Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Holidays Through History

On Saturday evening, around 330 people visited the President Woodrow Wilson House as part of our annual Holidays Through History Open House. Those who purchased tickets for the event were also able to visit Tudor Place, Dumbarton House, and Anderson House, three historic house museums in the Washington, D.C. area. All four houses we decorated for the holidays and provided activities, live music, refreshments, and more!

Here at the President Woodrow Wilson House, we decorated as the Wilsons might have done for Christmas, 1922. While President Wilson never fully regained the health that he enjoyed prior to his 1919 stroke, he was doing comparatively well in 1922. He often enjoyed small day trips around this time, and he was even feeling well enough for a small Christmas gathering of friends and family at the S Street residence. The dining room is currently decorated to represent that intimate Christmas dinner. Some of Mrs. Wilson’s beautiful china is on the table, including plates from the Martha Washington china set that she and President Wilson received on the occasion of their wedding.
This year's Christmas table features the Wilsons' Martha Washington China. Photo courtesy of Diane Barber.
The Wilsons received quite a few Christmas gifts while they lived on S Street. Many people sent gifts of food, which very likely ended up on the table for Christmas dinner. Potted flowers such as poinsettias were also very popular, as visitors can see from the various arrangements throughout the house.

Despite the fact that there were quite a few fireplaces in their home, the Wilsons rarely lit fires for warmth in the winter months. Electricity and other modern conveniences were becoming commonplace by the 1920s, and fireplaces were therefore mostly used for ambiance. This meant that fireplaces could be decorated with all sorts of materials without there being much danger of starting a house fire. Several of the mantles here at the Woodrow Wilson House have been decorated with ribbons, greenery, fruit, and other festive materials in order to reflect this.
Decorations, flowers, and gifts announce that the holidays have come to S Street! 

Of course, no house is truly decorated for Christmas until the tree is up and trimmed. The Wilsons’ tree was always placed in the solarium where it was framed by the palladian window and visible from the main staircase. It was also lit by strings of electric lights that would not be very unfamiliar to us today. Candle-lit trees were mostly out of fashion by the 1920s, partially due to electricity becoming more and more available at a cheaper cost and partially due to the fact that, according to Phillip V. Snyder's 1976 The Christmas Tree Book, many insurance companies had stopped covering fires that were caused by Christmas trees!

Aside from lights, 1920s Christmas trees were adorned with a variety of ornaments. Glass baubles and stars were used, as were a variety of paper ornaments. Paper was a bit of a novelty in the post-World War I period, as it was being mass produced and sold at a low cost for the first time. People used it to make everything from paper garlands to “glitter” or “putz” houses to use on the tree or in their Christmas villages. Visitors who attended the Holidays Through History event had the chance to make their own paper star ornaments. Some guests were even kind enough to help the Wilsons with their decorating by hanging their stars on our tree!

The President Woodrow Wilson House will be decorated for the rest of the holiday season. Whether or not you get the chance to enjoy our decorations, we at the President Woodrow Wilson House hope that you have a happy and safe holiday!

-Sophia Vayansky, Fall 2014 Intern

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Happenings Around the House: Visitor Feedback Survey Results

        If you have visited the President Woodrow Wilson House in the past month, you probably noticed the surveys placed at the front entrance. For a total of thirty days, the President Woodrow Wilson House guides administered a comprehensive visitor feedback survey. All visitors to the House between October 7, 2014 and November 9, 2014 were asked to complete the survey. We are happy to report that we received a total of 124 completed surveys, which well exceeded our initial goal of 100 responses.

         Before administering the survey, the staff spent a long period of time analyzing the design, delivery, and objective of the survey. After several revision periods, the staff settled on a survey that was three pages long and consisted of fourteen questions. The survey was administered after guests had completed the tour and consisted of all, but one, multiple choice questions. When developing this design, the President Woodrow Wilson House consulted the previous surveys that had been conducted (the most recent being from 2008). Administering visitor surveys is a common museum practice and allows museums to receive feedback directly from their patrons. 
        This survey was designed to help the President Woodrow Wilson House answer three main questions: who is our “typical” visitor, are we achieving the goals set forth by our mission statement, and what impression of Woodrow Wilson are guests leaving with. By answering these questions, the staff will be able to better cater the tour to visitors’ needs. The results were extremely interesting and will be put to work to improve the experience of all returning and future visitors to the home. 

Here are some of the results:
A majority of the visitors during this time period were from California!

Most people thought the library was the most interesting room in the house!

Most people visited the Woodrow Wilson House because they were interested in learning 
more about American history. 

