Woodrow Wilson, JHU Alum & U.S. President

On March 4, 1913, Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated the 28th President of the United States. If you live (or lived) in the dormitory house named for Wilson, perhaps you know why this event is significant event in Hopkins history. If not, read on.

On September 18, 1883, Woodrow Wilson applied for admission to graduate study at Johns Hopkins. Born in Staunton, Virginia, he had previously attended Davidson College as well as Princeton and the University of Virginia. He answered all seven questions on his application form (one sheet of paper, seven questions – that’s all it took) and was admitted to graduate study. His application gives no indication that he had any interest in running for political office; he intended to become a college professor and spend his life in academia. It also gives no indication that his full name was Thomas Woodrow Wilson - he stopped using his first name at a young age.

Wilson's JHU application,
click to enlarge

As a student, he participated in the Glee Club (now the Choral Society). In 1885, he completed his studies in History and Political Science and was awarded the degree Doctor of Philosophy after writing a dissertation entitled Congressional Government: A Study in American Politics. His dissertation has been published in many editions since 1885 and remains in print today.

Wilson taught briefly at Bryn Mawr College then joined the faculty of Princeton University in 1890. Named President of Princeton in 1902, he was elected Governor of New Jersey in 1910. Two years later, he ran for the US presidency as a Democrat, defeating the Republican incumbent, William Howard Taft.

Since 1937, Inauguration Day has been held on January 20, but until the ratification of the Twentieth Amendment, presidents from George Washington through Franklin Roosevelt (his first term) were inaugurated on March 4.

Why did he leave academia for politics? One reason is that he became unpopular at Princeton when he tried to abolish the exclusive “eating clubs” on campus. He was unsuccessful, and the “eating clubs” are still a prominent feature there. Other attempted reforms also brought him notoriety, and he later remarked that, “politics was less brutal than university administration.”

M-Level exhibit

Aside from being the only Hopkins alumnus elected US President, what makes Wilson special around here? The answer is that he was Doctor Woodrow Wilson. No other President (then or since) has had an earned doctorate. Others with PhDs have run for the presidency, but none have been successful.

We invite you to view an exhibit commemorating the centennial of Woodrow Wilson’s presidency on M-Level of the MSE Library, through the Spring Semester.

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