Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Reflections on September's Vintage Game Night

Guests playing a round of croquet in the garden.
Photo Courtesy of Diane Barber.
Last Wednesday, The President Woodrow Wilson House invited guests to experience what life was like in the Wilson-era. Visitors to September’s Vintage Game Night were able to sample food, music, and games from the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. Additionally, many guests were visiting the Wilson House for the first time and, as a result, were excited to get a glimpse into the private life of the 28th President of the United States. Museum staff was on hand to inform guests about notable objects in the library, drawing room, solarium, and dining room. Similarly, guests were able to explore the terrace and two-tier garden, which are not included on the general tour.  One of the most exciting aspects of the event was the wide variety of early 20th century games that guests were able to choose from. Many people were surprised to learn that several of the games that were popular in Woodrow Wilson’s lifetime are still played today, such as Mahjong. In fact, Mrs. Wilson owned a number of Mahjong sets and often entertained friends with the game. The Wilson House still has her Mahjong set, along with other games, in its collection. 
Mrs. Wilson's Mahjong set in WWH's collection.
Photo Courtesy of WWH. 
Mahjong was first played in the United States over 90 years ago but it remains a popular game today. Mahjong is a four player gambling game that was first played in China in the late 1800s. It is unclear how the game was created because there are many conflicting theories about its origin. One such theory suggests that Confucius created the game, while others contend that the game simply evolved from other similar tile games. Regardless of its origin, Mahjong quickly spread across China and many subsequent variations were made to the game rules. In the early 1920s, Mahjong was discovered by the “West” and quickly gained popularity in North America and Europe. Despite its ancient origins, Mahjong remains a popular game today and many of the Vintage Game Night guests enjoyed learning how to play. While there are many variations on the traditional Mahjong rules, Vintage Game Night guests who had never played before were introduced to the most basic version. If a guest was an experienced Mahjong player, they were encouraged to share their knowledge of the game with others and play a harder version. Mahjong uses 144 tiles with five different suits (bamboo, wind, dragon, circle, character).  The object of the game is to form a Mahjong, which consists of four sets of three and one pair. A set of three can be a “chow,” a run of three tiles, or a “pung,” a set of three identical tiles.
Vintage Game Night guests truly enjoyed their step back in time. Their night in the Wilson-era was filled with fun and excitement! Please join us for our next Vintage Game Night on October 1st from 5:30 to 8pm. In addition to Mahjong, guests can choose from a wide variety of vintage card, lawn, and board games. Tickets are currently available for purchase here. They are selling quickly, so get yours before they’re gone! We hope to see you in October!
Guests playing games in the Drawing Room.
Photo Courtesy of Diane Barber.

-Madison Keller, Fall 2013 Intern

 “Mah-Jong – History and Useful Information,” The Online Guide to Traditional Games, accessed September 4th, 2014, http://www.tradgames.org.uk/games/Mah-Jong.htm

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The President Woodrow Wilson House Goes to the Library of Congress

         Last week the staff of the President Woodrow Wilson House had the pleasure of going to the Library of Congress for a special tour focusing on Wilson related objects. The highly knowledgeable staff at the library was kind enough to show us materials from the sound recordings, prints and photographs, and manuscript collections, as well as letting us see the Wilson reading room where much of Wilson’s personal library is displayed. Among the highlights of the exhibitions were: a certificate from the city of Rome giving Wilson honorary Roman citizenship, Wilson’s handwritten draft of the armistice announcement, and Wilson’s personal library.
Woodrow Wilson's Certificate of Roman Citizenship
Photo: John Pucher
The city of Rome presented Wilson with the certificate of citizenship in January 1919 when he visited the city and was allowed to declare, “Civis Romanus sum” (I am a citizen of Rome).[1] The certificate has three main sections: an image at the top of the document, a central area of text, and a signature section with a smaller image at the bottom. The upper illustration shows a winged feminine figure (probably the Roman goddess Victoria) standing in front of eagles and a group of fasces (bundles of wooden rods with an axe blade), both symbols of the Roman Empire. The text, which is interspersed with golden representations of the pine trees surrounding Rome, translates to: “The Commune of Rome, / From the Capitoline Hill, / Sacred Citadel for the City and / For the Right of the People / Proclaims / Woodrow Wilson / President of the United States of America / a Roman Citizen / equal to the ancient and great men that long ago founded, in their wisdom the indestructible foundations of the liberty and civilization of the world.”[2] In the lower section are the signatures of various members of the city government and another image, this one depicting the Roman goddess Bellona (goddess of war) holding a statue of Victoria, goddess of victory. This certificate was one of the many tokens of appreciation that Wilson received while he was in Europe.
Wilson's Handwritten Armistice Message
Photo: John Pucher
Wilson’s short, visibly edited armistice announcement displays a snapshot of Wilson’s thoughts on the end of the war and what America’s role in the world should be at this critical juncture. The armistice went into effect on November 11th, 1918 following the collapse of the German government and the retreat of the German army. The message reads, “My fellow Countrymen, The armistice / was signed this morning. Everything / for which America fought has been / accomplished. It will now be / our fortunate duty to assist by / example by sober friendly counsel and by / material aid in the establishment / of democracy throughout / the world. / Woodrow Wilson”[3] Written on a small piece of White House stationary this item presents Wilson’s desire for an idealistic peace along the lines of his Fourteen Points. Sadly, the Treaty of Versailles, which formally ended the war, strayed significantly from these ideas.
The Wilson reading room in the Library of Congress displays some of Wilson’s personal library which was donated by Edith Wilson in 1946. Numbering over seven thousand titles the collection demonstrates Wilson’s well-read, academic nature, as well as the large variety in his tastes and interests. Topics range from politics, to history, to literature, to golf. Unfortunately, not all of his library can be displayed and the reading room is closed to the general public. Nevertheless, the reading room gives great insight what works influenced Wilson’s thought and personality.
Books in the Woodrow Wilson Reading Room
Photo: John Pucher
The staff of the President Woodrow Wilson House had a great time at the Library of Congress and intend to return in the not so distant future. Further, we want to extend our thanks to the numerous people at the Library of Congress who took time to show us their Wilson collections.

