Thomas Woodrow Wilson
Thomas Woodrow Wilson was born on December 28, 1856, in Staunton, Virginia. He spent his childhood as the son of a dedicated Presbyterian mom and dad, named Janet Woodrow (his mother), and Joseph Woodrow (his father). His father was a minister of the First Presbyterian Church. Less than a year later, the family moved to Augusta, Georgia. Young Wilson's earliest memories were of the Civil War, seeing Union soldiers march into town, watching his mother tend wounded Confederate soldiers in a local hospital, and witnessing General Robert E. Lee pass through town under Union guard after his surrender at Appomattox Court House in Virginia. He also saw the poverty and devastation of Augusta during the early years of Reconstruction. In 1870, his family moved to Columbia, South Carolina, and then to Wilmington, North Carolina, in 1874.
Although Wilson's father, Joseph Ruggles Wilson, had been reared in Ohio before moving to Virginia in 1849, he became "unreconstructedly Southern" in values and politics after moving to the South. The Reverend Wilson served as pastor of several Southern Presbyterian congregations and taught theology at Columbia Theological Seminary and, much later in life, at Southwestern Presbyterian Theological University. He helped organize the Presbyterian Church of the Confederate States of America, in which he became a leader. He taught his son the justification of the South's secession from the Union, a belief in Providence (God as the caring guide of human destiny), predestination (that all events have been willed by God), and the importance of daily prayer. Wilson's mother, Janet Woodrow Wilson, born in Carlisle, England, but raised in America, was a warm and loving companion to Wilson's father and a devoted mother to her four children—Woodrow, his two older sisters, and a younger brother. Later in life, Wilson described himself as a "mama's boy" who had clung to his mother's apron strings. Although troubled by weak eyesight and dyslexia that delayed his learning to read, Wilson was otherwise a normal boy, playing baseball and energetically exploring Augusta and Columbia with friends and cousins. He was the first person to ride a two-wheeled bike in Wilmington. Public schools scarcely existed in the South of his youth, and while he received some tutoring from former Confederate soldiers who set up primitive schools after the war, most of his early education came from his father, who emphasized religion and British history and literature. In 1873, although only sixteen and poorly prepared in most academic subjects, Tommy enrolled in Davidson College in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he excelled in logic, rhetoric (effective writing and public speaking), Latin, English, and composition while doing reasonably well in math and Greek. Unfortunately, his poor health—probably homesickness and concern about his father, who had resigned under pressure from the faculty of the Columbia seminary—forced him to drop out of school after one year. In 1875, Wilson enrolled at the College of New Jersey—which later changed its name to Princeton University. He graduated thirty-eighth out of 167 students in 1879. That same year, he entered the law school of the University of Virginia but dropped out in his second year after being spurned by a cousin, with whom he fancied himself in love. Returning home to Wilmington, North Carolina, Wilson continued to study law on his own. In 1882, he moved to Atlanta, where he set up a legal practice with a friend from the University of Virginia and passed the Georgia bar examination. Wilson practiced law for less than a year, however. Greatly bored with life as an attorney, he abandoned the practice of law and enrolled in Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore as a graduate student in history and political science. He earned his Ph.D. in 1886.
Wilson found his undergraduate courses undemanding and often spent more time on extracurricular activities than on his...
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