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
            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,”, 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, 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!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Spotlight on our Collections: Princeton University Pennant

Princeton University banner.
Photo courtesy of WWH. 
             As the only president to earn a PhD, Woodrow Wilson is often remembered as a prominent scholar. This brown and orange banner emblazoned with the word “Princeton” is representative of the four years Woodrow Wilson spent as an undergraduate at Princeton University, originally known as the College of New Jersey, and the eight years he served as president of the university. Hung in what was colloquially referred to by President Wilson as the “dugout,” the banner emphasizes the important role that education and scholarship played in Wilson’s life. Before becoming a politician, Wilson pursued an academic career and spent many years as a prominent professor of political science.

A collection of Wilson's Princeton memorabilia.
Photo courtesy of WWH. 
As a child, Wilson struggled in school and did not learn to read until the age of 10. He truly began to succeed academically when he transferred to Princeton University in 1875 from Davidson College in North Carolina. Wilson made the most of his four years there by engaging in a wide variety of extra-curricular activities. For example, Wilson organized a pick-up baseball team called the Bowery Boys and by his junior years was the managing editor of the school newspaper. Additionally, Wilson spent a great deal of time learning and perfecting his public speaking skills as part of the debate club. Despite all of the time he dedicated to activities outside of the classroom, “…Wilson ultimately distinguished himself most as a scholar, through countless hours of independent thought and work. He was bursting with ideas, as every book he read seemed to inspire one he hoped to write.”[1] After graduating in the top third of his class, Wilson enrolled in Law School at University of Virginia but soon realized that he was not interested in the practice of law. After a short stint as a lawyer in Atlanta, Wilson returned to graduate school at Johns Hopkins University. After three years of study, Wilson received his doctorate and began his teaching career. Wilson was an immensely popular professor and “At the end of his classes, Wilson was often given a standing ovation.”[2] Although Wilson had always wanted to pursue a career in politics, this desire lay dormant during his years spent as a lecturer. He spent several years teaching political science at Bryn Mawr and Wesleyan but eventually returned to his Alma Mater, Princeton University.

Woodrow Wilson in his Princeton University robes.
Photo courtesy of WWH. 
After distinguishing himself as a professor and competent public speaker, Wilson was selected as the 13th President of Princeton University in 1902. As a deeply religious person who was committed to leaving the world a better place than he had found it, Wilson was happy to this position because “…he considered Princeton’s goals tied to those of every college, and the role of higher education bound to the progress of the nation.”[3] Wilson served as President of Princeton for eight years and made several notable improvements during that time, such as: improving the curriculum, establishing a graduate school, and increasing the number of distinguished professors. Today, Woodrow Wilson’s legacy of scholarship and international understanding are preserved on the Princeton University campus through the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. The school, named in Wilson’s honor, works to prepare students for careers in public service and frequently collaborates with the President Woodrow Wilson House Museum. 

-Madison Keller

[1] H.W. Brands, Woodrow Wilson (New York: Henry Holt and Company LLC, 2003), 69.
[2] PBS American Experience, directed by Carl Baker and Mitch Wilson (2001; California: PBS, 2001), DVD.
[3] A. Scott Berg, Wilson (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2013), 146.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

2014 Kalorama House and Embassy Tour

             Last Sunday, those interested in everything from architecture to foreign cultures and everything in between had the opportunity to attend the annual Kalorama House and Embassy Tour, organized by The President Woodrow Wilson House. Visitors had the option to tour six different embassies and a private residence on S Street. They enjoyed refreshments, a jazz ensemble, and an open-house atmosphere at the President Woodrow Wilson House, which is also located on S Street.

Crystal Chandelier, a jazz ensemble, provided live music at the President Woodrow Wilson House on Sunday.

            The Kalorama neighborhood of Washington D.C. was named by Joel Barlow, a poet who moved into the area in 1808. Kalorama” is Greek for “a beautiful view.” Since the early nineteenth century Kalorama neighborhood was a largely undeveloped, suburban area overlooking downtown D.C., Barlow thought that the name suited the area quite well.[1]
            President Wilson and his wife, Mrs. Edith Wilson, moved into the neighborhood in 1921 after leaving the White House, making the Wilsons the first and only presidential couple to make Washington their permanent residence after leaving office. Their home on S Street, now The President Woodrow Wilson House, was a stately four story mansion that was grand enough to receive guests, but still quiet enough President Wilson could rest, recuperate (he had suffered from a stroke during his second term) and enjoy a peaceful retirement. Waddy Woods built the Wilson house in the Georgian Revival style, one several popular styles of architecture in the neighborhood. Kalorama is also home to examples of Beaux Arts, Mediterranean, and other interesting and beautiful architectural styles.[2] 

Guests had the opportunity to enjoy refreshments and music in the back garden at the President Woodrow Wilson House.

            The area continued to develop and urbanize throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as the streetcar and other transportation systems transformed D.C. into the modern city that it is today. However, it was not until the Great Depression hit the United States 1929 that the beautiful embassies and ambassadorial residences that visitors had the chance to tour last Sunday began to show up in Kalorama. After the stock market crash, many of the area’s wealthier families and homeowners hit hard times and were forced to sell their homes. In many cases, those home were bought by the U.S. government, who transformed the buildings into foreign embassies.[3]

Among the stops on the tour was the Cultural Center at the Korean Embassy. Visitors were able to see beautiful art, try Korean food, wear traditional Korean clothing, and learn about Korean culture.

            The 2014 Kalorama House and Embassy Tour allowed visitors a special chance to explore parts of this beautiful and historic neighborhood that are not generally open to the public. However, the area is always a wonderful place to take a quiet walk and admire the houses and imposing architecture of the modern embassies. Of course, while you are in the area, be sure to visit The President Woodrow Wilson House on S Street!

-Sophia Vayansky

[1]Shilpi Paul, “Kalorama: A Posh View From Embassy Row,” D.C. Urban Turf.
[2]The President Woodrow Wilson House, “Wilson House,”
Shilpi Paul, “Kalorama: A Posh View From Embassy Row,” D.C. Urban Turf
[3] Shilpi Paul, “Kalorama: A Posh View From Embassy Row,” D.C. Urban Turf.