Wilson Bay, underneath which the first
lady was entombed after her death in 1961.
Woodrow and Edith Wilson are the only
president and first lady interred in D.C.,
and Elbridge Gerry remains the lone
vice president buried in Washington.

* Fast Facts * *

- First Lady: Ellen Louise Axson Wilson (1913-1914)
    Edith Bolling Galt Wilson (1915-1921)

  - Spouse: Ellen Louise Axson Wilson (m. 1885-1914)
Edith Bolling Galt Wilson (m. 1915-1924)

- Political Party: Democratic Party

- Term: 1913-1921

- Vice President: Thomas Riley Marshall

- Born: December 28, 1856

- Died: February 3, 1924

- Age: 67

- Cause of Death: Heart Failure

- Last Words: "The machinery is worn out. I am ready... Edith!"

 Cemetery: Washington National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.

- GPS Coordinates: 38°55'49.5"N 77°04'15.8"W

* Background on Woodrow Wilson * *

* Thomas Woodrow Wilson was born in Staunton, Virginia, on the eve of the Civil War in 1856. He grew up predominantly in Georgia and South Carolina, where his slaveholding father, Joseph, worked as a minister. The young Wilson’s childhood was shaped by the South and his Confederate surroundings. His first memory was of hearing about slavery opponent Abraham Lincoln’s election to the presidency in 1860 prior to southern secession, and he later witnessed wounded Dixie soldiers die in his father’s church. A decade after the war ended, Woodrow spent a year in North Carolina studying at Davidson College before he transferred up north to the College of New Jersey, where he graduated from in 1879. He was briefly enrolled in the University of Virginia School of Law, but then turned his attention to political science and earned his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University. His first book, Congressional Government: A Study in American Politics, criticized the ever-increasing power of the Legislative Branch. His analyses were partially influenced by his negative views of the Radical Republicans in Congress who oversaw the reconstruction of his southern homeland after the Civil War.

After he earned his doctorate, Wilson lectured at Bryn Mawr College and Wesleyan University before he returned to his alma mater, the College of New Jersey, in 1890. The institution was renamed Princeton University in 1896, and Wilson -- who earned praise for his publications and lectures -- was named university president in 1902. Wilson spent much of his tenure addressing the school’s social aspects. He opposed Princeton’s eating club system, which he felt was elitist and distracted from academics. In 1906, Wilson presented a plan to divide the campus into residential quads, with each class eating in their respective quad -- thus eliminating the fraternity-like eating clubs. A sub-committee of the school’s board of trustees agreed with Wilson’s assessment of the prevalent “snobbishness and indecent extravagance,” but chose to reform rather and abolish the clubs. Wilson also expended effort to keep Princeton’s student body free of racial minorities, so as not to repel prospective students who were white southerners. In 1909, Wilson wrote potential applicant G. McArthur Sullivan, who was black, that it was “altogether inadvisable for a colored man to enter Princeton.” 

* In 1910, after a years-long battle with Princeton's board of trustees about the location of its graduate college, Wilson left the school and was elected governor of New Jersey as a Democrat. He received the gubernatorial nomination with the help of conservative Colonel George Harvey, editor of Harper’s Weekly. Harvey persuaded New Jersey’s Democratic boss, James Smith, Jr., they could control Wilson, who they hoped would stave off party members aligned with populist William Jennings Bryan. Harvey and Smith’s wish for a victorious Wilson was realized, but their hopes for a conservative administration were not. Wilson’s battles with Princeton’s trustees and rich benefactors convinced him the upper class often impeded progress, to the detriment of their communities. As governor, he largely abandoned his long-held views about states' rights and passed progressive legislation that created a regulatory public utilities commission and established a system for worker’s compensation insurance. Wilson also approved a bill that weakened the power of party bosses by necessitating primaries for elections.

