Woodrow Wilson: Princeton to the Presidency 9780300142709

Before Woodrow Wilson became president of the United States, he spent 25 years at Princeton University, first as an unde

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Woodrow Wilson: Princeton to the Presidency

Table of contents :
Part One. Undergraduate and Professor, 1875–1902
Chapter One. The Debater
Chapter Two. The Study of Books and Men
Chapter Three. The Study of Books and Men
Part Two. New Princeton President, 1902–7
Chapter Four. Like a New Prime Minister
Chapter Five. Adding a Thousand Years of History
Chapter Six. Fifty Stiffs to Make Us Wise
Part Three. The Quad Fight, 1907–8
Chapter Seven. The Pleasantest Country Club in America
Chapter Eight. The Quad Plan
Chapter Nine. Aristocracy of the Stomach
Chapter Ten. The Brutus of the Conspiracy
Chapter Eleven. I Am a Good Fighter, Gentlemen
Part Four. The Battle of Princeton, 1908–10
Chapter Twelve. We Must See Who Is Master
Chapter Thirteen. The Owl, the Eel, and the Soap-Fat Man
Chapter Fourteen. Licked by Ten Millions
Part Five. Governor, President— and Aftermath, 1910–24
Chapter Fifteen. Kicked Upstairs
Chapter Sixteen. Big Three Election
Chapter Seventeen. The Loneliest Place in the World
Chapter Eighteen. The Old College Life Is All Shot to Hell
Chapter Nineteen. And After That the Dark
Illustration Credits

Citation preview


Woodrow Wilson Princeton to the Presidency

W. B A R K S D A L E M A Y N A R D




Architecture in the United States, 1800–1850 Walden Pond: A History Buildings of Delaware in the Buildings of the United States Series

This project was assisted by a grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, a division in the Department of State. Copyright © 2008 by W. Barksdale Maynard. All rights reserved. This book may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, including illustrations, in any form (beyond that copying permitted by Sections 107 and 108 of the U.S. Copyright Law and except by reviewers for the public press), without written permission from the publishers. Designed by James J. Johnson and set in Fairfield Medium Roman type by Tseng Information Systems, Inc. Printed in the United States of America by Vail-Ballou Press. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Maynard, W. Barksdale (William Barksdale) Woodrow Wilson : Princeton to the presidency / W. Barksdale Maynard. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-0-300-13604-3 (clothbound : alk. paper) 1. Wilson, Woodrow, 1856–1924. 2. Wilson, Woodrow, 1856–1924—Political and social views. 3. Presidents—United States—Biography. 4. College presidents—New Jersey—Princeton— Biography. 5. College teachers—New Jersey—Princeton—Biography. 6. College students— New Jersey—Princeton—Biography. 7. Princeton University—Biography. I. Title. E767.1.M39 2008 973.91'3092—dc22 2008013151 A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. The paper in this book meets the guidelines for permanence and durability of the Committee on Production Guidelines for Book Longevity of the Council on Library Resources. 10










To Susan and Alexander

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PART ONE Undergraduate and Professor, 1875–1902 CHAPTER 1. The Debater


CHAPTER 2. The Study of Books and Men


CHAPTER 3. Who Shall Show Us the Way? 42

PART T WO New Princeton President, 1902–7 CHAPTER 4. Like a New Prime Minister 65 CHAPTER 5. Adding a Thousand Years of History 83 CHAPTER 6. Fifty Stiffs to Make Us Wise 96

PART THREE The Quad Fight, 1907–8 CHAPTER 7. The Pleasantest Country Club in America 113 CHAPTER 8. The Quad Plan




CHAPTER 9. Aristocracy of the Stomach 140 CHAPTER 10. The Brutus of the Conspiracy 152 CHAPTER 11. I Am a Good Fighter, Gentlemen 168

PART FOUR The Battle of Princeton, 1908–10 CHAPTER 12. We Must See Who Is Master 195 CHAPTER 13. The Owl, the Eel, and the Soap-Fat Man 211 CHAPTER 14. Licked by Ten Millions 226

PART FIVE Governor, President—and Aftermath, 1910–24 CHAPTER 15. Kicked Upstairs 243 CHAPTER 16. Big Three Election


CHAPTER 17. The Loneliest Place in the World


CHAPTER 18. The Old College Life Is All Shot to Hell 298 CHAPTER 19. And After That the Dark ABBREVIATIONS NOTES







379 382




E ALWAYS loved being on stage. Tonight he was playing the villain, to shouts and jeers. Then he switched to the part of the Fourth of July Orator, gesturing wildly to make patriotic points . . . but with feet, not hands! The audience howled. Finally he impersonated, one by one, the classical statues he had bought to fill the niches in the foyer—for this impromptu performance took place in a family parlor on New Year’s Eve, Woodrow Wilson entertaining his wife and daughters, as he delighted in doing. Few suspected that the famously dignified president of Princeton University had such a silly side. It was the closest of groups, the most cordial and affectionate, and at the same time sharply intellectual. All the Wilsons were incessant readers, lovers of English literature, and lean and bespectacled Woodrow, now fifty-three, had risen by his brilliance and oratorical gifts to become university president seven years before. Now his wife, Ellen, served sandwiches and hot drinks while daughter Maggie played the piano. Flashing a toothy grin, Woodrow called for a Scottish toast in the dining room. They stood on chairs, each with a foot on the table, and lustily sang “Auld Lang Syne” as if they knew this was to be their last New Year’s at Prospect, the president’s house on campus. Then they downed a glass of wine. At midnight they heard the bell of Nassau Hall begin to ring, and Woodrow led the rush to the front door “to let in 1910.” All stood in silence as they looked across the snow-covered lawn under the elms and



up at the icy stars, the wind sighing in the cedars as the last notes of the bell died away. For all the merriment, in his heart Wilson was desperately unhappy. He had told the board of trustees that he might quit his job, severing ties with the place that had nurtured him almost since the day he arrived as an eighteen-year-old freshman. He had graduated in long-ago 1879, come back to teach jurisprudence and political economy in 1890, and was still there. He loved Princeton—the traditions, the friendships, the strides it had made toward greatness since first calling itself a “university” instead of a “college” thirteen years earlier. So much had happened since then, including his acclaimed establishment of a “preceptorial system” whereby pupils were taught in small conferences, substantially replacing big, rowdy lectures. It was the centerpiece of his effort to make students read more, be more intellectual, and to have Princeton rival Oxford University in England. Many said it was the greatest educational breakthrough of the age. But after that, things went wrong—so wrong, newspapers across America called it “The Battle of Princeton,” a fracas equivalent to the bloodier one fought there in the Revolutionary War. Wilson had tried to transform social life on campus and turn Princeton into a more “democratic” place, without cliques and snobbery. The conservative trustees had crushed his dream of building Oxford-style residential quadrangles where all students would live and eat in egalitarian harmony—the infamous “Quad Plan.” And they fought with him over the location and administration of a proposed Graduate College that he insisted be highly democratic, too. When he refused a five-hundred-thousand-dollar donation from a soap manufacturer because he didn’t want plutocrats to control Princeton, his opponents decided they’d had enough of his radical politics. “Wilson Must Go,” they demanded. Surely he was one of those dangerous revolutionaries fomenting trouble in this new age of the muckraker and reformer, preaching socialism. They genuinely seemed to hate him now. And he had come to hate them, too. He thought he would maybe return to his birthplace, the state of Virginia, to take up the practice of law, abandoned long ago. Or perhaps he would finally enter politics, as he had dreamed all his life of doing. Democratic bosses in New Jersey were eyeing him as a candidate for governor this year, this upright man so opposed to the special privileges of the rich, he had dared refuse half a million dollars. This was a long shot,



for Woodrow Wilson was a complete outsider; though a top academic expert on the theory of governments, he had never deigned to learn the name of the Democratic boss in his hometown, nor had he ever bothered to visit the state capitol in nearby Trenton. But strange experiments were being tried in the Progressive Era, and some of the shrewdest Democratic powerbrokers in the country wanted him to run for governor as a stepping-stone to the White House in 1912—a lofty stage far removed from the cheerful parlor at Prospect. Woodrow Wilson achieved an astonishing victory in the gubernatorial race. And he followed it up with an even greater political miracle by winning the United States presidency only twenty-two months after he entered public life. A dynamic politician, Wilson changed America and the world with his activist leadership, his intellectual problem-solving, his invention of a new way for nations to work together to achieve peace—the League of Nations, which later found more permanent form in the United Nations. In 2006, Atlantic Monthly named Wilson number ten among “The Top 100” most influential Americans of all time, an extraordinary honor. His preparation for greatness happened at Princeton University, where he first showed the strange contradictions in his character, so perplexing to every biographer. He was one of the most noble and generous of people to those for whom he felt sympathy, often the downtrodden and marginalized, yet he could be callous and even cruel to anyone he thought was on the wrong side of a virtuous cause. These traits made him countless enemies. He cared nothing for material wealth and heaped scorn on the plutocracy. His pleasures were those of the mind, the crafting of idealistic institutions that imposed order on unruly reality for the benefit of the striving individual. When he tried to make changes at Princeton, as later on the world stage, he encountered violent reaction from conservatives. Faced with such a response, he stiffened, became obdurate and angry, refusing compromise, breaking ties with those who disagreed with him, even his closest friends. Thus did a highminded and principled man find himself a figure of singular divisiveness, presiding over schemes that, in the case of those that mattered most to him, spiraled inexorably downward to disaster. Just as he lost the Battle of Princeton, he would lose the fight for the League of Nations treaty and gain an undying reputation for self-destruction. The lessons of Woodrow Wilson still matter. They tell us much about leadership styles, both good and bad. Recent polls of historians show



that his refusal to compromise on the league amounted to one of the top presidential blunders ever. Those who knew him at Princeton could easily see this kind of error coming. His record illuminates, too, the difficulties that all reformers face when they take on special privilege and the status quo, even (and perhaps especially) when their intentions are high-minded and pure. And Wilson’s actions touch on countless issues relating to university life today, as he called attention to problems that still plague us: low intellectual standards, the decline of reading, pedantic faculty, distracted students. If he were here now, he would be waging war on all of these fronts. His career comprises a dramatic human story. Forget the Woodrow Wilson you thought you knew, the ice-cold thinking machine. This outward formality was almost like an actor’s costume, cloaking him with gravitas as he sought to lead others and, statesmanlike, keep his seething emotions under control. He told a reporter during the election of 1912 that most people failed to understand him as a person—“They don’t know how much human nature there has been in me to give me trouble all my life.” Since boyhood he had cultivated a Gladstonian demeanor, a precise and oratorical way of speaking, but inside he burned with ambition to achieve power and change the world, with frustration at the little men who impeded his plans, with anguish at the friends who, he thought, were always betraying him. “I am a good fighter, gentlemen,” Woodrow Wilson declared in 1908 in a speech to the Chicago alumni. “On the whole I would rather fight than not.” Fighting—that was one wish that came true during Wilson’s turbulent Princeton years. He fought to make the American campus safe for democracy, and it was a battle he lost—yet it toughened him for national politics and made him famous. Without that battle, he might never have abandoned academia for public life. This is the story of a contradictory man, outwardly dignified but inwardly tumultuous, who improbably rose from an obscure teacher of rowdy boys in a rural college to the most famous political leader in the world, changing the course of history in the mirrored halls of the Palace of Versailles. It is an incredible story, and a quintessentially American one—the rise of Woodrow Wilson from schoolmaster to statesman, professor to president.


Undergraduate and Professor, 1875–1902

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The Debater


N THE COOL EVENING the bell of Nassau Hall was ringing. The sound drifted across campus, through the oaks and elms on the “Quad,” where an old cannon from the Revolutionary War lay buried muzzle down. Over the rooftops of dormitories built of yellowish New Jersey sandstone. Across the dusty field where students fought for possession of a round football in the waning light. And through the windows of a dormitory room, Nine East Witherspoon, where undergraduates were deep in conversation beside a cheerful coal fire. The room belonged to Pennsylvanian Bobby Bridges, Class of 1879. Big-eared and ungainly, he had survived merciless hazing freshman year. His tastes were literary and aesthetic, and later he became an editor at Scribner’s in New York. Now Bridges’s quarters were the informal gathering place for the half-dozen or so members of “the Gang” after prayer meetings, for intensive discussion and debate. There was much to talk about, for the Class of 1879 lived in exciting times. Most of the Gang had recently visited the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, that garish display of national pride. And as they talked in Witherspoon Hall—a brand-new dormitory said to be the finest at any American college—a few miles north in his laboratories at Menlo Park, New Jersey, Thomas Edison was tinkering with the phonograph and working on an incandescent lightbulb. When Seventy-Nine classmate Harry Cooke came back from vacation, he brought a strange device he had gotten from his father, financier Jay Cooke: it had a magnet plus a mouthpiece containing a



vibrating piece of metal. The students strung a wire from one Witherspoon Hall entry to another, over the elevator shaft, and, to their amazement, they could talk through it. This device, just patented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876, was called a telephone. Anything seemed possible in these heady times, when America was pulling out of the quagmires of Civil War and Reconstruction and emerging as a great modern nation crackling with new ideas.1 In the midst of tonight’s discussion the door burst open, and in strode a gangly classmate from the coastal town of Wilmington, North Carolina, a homely boy with a prominent jaw but arresting blue-gray eyes. Attired in the customary garb of the undergraduate—starched-collar shirt, vest with handkerchief and watch chain, and polished black shoes—he tossed his cane aside as he collapsed into a chair and started talking. The Gang all looked up to Thomas Woodrow Wilson as their leader, the greatest talker of them all. Brilliant, focused, and driven, he was intense in everything he said or did. Although naturally shy—he seemed to have few close friends outside this circle—in intimate settings at Witherspoon Hall he could perform spectacularly. Bobby Bridges envied Wilson’s dazzling wordplay, always a choice phrase popping out amid lively disputes. “There was a twinkle in his eye, but he knew, and you knew, that he had scored.”2 Tommy Wilson ’79 lived alone in Witherspoon Hall’s Seven West Entry, on the second floor, but his instincts were communal, not solitary, and he longed to guide his fellow men. His lifelong individualism was not that of the loner or “crank” but that of one who consciously stood a little aside from his peers and emulated the great men of history, the natural leaders: “True individuality is not rebellious; it leads.” He adored literature, but politics was his passion, and he was happiest when debating it. “There was one question that he never tired of arguing,” Bridges said, cabinet government versus committee government in Washington. “I don’t think we cared much about the question, one way or the other, but it was fun to hear Wilson argue it. We could always draw fire also with Burke, Brougham, Bagehot, or Chatham,” Wilson’s favorite British political writers and thinkers.3 Whatever the subject, the Gang were growing intellectually in each other’s company, especially with the mind of Tommy Wilson there to inspire and provoke them. Fifty years later, Bridges remembered, “It was when we all got together in the new Witherspoon Hall that bonds of



friendship which lasted through life began to develop. . . . I have often thought that perhaps the periods of loafing were more permanent in their effect than the intervals of study.” No one enjoyed these hours of stimulating conversation more than Tommy Wilson, who wrote his fellow member of the Gang, Charlie Talcott, after graduation about the “moral growth” he had experienced at Nine East Witherspoon during those nights before the fire.4

Much of Tommy Wilson’s personality and worldview came from his father, the Reverend Joseph Ruggles Wilson—the love of talk, the passion for politics and history, the raw ambition. And from his father he derived what became the Big Idea of his subsequent career as professor and then president of Princeton, an idea reinforced by his experiences with the Gang: the conviction that young people learn best not in classrooms but by close, informal, one-on-one contact with inspiring peers and elders, what he called mind and mind interaction. On this idea he would stake his whole administration and never waver, a habit of stubbornness he learned from his dad, too. For a time, Joseph Wilson taught at a Presbyterian seminary in Columbia, South Carolina, and at seventeen the impressionable Tommy had watched him fight a bruising battle on academic policy and then huffily resign. As historian John Mulder shows, it offered an uncanny foreshadowing of Woodrow Wilson’s future approach to running institutions—the certitude, the intransigence, the penchant for making enemies. “I know, I know, I know that I have done right,” the handsome and flamboyant Joseph Wilson oratorically exclaimed, “and by that right I will stand to the end.”5 Like his less handsome son, Joseph Wilson was a precise and controlling man—though at times a robustious play-actor—and the family was kept close to the manse in the Southern towns where they lived, their evenings devoted to reading aloud from English literature and the Bible in front of a blazing fire. Tommy’s mother, Jessie, quiet and sickly, liked to keep her son near. “I remember how I clung to her (a laughedat ‘mamma’s boy’) till I was a great big fellow,” Woodrow Wilson said. He was schooled substantially at home. It was an eccentric regimen: his parents were in no hurry, it seems, to have him start reading to himself, and he did not do so until tackling Parson Weems’s hagiographic George Washington when he was ten or older. Modern biographers think



Thomas Woodrow Wilson and his father. They sit on the top step, with sister Annie between them, in a photograph taken at her house in South Carolina, c. 1892.

he might have been dyslexic, for he was always a slow reader. Spoken skills were emphasized, however, and English grammar was honed to pedantic precision. Hit the target not with birdshot but a rifle bullet, his father would insist, ambitiously grooming the little boy for some kind of public career. To the end of his days Woodrow Wilson refused, somewhat absurdly, to learn French or German lest he taint his pure AngloSaxon tongue for oratory. He even hesitated, in his silly amateur theatricals, to play the part of the Southern mountain man—though it was very funny—for fear that slang would creep into his everyday speech. He learned to cultivate a stagelike public persona of high dignity, and when he spoke it was always as carefully as if he were reading from a script.6 Tommy’s young cousins steered clear of Joseph Wilson, fearing his teasing. The man adored his eldest son but was a tough taskmaster. He made Tommy read his written lessons out loud, then dissected them word by word. “That’s what I meant to say,” the little boy would explain. “Then why didn’t you say it?” came the sharp reply and a hard stare from over the top of the minister’s glasses. On Mondays, his day off, Joseph took



Tommy on educational trips to factories and stores. Once they visited a mill, and Joseph described the machinery, the churning waterwheel, how corn was grown and harvested. Back home he made Tommy write a five-hundred-word essay on what he had seen. “Now put down your paper and tell me in your own words what you saw.” Tommy did so, and Joseph had him write the essay again in that more oratorical way. When, years later, Woodrow Wilson introduced the revolutionary and intensive “preceptorial system” of pedagogy at Princeton, he was surely thinking of his father.7 Joseph Wilson was determined that his son would become the famous orator and leader of men he never quite did and drilled him rigorously. They recited epic speeches from history and tried to improve them. On Sundays Tommy listened intently from the polished pew, hoping to guess what golden word his preaching father would choose next. On vacation from college, Tommy practiced in the Wilmington pulpit to an empty sanctuary, frightening local rustics who thought he was communing with spirits. His speeches were not religious but secular: Edward Everett’s oration on Daniel Webster, Henry, Lord Brougham’s on parliamentary reform. Under Joseph’s guidance he picked Princeton largely because it had a celebrated pair of debating societies, Whig and Clio Halls, that had trained many politicians—for Tommy, convinced by now that he was a man of destiny, had decided that his future lay in politics, and at sixteen he hung a portrait of the reformer William Gladstone over his desk. “That is the greatest statesman who ever lived,” he told a cousin, “and when I grow to be a man, I mean to be a great statesman too.” Though filled throughout his life with an almost childlike devoutness (he prayed on his knees beside his bed every night), he loathed theological debates and showed no desire to follow his father into the thickets of the Presbyterian ministry. It would be politics instead.8 He was a shy boy who collected big heroes, men of boldness and conviction and principle, “mental and political giants,” and he turned to England to find them, there being few at home. The Confederacy had long since bitten the dust, and Jefferson Davis looked decidedly unheroic when paraded by bluecoats through the streets of Augusta, Georgia, where the Wilsons were living in 1865. The failed heroes of the Old South had subsequently been replaced by the antiheroes of the Reconstruction years, carpetbaggers and scalawags; as an ardent Southern Democrat, Joseph Wilson constantly fumed that Washington was filled with



