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.


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