In 1912, the second year of his term as governor, the Democratic Party nominated Wilson as its presidential candidate. The New Jerseyan faced incumbent William Howard Taft -- a Republican and self-described “progressive conservative” --  socialist Eugene V. Debs, and Eugene W. Chafin of the Prohibition Party. Wilson’s fiercest competition came from former President Theodore Roosevelt, who broke with the Republicans to head the Progressive Party. TR pushed for economic protection and justice for the underprivileged by the Federal Government under the banner of “New Nationalism.” Wilson agreed with Roosevelt that trusts and big businesses were negatively impacting a large portion of American society, but pledged to address these ills by limiting government intervention and using tactics like lowering the federally-imposed tariff. This reform platform was called “the New Freedom.” In the November election, Wilson received a 41.8% plurality of the popular vote, with 58.2% of the ballots split among his opponents -- yet the division helped deliver the Democrat a landslide electoral victory. Wilson pulled in 435 electoral votes. Roosevelt, who placed second, received 88. 

* Wilson’s first term as president focused primarily on domestic economic policy. Using his oratory skills, he persuaded congress to pass legislation that melded his “New Freedom” with Roosevelt’s “New Nationalism.” He championed the Underwood-Simmons Act, which imposed a federal income tax and reduced the tariff, and signed the Federal Reserve Act, which established a new central banking system for the country. To advocate for the passage of bills he supported, Wilson attended legislative sessions at the capitol and urged for party unity, an often effective strategy. Despite all of his progressive economic policies, Wilson remained true to his conservative origins in some regards. He and his cabinet promoted racial segregation throughout executive departments, and he initially declined to endorse women’s right to vote. Wilson also sought to keep the U.S. globally isolated, particularly as Europe became embroiled in World War I. America remained neutral and bolstered its economy by supplying both sides with ammunition and supplies. In 1916, Wilson was re-elected on the campaign slogan, “He kept us out of war,” though its accuracy was short-lived. In early 1917, German forces sunk three American ships without warning. These transgressions, along with a German attempt to spark conflict between the U.S. and Mexico, pushed Wilson to urge Congress to declare war on Germany, which it did on April 6th.

In January 1918, Wilson presented Congress with his Fourteen Points to ensure worldwide peace, which included an international coalition that became known as the League of Nations. After an armistice halted combat that November, Wilson traveled to France to participate in the Paris Peace Conference, which made the League a reality. Yet Wilson struggled to get the peace agreement, known as the Treaty of Versailles, passed in the U.S., where Republicans won both congressional houses in the 1918 midterm elections. Wilson's Democratic coalition had faltered, and many Republicans opposed Article 10 of the treaty, which required the U.S. to respond to an attack made upon any League of Nations state -- without first obtaining Congress' consent. Wilson decided to put pressure on legislators by appealing directly to the American people, but he was worn down by his whirlwind tour, which took him to twenty-three cities in as many days. On September 25, 1919, the sixty-year-old president fell ill in Pueblo, Colorado, and the remainder of his tour was cancelled. On October 2nd, back in Washington, he suffered an incapacitating stroke that paralyzed the left side of his body and impacted the final seventeen months of his term. First Lady Edith Wilson assumed control of who was allowed to meet with her husband and determined which documents merited his attention. With Woodrow Wilson secluded and his abilities diminished, the U.S. never joined the League of Nations.

Sources Consulted                                                                                                                                                     

Knock, Thomas J. "Woodrow Wilson." In The Reader's Companion to the American Presidency, edited by Alan  Brinkley and Davis Dyer, 316-32. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000.

Lamb, Brian, and the C-SPAN Staff. Who's Buried in Grant's Tomb?: A Tour of Presidential Gravesites. New York: PublicAffairs, 2000. Reprinted. New York: PublicAffairs, 2003.

O’Reilly, Kenneth. “The Jim Crow Policies of Woodrow Wilson.”
The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education 17. Autumn 1997: 117-121.

Rubin, Anna. "Woodrow Wilson and the Eating Clubs." Mudd Manuscript Library Blog, January 27, 2016.

Rubin, Anna. "Woodrow Wilson and the Graduate College." Mudd Manuscript Library Blog, March 9, 2016.

Ruiz, George W. "The Ideological Convergence of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson." 
Presidential Studies Quarterly 19, no. 1 (Winter 1989): 159-77.

Schuessler, Jennifer. "Woodrow Wilson's Legacy Gets Complicated."
New York Times, November 29, 2015.

The Ultimate Guide to the Presidents. "Call of Duty (1899-1921)." History Channel, 2013.

"Woodrow Wilson." Accessed September 2, 2019. white-house/presidents/woodrow-wilson/.

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