“asses.” “Look at this petty Congress!” Having imbibed a thoroughgoing contempt for the Republican-led, Grant-era United States, a “miserable delusion of a republic,” romantic young Tommy gave his heart to the land of his mother’s birth, England. He was practically British himself, he liked to think—only seventy years earlier, his entire family was living there, and he proudly labeled himself a “recent immigrant.” “He was, above all things else, a capable, executive boy. He loved mastery”—so he would someday describe with Parson Weems–like fulsomeness the subject of his popular biography, George Washington, whom he held up as the ideal Anglo-Saxon. “God had been preparing him ever since English constitutional history began,” Wilson believed. “Washington was of the English, not of the American type.” Wasn’t Tommy just like that, too— a passionate young man of staunch British heritage naturally drawn to mastery?9 “To me the Civil War and its terrible scenes are but a memory of a short day,” Wilson said not long after graduating from Princeton. It is surprising how little the conflict, which ended when he was eight, managed to roil his epic childhood daydreams. “I lived, not in the world actually about me, but in the world of my own thoughts,” he confessed. All his chivalric ideals came from books, “my love of manly strength and true heart-gentleness,” especially, and he never tired of dressing up to play the crusading knight with a wooden sword. At Wilmington he lay in the thick grass atop old Confederate ammunition bunkers and debated the sources of greatness in the incomparable Oliver Cromwell, Gladstone, and Robert E. Lee—the one rebel leader he always idolized. As a boy he had seen Lee when the old warrior came through Augusta in spring 1870, and he never forgot that moment of looking up into his face. The old gray-bearded man was flesh and blood like Tommy! When would another Southern hero arise to redeem America, he wondered. “What a sweet and noble revenge it would be could we save the nation we have been thought to hate!”10 That rhetoric of national salvation would run through much of Wilson’s life, along with a note of triumphant conquest and even a little revenge. The family’s servant would never forget the fourteen-year-old suddenly exclaiming at the dinner table, “Papa, when I get to be a man, I’m going to have a lofty position!” And during college vacations, Tommy would debate with his father about “the elements of greatness—of great men.” How he longed to be great himself someday!11



If Joseph was the first authority figure to spur Tommy Wilson toward leadership, he was soon joined by another. The Reverend James McCosh was president of the College of New Jersey, which everybody called Princeton for the country town it had occupied since 1756, halfway along the dusty post road between New York and Philadelphia. Like Joseph Wilson, “Jimmy” McCosh was a fearlessly outspoken Presbyterian clergyman, but of far greater stature—of international fame as a leading Scottish theologian and philosopher. He had been brought over to rescue a foundering institution decimated by the flight of Southern students during the Civil War. To regain them, McCosh traveled throughout Dixie and, in 1873, knocked on the Wilsons’ door. Eying Tommy, he said in his brogue, “The boy’ll be comin’ to Princeton, no doubt.” Many ministers sent their sons for the free tuition: though officially nonsectarian, Princeton had been founded by Presbyterians, and it shared the little town with a famous seminary, which Joseph Wilson himself had attended for a year. Of 4,600 Princeton graduates through 1872, nearly a thousand became men of the cloth.12 Joseph had no qualms about sending his son to study among Yankees. For all his Southern pride, he was a native of Ohio, where his father had been a journalist and state legislator, and he took a regular summer trip north. He admired President McCosh as a progressive theologian and was delighted when Tommy, after a stint at Davidson, a Presbyterian college in North Carolina, transferred to Princeton as a freshman in September 1875. When the big day arrived, Joseph helped Tommy carry his heavy bags from the depot up to campus, through an old pasture where students played baseball.13 Venerable Princeton was already twelve decades old then and proud of its tradition of service to the nation. Under the leadership of the Scottish divine John Witherspoon, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, it had proven an extraordinary “School for Statesmen” in the Revolutionary period, in spite of being so tiny that it occupied but a single building, Nassau Hall. That stone edifice had been scarred by cannonballs shot by Washington’s troops in the Battle of Princeton. Now under President McCosh, hailed as a second Witherspoon, the college had regained its former prestige and again vied with Harvard and Yale as the nation’s most illustrious.



In crucial ways Princeton differed from those esteemed rivals, as well as from two newer ones, Columbia and Pennsylvania. It remained small, with only 470 or so undergraduates enrolled (a mere one-tenth as many as today) and thirty faculty. It had taken hardly any graduate students and had not adopted the title “university,” though McCosh hoped this might soon happen. Southerners like Wilson were still few; half his class came from New Jersey or New York (sixty-four), whereas Maryland sent only ten and Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas combined sent a total of just nine. But great comfort to Southerners was the absence of New Englanders. Not one student in Wilson’s Class of 1879 came from north of New York, and New England would always remain a region for which he had scant sympathy. Wilson the freshman was a fiery Democratic partisan. “He was very full of the South,” a classmate remembered, and “one night we sat up until dawn talking about it, he taking the Southern side and getting quite bitter.”14 Princeton was also unique as a “country college,” all its important rivals being in cities. “The brilliant beds of red clover, the waving fields of wheat and rye fast ripening for the harvester” impressed former Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman as he arrived to address the graduates when Wilson was a junior. Princeton was an “exquisite amphitheatre of nature’s best finishing,” Sherman found, as well as “hallowed ground, made sacred by the blood of our Revolutionary sires, and by the presence here, long ago, of Washington.”15 Yet the winds of change were blowing even in this historic place. The railroad now linked to campus by a rickety spur line and allowed easy access to New York, just forty-two miles away. Prosperous alumni began to build estates around the town, imparting a new air of affluence. And it simultaneously became a magnet for sports fans as postwar America discovered the excitement of organized athletics. The College of New Jersey played its first intercollegiate baseball game in 1864 against Williams and football five years later with Rutgers. Soon the Big Three of Princeton, Yale, and Harvard dominated sport nationwide, their best players became celebrities, and fortuitous innovations proved epochal—an oblong football instead of round, for example, or a passage in Caesar’s Gallic Wars turned into the “wedge” formation. Young Wilson shouted himself hoarse watching the manly combat that was Princeton football. Enjoying the limelight, the College of New Jersey was quickly shedding its old iso-



The College of New Jersey. A rare view from Wilson’s freshman year, winter 1875–76. Behind the railroad depot are Reunion Hall, tower of Nassau Hall, West College, and Clio Hall. In front of West, the foundations of Witherspoon Hall are under way.

lation. Seeking money to modernize the school, McCosh encouraged the formation of alumni clubs in several cities, most importantly in New York in 1868, the membership of which soon swelled to four hundred. Banquets played up the sports theme with the newly chosen college colors, orange and black, and a tiger mascot.16 Alumni sponsorship allowed a construction boom that changed the face of “campus,” a term first coined by Witherspoon. Symbolic of McCosh’s modernization of the stolid Presbyterian institution was his stress on physical beauty in buildings and grounds, a thing previously unheard of. The town itself was noted for gardens, and Prospect, the scenic Potter Estate, was now given to the school as the residence of the president; why should the adjacent campus not be attractive, too? With a Romantic eye he sited new buildings himself: “I have laid them out somewhat on the model of the demesnes of English noblemen.” Taking another cue from Prospect, which had ivy on its Italianate tower, McCosh had every graduating class plant a sprig of vine against the stone walls of campus structures, starting at the east end of the handsome new Gymnasium in



1870. He was a one-man landscaping committee. On rainy days in spring or fall, the Scottish farmer’s son could be seen out trudging with young trees and a shovel under his arm, beautifying “me college.”17 Teenage Tommy Wilson must have eyed Jimmy McCosh with awe. Tall but stooped, intense, vigorous, McCosh viewed the world from under a looming, intellectual brow, with thin lips and enormous white sideburns. In spite of his foibles and pompous pronouncements, which Wilson and peers would spend the rest of their lives mirthfully retelling, McCosh inspired them deeply. Tommy watched McCosh attain national stature by fearlessly debating questions of educational reform with Harvard president Charles Eliot. And Tommy attended McCosh’s innovative “library meetings” held in the Prospect study beneath a gas chandelier, its light glittering off ornate Chinese vases and leaded-glass bookcases, a lush Victorian setting that echoed to lecture and spirited “discoosion,” as McCosh called it. The best undergraduates and almost all the graduate students were invited, plus top faculty scholars. The emphasis was on philosophy, the meeting once meandering into groves so metaphysical that McCosh finally pounded his fist and declared, “No, this table is real!” Wilson would remember the intensity of those nights when he came to create the preceptorial system. He winced at McCosh’s shameless efforts to fundraise but never forgot how he traveled the country talking up reform, convincing the alumni to give nearly two million dollars by 1879. From McCosh he learned to think big about Princeton’s future. And like McCosh, Wilson would someday dream of English architecture as a source of inspiration for young minds, longing to transform the campus into the American equivalent of beautiful Oxford, with residential quadrangles—an idea that proved intensely controversial.18 Alumni clubs multiplied under the zealous efforts of a lanky young trustee McCosh had appointed, Moses Taylor “Momo” Pyne ’77. “The Board is full of old dotards and sometimes they go to sleep. We want a young man”—and Pyne was his choice, the wealthy Episcopalian becoming the first non-Presbyterian trustee in history. “The trustees spent most of the time fighting Doctor McCosh,” Pyne soon learned, for the conservative old clerics did not appreciate his newfangled ideas or his occasional desk-pounding tirades. Attempting a flanking maneuver, it was to the alumni that McCosh appealed for the title “Princeton University,” a cherished goal ultimately defeated by the stodgy board in 1886. It did not help that a powerful coterie of New York alumni “hated” Mc-



Cosh, a ’77 recalled, “and never could speak of him without loathing,” for he had cracked down on fraternities and otherwise shown himself autocratic. These events foreshadowed Woodrow Wilson’s experiences of a generation later: he, too, would try speaking directly to the alumni on reform; he, too, earned the hatred of many in New York when he tried to ban social clubs; he, too, was stymied by the board—although, ironically, the leader of the opposition that time was Momo Pyne, whose proprietary power had grown immense over the years. As the young Tommy Wilson learned about leadership from watching Jimmy McCosh, he could not foresee that he was doomed to relive his nightmares.19

For Tommy, the greatest single attraction at the College of New Jersey was that pair of venerable debating societies, Whig and Clio Halls. Both were top-secret, their inner workings concealed by oaths of allegiance and by combination locks on the front doors of their identical, woodbuilt Greek Revival temples. Established shortly after the arrival of John Witherspoon, the “halls” were modeled on literary clubs in Britain and were Witherspoon’s way of improving students’ public speaking, preparatory to serving in the pulpit or in government. Among the founders of the American Whig Society, the hall that would become customary for Southerners, was undergraduate James Madison of the Class of 1771, later U.S. president. Whig’s colorful traditions were living reminders of the fiery Revolutionary period when, Woodrow Wilson would say, “Princeton sent upon the public stage an extraordinary number of men.” In time the tally grew to twenty senators, twenty-three representatives, thirteen governors, three Supreme Court justices, one vice president plus President Madison, all from a college with only one hundred students enrolled. Upstairs was a huge, windowless meeting room where armchairs upholstered in Whig blue faced each other across a divide, as in Parliament. This arena for genteel verbal warfare must have seemed like Nirvana to Tommy Wilson.20 At first he was hesitant—“I am naturally extremely reserved”—and so it was not in Whig Hall but in class prayer meetings in the chapel late on Sunday afternoons, a reassuringly familiar religious setting, that Tommy started to gain confidence in oratory. He told his diary in October 1876, “Now that I have begun speaking in these meetings I find no difficulty at all in making up my mind to speak but even find it hard to keep my seat.”



A year later he was the center of attention on the floor of Whig debating in the affirmative “that a liberal education is to be preferred to an exclusively practical one,” as he, following Joseph Wilson and Jimmy McCosh, heartily believed. Broad, liberal education was training for public service and statesmanship.21 As Tommy Wilson set about educating himself through reading in preparation for a statesman’s career, the Whig (or “Lit”) Library of eight thousand volumes was a rich resource. On a Saturday he might stroll to the “Lit Room” after tea to get his Princetonian, a new campus newspaper. “Went over to the Lit and read the papers for a little while.” These provided a rare link to the world outside and to glorious England. Wilson read London Quarterly, Macmillan’s Magazine, Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, International Review (where he would be published himself, extraordinarily soon), and North American Review on “The Southern Question.” He borrowed thirty books in one year. “I’ll miss our library there,” he told his close friend Bobby Bridges the summer after graduation. “I had read all the books which seemed most essential, however.”22 Whig and Clio were like small colleges in themselves, with 60 percent of undergraduates joining. Here all ages mingled, as they seldom did on campus as a whole, where the curriculum moved students through by class divisions, with little mixing. All Whig and Clio members were eligible to vote, and Friday afternoon business meetings offered high drama and a rare chance to see young men make decisions under pressure— one could really size them up. Tommy Wilson loved this kind of thing, as well as the organizational and procedural challenges. Elected to a sixweek term as speaker in February 1878, he rose to the occasion, as his father so often had in helping run the General Assembly of the Southern Presbyterian Church (where Tommy assisted as secretary). “In the actual machinery of the government of that often unruly body of two hundred men he took the liveliest interest,” recalled Bobby Bridges, his dutiful first comptroller at Whig.23 His confidence was growing, and he proudly sent some editorials he had written in the Princetonian to his sister. “It does seem very funny to me to think of your writing anything of that sort or of any sort for the press,” she said, for only yesterday he had been a shy boy come home from Davidson College. “How thankful you must be that you gave up Davidson for Princeton—I am I know.” Joseph praised his talented protégé yet



cautioned him not to become egotistical but instead to give all to duty. “My darling, make more of your class studies. Dismiss ambition—and replace it with hard industry.”24 Tommy Wilson was becoming known now. Harry Fine ’80 remembered, “Publicly and privately he was one of the most persuasive talkers I’ve ever heard. He had the strength of his own convictions during his college days and power to convince others. He never let an opportunity for debate pass.” Wilson wanted others to adopt his high standards, which were so obviously right. He protested when friend Bobby McCarter indulged in slang, and Charlie Talcott teased him as “the master of English diction!!” Oratory was permanently sculpting his speech, giving him a classic tone like Shakespearean actor Henry Irving, delivered with a Southern softness, though with no regional accent—he was too British for that. With him it was always “clark,” not “clerk.”25 As part of his emphasis on public speaking, President McCosh required students to orate at what was called “Chapel Stage,” an unpopular ritual that took place on the wooden platform from which the pulpit had been temporarily removed. Wilson’s most memorable address there came in the fall of senior year, in praise of British free trader Richard Cobden. “Several hundred men,” Bobby Bridges said a generation later, “will vividly recall his brilliant oration.” The culmination of the oratorical calendar was the prestigious Lynde Debate, three senior Whigs versus three Clios. The issue in 1879 was a hot one for the Wilsons, father and son: universal suffrage, anathema to Southern Democrats, who had suffered under the hated “Negro rule.” Tommy Wilson drew the pro-suffrage side and, contrary to the spirit of debating, declared he could not argue for it. Depending on whether they like Wilson or not, biographers have portrayed this behavior as either principled or unsporting—and perhaps a foreshadowing of a future habit of storming off and sulking. Bobby Bridges recalled years later, “He was easily the best debater we had, and it was giving up a certainty, but he never hesitated. He did not believe— and that was enough.”26 “Often there were so many speakers that the sessions lasted almost all night,” Harry Fine recalled of Whig Hall. “And he always remained until the finish.” To gain extra practice in extempore debate on hot political questions, the intense Tommy Wilson founded a private organization, the Liberal Debating Club, to meet on Saturday nights. As president, he wrote its constitution, following the British parliamentary system he



adored. “He gathered around him a coterie of men who were interested in similar questions,” said Bridges, “and they debated them vigorously.” For example, the resolution “that the Indians should not be driven out of the Black Hills” or, closer to Wilson’s interests, whether the “imperfections in the Executive department of the Gov. of the U.S.” did not spawn elements of discord threatening the state—for Tommy was constantly clamoring for a British-style reform of the Cabinet and Congress.27 It was through Whig Hall and the Liberal Debating Club that he made his closest friends, several of whom also comprised the Witherspoon Gang. One was Charlie Talcott, an expert orator whose close companionship seemed to Tommy “the most valuable single element of my course at dear old Princeton.” Talcott and Wilson swore a “solemn covenant” that they would, though separated after graduation, make good on their lofty resolutions of public service. They agreed to “acquire knowledge that we might have power” and drill constantly in oratory so that they could excel at “leading others.” Wilson handpicked his debating society friends, and in retrospect he was seen to have chosen well, the club including a future attorney general of New Jersey, a Supreme Court justice, a mayor and congressman (Talcott), and Wilson himself as president of the United States. Tommy expected no less: “When I meet you in the Senate, I’ll argue that out with you!” was a favorite rejoinder of his, and he wrote out calling cards in his perfect script, “Thomas Woodrow Wilson Senator from Virginia” (the state of his birth). Such lofty dreams were not altogether unreasonable, given that Old Nassau over the years had produced one president, twenty-two governors, fifty U.S. senators, and 160 representatives.28

“Our little college world,” Tommy called this remarkable place. All contemporary colleges were intimate by today’s standards, being about the size of our average high school (as late as 1900 only eight colleges in the country had more than a thousand students). Princeton’s little world consisted of numerous even smaller communities, the clubs that boys delight in forming. Eating clubs were one type, established of necessity, for the college did not provide meals. Tommy lived and ate at first at Mrs. Wright’s boarding house—“Wright Bower”—and later, after he moved to Witherspoon Hall, with the “Alligators” across Nassau Street. Then there was another type of club McCosh would not tolerate, the



The Alligators. Wilson (holding hat) with fellow ’79 in his eating club. Seated are his “Witherspoon Gang” pals Woods and Talcott.

