June 9, 1902: Woodrow Wilson elected president . . .

107 years ago today  Woodrow Wilson was unanimously elected president, of Princeton University in New Jersey, on June 9, 1902.

Wilson’s history is remarkable.  He is not the only university president ever to have been elected president of the United States — Dwight Eisenhower and Charles James A. Garfield also served in that capacity (any others?) — but his election to the Princeton post marked an unusual rise in an essentially non-political career that would lead Wilson to the White House through the New Jersey governor’s mansion.

Wilson’s thinking, writing and thinking about how to make colleges and universities more democratic, and therefore more useful as fountains of leadership for the nation, propelled him forward.  This makes him unusually American in the way he worked for national service, and so was called to higher service.

All details courtesy the Library of Congress’s American Memory “Today in History” feature:

  • “On June 9, 1902, Woodrow Wilson was unanimously elected president of Princeton University, a position he held until he resigned in 1910 to run for governor of New Jersey. As university president, Wilson exhibited both the idealistic integrity and the occasional lack of political acumen that marked his tenure as the twenty-eighth president of the United States (1913-21).”
  • “Wilson served on the faculties of Bryn Mawr College and Wesleyan University before joining the Princeton faculty as professor of jurisprudence and political economy in 1890. A popular teacher and respected scholar, Wilson delivered an oration at Princeton’s sesquicentennial celebration (1896) entitled ‘Princeton in the Nation’s Service.’ In this famous speech, he outlined his vision of the university in a democratic nation, calling on institutions of higher learning ‘to illuminate duty by every lesson that can be drawn out of the past.'”
  • “Wilson began a fund-raising campaign to bolster the university corporation. The curriculum guidelines that he developed during his tenure as president of Princeton proved among the most important innovations in the field of higher education. He instituted the now common system of core requirements followed by two years of concentration in a selected area. When he attempted to curtail the influence of the elitist “social clubs,” however, Wilson met with resistance from trustees and potential donors. He believed that the system was smothering the intellectual and moral life of the undergraduates. Opposition from wealthy and powerful alumni further convinced Wilson of the undesirability of exclusiveness and moved him towards a more populist position in his politics.”
  • While attending a recent Lincoln celebration I asked myself if Lincoln would have been as serviceable to the people of this country had he been a college man, and I was obliged to say to myself that he would not. The process to which the college man is subjected does not render him serviceable to the country as a whole. It is for this reason that I have dedicated every power in me to a democratic regeneration.
    The American college must become saturated in the same sympathies as the common people. The colleges of this country must be reconstructed from the top to the bottom. The American people will tolerate nothing that savors of exclusiveness.
    Woodrow Wilson, president of Princeton University, “Address to Alumni,” April 16, 1910.
Woodrow Wilson, circa 1913 (in the Oval Office?) - Library of Congress image

Woodrow Wilson, circa 1913 (in the Oval Office?) - Library of Congress image

2 Responses to June 9, 1902: Woodrow Wilson elected president . . .

  1. Ed Darrell says:

    Charles Garfield? A typo.

    Charles Garfield is a performance psychologist with some great stories about how to get teams to function a lot better.

    No idea whether he’s any relation to James Garfield.

    Thanks for the catch, Rob!


  2. Rob Lopresti says:

    And who, pray tell, is Charles Garfield?


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