-Winston Randolph

[1] Wilson, Edith My Memoir page 216
[2] Translator: Landon Hobbs
[3] Woodrow Wilson, Armistice Announcement

Monday, June 23, 2014

House Description: The Woodrow Wilson House

President Wilson's House in Washington, D.C.
(Photo Credit: The Woodrow Wilson House)
Upon strolling by Woodrow Wilson’s lovely historic home on S street in Washington, DC, one might admire the unique Georgian Revival style architecture of the house. Designed by architect Waddy Butler Wood in 1915, the house was constructed during a peak time for Colonial Revival buildings in the United States.

There are many exterior features that identify Woodrow Wilson’s home as a Georgian Revival. The three story house has a very symmetrical fa├žade, with balanced windows and a center door. The structure of the home is built of brick (Flemish bond) and masonry.

The marble steps lead up to arched paneled entry doors which open to reveal the glass paned front door. The door is accentuated with double pilasters on each side, separated by symmetrical sidelights and a circular decorative motif.

The front entrance to Wilson's House.
(Photo Credit: The Library of Congress)
Supported by two, one-story Roman Tuscan pillars is an entablature[1] with a balustrade[2]. This structure forms the entry porch, which is very elegant and fitting for the home.

On the first floor, there are four 6/6 double hung sash windows. Looking closely, above each window there is a flat lintel[3] created by positioning the bricks in a unique pattern.

Between the first and second floor is a double belt course, a classic feature of the Georgian style.

Three classic Palladian windows offer elegance and light to the second floor of the home. The mullions[4] of the Palladian windows are characterized by Roman Ionic pilasters. Above each Palladian window is an arch with fluting, a very distinguishable characteristic to the Woodrow Wilson House.

On the third floor, there are six 6/6 double hung sash windows. These top windows also have flat lintels designed with brick. Between the first and second, third and fourth, and fifth and sixth window of the third floor there is an elliptical decorative motif.

The home has a low pitched, hipped roof which appears almost flat. There are three off center internal chimneys. A slight overhang of the roof is characterized with dentils[5].

The Woodrow Wilson House is very historic in its style. It is also very unique as well. President Wilson and Edith certainly loved their home and made sure to preserve and maintain the classic look of its design.

President Wilson's House in 1920.
(Photo Credit: The Library of Congress)
- Rebecca McGovern

[1] Entablature: a horizontal, continuous lintel on a classical building supported by columns or a wall, comprising the architrave, frieze, and cornice.
[2] Balustrade: a railing supported by balusters, especially an ornamental parapet on a balcony, bridge, or terrace.
[3] Lintel: a horizontal support of timber, stone, concrete, or steel across the top of a door or window.
[4] Mullion: a vertical bar between the panes of glass in a window.
[5] Dentil: small, rectangular blocks resembling teeth and used as a decoration under the soffit of a cornice.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Spotlight on our Collections: Statue of Italy Triumphant