Greek-letter social fraternities rapidly spreading nationwide. Since the 1850s, entering Princeton students had been required to pledge themselves not to belong to such a society. But by 1875 there were five underground fraternities with about fifty members. The faculty looked with dread to Yale, where the fine old debating clubs had lately been killed by similar elitist and anti-intellectual upstarts. “The young men who belong to them,” a New York newspaper editorialized, “take a vast deal of pleasure in wearing badges of various degrees of ugliness, and in regarding themselves as constituting a species of undergraduate aristocracy.”29 The Reverend McCosh could not abide how fraternities undermined administrative authority and, as he worried, fostered immorality. Wilson’s first semester at Princeton coincided with a spectacular blowup, when the faculty expelled twenty-one young men for violating the nofraternities vow. Fellow students were outraged, especially since crew, baseball, football, the gymnastic association, and the Glee Club were all decimated. Angry alumni held meetings at Delmonico’s restaurant



in Manhattan that demanded the students be reinstated or they would withhold their donations, displaying, not for the last time, the doubleedged sword of alumni generosity. “Serious Trouble at Princeton,” blared a headline in New York. But Jimmy McCosh held firm, determined to maintain control over his college, to keep its student life open and democratic, free from cabals. Surely Tommy Wilson observed these dramatic events keenly, learning lessons, for better or worse, that he would apply decades later when he occupied McCosh’s seat: that private coteries could be dangerous to education, that frivolous socializing erodes the intellectual life of the college, that alumni can be agents of positive change but also threats to presidential authority. Campus social clubs would come back to haunt him.30 In his junior year Tommy was catapulted to prominence. Already known for his oratory, in November he was voted managing editor of the Princetonian. Ever the idealistic reformer, he used his new pulpit to decry the proliferation of rules governing student life, to call for changes to the baseball program, and to defend football as a sport against those who thought it too dangerous—he was secretary of the football association and a lifelong fan. He criticized Princeton’s poor showing in the Intercollegiate Literary Association. Public oratory was neglected at the college, he said, and he called for a course in elocution. Sometimes his Democratic politics burst out, as when he suggestively linked President Rutherford B. Hayes’s “ridiculous” efforts at civil service reform to college officials who, in an economy measure, had fired the menservants in the dormitory entries and hired old Irish women, who refused to do anything more than deliver coal and remove ashes. Always his editorials bore a strong personal stamp. He called for undergraduates to establish reading clubs. He attacked “the habitual loafer” on campus as the most “despicable” type, “dead-weights upon life and activity.” Stressing what would become a core educational theme for him, he emphasized that colleges were centers of learning meant to produce political and civic leaders for America, as Oxford did in Britain. After supper he went from dorm to dorm working with fellow students on the Princetonian. “Sometimes we would spend the evening in his room going over the editorials,” Harry Fine remembered. “Many of us felt then that they were equal in thought and style to those in the metropolitan journals.”31 In one editorial Wilson called for an end to cramming. “What, then, can make us successful students by leading us to be enthusiastic in



study?” he asked high-mindedly. “Simply this: studying with our life’s work constantly in view.” That he held his own life’s work in view was obvious. “No one who knew him intimately in his undergraduate days had any doubt about his aim in life” or “of his ultimate achievement,” Bobby Bridges would say. Another friend commented, “Tommy seemed to have an uncanny sense that he was a man of destiny. Now that I think of it, he was always preparing himself, always looking forward to the time when he might be called to high service.”32 For all his eagerness to achieve a reputation, he never quite overcame his shyness or his embarrassment at his homely looks. He knew he was naturally reticent, signing a Southern classmate’s yearbook, “I, perhaps, am colder and more reserved than most of those who are fortunate enough to have been born in our beloved South.” His lofty air made some peers uncomfortable. Billy Magie, who contributed copy to the Princetonian, secretly resented how Wilson never complimented him or invited him to sit down and chat—“He was always preoccupied with his own ambitions.” Notwithstanding his constant talk of selfless public service, many suspected Tommy of egotism. “Do not allow yourself to dwell upon yourself—concentrate your thoughts upon thoughts and things and events. Self-consciousness is a torment,” his father warned him. Tommy may have been self-conscious, but he was not self-indulgent; a true Calvinist, he denied himself small pleasures in order to perform his stern duties more effectively. Now, he decided, his duty was to study history, to understand how human communities could best be governed and how constitutional democracies be improved. On top of his coursework, the driven Tommy Wilson embarked on a disciplined program of private reading concerning, as his friend Bridges put it, the ways that “all kinds of people could live together. . . . For him it began in our little college world.”33


The Study of Books and Men


ATHER, I have made a discovery,” Tommy wrote home from Princeton as an undergraduate. “I have found that I have a mind.” He had never suspected how much delight could come from reading deeply, nor how much sense of purpose. Great works of history and literature offered heroes for him to emulate, men whose lives were blueprints for an ambitious young man. He did not know it yet, but he would spend much of his adult life trying to figure out how to make other youngsters—future leaders—achieve that same dramatic moment of discovery he had trumpeted to his father: I have a mind.1 Tommy was ready to take over the job of educating himself. He adopted a rigorous program: finish his assigned schoolwork and then plunge into personal reading, with stress on constitutional law and history. Not that he worked constantly—no one remembered him as a grind, exactly. He took time out for talks with the Gang, strolls though the countryside (“triangle walks,” they were called, a college tradition named for the pattern formed by rural roads west of town), practicing his oratory in Potter’s Woods near the local canal, playing a little baseball behind East College dormitory, seeing the famous actor Edwin Booth on stage in New York. But much of his free time was spent in what he called “outside reading [for] the acquirement of skill in writing, speaking, and debate.”2 His friend Bobby Bridges was impressed that when everyone else was relaxing with the novels of James Fenimore Cooper or Thomas Mayne



Reid (The Scalp Hunters), Wilson preferred the British political thinkers Edmund Burke and Walter Bagehot. A classmate joked that Tommy’s first thought on arriving at Princeton had been to rush to the library. Indeed, Tommy complained sophomore year, “There are so many things which I would like to read right away that I scarcely know what to read first.” That Christmas, fellow student Hiram Woods pleaded with him to drop his Hazlitt and come “down to spending at least a part of your vacation like other mortals. To do this it will be necessary to get you out of Princeton.” But even while vacationing with Woods in Baltimore, the enthusiastic student’s reading never ceased; he researched “Birnham Wood” after devouring Macbeth and systematically compared Thomas Macaulay to two other English histories. Freshman year his idol had been Burke, but now it was Macaulay, and he told his sister, “I would give anything to become as great a writer.”3 Much of his reading was political, but he was serious about acquiring a broad, not a specialized, education. Joining the average of fiftythree other daily borrowers from the college’s Chancellor Green Library, Wilson checked out Paradise Lost, John Evelyn’s diary, H. N. Hudson’s Lectures on Shakespeare, Joseph Addison’s Spectator, and John Forster’s Life of Goldsmith, among many other titles. His shorthand diary, inspired by Macaulay’s mention of Samuel Pepys, records his industriousness. “Went to college library and got a copy of Jeffrey’s Essays.” “Spent about 3/4 of an hour in the library in the afternoon looking over books.” “Spent most of the noon hour there looking up references of various kinds.” So extensive was this extracurricular reading, he worried to his father that he might be overdoing it. Joseph replied that it was his “first duty to conquer your text books. Having whipped these out, then give your mind full swing in gardens of poetry, in fields of history, in seas of philosophy, on mountain-tops of oratory.” So he kept ambitiously on.4 Biography was a favorite subject, for it propelled dry ideas into the active, vital world of flesh and blood, “men and affairs,” the public realm where Tommy Wilson yearned to be. He admired Macaulay especially, saying, “If all history were written thus I would read little else.” Free from pedantry, the Englishman used “vivid imagination,” tried to “imagine himself acting and working in the midst of events.” Tommy bought J. R. Green’s Short History of the English People in October of his junior year and underscored passages treating the splendid Anglo-Saxon background of the American race. This kind of broad survey appealed to him,



and years later he would undertake to write a lively companion volume, A History of the American People. These youthful days were setting the intellectual course he would follow throughout his life, confirming his faith in the necessity of the individual seizing control of his own mental development and reading all the time in preparation for great future deeds. He was following the advice of Jimmy McCosh, who called for youngsters to engage in “elevated reading” to fix in their minds “images of the great and good, of heroic men, who toiled and bled for noble ends.” Such heroes were truly “incitements to all excellence.”5

President McCosh was especially proud of Chancellor Green Library, the new centerpiece of his “liberal studies” educational program that stressed broad, general training for every student, no matter his future career. Reading was paramount at McCosh’s Princeton, with special emphasis on English literature, Wordsworth nudging aside Virgil as the old classical curriculum was modernized. McCosh invited the aged poet William Cullen Bryant to speak at the dedication of the library, standing beneath the star-shaped skylight of colored glass to laud this “temple of a thousand venerable memories.” The quasi-religious note of this High Victorian Gothic architecture suggested the Romantic purpose of liberal studies: to improve the souls of men through reading. And it was beneath that skylight that Tommy Wilson experienced what he called his greatest intellectual breakthrough, the day he happened to flip open a copy of Gentleman’s Magazine for April 1874 and discover an essay called “The Orator” on the great men of Parliament, analyzing their heroic skills and talents. All his life he would remember the exact spot at the head of the south stairs where he read it. His eyes were suddenly opened to the possibility of using the written word to shape public opinion about governmental leaders and politics—the vivid literary treatment, as it were, of political science. Moreover, it confirmed his fascination with English statesmen, men who were big and vital and passionate. “The Orator” revealed nothing less than “the purpose of his existence,” Tommy breathlessly said—a golden future as a political essayist—and he had uncovered this promising new direction himself.6 The conviction that he was really self-taught lay at the center of his emerging personal mythology. In assigning credit for his intellectual development, the great-man-in-training rarely mentioned his professors.



Jimmy McCosh’s faculty. Most of these men (seen here c. 1871) later taught Wilson. Top: Duffield, Atwater, McCosh, Alexander, Guyot. Bottom: Cameron, Welling, Schanck, Shields, Packard, Karge.

He yawned at the famous Princeton scientists, including glaciologist Arnold Guyot. As a Southerner he recoiled from the Radical Republican professor Henry Cameron, a “jackass” whose Greek recitations seemed “very stupid.” “General” (not Professor) Joseph Karge was ludicrous, strutting around the classroom telling Civil War stories and shouting at students, “Ah! You! Your head is filled with sawdust. You have rice pudding for brains.” Surely Wilson learned something from the erudite professor of mental and moral philosophy Lyman “Dad” Atwater, who taught him political science and whom fellow student Harry Fine recalled as “one of the great men at Princeton.” Atwater was impressed by his bright pupil: on running into Joseph Wilson after graduation, he called Tommy “one of the gems of the last Senior class.” But Tommy seldom brought Atwater up except to poke fun at his pomposity.7 His condescension toward all these professors owed much to Joseph, who quarreled publicly with Professor Cameron over Reconstruction politics in the hallway of the University Hotel and who had long ago



convinced Tommy that true self-improvement comes from hard solitary work, not classrooms. And Tommy was biased toward education in England, anyway, where tutors helped small groups understand their reading, as opposed to the American system of overflowing lectures and tedious drills (“recitations”). “The mind is not a prolix gut to be stuffed,” Joseph incessantly proclaimed. Books were worthless if one was forced to swallow them. Halfway through an assignment in Xenophon, Tommy concluded in disgust, “It is stupid to read any book when you know that you are obliged to read it.” The man who would someday introduce the preceptorial system was already on record as a teenager in favor of English pedagogy, stressing individual self-reliance: “I think the American plan of recitations at college makes us silly.”8 So convinced was he of the effectiveness of self-motivated study, he let his grades slide in those courses that happened to bore him and would only graduate 38th out of 105. But he did not care what others thought. “The choice of the best thing for his own purpose was the marked quality of Wilson in his student days,” Bobby Bridges said. “He knew exactly what he wanted to do, and he had very definite ideas as to what part of the curriculum would help him do it. He worked hard at the thing he wanted and let the rest go.” Hiram Woods agreed: “We went to college without an objective, but Wilson always had a definite purpose.” Tommy was pursuing a course he later ascribed to Burke: “As a University man he learned much, but not from his masters. He took education into his own hands, seeking books for what they could give him in thought.”9 By sophomore year those books were steering Wilson ever more toward politics, and his Bible was Bagehot’s English Constitution. Stirring inside him were a “very earnest political creed and very pronounced political ambitions,” he said. The only way to rescue America from its Reconstruction-era political catastrophe was to copy the English system of vigorous parliamentary floor debate with its rich oratory. The demise of great men in representative government—where were Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, and Daniel Webster now?—was the result of deadening congressional committees, he argued, an idea that would have repercussions for his sometimes-autocratic future leadership at Princeton and beyond. He formulated his thoughts in a Bagehot-inspired essay, “Cabinet Government in the United States,” which he wrote senior year in Witherspoon Hall during the winter frosts. In August 1879, only weeks after graduation, the essay was published in the prestigious journal Inter-



national Review—edited by, ironically, young Henry Cabot Lodge, the New Englander who would, forty years later, prove Wilson’s Republican nemesis regarding the League of Nations.10 Tommy was bound to “win honor for yourself and influence the politics of our Country,” his good friend Charlie Talcott said of that precocious International Review essay. Harry Fine recognized him as a real “shark” in political science now, noting years later that the publication of a senior essay was “unheard of in those days. Even now one hardly looks to a college man for mature thought on such problems.” Billy Magie wrote him playfully, “I hardly thought when we used to sit in front of your fire & talk up the English government, that your views would so soon be put out in public: I was waiting for you to get in Congress first.”11

“You should realize that human life is not a pleasure-holiday, but a very serious matter—a work and a warfare—and you should think of it,” President McCosh told the seniors sternly at graduation. “You will influence many, many people. What a power for good you might wield if you would set before them noble ends!” The eager young Tommy Wilson was listening. Next day came the ritual planting of the class ivy against the walls of Nassau Hall, and Charlie Talcott made a speech. In the auditorium of First Presbyterian Church adjacent to campus, Tommy delivered a senior thesis oration on that subject dearest to his heart, “Our Kinship with England.” The Class of 1879 knew that an Edenic existence was drawing to a close. Bridges would soon write Tommy woefully, “It is sad, very sad, my friend, to think that the old life will never be a reality again.” For Wilson, sensitive and romantic, the breakup was painful, the memories profound. He told Talcott in July, “The parting after Commencement went harder than I had feared even. It most emphatically and literally struck in.” A golden age was over. Even after twenty years on the faculty and as university president Wilson would conclude, “Princeton has become part of the very warp and woof of my life; but it has never in all those years been for a single moment the same Princeton for me that it was in the magical years that ran their cheerful course from the exciting autumn of 1875 to the gracious June of 1879.” Indeed, re-creating the virtues of that lost world would preoccupy him as an educator.12 When Seventy-Nine graduated, it gave the college two zinc-metal lions by the sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi (famous for the Statue

Wilson with the Class of 1879. At his tenth reunion, gathered around the lions at Nassau Hall.



of Liberty, then in preparation) to ornament the steps of Nassau Hall. The largest class in Princeton history before 1890, it would become legendary for its devotion to alma mater, giving more than $425,000 by its twentyfifth reunion. It proved extraordinarily wealthy over time, thanks largely to the fifty-nine members who entered business in that era of vast new fortunes and no income tax. C. C. Cuyler, a fine tenor in the Glee Club, partnered with Junius Morgan ’88 (nephew of J. P. Morgan) in a startup banking firm and later headed United States Mortgage and Trust Company. Cleve Dodge, who delighted his friends with the high-wheel bicycle he brought to campus junior year, became director of the world’s secondlargest copper-mining corporation, Phelps Dodge. Parker Handy’s company would set the global price for silver bullion. John Stewart and Edward Sheldon practiced law in Stewart’s father’s firm, and Sheldon followed Stewart Sr. as head of United States Trust. John Farr became vice president of Cuban-American Sugar Company, largest producer in the world. Billy Isham (who reveled in his resemblance to Shakespeare) retired young from Wall Street to manage his private estate, a legacy of his mother’s leather business. Once when a classmate called on him in his business office, he found the Princeton man with feet up on his desk, leisurely reading Thucydides in the original Greek.13 Several of these wealthy were eventually made trustees, and most gave lavishly to Old Nassau, including Isham, who left half his estate. New campus buildings were named for the Cuyler and Dodge families. Riches conferred power to shape Princeton according to one’s personal desires. Although Wilson in later years would rail against the meddling of plutocrats in educational affairs, he would benefit enormously in his rise to power from the generosity and influence of Seventy-Nine. Without Bridges he might never have been made a professor at Princeton; without Dodge there would have been no preceptorial system—not to mention no United States presidency, for Dodge heavily funded his political campaigns. To a degree that should not be underestimated, the ambitions of Tommy Wilson were undergirded by his proud and admiring friends from Old Nassau.