Thank you to all of our visitors that took the time to fill out the survey. We greatly appreciate your feedback and are working to implement your suggestions. The President Woodrow Wilson House also hopes to continue administering surveys of this type for years to come!
-Madison Keller, Fall 2014 Intern 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Thanksgiving During the First World War

            As we reach mid-November, more and more Americans are turning their thoughts towards their Thanksgiving plans. Setting aside a day to enjoy good food and company and to reflect on the blessings and good fortunes in our lives is a tradition older than the country itself. The Continental Congress of the United States proclaimed two official Days of Thanksgiving during the Revolutionary War: the first after the American victory at the Battle of Saratoga and the second when the war ended with the Treaty of Paris. Presidents George Washington, John Adams, and James Madison all issued presidential proclamations declaring official days of thanks, as has every president since Abraham Lincoln. [1] Every year that he was president, Woodrow Wilson followed their example by declaring the last Thursday in November to be “…a day of thanksgiving and prayer, and [he invited] the people throughout the land to cease from their wonted occupations and in their several homes and places of worship render thanks to almighty God” every year of his presidency.[2]
   However, the outbreak of war in Europe during President Wilson’s first term in office impacted how many Americans, including the President himself, viewed the traditional day of feasting. While measures such as the ration stamps of World War II were never used in the United States during World War I, Americans were called to be mindful of what they were using and to conserve food even prior to the United States joining the conflict in 1917. In his 1916 Thanksgiving Proclamation, President Wilson reminded the American people that many were struggling in war-torn Europe, stating:
…And I also urge and suggest our duty in this our day of peace and abundance to think in deep sympathy of the stricken peoples of the world upon whom the curse and terror of war has so pitilessly fallen, and to contribute out of our abundant means to the relief of their suffering. Our people could in no better way show their real attitude towards the present struggle of the nations than by contributing out of their abundance to the relief of the suffering which war has brought in its train.[3]
November 29, 1916 ad from the 4th page of the Janesville Daily Gazette mentioning the “prohibitive cost of foodstuffs.” 
            Americans during World War I were called on to remember that things like sugar, meat, wheat, and other necessities were becoming more and more difficult to provide to Allied soldiers in Europe, and that they could do their part year-round by buying local foods, wasting nothing, and choosing to go without certain items as often as possible. When it came to the holiday season, Americans were no less mindful of their duty to conserve food. The Food Administration asked Americans to grow their own food and to buy as little as possible for their Thanksgiving feasts, and newspapers and magazines of the time printed tips and substitutes for traditional foods such as sugar-laden cranberry sauce.[4]
Posters reminded Americans of food rations abroad and urged them to limit their use of sugar (Library of Congress)
            President and Mrs. Wilson tried to set an example for the American people to follow when it came to cutting back around the holidays. According to an article printed on the fourth page of the November 30, 1917 Boston Globe, the first family spent that Thanksgiving by attending church that morning and an evening ball held by the Navy Relief Society after enjoying a small meal at the White House. “Only members of the President’s household were present and the menu was arranged with a view to food conservation, Mrs. Wilson having been one of the first signers of the food pledge cards.”
Americans around the country forwent traditional dishes in order to support the war effort. San Jose Mercury News,28 November 1917, page 9. Accessed through GeneologyBank.com.
            If you are interested in learning more about the holiday seasons of the past, including during President Wilson’s lifetime, consider attending the Holidays through History event that will be held on December 6, 2014. This ticketed event includes a tour of The President Woodrow Wilson House, Dumbarton House, Anderson House, and Tudor Place, all decorated in period style for the holidays. Refreshments and live music will be provided at each site.For more information, please visit our website. If you are unable to attend the event, The President Woodrow Wilson House will be decorated throughout the holiday season.

-Sophia Vayansky, Fall 2014 Intern

[1]  “Thanksgiving Proclamations 1789-Present,” WhatSoProudlyWeHailed.org, accessed November 14, 2014.
[2]  President Woodrow Wilson, “Proclamation 1496 - Thanksgiving Day, 1918,” accessed through The American Presidency Project, November 14, 2014.
[3]  President Woodrow Wilson, “Proclamation 1352 - Thanksgiving Day, 1916,” accessed through The American Presidency Project, November 14, 2014.
[4]  Gena Philibert-Ortega, “Rationing Thanksgiving Dinner during World War I,” accessed through GeneologyBank.com, November 14, 2014.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Mrs. Wilson's Travels