Statue of Italy Triumphant
President Woodrow Wilson House collection
Photo: Winston Randolph
Outside the drawing room on the second floor of the President Woodrow Wilson House stands a statue given by the people of Milan to President Wilson in gratitude of Wilson’s role in World War One. The statue, made from a melted down Austrian artillery piece, depicts a feminine figure, representing either Italia Turrita (an allegory figure of Italy) or the goddess Victory. In one hand she holds a sword while in the other she carries a dead and defeated two headed eagle, the symbol of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The sculpture stands as a poignant symbol of Italy’s triumph over its longtime rival in World War One.
            Italy’s role in World War One is often less recognized than the roles of France or the British Empire. Prior to the war Italy had been allied to the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary but remained neutral when hostilities broke out in 1914. In 1915 Italy joined the war on the side of the Allies, fighting Austria-Hungary until the November 1918 peace. The war in Italy did not approach the scale or the cost of the war on other fronts; nevertheless, Italy played a significant role in the Paris Peace Conference.
Wilson in Rome
President Woodrow Wilson House
            President Woodrow and First Lady Edith Wilson received this sculpture in Milan on January 5th. In Italy, Wilson became the first sitting U.S. President to meet with the Pope (Benedict XV). Wilson also used the trip to promote his peace plan, asserting to the Italian parliament that the peacemakers must “organize the friendship of the world, to see to it that all the moral forces that make for right and justice are united and given a vital organization… [to be] substituted for the balance of power.”[1] Similar to other places in Europe, large crowds came out to meet Wilson throughout Italy believing him the deliverer of a new European peace.
1919 while they traveled through Europe before attending the peace conference. Many significant events occurred on Wilson’s trip to Italy.
Crowd to see Wilson in Rome
President Woodrow Wilson House Collection
In later years in her home on S Street, Edith Wilson made sure to cover the tip of the statue’s sword with a tennis ball whenever the grandchildren came to visit. Today the statue ushers guests into the formal drawing room of the Wilson House which holds many other state gifts the Wilsons received on their trip to Europe. These gifts, including others received by Wilson in Italy, showcase Wilson’s role as an international diplomat and highlight the scope of his travels before the Paris Peace Conference.

-Winston Randolph

[1]John Milton Cooper, Woodrow Wilson: A Biography page 465

Monday, June 2, 2014

A Decade of Change

The years from 1910 to 1920 were a time of great change for the United States. Led by President Wilson from 1913 till 1921, the nation became a true world power. The country was involved in numerous foreign affairs, from the completion of the Panama Canal in 1914 to entering the Great War in 1917. At home, Americans saw a lot of change in their day to day lives as well.

During the first five years of the decade, 1910-1915, immigrants were entering the US at an average of 900,000 per year. Immigrants were arriving at record breaking numbers; more than 22 million had set foot in America by 1914. All of this changed when WWI broke out in Europe in 1914. From 1915-1919, the number of immigrants entering the United States dropped to an average of only a quarter of a million per annum1. Answering the call of their home nations embroiled in conflict, many immigrants left the US, most of them from eastern cities. Labor shortages resulted from young men enlisting in the war effort and from the lack of immigrant laborers. Other minorities - such as women and African Americans - began to take advantage of the large amounts of work left undone.

An African American family moving up north
Source: International African American Museum
Referred to as the Great Migration, millions of African Americans migrated from the southern states to the more industrialized north to answer the call to work. African Americans could expect to earn three times more working in a Northern factory as compared to working in the Southern fields. Between 1910 and 1920, northern industrial cities saw large booms in their African American populations. New York’s African American population experienced an increase of 66%. Chicago’s population grew by 148%. Detroit, the center of the newly invented automobile, grew by 611%2. Many of these new workers took jobs in factories, slaughterhouses, and foundries, or metal casting factories.

An increase in the manufacturing and mechanical industries was not only a result of a greater demand for these services through war efforts but also a result of the changing living and working conditions. The Keating-Own Child Labor Act was signed in 1916, limiting the work hours for children which began a new program of federal regulation in the industry3. Workdays, in general, became shorter. For example, railroad workers, with the help of the Adamson Act in 1916, had an eight-hour workday established. Labor unions also increased in prominence and power with the passing of the Clayton Antitrust Act in 1914. Unfair business practices were clearly defined, and peaceful strikes and picketing were legalized3

A Ford car factory in 1917
Source: Library of Congress
The 1910s saw a great change in transportation as well. Americans became captivated by the introduction of automobiles and airplanes. With the introduction of the automobile in 1886 and the Ford Model T in 1908, people were able to travel farther distances at a much faster rate than ever before. In 1910, there were 458,500 registered automobiles in the US4; by 1920, that number had risen to 9.2 million5. The number of public roads increased drastically, from 2,151,570 miles in 1910 to 2,777,687 in 19205. Other industries tied to the automobile also benefitted from its invention. Automobiles became the lifeline of the petroleum industry and one of the chief customers of the steel industry.

With the Wright Brothers’ first flight in 1903, the world was brought into the aerial age. The first commercial flight took place on January 1, 1914. Abram C. Pheil became the first paying passenger as he won a bid to fly for $400. Pheil, along with pilot Tony Jannus, flew from St. Petersburg, Florida to Tampa, Florida on a round trip that lasted less than an hour and half6. Interests in flight continued to take off after the end of WWI. Experienced fighter pilots were eager to come home and show America their newly developed skills. Air shows sprang up around the country, as pilots competed for awards in distance, speed, and acrobatic stunts7

Claude Grahame-White was the first to fly over
our nation's capital on October 14, 1910.
Source: Library of Congress 

Wilson’s presidency was a landmark time that highlights a period when the United States was coming into the modern era. People were starting to realize their rights and to fight for them. New inventions changed the way the old methods of communication and transportation. Many of this decade’s events, including the Great War, would pave the way for future leaders.

2 Great Migration, History Channel 
5 1920s, Federal Reserve Archive [PDF]
6 The First Commercial Flight, FirstFlight Centennial
7 The Aerial Age Begins, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum 

-Catherine Yuan