Seventeen years separated senior Tommy Wilson’s graduation ceremony in First Presbyterian Church and Professor Woodrow Wilson’s ringing oration, “Princeton in the Nation’s Service,” just a few yards away in the



new campus auditorium building, Alexander Hall. Those years brought dramatic changes, including a brand new name. If he were going to win fame by writing articles and books about politics, Thomas W. Wilson wanted to sound more literary, so he followed a suggestion of his mother’s and became Woodrow Wilson: it “sticks in the mind.” It was an act of self-consciousness—almost theatricality—by the egotistical young man. In addition he paid homage to his literary uncle, Dr. James Woodrow, president of South Carolina College. And he may have been thinking how Woodrow Wilson echoes the simple, heroic ring of the names George Washington and William Wordsworth, two of his lifelong idols and the twin poles of his cherished self-image as a future political leader and writer.14 He made the switch while studying law at the University of Virginia. He then pursued a legal career in Atlanta only briefly, finding that it left no time for his writing. Changing course, he followed James Woodrow’s suggestion and enrolled in the new Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, the first in America to follow the research-based German system. There he would study history, constitutional history, and political science in preparation for college teaching. He was a square peg in the round hole of Johns Hopkins, however. He wanted to gain insight into literary methods—to be a great writer foremost—and cared nothing for the concentrated research the program famously emphasized. He was setting out on an academic career as a last resort, anyway. Active politics remained his secret fantasy, but it required an independent fortune, which the minister’s son would never enjoy. “My end is a commanding influence” in political affairs—and he was going to try to secure it through his pen, not on the stump. Academia, he supposed, would at least give him the time he needed to write. There was ample precedent for such a career, as Princeton men taught in many colleges, and Jimmy McCosh instructed a total of seventy-six professors-to-be. So Woodrow Wilson began training to become a professor, too, though with considerable ambivalence: he wanted to sway all of America, not just a few pupils in a classroom.15 The Seminary in Historical and Political Science at Johns Hopkins only hardened Wilson’s do-it-yourself ideas about education. Much that was assigned to him he resented intensely. “What dreary annals we have to familiarize ourselves with,” he complained to Ellen Axson, his fiancée in Georgia, whom he had met during the months he practiced law in Atlanta. “But I need not bore you about all this. I am sufficiently bored



for both of us. . . . I find the school-boy task of cramming for examination increasingly irksome. I find my interest choked by . . . the innumerable dry particulars.” He wanted to fire up his fellow men in their vital public and political affairs, not live with his nose in textbooks. He could not bear the way the Germanic system made students merely technical. “It is this spirit against which I struggle. I want to be near the world. I want to know the world; to retain all my sympathy with it—even with its crudenesses. I am afraid of being made a mere student. I want to be part of the nature around me, not an outside observer of it.” He said years later in no uncertain terms that he had always been “opposed to Germany and all that Germany represents. . . . I have always disliked German people. I have despised their educational ideas,” as experienced at Johns Hopkins.16 To friends he excoriated his German-educated professors for pedantry. Herbert B. Adams, esteemed founding father of professional historians in the United States, was an “ignorant specialist.” “Adams is superficial and insincere, no worker and a selfish schemer for selfadvertisement and advancement,” he ranted to Bobby Bridges. Here at Johns Hopkins he learned, largely by negative example, the lesson he would apply as president of Princeton one day, that the humanities ought to be explored in the broadest possible terms, with a worldly spirit imaginative and literary, not narrowly scientific—a dichotomy to which he constantly returned. His fellow graduate students wrote not history but doctoral theses, he quipped, and gave the world “unassociated facts piled high as the roofs of libraries.” Moreover, they ignored oratory. This would make them poor classroom teachers someday, he thought, and useless in any public forum. Instead, they should “view man as a whole, as a living, breathing spirit,” because historical research and writing ought really to matter to society. “Statesmen are guided and formed by what we write, patriots stimulated, tyrants checked.”17 Finding so much of his studies distasteful and pointless, he typically poured his energies into an independent project, fleshing out the ideas of his old senior essay from Princeton into a book, the most important he would ever write. Published in 1885 during his second year of graduate school, Congressional Government was again modeled closely on the writings of his English hero Bagehot. It called for an introduction of British parliamentary methods so that strong leaders would again emerge to guide America, as could never happen with the current congressional



committees. This slender volume with a gilded blue cover signaled his arrival as a rising star of political thought, and in honor of it, Johns Hopkins granted him a Ph.D., though the oddly self-directed youth had not completed the usual requirements for the degree. Congressional Government sold many copies, and Wilson’s name became widely known, but at nearly thirty he was still no important person shaping men’s destinies. He told Ellen Axson of his persistent regret at being “shut out from my heart’s first—primary—ambition . . . a statesman’s career.” “I have a strong instinct of leadership, an unmistakably oratorical temperament, and the keenest possible delight in affairs,” he wrote. “I have no patience for the tedious toil of what is known as ‘research’; I have a passion for interpreting great thoughts to the world. . . . My power to write was meant to be a handmaiden to my power to speak and to organize action.”18 In a deep talk at their third class reunion in Princeton, Bridges had warned him not to quit the practice of law in Atlanta—college teachers knew only poverty—but his advice was no match for a book Wilson was then devouring, English artist Philip Hamerton’s The Intellectual Life, which sang the praises of reading and poked fun specifically at the profession of law. Wilson told Bridges, “I long to lead the intellectual life.” His confidence in his own abilities was absolute, and once he was at Johns Hopkins his old habit of rebelling against his professors grew so hot that his father had to dissuade him from fomenting a “plot” or “conspiracy” against them, apparently aimed at getting them fired for incompetence. In his long daily walks through the streets of Baltimore he seethed against their “specializing mania,” these Heidelberg-trained grinds caring only to know “the precise day of the month on which Cicero cut his eye-teeth.” His greatest fear was that he would lose his individuality and freedom by their pernicious influence. He defined himself as their exact opposite—he was “never cold” but instead on fire with passion to lead men. Aware as never before of his own “sensitive, restless, overwrought disposition,” Woodrow Wilson now declared that “individuality is an unquenchable fire,” and in fact “sometimes it scorches and consumes.” He presumptuously decided that university teaching ought to be reformed altogether, already in 1883 posing the question that years later led to “Princeton in the Nation’s Service” and the precepts: “And how can a teacher stimulate young men to study, how can he fill them with great ideas and worthy purposes, how can he draw them out of



themselves and make them to become forces in the world”? Ellen Axson supported her fiancé’s ardent individualism (a fellow Southerner, she had much of it, too), reminding him he was always propelled by “destiny.” Her beloved Woodrow Wilson was meant, “I am sure, for some great end.”19 Soon he married Ellen, a petite, brown-eyed, and honey-haired woman of fierce intelligence who worshiped English poetry and had aspired to be a portrait painter until setting her dreams aside to support Woodrow’s. She believed in him utterly. They settled down on the leafy campuses of Bryn Mawr College and, later, Wesleyan University, where he taught and she raised their three daughters. In many ways these were years of continuing frustration, however. Partly it owed to uncongenial students: all women at Bryn Mawr (they couldn’t even vote, much less become statesmen); narrow-minded New Englanders at Wesleyan. At Bryn Mawr he clashed with the feminist dean, M. Carey Thomas. But more generally, college teaching was fundamentally unsatisfying. Woodrow Wilson the would-be political writer grumbled in his diary, “I have devoted myself to a literary life; but I do not see how a literary life can be built up on foundations of undergraduate instruction. That instruction compels one to live with the commonplaces, the A.B.C., of every subject. . . . One gets weary plodding and yet grows habituated to it. . . . What is a fellow to do?” His Bryn Mawr graduate student Lucy Salmon was repelled by the “extreme personal ambition” that so clearly seethed inside this stymied man. If only he had been born in Britain, Professor Wilson complained to her, he would have entered public life, for their parliamentary system allowed leaders to rise and advance, unlike Congress.20 All the while, his former classmate Bobby Bridges was pulling strings with the trustees in New York to get him hired at Princeton. Bobby warned that certain Philistines among them would raise objections. First, “Prof. Wilson is no doubt a fine scholar, but he comes from the South and we want to know more about his patriotism and general views on national topics.” Second, “He is, we hear, a little heterodox (shades of Calvin and Witherspoon protect us).” Third, “He is too learned and deep to interest his students.” Fourth, “We are fearful of his strong affection for English institutions.” But Bridges was ultimately successful, and in February 1890 the thirty-three-year-old Woodrow Wilson scribbled the



news into his pocket diary: “Elected to chair of Jurisprudence and Political Economy, Princeton, Salary, $3,000.”21

He arrived back beneath the elms at his growing alma mater eager to help forge a “New Princeton” that could proudly adopt the title university. Jimmy McCosh had retired, replaced by a bespectacled intellectual, the Rev. Francis Patton, a Bermuda native with mutton chop whiskers and a penchant for drollery verging on sarcasm. (When students started coughing to protest one of his longwinded sermons, Patton memorably deadpanned, “I still have more pearls to cast.”) Patton was only forty-five when appointed, and progressives hoped he would prove liberal on educational reform during a long presidency. Proving the skeptical trustees wrong, Wilson was hugely popular as a lecturer—once it was established he wasn’t a sissy, as campus rumor had predicted of the former Bryn Mawr professor. More than a hundred boys wanted to take his jurisprudence class (out of 750 in the entire college), and the Old Chapel was converted into a lecture hall just for him, the magnetic Wilson addressing them from the familiar stage where, as a shy teenager, he had first tried public speaking. “Now that I am on the ground and see the new Princeton at the threshold of her university career,” he wrote a friend, “I believe more thoroughly than [ever] that her materials for success are infinitely superior to those of most of her younger competitors.” The students came from top social classes, “the finest stuff in the country.” The college’s mid-Atlantic location removed it from “self-centered New England—of whose self-regarding narrowness I now know much.” It occupied “the heart of this East of commerce and old wealth (young strength and old resources).” “The future is with us” in making Princeton “a mother of men of affairs in the high and influential sense”—for he wanted the institution to resume its old position as a “School for Statesmen,” as Oxford was in England. (Fewer than a quarter of United States congressmen were then college educated, so no wonder D.C. was so dismal.) He said all this to his former Johns Hopkins associate Albert Shaw, now editor of the Minneapolis Tribune, whom he hoped to see either take his old place at Wesleyan or a political economy chair at Princeton. To Shaw he contrasted the two schools. Old Nassau, he said, attracted “the very best cultured class of students.”



New professor on campus. A student photographer (school year 1890–91) caught Wilson walking by his lecture hall in the Old Chapel.

As for the advantages of Princeton, I really think them greater than those of any other college in the East. It has size and progressiveness without the unbearable and dwarfing academic Pharisaism of Harvard or the narrow college pride of Yale; without the crude miscellaneous student body of Cornell, Philistine to the core, or the too pronounced political connections and dependencies of Michigan. . . . The student body is representative of the earnest classes all over the country, and the faculty has of late years received an infusion of young blood which promises very distinct advances in method and result. [President Patton] is a thoroughly wide-awake and delightful man. But of course I prefer Princeton.22

All was not perfect, however. The trustees remained distressingly conservative, and President Patton eventually showed signs of passivity. Worse, the Ivory Tower was again too proving narrow for Woodrow Wil-



son, who longed to effect political change in the American nation as a whole and to write eloquently on expansive subjects. Focused academic labor was making him “desperately dull” like his fellow faculty. “They have no more literature in them than an ass has of beauty. They don’t know anything, because they know only one thing; and I am terribly afraid of growing like them. I am not only not a scholar, but I don’t want to be one. I love excursions and hate incisions.” At times he was tempted to quit Princeton for a college presidency somewhere, and he got many offers as he became more famous with his books The State and Division and Reunion, the latter a history of the Civil War era written in his summer study in Witherspoon Hall. Ellen summarized the possible advantages of leaving: “More independence of position, more power to mould times and events to suit yourself.” There were no heroics to a professor’s life, he was finding. “I am so tired of a merely talking profession!” he fretted to Stockton Axson, Ellen’s younger brother, who joined the Princeton English faculty. “I want to do something!”23 He worried, too, that the liberal studies vision of Jimmy McCosh—a broad humanistic training—was being battered down by the rise of modern science, so mechanistic and coldly material. (Science was enjoying a tremendous vogue in the 1890s, a decade that saw the discovery of the stratosphere, electrons, radioactivity, and X-rays and the invention of automobiles, motion pictures, radiotelegraphy, steel-framed skyscrapers, and the zipper.) Uninterested in fads, Woodrow Wilson always stood for general knowledge as the essential foundation for young men who would need to provide leadership to the nation someday; he scorned “the disease of specialization” and scientific or vocational training that yielded “a hard technicality and mean contraction of view.” Literature, broad and Romantic, was always his touchstone—he who loved to sit with Ellen on the grass on campus on Sundays to read Wordsworth. He and Axson talked at dusk on the front porch of the Hunt House on the street called Library Place at the western edge of Princeton town (which the Wilsons were renting) about “literature as such,” and after biking down to the arched bridge over Stony Brook, they sat on the coping as Wilson exclaimed, “We who know literature by sight have the responsibility of carrying on a war with those to whom so-called ‘scholarship’ is everything.”24 About this same time, a newspaper reporter jotted down the similar points that Wilson—who shone as an after-dinner speaker—made to the



Delaware alumni club in Wilmington. “He wanted to make the institution more literary. It has produced statesmen but not many writers. It ought to produce more writers. A school of technical science has no business there. It is not essentially a scientific institution. It should be a literary institution, a college out of which you can turn your hand like a gentleman and a scholar to the duties of life. If the public is to be made to believe that Princeton is a vital institution the college must be made to do something. . . . He felt in a certain sense that the education of this country depends on Princeton.”25 An inflated claim, perhaps, but his ambitious mind was still scheming nothing less than a radical reorganization of the American university, Princeton to lead the van. He spelled it out in an article in the New York Forum, “University Training and Citizenship.” Newfangled science “is apt to despise old thought.” Universities that turned out young men ignorant of history and past ideas were dangerous “instruments of social destruction.” Literature ought to lie at the heart of education, and students should read copiously, as at the English universities. “We shall lose our sense of identity and all advantage of being hard-headed Saxons if we become ignorant of our literature. We must look to the universities to see to it that we be not denationalized” (this was an era of cascading immigration). His goal was to get students “to read English literature widely and intelligently,” not just take notes on lectures. “A considerable number of young tutors” ought to be hired, the men he would someday call preceptors.26

All this was lofty talk, nothing more. Opportunities for reform were few, since he was merely a professor. One came in 1893, however—the forging of the honor code, still in use today. “Princeton’s sacred tradition,” F. Scott Fitzgerald called it, “a method of pledging that to the amazement of outsiders actually works.” On every test, students signed, “I pledge my honor as a gentleman that during this Examination I have neither given nor received aid.” Faculty allowed them to police one another, scrapping the distasteful old “spy system.” Violators were subject to trial by their peers, who had control over disciplinary outcomes—generally expulsion, for the code was strict. Offenders might hear a rap at their door from a student posse telling them to catch a train within twenty-four hours or be thrown in the canal.27



Honor code in action. With everyone pledged not to cheat, informality now prevailed during exams in Dickinson Hall.

The honor code idea seems to have originated in the Wilson parlor in the Hunt House, a gathering place for Southern students, as poor relations of the Wilsons were always living with them and attending the college. Southerners stuck together, because they formed less than 10 percent of the student body—a number lately increasing, however. Ellen was appalled by accounts of cheating, a common practice at Eastern schools but intolerable, she thought, for Southerners to engage in. She explained to the boys how colleges in the South frowned on that kind of thing. Agreeing with her avidly were some young graduates of the Webb School in Bell Buckle, Tennessee, a feeder to Princeton that had a code, as did several Southern institutions.28 Already Woodrow Wilson (at Wesleyan and Princeton) had used a kind of honor code in his own exams, a policy of “not-watching” his pupils that, a cousin of his optimistically thought, “will turn them all into honorable gentlemen.” Professor Harry Fine confirmed in later years that it was Wilson to whom the youngsters first turned for advice in creating



the code, and it was Wilson who insisted that the idea should come from the students themselves, promulgated by a mass meeting and formal proposal to the skeptical faculty. “It was a radical step at that time, but Wilson urged it, and it went into effect. The results were excellent from the start.” Professor Bliss Perry likewise said that Wilson had thought up the code, having known one at the University of Virginia.29 Woodrow Wilson took pains to claim no credit whatsoever, though, since he was adamant that the system should not be imposed from the faculty down—this would just perpetuate the ancient game of students resisting authority. He smiled to see that the Classes of ’93 and ’94 took lasting pride in having been the ones who thought it up. At a mass meeting in the Old Chapel they resolved that “any student mean enough to cheat when put on his honor was no fit man for Princeton, and must go.” But Wilson privately knew he had helped plant the seed for the reformist code, just the kind of thing he adored, a method of “self-government” for a “little community” based on high moral standards and manliness.30 The little community was not so little anymore, actually. Along with many schools, Princeton was growing explosively, about doubling in 1890–94 alone and passing the one thousand mark. The noble old debating societies, Whig and Clio Halls, had stressed self-government, individual honor, and oath-taking; since their status was now declining in the face of many new extracurriculars—the giddy pleasures of socalled College Life were on the rise in the Gay Nineties—the honor code sought to apply these sober values to the growing campus at large.31 In January 1893 the faculty agreed that tests would henceforth be unsupervised, Wilson steering the proposal through stiff opposition. Debate raged whether teachers should remain in the classroom. It was eventually agreed that they should, but only to “preserve general order,” and instructors were to avoid the appearance of watching students, who were free to talk to each other and leave the room for a smoke (a major impetus for the code). Having been deeply discouraged by his recent stint on the campus disciplinary committee—students were perennially rowdy and fond of visiting the scarlet ladies of Trenton—Wilson lost no opportunity to sing the praises of the honor code as proof of a more wholesome college. He told the Baltimore alumni, “The students now at Princeton will have recollections of an entirely different nature than any of us have. For we are now abolishing all surveillance in examinations.” Amid cheers someone yelled, “We are twenty years late.” Wilson added,



“It seems to me that the most contemptible thing a man can do is to try to find out how contemptible other men are. We are trying now to put every man on his honor.” It was a theme he often repeated, for example in Pittsburgh two years later, where he said that Princeton’s “real worth and character [are] displayed in the ‘Honour System.’ The unquestionable proof of principle.”32 “It was clear at once that he was a debater,” Professor Perry thought on first meeting Woodrow Wilson in the fall of 1893, and now he watched with fascination as the Southern orator defended the “honor as a gentleman” wording in a faculty meeting against President Patton’s supercilious Bermudan contempt for the idea of honor as Romantic bunk. Wilson grew white and quiet, “and it was then that he was most dangerous.” His scrupulously polite but passionate defense saved the wording.33 Between 1893 and 1900, Perry saw only two violations. During his undergraduate years, Ernest Poole ’02 witnessed just one, when a student furtively glanced at his notes. Poole watched as the president of the class leaned forward and said, “Tear up your paper and flunk this.” The boy did. By 1905 Wilson could boast that “cheating in examinations has been utterly stamped out.” What a contrast to Harvard, where the Crimson lamented that cheating grew ever more common, or Columbia, where students were herded into the gym for exams, sixteen proctors prowling among them and ringing bells when they caught a perpetrator. Media praise for “the Princeton system” served Wilson’s higher goal, a stellar reputation for his college and a revival of its old tradition of showing America the way. If he could not help lead the nation personally, at least he could ensure that Princeton did.34

As Woodrow Wilson lectured in the Old Chapel, students watched the easy motion of his slender frame as he strode across the creaking wooden platform, the graceful sweep of his pointing finger as he made an oratorical flourish, the glint of light off his pince-nez—and, always, they stared in amazement at that impossibly long jaw. Approaching forty, their professor was still far from leading the heroic life he dreamed of. Coursework, children, an expensive new house he and Ellen were building on the lot next door to them on Library Place—all weighed Woodrow Wilson down under a heavy blanket of dull responsibilities. He did what he must, but he longed for far more. To raise money for the house, he



lectured nationwide and undertook a writing project “for one of the vulgar-rich magazines,” Harper’s Weekly, which paid three hundred dollars each for a series of articles on George Washington, later a book. It was a potboiler, though perhaps not quite so bad as Wilson-hating H. L. Mencken later found it, “an almost inexhaustible mine of bad writing, faulty generalizing, childish pussyfooting, ludicrous posturing, and naive stupidity.” Perhaps its greatest significance lay in its publisher, Colonel George Harvey, a Democratic political kingmaker who years later would propel Wilson into public life at last.35 The house for which George Washington paid was a perfect expression of Ellen and Woodrow’s Anglophilia. A wave of Tudor-style architecture was sweeping the town, and Ellen was rapturous about the design of a new “eating club” for upperclassmen on Prospect Avenue between the campus and University Field, Tiger Inn, especially its half-timbered construction and diamond-shaped windowpanes. She gave their architect measured drawings of what she wanted for the Library Place house and even a clay model. With its Shakespearian look—it had a half-timbered upper story with plasterwork painted a cheerful yellow, under a red roof— it was a virtual shrine to the Wilsons’ love of literary reading. The visitor entered a squarish central hall where the family spent evenings reading aloud beside the fire or around a wooden table, with bookshelves lining the walls. In the adjacent dining room, conversations centered so often on literature, someone joked that a revolving bookcase should have been installed. Beside the dining room was the professor’s cozy study, with framed drawings of his gods: Washington, Webster, Gladstone, Bagehot, Burke—and of his father, Joseph Wilson. Woodrow typed at a small table, occasionally glancing over the window seat at the garden outside. He was so disciplined, he would not allow himself to lift his fingers until he had formulated the perfect word. The girls would wait patiently for the sound of his keys jingling as he locked his manuscripts in his rolltop desk, for at last he was coming out to read to them.36 He demanded perfection in every sentence he wrote or spoke and gave himself no mercy. “It is only by working with an energy that is almost superhuman and which looks to uninterested spectators like insanity that we can accomplish anything,” Tommy Wilson had declared long ago in a Whig Hall oration on the “ideal statesman.” He had never been robust, and overwork now broke his health. In spring 1896 a friend found him in Baltimore (where he lectured for a few weeks annually at