           After President Woodrow Wilson’s death in 1924 his wife, Edith Bolling Galt Wilson, remained dedicated to her husband’s work and memory. She personally worked with President Wilson’s biographer and with those responsible for writing the 1944 film, Wilson.[1] Mrs. Wilson was also responsible for preserving her husband’s birthplace in Staunton, Virginia as a museum, and it was Mrs. Wilson who donated their S Street home in Washington, D.C. and its contents to the National Trust for Historic Preservation after her death.[2] However, the former First Lady was not satisfied in protecting her husband’s legacy in the United States, and she often traveled abroad in order to continue her work around the world.
            Mrs. Wilson became familiar with international travel during her husband’s time in office. After World War I, Mrs. Wilson accompanied her husband to Europe while he negotiated the Treaty of Versailles, making her the first current First Lady to travel to Europe.[3] After President Wilson’s death, Mrs. Wilson felt that, in addition to guarding her husband’s historical reputation, it was her duty to travel the world in order to continue the work that he started with the League of Nations.
President and Mrs. Wilson in Paris, Photo from Library of Congress
           In 1929, Mrs. Wilson set off on a world tour, during which she visited China, England, France, and Japan. Her cousin, Rudolph Bolling Teusler, was the head of the St. Luke’s International Hospital in Tokyo at the time, and he came to the United States in order to be with Mrs. Wilson as she traveled from New York to Paris. Teusler’s wife, children, and one of his coworkers from St. Luke’s eventually joined the party in France.[4] Mrs. Wilson made more trips in the 1930’s to new places, such as Egypt, Poland, Germany, and Mexico. Every year, Mrs. Wilson traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, the head quarters of the League of Nations, in order to “observe the workings of the organization her husband has labored so hard to establish.”[5]
            However, while Mrs. Wilson certainly worked to support the League of Nations after her husband’s death, other Americans continued to reject the idea. Many people in congress were afraid that the United States would become a de facto member if they worked too closely with the League of Nations, and Washington therefore avoided working with Geneva whenever possible. Furthermore, the League’s association with the very flawed Treaty of Versailles soon caused the international community to lose faith and confidence in the League of Nations.[6]
President Roosevelt signing the Declaration of War with Japan, Photo from Library of Congress
             However, the idea of an international organization did not disappear. On December 8, 1941, with Mrs. Wilson in the audience, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on the Japanese Empire, bringing the United States into World War II. The war ended a little less than four years later and the American public, by then veterans of two global conflicts, supported the idea of a new organization, which would become the United Nations.

-Sophia Vayansky, Fall 2014 Intern

[1] “First Lady Biography: Edith Wilson,” National First Ladies’ Library.
[2] Caroli, Betty Boyd, “Edith Wilson,” Encyclopedia Britannica.
[3] “First Lady Biography: Edith Wilson,” National First Ladies’ Library.
[4] Streich, Mary, “Edith Wilson & the Orient: 1928, 1932.”
[5] Streich, Mary, “Edith Wilson & the Orient: 1928, 1932.”

Monday, October 27, 2014

Happenings Around the House: The White Gloves Gang

Members of the "white gloves gang" with the WWH staff and President Wilson!
Painting storage before
 the arrival of the volunteers.

On October 22nd, the President Woodrow Wilson House hosted five volunteers from the “White Gloves Gang.” Named after the white gloves that museum professionals wear when handling artifacts, members of the gang are museum professionals from a wide variety of backgrounds and disciplines that volunteer their time  to assist with various museum projects. The service day is organized by the annual Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums Conference held this year in D.C. from October 22-24th. The conference aims to bring together a wide variety of museum professionals to create a collective forum that allows for the sharing of ideas and continued improvement of the museum field. On the first day of the event, participants can choose to participate in a project at a local museum. Volunteers assigned to the President Woodrow Wilson House assisted the staff by helping renovate our painting storage closet.
Newly refinished shelving. 

Wilson House staff were excited to receive the extra helping hands and have been prepping all week for their arrival. Because the volunteers would only be at our site for one day, the staff needed to complete some preliminary work. On Monday, staff members removed all the paintings from the top and bottom shelves. The paintings were then cleaned and the old archival wrapping was discarded. They were then organized by size, to make it easier to return them to the shelves, and set aside. The shelves were then cleaned and prepped for the application of new archival material.
Some of the volunteers have fun while re-lining the shelves!

The volunteers wrap and catalog the many paintings. 
  On Wednesday, the Wilson House staff eagerly greeted the five volunteers and immediately put them to work. Two members of the “white gloves gang,” with experience in painting storage began relining the shelving units. The three other volunteers started cataloging and photographing all the paintings to make sure they were all accurately recorded in the museum’s inventory. Finally, the paintings were wrapped in archival material, to preserve their condition, and returned to the shelves.  

Volunteers re-shelve the paintings. 
The hard work done by the "white gloves gang" and the President Woodrow Wilson House staff will help to preserve the condition of these paintings for years to come! A big thank you to all our volunteers! 
-Madison Keller, Fall 2014 Intern 

WWH collections housekeeper Elena Popchock and a
                volunteer attach an inventory label to a painting.

Newly completed painting storage!

Newly completed painting storage!