Johns Hopkins) toiling away at his typewriter in a tiny room heated by a gas stove. Thin and haggard, he was suffering from stomach problems, and his eye had started to twitch. He could not stop, he explained, for he had to pay for his house in Princeton.37 Professor Theodore Hunt wrote him urgently, “Can we not persuade you to lessen your work and conserve your health! It is clear, Professor, that you are unduly taxing your strength, when your system can bear no special strain. I write as a colleague, a neighbor, and a personal friend. Cut short your course at Baltimore and cancel some of those numerous engagements.” His classmate Dr. Charlie Mitchell advised a trip abroad to recuperate. The matter was urgent, an emotional Joseph Wilson telling the family, “I am afraid Woodrow is going to die.” A wealthy widow in Princeton, Susan Dod Brown—a benefactor of the college—gave some money for Professor Wilson to travel. He chose England, naturally, “the old land I love. Maybe I could be still more truly than before a literary man.”38 Days before he sailed on the Ethiopia, Woodrow Wilson suddenly lost the use of his right hand, a calamity that historians think may have been a small stroke, brought on by years of untreated high blood pressure, a condition his aging father also suffered from. He experienced sharp pain and forced himself to write with his left hand for months, a typically Wilsonian act of steely self-discipline and defiance. He would not allow his broken health to slow him down. With difficulty he would write to Ellen expressing his rapture over exploring Britain, and Oxford University in particular. As he grappled awkwardly with his pen in his hotel room there, his right hand lying useless on the table, he may have sensed that he was at a turning point in his life. He had achieved success in the classroom and as a writer; he had finally been able to build a home for his family; now he saw his beloved England at last. But dark clouds marred this summer sky. His physical breakdown was an ominous sign of others to come, for his blood pressure remained dangerously high. His unabated ambition for power and public influence still smoldered within—and what if he should die before he fulfilled it? Such modest success and money as he enjoyed had come only at the price of debilitating overwork in a profession he had never relished. And now his first glimpse of England intoxicated him with an educational vision that would reorient—and eventually shipwreck—his academic career.39 For years he had thought deeply about the failings in American higher



education . . . the insularity, the pedantry, the specialization, the lack of vision, the decline of literary reading, the cheating, the extracurricular distractions. Just to think of these filled the passionate Wilson with revulsion. To experience at last the perfection of Oxford University made those institutional shortcomings seem even more lamentable. He spent hours prowling through shadowy medieval cloisters or relaxing in the sun in grassy quadrangles where roses and wisteria vines clambered up ancient stone walls. Here he felt entirely at home intellectually and spiritually, as he had never done at the University of Virginia or Johns Hopkins or even at Princeton. Here the students seemed to love to work; here they lived in intimate, “mind-and-mind” association with the faculty; here the professors were honored and esteemed gentlemen who trained great parliamentarians and statesmen. “Dear me, a mere glance at Oxford is enough to take one’s heart by storm,” he wrote Ellen. “Oxford! Well, I am afraid that if there were a place for me here America would see me again only to sell the house and fetch you and the children.”40 Short of moving to England, what could Woodrow Wilson do? Dared he dream of refashioning the American university so that it resembled this marvelous place? Impatient with the limitations and shortcomings that constantly hemmed him in, he now took up a new cause. He would tell his countrymen about the greatness of Oxford. He would urge them to take their universities as seriously as the English do, to use them more effectively as instruments in training civic leaders. To reenvision the American college completely, to restructure it, gave Woodrow Wilson what he had long been seeking, a political and oratorical outlet from the cramping confines of academic life. More than ever before, he would act the role of an educational statesman. He would dream up great ideas and make them practical. With ringing words he would rouse his fellow men. And by fortuitous circumstance, a perfect opportunity would fall into his lap just a few weeks after his return to America, when the College of New Jersey celebrated its sesquicentennial and triumphantly changed its name to Princeton University. For the eternally ambitious Woodrow Wilson, this would prove the chance of a lifetime.


Who Shall Show Us the Way?


OR THE BIRTH OF Princeton University, its sons aimed to eclipse the pageantry of the University of North Carolina centennial the year before. Pomp and circumstance were becoming common as schools fought to distinguish themselves and play on age and tradition in the face of numerous upstart rivals. (Woodrow Wilson was not the only East Coast educator lately enamored of things British, for a colorful eighteenth-century Anglo-American heritage was one thing that dusty land-grant colleges on the prairie could never claim.) Latin professor Andrew West was put in charge, a passionate Anglophile and natural showman who knew how to hold an audience spellbound. The lavish use of academic gowns embarrassed elderly Professor Cyrus Brackett, one of a few who were sorry to see the plain old Presbyterian college slipping away.1 Woodrow Wilson was the natural choice to give the keynote address, since he was becoming well known on the lecture circuit nationally and had spoken brilliantly on liberal studies at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Ironically, these two men, West and Wilson, who would later fight furiously in the Battle of Princeton, were all smiles as they made their grand public debuts on the same three sunny days in October 1896. For Wilson, who would turn forty in a couple of months, it was the biggest audience he had ever faced, and the most important—fifteen



Sesquicentennial orator. Professor Wilson as he appeared at about age forty.

thousand visitors expected, including the largest gathering of academics on the continent. Many were alumni, for Princetonians filled 125 professorships nationally. These influential men would heed his advisements. Moreover, major newspapers would cover his speech, for in those days they regularly reported happenings on campus (ironically, in that era when few Americans went to college, universities enjoyed special prestige and university leaders were high-profile). Andrew West asked him to speak as a historian on “Princeton’s part in the American Revolution and in framing our National Constitution.” But he would do much more, for here was an opportunity to preach to the world about improving university education along the lines of Oxford. He would wax literary as he tried to get “into this oration what was in my heart and imagination as I wrote it,—a real vision of Princeton’s greatness and spiritual significance for the country.” “I’ve got it!” he shouted from his bicycle to Professor Harper one day. “My first sentence!” The writing was painfully difficult,



though, because his right arm remained disabled. He struggled to type with his left, finishing eleven pages before giving up and dictating the rest. It was a speech destined to become famous: “Princeton in the Nation’s Service.”2 To the throngs in high-ceilinged Alexander Hall he spoke of patriot John Witherspoon, the school’s first hero, who had trained a second, James Madison. These two men epitomized service to the nation as scholar-statesman (exactly Wilson’s secret goal for himself ). He glided over the ensuing decades of dullness to land at President McCosh, reviver of the tradition of greatness. And today, he said, the college must involve itself once more with the affairs of the country. “The school must be of the nation.” “I ask for the old drill, the old memory of times gone by, the old schooling in precedent and tradition, the old keeping of faith with the past, as a preparation for leadership in the days of social change.” To read constantly was the way a public servant should educate himself. “Literature, walking within her open doors in quiet chambers with men of olden time”—this Oxfordian vision should be the basis of all college learning. He could not resist again assaulting science as the enemy of liberal studies: it “has bred in us a spirit of experiment and a contempt for the past,” and a “noxious, intoxicating gas” from laboratories had infected the public with a passion for reckless change. “I should fear nothing better than utter destruction from a revolution conceived and led in the scientific spirit,” he said—by which time the scientists in the audience were fuming. When writing the speech, he had wondered how to close it. His poetical wife, Ellen, told him to aim for something lofty, like John Milton’s Areopagitica. “I have had sight of the perfect place of learning in my thought,” he said, a place where ideals are kept in heart in an air they can breathe; but no fool’s paradise. A place where to hear the truth about the past and hold debate about the affairs of the present, with knowledge and without passion; like the world in having all men’s life at heart, a place for men and all that concerns them; but unlike the world in its self-possession, its thorough way of talk, its care to know more than the moment brings to light; slow to take excitement, its air pure and wholesome with a breath of faith: every eye within it bright in the clear day and quick to look toward heaven for the confirmation of its hope. Who shall show us the way to this place?3



That splendid place promised to be an Oxford-like School for Statesmen—a training ground for aspiring young Woodrow Wilsons. “Impressionistic and grave, rhetorical and unprecise,” the scientist Mark Baldwin grumbled at an oration he considered hopelessly antimodern. But most others in the crowd were delighted, for Professor Wilson, among other things, had perfectly summarized Princeton’s cherished McCosh tradition of liberal studies and vowed to keep it alive right into the coming twentieth century. Some thought to themselves that he would make a fine university president himself, for he certainly had vision. “And such an ovation as Woodrow received!” Ellen exulted. “I never imagined anything like it. And think of so delighting such an audience, the most distinguished, everyone says, that has ever been assembled in America.” Princetonians “fell on his neck and wept for joy.”4 There was magic in his words, indeed in the whole sesquicentennial, three days of promise and excitement amid the orange leaves of a midAtlantic autumn. From a reviewing stand at Nassau Hall, portly U.S. president Grover Cleveland watched a grand torchlight procession surge by under a harvest moon. Accompanying the Class of 1881 was a costumed George Washington riding a coach drawn by gray horses, with two footmen in livery—reminding everyone that Washington had fought the Battle of Princeton here and later returned to address Congress, which for a time was headquartered at the college. “Grover, Send Your Boys to Princeton” read an illuminated transparency carried by ’95. At the end, a huge crowd gathered to sing “Old Nassau,” cheer the president, and watch fireworks that one delighted onlooker called “as beautiful as any I ever saw, such superb bursts of rockets with stars falling through golden rain.” Beneath its historic cupola that rose up against the night, Nassau Hall blazed with fifteen hundred electric lightbulbs.5

Among the important results of the glittering affair was that Grover Cleveland decided to retire in Princeton. Something in town and campus cheered this gouty, lame, burdened man. Perhaps it was the fervent response to his conservative Alexander Hall remarks denouncing William Jennings Bryan’s “Cross of Gold” speech of a few weeks before, which was tearing the Democratic Party apart. Here in Tigertown (where his father had attended the seminary) the New Jersey–born president could live in privacy, nursing his wounds—for he was, he thought, the most



abused and vilified of all Chief Executives. While in the White House he had married a fashionable woman twenty-seven years younger, and they had started a family. Princeton would be a good place to raise kids. He was wealthy and would fit into the local gentry; she liked First Presbyterian Church, to which she would habitually arrive, the plain-living Woodrow Wilsons sniffed, “a little late and always exquisitely dressed.” But the decisive factor in Cleveland’s move was his burgeoning friendship with Andrew West, who had invited him to the sesquicentennial and now made arrangements for his relocation. Cleveland gratefully named his newly purchased brick mansion on Bayard Lane, “Westland.” Sightseers flocked to see it even as moving wagons lined the drive, and finally the front doorbell had to be removed to prevent its constant ringing.6 Through West’s agency, Princeton University would embrace Cleveland, naming him to the Board of Trustees and inviting him to speak in a lecture series donated by an admirer. Woodrow Wilson saw great benefit for students in these talks on politics. (Those same students had greeted Cleveland whimsically, stealing hundreds of ducks from a nearby farm and releasing them onto the Westland lawn, since Cleveland was an avid hunter.) Since Johns Hopkins days, Wilson had been a staunch admirer of Cleveland as a forceful president and the man who returned the proSouthern Democratic Party to power after a generation in the wilderness. Now it must have been heady when an intimidated ex-president summoned Professor Wilson to his study, seeking advice on lecturing to an “intellectual audience” or, when, following the assassination of President William McKinley, Wilson and Cleveland shared the stage in Alexander Hall, speaking in sober tones. The astonishing descent of this Olympian figure to the little New Jersey town surely stirred Wilson’s personal ambitions even more. Was Cleveland not, up close, an ordinary Democrat like himself? Had he not used a governorship (New York) to catapult himself into high office—as indeed did McKinley (Ohio) and Roosevelt (New York)? If a Democrat could get himself elected in New Jersey—no easy task after a long Republican ascendancy began in 1896— might not the White House be within reach? Surely the coincidence of Grover Cleveland moving just three blocks away from Woodrow Wilson gave the college professor a new reason to dream big.7

Sesquicentennial applause still ringing in his ears, Woodrow Wilson turned his attention to improving the teaching of history and politics,



so that Princeton would be worthy of the “university” name. He wanted the trustees to hire the University of Wisconsin scholar Frederick Jackson Turner, famous for his paper on “The Significance of the Frontier in American History.” He had known Turner as a young man at Johns Hopkins years before. “Homely, solemn, young, glum, but with that fire in his face and eye” was how Turner had described Wilson to his fiancée back then: “He is a man [of ] fine thought and character, but perfectly familiar and companionable with the graduate students. I like him greatly.” “If you had seen him seated on the footboard of my bed this afternoon talking the most delightful stream of anecdote and epigram to Haskins, Broughall, and myself, while we fairly shook the room with laughter, you would never have recognized him as the grave author of a book that has called out the admiration of the ablest statesmen and historians of the world.”8 Princeton would be perfect for Turner, Wilson now said. He assured Turner that there was no place where one was allowed to work more freely and independently, and besides, “the spirit of American history dwells here from of old.” Most students were serious scholars, though admittedly an increasing number were sons of rich businessmen, prone to idleness and silly extracurriculars. The town itself had attractive amenities, being not so damp as Baltimore and nearly without malaria. It was rather expensive, though, decent houses renting for five hundred dollars and servants, considered a necessity in those days, costing up to sixteen dollars a month. Major monthly expenses at Library Place for the Wilsons—then a family of eight, including visiting Southern relatives—were food and lights (one hundred dollars), coal and water (sixteen dollars), and two servants (twenty-nine dollars). The normal professorial salary was thirty-four hundred dollars. While building their house, Wilson had succeeded in making an extra four thousand dollars through lectures and articles, although, Ellen told Turner, he “almost killed himself doing it!”9 Wilson became monomaniacal for Fred Turner. He met with President Patton in the gaslit study at Prospect House to say, “My own happiness and all my future here in the college seem to me . . . intimately dependent” on this hiring. In an unusual move, he appeared personally before the trustees to argue the case, but they put him off, citing a budget shortfall. The problem actually lay in Turner’s religious views, as conservative Professor Andrew West, newly powerful after his ingenious managing of the sesquicentennial, “showed the most stubborn preju-



dice about introducing a Unitarian into the Faculty,” convincing several trustees to side with him. “A plague on boards of Trustees!” Woodrow Wilson fumed to Turner—not his last run-in with them, to be sure, or with Andy West. “I shall not give up the fight,” he told Ellen, but he saw little hope and rashly considered resigning.10 A faculty friend, philosophy professor Jack Hibben, agreed that the matter exposed the many problems with Francis Patton’s Princeton, suffering under dropsically conservative management even as it now pretended to be a forward-looking university. He told Woodrow that the sesquicentennial had in fact been “a great misfortune; we can’t hope to be anything but a respectable, old-fashioned Presbyterian college; before we were that simply and without pretence; now we have merely made ourselves ridiculous before the whole academic world by making big promises that we have neither the will nor the power to carry out.” Wilson agreed. And after pushing for him relentlessly, he was furious when Frederick Jackson Turner was finally rejected. New Princeton had chosen mediocrity, falling back on the sectarian narrowness of Old Princeton. Ultimately Wilson would enjoy a measure of revenge, however; as president he would hire the school’s first Catholic and first Jew.11 Wilson’s fight for Turner had revealed a new side of him. With increased confidence after his hit “Princeton in the Nation’s Service” address—and perhaps with some personality change following his recent strokelike episode—he seemed more outspoken, sharper, and less patient. (Was it also the inspiring presence of the awesome Grover Cleveland?) Always lofty in his manner, he increasingly gave the impression that he knew better than the lesser mortals around him how to run the place. Behind his back, Andrew West now poked fun at “Tommy Wilson’s jag of dignity.” Professor Mark Baldwin watched how Wilson sat sphinxlike in faculty meetings, arms sternly folded. “Then with great gravity, and in an imposing silence, he would sum up the debate and pronounce a decision with a finality of manner only surpassed—to those who had heard Lyman Atwater—by the massive dignity of this elephantine personality. And after once pronouncing, he was fixed, immutable. No one wished— least of all did I—to serve on a committee with Wilson; for a report of conciliation or compromise was impossible. It was either a Wilsonian report or an anti-Wilsonian; there was no ‘middle-term.’” Professor Will Vreeland similarly felt that the moralistic Woodrow “rather awed many of the faculty,” and “his perfection in details made others feel their imper-



fections.” Vreeland’s wife was frankly afraid of this man “so austere and so terrifyingly intelligent.”12 Fed up with President Patton and other unenlightened members of the faculty, Woodrow Wilson indulged in daydreams about what he would do if he could run the show. He told his brother-in-law, Professor Stockton Axson, of three bold assaults he would make: reform the curriculum to make upperclassmen work harder; replace lectures with the Oxford tutorial system; and divide the university into Oxford-style “colleges” (what he later called “Quads”). But this was merely fantasy, since the Princeton presidency had never gone to anyone but a Presbyterian minister—and besides, the relatively youthful Patton was in no danger of death from overexertion. So forty-one-year-old Woodrow Wilson soldiered on in the trenches of professorial life, still dreaming and longing as the snowflakes of the winter of 1897 swirled outside the windows of his lecture room on the top floor of Dickinson Hall.13

The March following the sesquicentennial, the campus rang to the metallic clank of hammers as stonemasons erected a new library, today’s East Pyne Hall. Wilson was feted by the proud Class of 1879 in celebration of his George Washington biography and “In the Nation’s Service” address. More than thirty classmates gathered in the dining room of the Princeton Inn around a table adorned with orange and black, with a miniature cherry tree (partially chopped down) at one end, a cannon at the other, and Nassau Hall rising up in the middle. Each guest received a miniature hatchet, and the man of the hour was honored with a bronze bust of Washington. “I have but carried out the ideals and purposes formed amongst you in the old days of our first fellowship here,” Wilson told his friends. “You know that I am trying to be what I promised you.”14 He was becoming well known nationally now, and over the summer he would be wooed by the University of Virginia to be its president, an offer he skillfully leveraged to increase his income at Princeton. Although he was already paid one of the highest salaries at the university, fortythree hundred dollars, it was now augmented by twenty-five hundred dollars for five years by alumni who had known him as an undergraduate: Cyrus McCormick, Momo and Percy Pyne, Cleve Dodge, C. C. Cuyler, and others—the wealthiest backers of the university now. “Your warm friends,” Cuyler explained, “decided that Princeton could ill afford to



lose you.” Here began the close association between Wilson and Dodge and McCormick (the Chicagoan who headed International Harvester), so fateful for his future career at Princeton and beyond.15 Professor Wilson was phenomenally productive; in the decade following 1892 he published nine books and thirty-five articles. Early 1898 found him doing research in Washington, visiting the House of Representatives in the afternoons. “The old longing for public life comes upon me in a flood as I watch,” he said. He read in a newspaper about the blowing up of the battleship Maine in Havana harbor—probably an accident, he first thought, but soon America was embroiled in an imperialist war, one that roused him passionately. The young man who had once prowled the ships in the harbor at Wilmington, North Carolina, and dreamed of joining the British navy now became so excited, he would have enlisted himself, except that his family depended on him. He said he was elated to see that America had boys who would rather die in a ditch in the Philippines than spend their lives behind a dry goods counter in New York. “I think I should prefer that myself.”16 Even sleepy Princeton briefly stirred to life. “Get your gun!” a farmer shouted to pacifist Professor Bliss Perry as he rode a creaking bicycle to class. Four hundred undergraduates drilled on Brokaw Field. Others burned the king of Spain in effigy and cheered Admiral George Dewey when his train stopped at Princeton Junction. Alumni volunteered to fight. Things happened fast, and bewildered war correspondent John Thacher ’95 found himself in the capital of Puerto Rico addressing a huge crowd with no idea what a conquering hero should say. “Viva Puerto Rico!” he improvised. “To Hell with Yale!”17 During that exciting war summer of 1898, Woodrow Wilson watched America emerge from its isolation, joining John Bull and other great nations on the imperial world stage. It was heartening to see the door swing open for men of vision again. He predicted “greatly increased power and opportunity for constructive statesmanship given the President, by the plunge into international politics.” Foreign affairs were suddenly paramount, and in them the chief executive must be the nation’s guide, “take every first step of action.” Stockton Axson was amazed how vehemently pro-war his brother-in-law suddenly was, how eager for America to enter the fight to free Cuba as “a righteous cause.” Wilson must have watched enviously as his peer Teddy Roosevelt, Harvard Class of 1880, became famous in Cuba as a Rough Rider. Trapped in his little study at



suburban Library Place amid piles of papers to grade, the professor felt half-desperate to escape being “a mere book-man—a mere theorist in life—a mere man of letters.” His daily existence was so humdrum compared to his dreams of greatness, both for America and himself! “Nothing ever happens in this quiet house, except goings away to lecture or to speak at dinners (as, for example, tonight) and returnings to lecture and to write,” he lamented to a friend. “How do studious men ever get together an autobiography?”18 He went to Chicago to address the University Club and, according to a newspaper account, reiterated his “in the nation’s service” theme, which the war made more urgent. He spoke of the sphere of leadership of the country in the new problems which confront it, for the college man has had opportunity to study past history, he has seen more than the average man has seen, and is better able to solve the new problems which are before the country. Professor Wilson emphasized the change of international and domestic relations which had recently come to pass. The progress of civilization had obliterated the frontier and the result of the late war had extended our foreign relations. The Nation had broken its shell and bids fair to run a momentous career. Whether the Philippines are occupied or not conditions had changed and the university must change to meet changed conditions. The greatest province of the university is to serve the Nation; the university should be the highest school of citizenship for the men of the Nation.

In a similar talk to a student group in Princeton’s Murray Hall, Wilson said he still wanted to enter politics himself, but “as a career, the political life is a very dangerous one for a man who has no independent means of support,” since anyone without wealth was at the mercy of the party machine. A professor he would have to remain, apparently forever.19

He tried to content himself with shaping young minds through his classroom lectures or by visiting his brighter charges in the dormitories in the evening to talk about American history and contemporary politics. As they puffed their pipes in front of a coal stove in rooms heaped high with collegiate bric-a-brac, he spoke to them of their duty to serve the country in these stirring times, lamplight glinting off his glasses as he talked excitedly to the riveted young audience. Ernest Poole ’02 recalled how popular he was nowadays, though everyone laughed at his physical



ugliness—that long jaw! Once in his three-hundred-seat lecture hall, Wilson interrupted his remarks on common-law marriage to observe humorously how remarkable it is that some men ever find themselves a wife. The students smiled at each other, for surely their teacher was “the very homeliest one of us all.”20 Homely, yes, but fervently admired. “If you were taking the course, it was well to be in the lecture room several minutes early, or you wouldn’t find a seat,” the elderly Courtland Smith ’08 recalled as late as 1977. “It was not unusual for members of other classes not taking the course to crowd the doorways.” “Good morning, gentlemen,” Professor Wilson always began from the lectern, his phrases rolling out in perfection. He favored labyrinthine structures, one pupil remembered. “There’s a sentence he can’t extricate himself from,” they would think, but he always did. Classes began with him outlining the topic on the blackboard, the room silent except for the squeak of his chalk and perhaps the distant caroling of a robin from some campus elm. As he lectured, he would pause to say, “Now gentlemen, I suggest you take this down” or call someone briskly to his feet for an answer. Sometimes he would pronounce, “Close the doors, for I am now going to take off my gloves and show you how our government is being mismanaged in Washington. I ask you not to quote me, gentlemen.” By all accounts, his lectures were meticulously polished and warmly inspirational, stressing the role that Princeton men ought to play in making America great. They were so uplifting, a burst of applause or stomping feet would often come at the end—although, one cynic thought, Wilson’s rhetoric was merely poetical, and “they never knew exactly what he had said.” Seven times between 1896 and 1903 he was voted favorite professor. It was some compensation for a life that had, thus far, brought mostly discouragement.21 Even as times rapidly changed and world affairs quickened, Princeton University dozed under the sardonic and (literally) nearsighted Francis Patton. When Patton finally appointed an ineffectual dean of the faculty, Woodrow Wilson and Jack Hibben had had enough and resigned the Discipline Committee in protest. The two faculty malcontents were growing very close now, a friendship that would come to play a central role in Wilson’s life at Princeton. Hibben ’82 and Wilson ’79 had much in common—Presbyterian minister’s sons, Whig Hall orators, avid football fans, promoters of New Princeton—although dapper Hibben, a



native of Peoria, lacked Wilson’s inner fire. “Idealism and pragmatism thus in company,” Professor Theodore Hunt had thought when he saw them walking together as undergraduates. In spite of this difference in personality, their relationship blossomed. Ellen was drawn in, too, and now Woodrow Wilson told Jack’s gregarious wife, Jenny, that her and Jack’s affection had “so brightened and strengthened our lives in dear old Princeton. I verily believe that, in my present state of mind about the sinister influences at present dominant in the administration of the College, it would be easy for me to leave Princeton if it were not for ‘the Hibbens.’ You don’t know what an anchorage our love for them has made.”22 Woodrow Wilson was never so happy as when spending Sunday afternoons with Jack and Jenny, chatting about literature over tea or taking “triangle walks” down quiet sidewalks lined with wrought-iron fences tangled with yellow roses. The Hibbens were far more stylish than the Wilsons, who dressed frugally and whose social life typically consisted of staying home to read Wordsworth around the toasty hearth. A friend of Ellen’s later recalled how the Hibbens were always trying to “run the Wilsons,” pushing them to dress better and mingle with the influential, wealthy families of the town, the Momo Pynes and Grover Clevelands. And why must the Wilsons insist on belonging to the “wrong” church, Second Presbyterian, attended by mere tradesmen? Jack Hibben was building social connections that would serve him well throughout his career at Princeton. He worried that his friend Woodrow was not.23 The Hibbens observed that Wilson seldom relaxed nowadays. “He is forced to give by far too many lectures and addresses away from home,” Ellen Wilson told a friend unhappily of her hard-working husband. “He is almost terribly dependent on me to keep up his spirits and to ‘rest’ him as he says. So I dare not have the ‘blues.’ If I am just a little sky-blue he immediately becomes blue-black!” Woodrow increasingly complained of writer’s cramp and tiredness, and once he absentmindedly went to bed when he was supposed to be dressing for dinner, a wildly uncharacteristic lapse that panicked Ellen and the girls. This may have been symptomatic of his high blood pressure again, which had likely been causing incremental damage to the brain during the three years since his cerebrovascular episode. By spring 1899, Jack Hibben was alarmed at Wilson’s loss of weight and declining vigor and urged a trip abroad. Two



rich Baltimore alumni, the Garretts—“not at all sorry to see the United States making her new venture in foreign war and the government of dependencies,” as Wilson put it—wanted him to go to England to find a professor who could teach young Americans how to administer colonies. Partly to escape Patton-related “college thoughts and regrets,” Wilson (along with Ellen’s brother Stockton Axson) decided to sail on the Furnessia that summer.24 At Cambridge they hired a boat and paddled the storied local river end to end. Woodrow told the family back home, “The Cam you know, runs close at the rear of these colleges, with here a broad lawn stretching between the buildings and its banks, as at King’s, and there the very walls of some shapely hall or dormitory standing with their feet in its stream (as if the road to the station at Princeton were a river—the Cam is no wider—and washed the very walls of Blair) so that men may sit and fish from their bedroom windows.” In three days they explored fifteen colleges, Baedeker in hand, admiring the “sameness of satisfying style,” so different from architecturally polyglot Princeton. They watched the students in cap and gown studying in the mornings, then rowing on the river in the golden afternoon or strolling “in all the innumerable delicious green spaces of the college enclosures.” How grossly substandard and aimless Francis Patton’s Princeton seemed by comparison to all this!25 Once more Wilson was enchanted especially with the architecture of the English colleges and their enclosed quadrangles. Cambridge was “full of quiet chambers, secluded ancient courts, and gardens shut away from intrusion,—a town full of coverts for those who would learn and be with their own thoughts. I bring away from it a very keen sense of what we lack in our democratic colleges, where no one has privacy or claims to have his own thoughts.”26 Then on to Oxford. They sat under the famous copper beech at New College—not so large, Wilson thought, as the beloved specimen in back of his Library Place home. From the King’s Arms Hotel he wrote daughter Jessie, “Oxford, you know, is England’s great university town. We hope Princeton will be like it some of these days,—say about two hundred years from now. It is full of buildings like Blair Hall by the station and the University Library. Only the Oxford buildings are much more beautiful than ours. They have been standing so long, that they look, not new, but venerable. Their old stone is of such soft colours, and they are covered over so often with ivy—like the front of Old North. And then,



Perfect Oxford. Magdalen College as Wilson fell in love with it in the 1890s. Its famous tower would soon be copied at Princeton.

behind them and about them, are beautiful gardens, with great trees and shady lawns and inviting cool places to sit and read. . . . It would be hard not to study, wouldn’t it, where so many people have been studying for almost a thousand years?” “Turning into quads, penetrating beyond quads, to delightful secluded gardens; peeping now into one and again into another quaint corner”—it all fired up his Anglophilia again. He luxuriated in “all that is beautiful after this exquisite, rich, refined English fashion, in scenery and ecclesiastical and academic and domestic architecture. No wonder a great literature sprang out of this life.” And it again confirmed his cherished goal of someday transforming Princeton into an American Oxford, complete with tutors, Gothic quadrangles, and a dreamy atmosphere of poetry and romance where utilitarianism was shut out, where the literary spirit could thrive—and where young men would read broadly and constantly, learn to love hard work and intellectual attainment, and then go forth boldly to reshape the American nation. A beautiful vision, trapped in a professor’s discontented heart.27



Back home a revolution was brewing, and Woodrow Wilson was soon drawn in. By 1901, secretive meetings on porches at Andrew West’s and Jack Hibben’s (they were close faculty friends and neighbors) had burgeoned into an urgent, create-New-Princeton-now campaign gaining traction among young professors and newer trustees. These men talked boldly of boosting undergraduate requirements, establishing a Graduate College under the direction of West (recently named dean of the proposed institution), and pushing lazy President Francis Patton to greater exertions. Increasingly Patton seemed hopeless behind his muttonchops and was caricatured as sitting for hours in his study “grasping a cologne scented handkerchief in his thin hands.” Even as some were becoming alarmed at the influx of the wealthy to universities and a rise in luxuriousness, Patton hardly seemed to care. “Princeton is a rich man’s college,” he said with a shrug. His jokes did not help: “It is better to have come and loafed, than never to have come at all.”28 Helping to propel the reform movement was the vast authority of Grover Cleveland, who would do anything to assist his best friend, Andrew West. An executive committee was proposed to usurp some of Patton’s powers. Patton vehemently objected, showing what one observer called “a very disturbed state of mind” at the idea of losing authority. He blamed Dean West for instigating attacks against him, and indeed Woodrow Wilson—though no friend of Patton—watched West’s machinations with astonishment. What a schemer this man was! West’s ruddy, grinning face and hail-fellow-well-met demeanor (he seemed to affect the manner of an English squire) disguised his talent for intrigue. As one eyewitness remarked of these tumultuous weeks, “You would have been astonished to behold the worthy Dean grubbing around in the muddy bottom like a Mississippi catfish.” Yet Woodrow Wilson was deeply involved in the rebellion against Patton, too, owing in part to his close relationship with several young trustees. His constant travel and afterdinner lecturing had brought him into their homes, and they had come to admire him. At the height of the crisis in April 1902 Wilson was in Chicago to address the alumni there, offering a “clever admixture of wit and wisdom” (it was reported) about Princeton past and future. His intimate contact there with the brothers Thomas and David B. Jones ’76 and Cyrus McCormick, in particular, brought him close to the center of anti-



Patton schemings, although he kept his profile low. When they asked him to draft the plans for the executive committee, he did so quietly.29 Events cascaded. In May, President Patton told the trustees he was willing to resign if a generous severance package were offered, and sixteen rich men coughed up an immense sum to buy him out. The sudden collapse of the Patton regime stunned many alumni. Who would replace him? Patton himself favored Professor Henry van Dyke, a preacher and writer of popular books who was perhaps the most famous member of the faculty (among other things, he wrote the hymn “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee”). A pompous aesthete whom locals called the Peacock—he wore a fur coat to class, then tossed it aside with a flourish as he began lecturing—van Dyke seemed to many an absurd choice to lead a modern university. But they feared that the outgoing president, “one of the cleverest of men,” would seduce his trustee friends with the idea of choosing van Dyke, an idea that had no support among the reformist “Liberals.”30 Informal canvassing showed, fortunately, that van Dyke was not in the running. Instead, Professor Henry Fine learned from within the board that “Stewart, Cuyler, Bayard Henry, all of them, favored Woodrow Wilson,” even though he was not a minister. They had not forgotten his “Princeton in the Nation’s Service” address, nor what trustee Cyrus McCormick called his “cool, clear-visioned advice” recently concerning the executive committee.31 Even as Wilson’s name was being considered, the Patton business exposed deep rifts among the trustees, ones that would have serious ramifications later on. David Jones wrote to McCormick of his disgust with the cautious, conservative “Pyne-Cuyler coterie” that for a time threatened to prolong the Patton presidency. He cited “the contemptible poltroonery . . . of those eastern men. They act as if they were trustees of Patton’s feelings and position, and not trustees of Princeton University.” West versus East, liberal versus conservative, progressive reformers versus aristocratic adherents to the status quo: these camps were already becoming apparent, and the next president would have to negotiate a minefield. The picture had been rendered more complex by the fact that, in 1900, alumni had at last been given what they long demanded, direct vote on five trustees. Three of those subsequently elected were former Jimmy McCosh students, and they favored their young peer, Woodrow Wilson.32 A definite hint came at a luncheon for Philadelphia lawyers at the



Princeton Inn, where Wilson gave a talk on Revolutionary history in the town. Trustee C. C. Cuyler whispered cryptically, “It looks now, Tommy, as if you were going to have a great deal of responsibility.” Arriving home, the professor found the Princeton Alumni Weekly with “Woodrow Wilson, ’79, for President” emblazoned on the cover. Shocked, he soon realized it referred to an Indianapolis News editorial touting him, as an upand-coming Democratic political orator and essayist, for president of the United States! But it was prophetic either way. On June 9, 1902, the board voted for Wilson unanimously as president of Princeton University. Their consensus was astonishing. “When the vote was announced,” one member said piously, “we agreed that it was the act of Providence,” and indeed it eventually turned out to be momentous for American history.33 They delegated Francis Patton and those trustees who had attended Princeton with Wilson as undergraduates—including Bayard Henry ’76, Jacobus ’77, Pyne ’77, McCormick ’79, and Cuyler ’79—to notify him of his election. These men who had known Tommy since boyhood had now exalted him into one of the most important jobs in America, president of an elite university, which in those days carried great nationwide status. They found the professor at home and escorted him back to the trustees’ room at the library. Alumni who had just arrived for reunions cheered Wilson when he appeared on the campus sidewalk afterward, and the ecstatic Class of 1892, who had known him since junior year, hauled him into their group photograph on the steps of Nassau Hall. As soon as the dazed man could break free, he hurried over to tell the news to his dear friend, Jack Hibben.34 Wilson’s elderly and ailing father, then living with his son, was in the barber’s chair on Nassau Street when the town tailor burst in to shout, “Oh Dr. Wilson, the trustees have elected Woodrow president!” Ellen, of course, was rapturous when she heard; had she not told her family in Georgia the night of her engagement that she was marrying the greatest man in the world? She rushed out to meet Stockton Axson in the front garden at Library Place: “Her face glowed, her eyes danced as she told me the news.”35 But inside in his study, Woodrow was strangely subdued, almost timid, as Axson had seldom seen him. Apparently taken by surprise, the president-elect doubted whether he could ever raise the money to carry out his magnificent, Oxfordian dreams. That night as Ellen explained the matter to their daughters, Woodrow Wilson brooded in silence. Up-



stairs, Joseph Wilson called the three girls to the foot of his bed. “Never forget what I tell you. Your father is the greatest man I have ever known.” Sixteen-year-old Maggie said, “Oh, we know that, grandfather.” Joseph frowned. “I’ve lived a long time, Margaret, and I know what I’m talking about. This is just the beginning of a very great career.” She took his words to heart. When their neighbor, Professor Billy Magie, later met Maggie on the street and congratulated her on her dad being university president, he was astounded to hear her say dismissively, “Hmm—he ought to be President of the United States.”36

At commencement, Woodrow Wilson was showered with congratulations, to which he responded in a speech at University Hall: “This thing has come to me as a thunderbolt out of a clear sky.” Cheers followed, and affirming words from the Rev. James Hepburn ’32, oldest alumnus of all, who had lived to see New Princeton truly born at last. In graduation ceremonies at Alexander Hall, “packed to the roof,” outgoing President Patton said good-bye and dismissed the charge, then rampant in the national press, that Princeton was abandoning religion by adopting a secular chief. Woodrow Wilson was “ordained by the laying on of hands to the office of a ruling elder of the Presbyterian Church,” Patton countered, so there was no “breach in the tradition.” Wilson replied by speaking of his cherished personal goals, including “to crown this university with a great graduate college”—a promise of which Dean Andrew West made special note. A “P-Rade” marched through the June night under torches and transparencies from the door of Patton at Prospect House through the streets of the little town to Library Place. It was the “Year of the Locust,” an irruption of periodical cicadas as happens only once every seventeen years, and the sidewalks were slippery with crushed insects. Picking one up, a fervent Woodrow Wilson admirer thought he saw an auspicious sign, the pattern “WW” on the wings.37 The postman brought commendatory letters to the Wilsons’ door. Classmate Harold Godwin had felt estranged from Princeton by its “old illiberality” but now rejoiced at the “thoroughly modern change.” “Some ‘Westerner’ thought the White House would do for you, but we know ‘Prospect’ is much better,” said another Seventy-Nine, Billy Isham, referring to the Indianapolis News editorial. Momo Pyne forwarded the reaction of his New York friend President Theodore Roosevelt: “Woodrow



Wilson is a perfect trump. I am overjoyed at his election.” Percy Pyne ’78 and Henry B. Thompson ’77 toasted Wilson’s health on Cleve Dodge’s gleaming yacht.38 But some had private doubts, which they felt free only to whisper. Edith Reid, a correspondent of Wilson’s in Baltimore, felt dismay, thinking Wilson’s fine literary mind would surely go to waste. Making this intellectual genius a college president was like using a razor to sharpen a pencil. Professor Bliss Perry was skeptical, too, thinking Wilson better at conceiving grand theories than in putting them into operation. When Wilson had been up for the University of Virginia presidency, his classmate McCormick said that he lacked the necessary business skills. Another classmate, George Prentiss, recalled how egotistical Tommy Wilson had been as an undergraduate. Once Wilson stormed out of a pick-up ballgame when they wouldn’t allow him to play first base. “I wonder if he will insist on playing first base as President.”39 Deposed President Patton, too, had once doubted Wilson as an administrator. “It is my opinion that the best work of which he is capable is in the chair and with his pen.” But now he offered public encouragement to his successor. Wilson had turned against him over the years, Patton knew, but at least his appointment prevented the ascent of the venomous Andrew West! But Wilson now seemed to snub the man who had hired and promoted him, neglecting to even mention Patton in various postelection speeches. Many alumni were infuriated by this rudeness. For years to come it would be whispered around Old Nassau that Andrew West had wrecked Patton’s administration in an attempt to make himself president, which Patton shrewdly foiled by nominating Wilson instead— only to be spurned by his protégé. It was not the last time that Woodrow Wilson would be accused of ingratitude toward a man who had helped him, cruelty toward a former friend he had gradually come to despise.40 But overall the reaction at commencement to Wilson the presidentelect was rapturous, at which Ellen was amazed, even alarmed. “The alumni seem half mad with joy. . . . The scenes here were indescribable! It is enough to frighten a man to death to have people love and believe in him so and expect so much.” She was overwhelmed by the thought of what awaited her personally, the move out of the cozy house she had designed on Library Place into a stately mansion isolated on the campus; the new responsibilities as hostess for countless social functions; the pressure all this would bring to her husband, whose health had lately



been so precarious. Just when he had all but given up on becoming a great man, Woodrow Wilson was suddenly thrust onto the national stage. Would leadership suit him after all? Could he engage in compromise and conciliation? Was he physically equal to the task?41 Ellen Wilson’s husband was quintessentially a man of words and letters, not numbers. He was terrible at math—which now bode poorly, some thought, for university finances. The Wilson daughters always giggled when their father shouted from another room, asking them to add two simple numbers for him. But there was a certain number he had always loved. Woodrow Wilson had exactly that number of characters in it, and so did Geo. Washington, as he liked to point out. Others might fear this number, but as always Wilson saw things his own way, made his own rules that defied the doubters. Riding his bicycle up Nassau Street to campus or strolling down the sun-dappled sidewalks of “the triangle,” he now thought with optimism of the future, repeating to himself those joyous and intoxicating words— Woodrow Wilson, Princeton’s Thirteenth President.

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New Princeton President, 1902–7

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Like a New Prime Minister


VEN AFTER WAITING so long for the limelight, Princetonpresident-elect Woodrow Wilson felt curiously unready. What would be the fate of the political volumes he had wanted to write, the continued reading he wished to immerse himself in? “I’m still browsing among books,” he assured a former student who ran into him in the literary section of Wanamaker’s department store in New York. “I suppose I shall always do.” But there would be little time for writing now. To set aside the manuscript of The Philosophy of Politics, his intended magnum opus, was especially “heartbreaking,” and indeed it would never be written, the first of many sacrifices as Wilson was reborn at last as a man of action, not letters.1 The family moved their beloved books into Prospect House, which trustees Momo Pyne and C. C. Cuyler gave money to electrify, update, and add bathrooms to—finally replacing Jimmy McCosh’s Victorian painted-tin tub. Unhappy amid the high-ceilinged grandeur, twelve-yearold Nell sat on the back stairs and wept. Going up to bed, she heard her mother crying too behind a heavy, faux-grained Italianate door, her father murmuring sadly, “I should never have brought you here.”2 But for his own sake, Woodrow was thrilled with the circumstances. “I feel like a new prime minister getting ready to address his constituents,” he said gleefully as he prepared his inauguration address. On the big day in October he changed into a black gown with velvet bands and purple-and-orange hood—he loved its picturesque Englishness—and



swept into his father’s room to show the bedridden man, who gazed at his son with pride. Then Woodrow Wilson exited alone to embrace his destiny.3 Red sandstone statues of McCosh, Witherspoon, and Madison stared down at the inaugural procession streaming beneath the Tudor vaulting of Library Arch, delegates from 135 schools resplendent in colorful regalia. There were celebrities, too, including J. P. Morgan—his huge nose filled the Wilson girls with “dismay”—and famous writers William Dean Howells, Thomas Bailey Aldrich, and Mark Twain. Grover Cleveland joined Wilson in leading the parade down the center aisle of Alexander Hall, and they took their places on stage before a glittering mosaic backdrop. Stepping forward to address the eager crowd, Wilson basked in an eight-minute ovation and cheer after cheer before speaking on “Princeton for the Nation’s Service,” its title meant to remind listeners of his sensational sesquicentennial address of exactly six years before.4 As his eloquent cadences rolled forth, the spellbound audience heard him use the word general, as in general studies, two dozen times as he pounded home his “academic creed,” as he had come to call it. Specialization was bad, he said, but a broad liberal studies training was good. Students needed it in order to serve America. “We are not put into this world to sit still and know; we are put into it to act.” His blue-gray eyes scanning the crowd, he condemned the wrong kind of education—narrow, pedantic, shut in, closeted, utilitarian, the mind “put to some task which will dwarf and narrow it into a mere mechanic tool.” He wanted not men of tasks but men of the world, efficient, enlightened, informed, thoughtful, adaptable, with a wide view of affairs and a knowledge of books and men. General culture alone would give them “largeness of view, judgment, and easy knowledge of men” to make them serviceable to every section of the United States.5 Watching from his seat in the audience was Colonel George Harvey of Harper’s Weekly, who a few years earlier had published Wilson’s biographical articles on George Washington. It began to occur to Harvey, fatefully, that this commanding orator would make an ideal Democratic presidential candidate, one entirely different from the perennially bumptious William Jennings Bryan. And almost at Wilson’s feet that day sat an adoring undergraduate, the self-proclaimed Progressive Republican Norman Thomas ’05. Awed by the new president’s public persona, Thomas vowed to model his oratory after his. In later years as America’s



foremost Socialist and six-times presidential hopeful, however, Thomas would have many occasions to clash with his former idol.6 Woodrow Wilson had become a great man at last, by a swift and astonishing turn of events. There are ordinary college presidents, he mused, and there are visionaries—Jimmy McCosh had been one of the latter, and Charles Eliot of Harvard. (“How I wish I were like him!” Wilson once said of Eliot.) Now with the thunder of applause in his ears, he resolved to be a visionary, too, and to achieve glory for Princeton . . . to be, in fact, the opposite of lazy Francis Patton. His was “a passionate longing,” he said afterward, “to do something that would elevate her above all other universities by seeming to give her some clear vision of what it is possible for a university to do for a great nation.”7 At the Brooklyn Institute in December he would set forth another guiding principle from his academic creed: “The gist of the university is that it should be a community.” Not selfish little constituencies grappling for private fulfillment but a compact and homogeneous community of democratic equals all learning by close association with one another and their elders. “Mind and mind,” he called this intense learning by communal interplay, modeled on Oxford but also on his Witherspoon Gang of friends back in undergraduate days. During the Brooklyn speech, Columbia and New York University alumni glanced at one another in astonishment as he told them their schools had no community, as their students on leaving class merely drifted out into the streets. “They are simply going to a day school.” (As he put it another time, “You cannot go to college on a streetcar.”) Only a rural university like Princeton, he believed, could build community and effectively train men to serve all of America. Here was the vision for educational reform—the campus as a democratic, intellectual community aimed at service—that he was about to put into action at last. Community meant much more than classroom teaching: it meant mind-and-mind contacts both day and night. “It is my firm conviction that the real effects of a university are wrought between the hours of 6 p.m. and 9 a.m.,” Wilson said in Brooklyn—an idiosyncratic notion, yes, but one that formed the centerpiece of his academic creed, on which he would soon bank everything.8

To make Princeton University intellectual, Woodrow Wilson began working with the faculty right away to tighten standards. “PRINCETON



The Witherspoon Gang, inspiration for Wilson’s “mind and mind.” At Prospect for their twenty-fifth class reunion in 1904: Lee, Bridges, Webster, Woods, Mitchell, Henderson, Wilson, Talcott.

STUDENTS DROPPED” bellowed a New York headline. “Fifty-Three Must Go Down to Lower Classes—Several Athletes among the Number.” This was painful, but all-powerful trustee Momo Pyne backed Wilson up, glad to be rid of the weakest 25 percent, what he and the president wrote off as the idler, the drinker, the genial, the easygoing rounder. One playboy was heard to lament, “Princeton is becoming nothing but a damned educational institution.” Trustee Grover Cleveland had the board grant Wilson’s request for sweeping powers to fire underperforming faculty. As word of this leaked out, some observers said that Wilson was becoming dangerously autocratic. As one later put it, the new president “cleared out the deadwood among the professors with his characteristic combination of radiant enthusiasm and ruthlessness.” He only succeeded in firing a handful before, it was said, shocked opposition to the practice stopped him. Characteristically with Woodrow Wilson, all were let go because of failure to teach properly, not for failure to publish or specialize. When Wilson cracked down on art history professor Arthur Frothingham’s “soft snap” for jocks, the seniors jovially sang in their annual “Faculty Song,” “He had to make his courses hard / Or he couldn’t play in Woodrow’s yard.” As historian James Axtell points out, all of Wilson’s



reforms at Princeton started at the level of the faculty, and he seized “unprecedented control over faculty affairs. . . . During his eight-year tenure, Wilson was not reluctant to exercise any of his new powers.”9 Among other changes, he tightened admissions standards. He told parents that even the Archangel Gabriel would be rejected if he flubbed the entrance exam, a wink at Jimmy McCosh days when admission required foremost a “letter of character” from one’s minister. He reformed the curriculum, too, establishing eleven new departments in a more rational organization and instituting a rigorous course of study, giving students much less choice, thereby pointing to the universal American concept today, the upperclass departmental “major.” Youngsters simply must be forced to work harder, Wilson argued, and too bad for those like the boy who infamously picked only classes that met on the ground floor of Dickinson Hall so he need not climb stairs. As McCosh had done years before, the new president challenged the free-elective methods of Harvard’s Charles Eliot, which, he thought, yielded only specialization and rendered a man unfit for broad national service. (“I elected Spanish literature and stuffing birds,” a Harvard graduate once complained to a Princeton professor, “and now I know nothing of electricity and cannot join in a conversation on any public question.”) Once when an undergraduate of Ought-Four came to Wilson’s office and begged for a course on scientific German to help him and his friends prepare for medical school, the president launched into a rant against specialization of any kind—he would no more allow a premed to take German for credit than a prelaw to take stenography.10 Who should be allowed to attend an elite college? In The Chosen (2005), Jerome Karabel showed how admission to Harvard, Yale, and Princeton has always been artificially manipulated by university officials seeking to attain a certain type of student body—and always there have been complaints about the “thumb on the scale.” Today, some charge that African Americans (for example) are disproportionately picked instead of Jews, Asians, or poor whites. In the past, the thumb favored wealthy white Protestants—especially at Princeton (although we forget that the poorest students on campus then were much poorer than today: one freshman arrived at Old Nassau in fall 1911 from a city slum with only three dollars to his name). Compared to the other two top universities, Princeton took the most students from private preparatory schools (80 percent), the fewest students on scholarship (12 percent), the fewest



Catholics and Jews (6 percent), the fewest working-class commuter students (none), and the fewest blacks (none). These are statistics from the last year of Wilson’s presidency, when, as Karabel writes, “Of the Big Three, Princeton remained the closest thing to a WASP preserve.” This was deliberate—“Princeton spirit” was predicated on a chummy intimacy born of homogeneity.11 As those numbers show, Wilson’s modernization of the school did not include a liberalized attitude toward race. Even as Old Princeton swiftly gave way to New, blacks had no hope of admission. Few if any applied, because Wilson discouraged them from doing so by saying that their presence would be embarrassing both for them and for Princeton University. His logic, shared by all his colleagues, was that Princeton was an elite institution that trained the small professional class of the United States for leadership—“the minority who plan, who conceive, who superintend” and therefore need special training, as he had said in his inaugural address. “The college is no less democratic because it is for those who play a special part,” he argued. Blacks belonged almost exclusively to the laboring class and were regarded as gross inferiors by the kinds of families who sent their sons to Princeton. To admit them would have scandalized the Southerners, especially, whom Old Nassau had long courted. There was also a huge economic divide; in the town of Princeton, college authorities noted, less than 10 percent of the two thousand blacks even had access to a bathtub. The sons of tycoons would hardly consent to live, study, and dine alongside the lowly of another race.12 Woodrow Wilson did not oppose education for blacks, but it was not going to happen at Princeton, which would remain closed to them for another forty years. There were 472 colleges a man could choose from, he noted, of which several were open to all. One year Wilson heard from Virginia Theological Seminary student McArthur Sullivan, “I want so much to come to your school at Princeton. I am a poor Southern colored man from South Carolina, but I believe I can make my way if I am permitted to come.” Wilson pointed to other colleges that accepted blacks, including Princeton Seminary and Harvard. Another time a local pastor from the Negro district down Witherspoon Street, born a slave, asked that his son be admitted. “No, that is quite impossible,” came the reply from the elm-shaded campus uphill. The applicant’s brother, actor Paul Robeson, never forgot this slight.13



In recent years, Woodrow Wilson has been slammed for his racism. “Wilson was deeply racist in his thought and politics,” historian Gary Gerstle says, “and apparently comfortable with being so.” Like many Southern contemporaries, he sympathized with individual blacks he happened to like but not with the race as a whole, which he thought obviously inferior to the Anglo-Saxon in historical and cultural attainments. In general, however, his views were milder than those of Southerners whose families had lived longer in the region (including his wife). To his credit, he invited Tuskegee Institute president Booker T. Washington to his inaugural and lavished praise on an after-dinner speech the educator gave, calling it “the very best” of all of them that night. Nonetheless, his vision for reform at Princeton had no place for African Americans, whom he wrote off as a race incapable of achieving greatness. “Wilson never believed blacks belonged in and to America,” Gerstle concludes.14 Jews were discouraged at Princeton, too. Between five and ten only were to be found in the typical entering class, and they faced high social hurdles on campus. Although the modernizing Woodrow Wilson helped secularize the old Presbyterian school, he explained that it was still for “all-around Christian gentlemen.” Once when a researcher visited as part of a study of top American universities, someone whispered to him, “If the Jews once got in they would ruin Princeton as they have Columbia and Pennsylvania,” those quintessentially “urban” schools of the kind Wilson scorned. The researcher concluded that Old Nassau was the most anti-Semitic of all the schools he had examined, as well as the least open to blacks, women, and international students—a fair assessment. Even in 1910 the injustice of this seemed apparent. Later, Woodrow Wilson was punished politically for his illiberality when certain black leaders urged voters to reject him for having expressed “sympathy with the policy of excluding Negroes from the academic department” at Princeton, one facet of a strongly anti-Wilson sentiment that has been passed down among many African Americans to this day. As Paul Robeson put it, Woodrow Wilson was an “advocate of democracy for the world and Jim Crow for America!”15

As Wilson went to work transforming Princeton University, his command center was his study in Prospect House. Large and bright and looking out onto the lawn through tall windows, the green-painted room gave visual



proof of the president’s interests and tasks: the venerable, McCosh-era glass-fronted bookcases he loved; a desk loaded with papers and a typewriter; a filing cabinet with a little statue of Narcissus atop; aesthetical plaster casts of Homer, Raphael, and Nike (with Cupid on the mantel); portraits of Webster, Gladstone, and Princetonian James Madison. Here he answered the jangling telephone, often young men asking if daughters Jessie, Nell, or Maggie were home. (The Southerner considered this technological shortcut to courtship discourteous and would always bark, “Come and find out.”) A young assistant watched in fascination at the end of each day how the man meticulously wiped his pen point, clanked shut the inkwell, and arranged the papers on his desk, “the marks of an orderliness almost amounting to formality.” Looking around at those bookcases, it would bother Woodrow Wilson that in eight years he never found time to arrange their contents logically. These were days of turbulence, and he never really made himself at home at Prospect—he said he “always had that unsettled feeling as if [I] had no permanent abiding place.” Nineteen thousand documents carefully saved from his former, pre-Prospect life were stuffed into steamer trunks and forgotten, and historians rediscovered only them in 1963.16 Two days a week he led worship services at five minutes to nine, his face dramatically lit by the reading lamp of the pulpit in the darkened chapel under a gilded apse adorned with painted angels. As part of his liberalizing the university, Wilson had greatly lessened the number of required chapel sessions, made the prayers more Anglican (naturally), and emphasized not private piety but every Christian student’s duty to serve the nation. He also eliminated evangelistic Bible courses from the general curriculum. After chapel he lectured to his scheduled class for fifty minutes, then took up his laborious office work once more.17 Activist leadership was hard work, and there were no provisions for an office staff such as the modern college president has. He picked three professors to assist him, all well known to him from undergraduate days. Harry Fine, his old editorial assistant on the Princetonian, proved a strict disciplinarian as dean of the faculty and did much to ensure the success of Wilson’s string of reforms. William Magie, another Princetonian veteran, became clerk of the faculty. Secretly he had never liked Woodrow, who had appointed him, he thought, just to neutralize him as an opponent. Finally, there was Jack Hibben. “Wilson’s alter ego,” Professor Stockton Axson called Hibben enviously, watching as his brother-

Wilson as president of Princeton.



in-law came to rely on Jack “as he had never before relied on anybody.” As a freshman in Whig Hall debating society, Hibben had eyed Tommy Wilson’s senior class “with an awe and almost reverence.” Subsequently Hibben had become the best friend of this academic statesman he had long admired, who strolled daily across Washington Road to talk and relax at his half-timbered home, took long confessional triangle walks with him, told him every secret, even made him acting head of the university when his health finally crumbled again from overwork—“Wilson’s check-off man,” some on the faculty groused.18 Woodrow Wilson’s burning intensity as a leader and reformer found a much-needed balance in Jack, especially as he withdrew from other, more casual relationships. Ellen worried about how solitary her husband was becoming. He quit playing billiards at the Nassau Club, that ramshackle, smoke-wreathed faculty retreat in the old University Hotel, because everybody tugged his sleeve to talk business. So she bought a table to lure his friends to their home, but they didn’t show up to play or even chat. “If you and others don’t continue to come just as you used to,” she told Professor McElroy sadly, “he will be the loneliest man alive.” Wilson hung a sign by the front door saying he was available in his study at certain hours only, which led to more whispered complaints about autocracy. Then he climbed the narrow stairs to the third floor in Prospect tower where his little typewriter could be heard clicking hour after hour.19 Many said that the popular Woodrow Wilson of the 1890s had disappeared, replaced by a stern, Charles Eliot–like character with exalted ideas of the dignity of office. His old professor Theodore Hunt watched as his protégé hid his inner life “under lock and key.” New instructor Christian Gauss saw Wilson stop to talk with colleagues in his solitary walks along the bluestone paths, then invariably continue on alone. He preferred to engage with yes-men—even the greenest faculty like Hardin Craig, who wondered why, as “I was nobody.” Dissenters were excluded, because they irritated and exhausted him—although Dean Fine was given special dispensation to play devil’s advocate. This retreat into isolation worried his old faculty friend Bliss Perry, now at Harvard, who thought Wilson was putting too much faith in self-reliance and failed to seek consensus. “It is the ancient story of heroes,” Perry mused, “and of martyrs.” But Wilson was following a habit that dated back to childhood. “I live my real life inside myself,” he once said of his spells of deep with-



drawal, “as if the others were not here. I hope and believe that they do not know it . . . but I could not stand it if I really lived with them. The world I live in (I’ve peopled my own world ever since I was a boy) is full of the most delightful persons in the world. No one is admitted whom I do not love.”20 This new lone-wolf Woodrow Wilson acting out his role of greatness could be an unpleasant character. “When opposed, or annoyed, he grew arrogant and sarcastic,” Professor William B. “Wick” Scott discovered to his surprise. “He occasionally spoke to me in a way that I would not have tolerated from any one else.” It was clear whom he had contempt for when he ripped them up in faculty meetings. Stockton Axson was astonished when his friend snapped at elderly Professor Henry Cornwall. “I only wanted to understand,” said the hurt teacher. “Well, now you understand,” Wilson coldly replied. At the Nassau Club there was grumbling that afternoon, a professor sputtering that a board member had told him Woodrow Wilson was proving so dictatorial, he would be out in two years.21 “He had a cold, repellent nature,” Wilson’s clerk, Magie, was finding. “I felt as though there were a veil drawn between us.” An English instructor described him in identical terms: “so cold as to be almost repellent.” To Professor Mark Baldwin, the “stiff, cold formality” of the man had increased, if that were possible. “Being President of the University only made him more august!” Baldwin soon fled to Johns Hopkins to escape this “arrogant and superior” style. Wilson had refused to allow him to fundraise for his department, since this was “the President’s function,” and when they feuded over payment of his salary on departure Wilson icily told him he “would live to regret having suggested that he was wrong!”22 Not everyone saw this sharp side of Wilson—he was often very charming—but nonetheless the town was soon buzzing with talk about his obstinacy. Once in a dispute a faculty colleague reminded him there were two sides to every story, and the president retorted, “Yes, a right one and a wrong one.” The mother of a student facing expulsion pleaded with him in his Prospect study that the verdict would kill her. Perceiving that she was trying to manipulate him, he fired back from across his desk, “Madam, if it is a question between your life and the life of Princeton University, my mind is made up.” “I am so sorry for those who disagree with me,” he loftily told the mayor of New York, an alumnus. Why?—



“Because I know that they are wrong.” Princeton benefactor Momo Pyne backed the brilliant Wilson one hundred percent, considering him the school’s greatest asset, but it was worrisome to hear a growing chorus of grumblings from fellow alumni—“pretty hard talk,” Pyne said, that called Woodrow “high-handed,” “obstinate,” and determined to run the “whole show.”23

Perhaps it was tempting for the newly powerful man to strut and bellow on the small stage that was Princeton, given that a much larger one was starting to beckon now that he was a nationally famous university president. Everyone knew that Woodrow Wilson was increasingly being eyed by Democratic operatives as a candidate for elected office. Even as his life drew to a close, grizzled Joseph Wilson sat slumped in his evening gown in an easy chair in his upper room at Prospect, French windows open to a mild fall afternoon, and plotted his son’s political future—his perfect son who, during free moments, would sit beside him and sing in his lovely tenor voice “Crown Him with Many Crowns.” “They are talking about Woodrow for president—of the United States,” Joseph bragged to a visitor, “but the politicians will never let him.” The political machines, he assumed, would never tolerate a man of such high principles. And yet reformers nationwide were fascinated by Wilson. Ellen recalled the urgent requests they received for speeches, often from Democratic and Progressive clubs, “a perpetual cry to ‘come over and help us.’” For years, she said, these arrived at the rate of four to eight daily. Woodrow was building, she recognized, “leadership in the reform movement” throughout America. And in 1904 someone pinned a newspaper clipping to the wall of the Nassau Club that showed him among a pack of bicyclists racing for the United States presidency.24 Princeton men played a role in drawing attention to Wilson. In May 1902, a letter to the Indianapolis News urged a Democratic revival and a New Grover Cleveland, namely, “Prof. Woodrow Wilson, of Princeton University, who lectured in this city a few days ago.” In an age of runaway commercialism and rising imperialism, of railroad mergers, shipping trusts, beef trusts, and steel combinations, a brilliant mind was needed. “There is a place for the college professor in our politics.” This push for him as president was anonymous, but the editor of that consistently proWilson paper was a Princetonian, Charles Williams ’75.25



Wilson’s swelling political ambitions (and perhaps his domineering approach at the university, too) owed something to the example of President Theodore Roosevelt, that epic figure of the age—a man wittily immortalized on the brand-new Princeton physics building as a gargoyle swinging a Big Stick. Though he deplored Roosevelt’s Republican politics, Wilson could hardly help trying to emulate this exceptional man, the Harvard graduate who became the youngest president ever at forty-two. These two great egos collided at Old Nassau one Saturday in December 1905 when the commander-in-chief attended the Army-Navy game. After waiting three-quarters of an hour at the depot for the president’s delayed train, Woodrow Wilson rode with the official party in rumbling carriages up University Place to Nassau Street, under guard of toughlooking Jersey City policemen. They proceeded past the chapel to Prospect gate amid lusty cheers and the fluttering of flags and handkerchiefs, to which Roosevelt bowed his head and waved. Fine china gleamed in the dining room at lunch, a jolly affair except for an embarrassing goof: Woodrow Wilson was ignorant of the formal protocol governing when Mrs. Roosevelt should be escorted in—Mrs. Cleveland’s advice to Ellen having proved faulty. T. R. was forgiving. “He is a good fellow,” Wilson later told Stockton Axson, for the moment overlooking the political differences that in time would make them the bitterest of enemies. Halfway through the football game, Roosevelt by presidential custom crossed University Field to watch the remainder of the contest from the opposing side. He strode across exuberant and smiling, with Wilson following behind, deliberately more dignified. At supper that night, Ellen’s young sister complained that Roosevelt had humiliated her at lunch, pounding the table until the plates bounced as he admonished her playfully to “stop making eyes” at the gentleman next to her. “Who on earth would ever want to be President?” she wondered. “I should!” Woodrow said at once. “I know a whale of a lot about the Constitution of this country and I’d rather like to watch the wheels go round.”26

Undergraduates were divided on the subject of the man they privately called “Woodrow.” Many still adored him and would describe for the rest of their days the unmistakable impression he gave of personal greatness. He inspired them to aim for excellence in their own lives, too. Like many



students, young Harold Medina ’09 at first found President Wilson “distant and severe,” but he got a different impression one night when invited to a dance at Prospect. Wilson corralled him and his friends in the study, telling them silly stories about two of his favorite comic subjects, rustic Negroes and hysterical Socialists—Wilson being famous for his endless supply of funny anecdotes, many of them about racial and ethnic types, as was common then. Finally Ellen, brown eyes flashing, chased them out, saying the girls had been left waiting three-quarters of an hour. Later a famous federal judge who lived to 1990, Medina never forgot that night with Woodrow Wilson. “What a spell-binder he was!”27 But the lonely looking man who strode forth daily from the Prospect gates had come to seem a figure of dread to many undergraduates. Gone were the days when he might be seen propelling his bicycle by pushing one foot against the curb while engrossed in talk with a student on the sidewalk. Gone, too, were the days when pupils wended their way through the byways of the little town to Library Place for private conferences and talk or lively Monday night political discussions over beer and pretzels. Even back then, Dean Fine recalled, “Wilson’s personality did not encourage familiarity from the students, popular as he was.” Now he was even more forbidding. President McCosh had awed but at the same time been the subject of genial humor; with the erect and seriousvisaged Wilson, there was only awe. No one called him “Prexy,” even behind his back. A junior when Wilson first became Princeton president, Oliver Reynolds ’04 later recalled a sudden transformation—“He was less mellow and more querulous”—and he made special note of how the lecturer grew unexpectedly furious when students began goofing off in his constitutional government course that fall. Instead of brushing it off, Wilson called them all “numbskulls,” slammed shut his notebook, and canceled class. “He was essentially a cold man,” Reynolds concluded, “and lacked any warmth of personality.” To a later freshman, Orville Mosher ’09, Wilson seemed to possess “a magnificent aloofness.” He was almost stately as he raised his cane to undergraduates on the street and intoned, “Good ev-en-ing, gen-tle-men.” Mosher wondered what would happen if somebody dared clap him on the back and guffaw, “How are you, Woodrow, old horse!”28 But far from being unfeeling, President Wilson was inwardly grieved by his changed relationship with the youngsters. Stockton Axson found him “almost morbidly conscious” of how his connection to them was



slipping away. They “look at me as a sort of amiable lunatic,” he complained. Many ignored him altogether. Once he came upon a group of them naughtily throwing rocks at the windows of a house in town and administered a sharp rebuke. This ought to have been terrifying for them, except that, as one confessed to him a year later, they had no idea who he was.29 The first year as president he kept his full courseload, bicycling as usual to and from lectures wearing his brown derby hat and with his trousers neatly fastened up with metal clips, but thereafter he was forced to scale back, only teaching two courses ( jurisprudence and constitutional government) on Monday and Tuesday mornings from eight to nine. In spite of his best intentions, frequent travel meant canceling classes. Axson overheard two undergraduates chatting in the post office about what a splendid lecturer Wilson was, “a world’s wonder. And do you know, the best part of it is that he cuts half the lectures.”30 His strict new academic standards for Princeton, which shrank the student body alarmingly, fueled a groundswell of undergraduate resentment, reflected in a campus cartoon that showed him as a gaunt doctor administering poisonous vials (one labeled “Pet Ideas”) to a youth—a “student body” who is obviously shriveling away. Animosity burst forth when he fired a popular French teacher, Guyot Cameron, a flamboyant oddball who rambled in class. (It did not help Cameron’s case that he was the son of the Radical Republican professor Wilson and his father had disliked so intensely in the 1870s.) The president let it be known that he considered him a “mountebank,” and soon the livid instructor showed up in the study at Prospect, where he made such a scene, the affronted Wilson ordered him out. At this, the dandified Cameron swelled up and popped a pearl stud, which rolled under the sofa, and as he and Wilson dove for it at the same time they struck heads. The firing ruined Cameron’s career, and he would spend the rest of his life cursing Woodrow Wilson—making him among the first members of what later became a crowded and eclectic club of Wilson Haters in town. Undergraduates rallied to Cameron’s cause and denounced the supposedly heartless president. “You don’t realize how unpopular he is with the students,” one whispered ominously to Stockton Axson.31 Discontentment boiled over again when President Wilson erected a metal fence around all of Prospect grounds, trying to keep out the hoards who trampled Ellen’s newly installed, English-style flower gar-



dens on Yale game day or picnicked on the porch, pressing their noses to the glass as the family ate lunch. Two new trolley lines had lately connected Princeton to Trenton, and the town was becoming popular with lowbrow excursionists. As later in the White House, Wilson the chivalric Southerner was ruthless when it came to protecting the ladies of his household; one historian aptly calls the fence a “chastity belt.” Seeing how it brashly abutted the sacred precincts of McCosh Walk, the major pathway linking campus to the eating clubs on Prospect Avenue, the graduating Class of 1905 proposed retribution. In their senior parade (a tradition Wilson thereafter banned), they wore black sheets and tall, conical headgear in imitation of fence pickets, marched in the shape of a square, and pulled a pig in a cart. “Picket Lane, Formerly McCosh Walk,” read one sign. “Drawbridge to the Right” read another, as if the president were the imperious lord of the manor. “STUDENTS JEER DR. WILSON,” the New York Herald reported. As Nell Wilson recalled, at commencement some drunken alumni continued the mischief and tore part of the fence down. “I went out with him in the morning to see the damage and his anger and disgust were something to remember. He didn’t speak, but struck at the battered railing with his cane and, when I saw that his eyes were grey and cold, I knew there would be no surrender.”32 As he stomped back across the dewy grass toward the Prospect portecochère, Woodrow Wilson brooded about the hostility that, he thought, students and alumni increasingly displayed toward him. The fence imbroglio convinced Norman Thomas, one of the seniors, that the man had “never liked opposition of any kind” and all too eagerly nursed grudges, which he even passed down to his children. Years later Thomas ran into Jessie Wilson at a social reception. As they were introduced, she froze and said, “I believe I have heard a great deal about Mr. Thomas!” He asked which of his political sins as a firebrand Socialist she was referring to. She replied angrily, “You were in Princeton, Class of 1905, weren’t you? Yes—that was the class that was so cruel to father!”33 Despite his years of dreaming about leadership and writing books about the mechanics of government, the actual business of running an institution was proving a challenge for Woodrow Wilson—especially in the area of managing fellow human beings, who often struck him as inferior and foolish. The contradictions in his situation were perplexing. He had craved power in the abstract but in many ways was better suited to a life of reading and contemplation. Naturally retiring, he was now com-



mitted to a public role that sometimes exhilarated him but often proved exhausting and overwhelming, especially since he had little assistance and hated to delegate. The idealist loathed petty details and drudgework yet felt a need to control everything, trusting no one to live up to his high standards. His self-imposed conception of duty and responsibility was crushingly austere, and he longed for release, which only the amiable Jack Hibben seemed capable now of providing. His lofty educational dreams were pure and intellectual, yet all required lucre, and he had little taste or skill for begging money from the idle rich, with whom the Wordsworthian man had never liked to associate, although Jack had repeatedly urged him to. He was comfortable addressing audiences in the abstract but less so with individuals, and he hid from those who vexed him. He happily found himself in a position of great power, yet he was consistently encountering resistance from extreme conservatives as he tried to institute change. He had long been accustomed to getting his way as a revered classroom teacher and as the autocrat of his own breakfast table (at home he was, he joked, “submerged in petticoats,” for the hospitable Southern household at one point consisted of him and seven adoring women). But now he faced that unfamiliar thing—opposition— and at times it was all he could do to control his anger. Thank goodness again for Hibben’s unfailing loyalty and devotion, his genius at soothing a tired warrior! Not that all was storm and stress for the great man who called Prospect home. Many days followed timeworn routines of academic life or family patterns not unlike those he had cherished at Library Place. Sister-in-law Madge Axson would always remember him standing in his study door playfully crying, “Shoo! shoo!” to the gabbling ladies of the household as they descended the stairs at suppertime. In the morning he would come down promptly for breakfast (thankfully he was seldom “annoyingly cheerful”), down his fruit juice and hard-boiled egg, and scan the headlines as thin slices of bread browned on the electric toaster. She never heard a quarrel at the table, for he insisted on perfect civility in the house, a cult of Victorian sensibility fast becoming outdated. Even when the girls fought, it was said that they addressed each other as “Dearest.” To some visitors their devotion to Father seemed almost idolatrous. On late spring afternoons, Annie the maid set up full tea on the terrace right outside the tower room, from which Woodrow kept a careful eye on his daughters’ visiting beaux. Once the family was alone he would



lean back on the wicker divan and talk expansively about how selfishness is a sin, or his Johns Hopkins days, or the pointlessness of women’s suffrage (husbands would just tell their wives how to vote), or the wrongheadedness of kindergarten—it emphasized play, whereas education was really about hard work, as he was trying to get Princeton students to understand.34 As they chatted they looked across Ellen’s beautiful garden, its green backdrop of clipped cedars, tall columns of Rosa hugonis, the pool bordered with purple iris, sweetbriar fragrant in the hedge, and wisteria lush on the iron porch posts—a sanctuary amid all storms.


Adding a Thousand Years of History


UELED BY HIS ROMANTIC VISIONS of secluded quads and graystone Gothic towers across the sea, Woodrow Wilson helped guide an ambitious, Oxfordian architectural program at New Princeton. He had assistance from many friends in this project, which had begun as early as 1896 and produced what F. Scott Fitzgerald ’17 would call “the loveliest riot of Gothic architecture in America.” (Less impressed was English philosopher Bertrand Russell, who reputedly found Princeton “as much like Oxford as monkeys could make it.”) Each architectural component spoke in an eloquent British accent about Wilson’s liberal studies creed, his pride in Anglo-Saxon and Christian culture, and his desire to put the hated new Germanic university methods to rout.1 Like so many aspects of the Wilson era, this campaign found origin in former president Jimmy McCosh. When McCosh went to the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 for his last public speech, he pointed proudly to a model of the campus showing his many architectural accomplishments. There was no coherent style—indeed quite the opposite—but an unmistakable new emphasis on aesthetics. Alexander Hall was the centerpiece, the long-needed commencement venue (its open-air arcade was suitable for use in balmy June). William Appleton Potter, architect of the High Victorian Gothic library twenty years before, here reveled in Richardsonian Romanesque, with lots of quasi-religious sculpture and mosaic work celebrating the lofty mission of the college.



Downhill was Brown Hall in Italian-palazzo style in Roman brick; also Brokaw Memorial, a Renaissance-classical swimming tank given by a department store magnate whose son, a student, had drowned in the New Jersey surf attempting an heroic rescue. The general acreage had been beautified, too. Famous landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted created a campus plan, proposing that the fast-increasing property become parklike, “the handsomest college grounds in the country.” Shady drives and promenades would wind among the buildings and descend to Stony Brook, where a lake would go. With the approval of the trustees, Olmsted recommended the development of the campus by “quadrangles,” starting with the famous old Quad behind Nassau Hall, now being revitalized with rebuilt Whig and Clio Halls. McCosh was enormously proud of this new campus vision. In retirement, white-haired Jimmy shuffled daily from his home on Prospect Avenue to campus beneath the elms in front of Prospect House—down McCosh Walk, paved by Wilson’s classmate Cyrus McCormick and named in emulation of Addison’s Walk at Oxford.2 So, like Wilson, McCosh had dreamed of institutional reform through architecture. But if there was beauty, there was as yet no comprehensive stylistic vision, no unified understanding of what a campus ought to be or express. This concept came all at once in 1896, instituted by men other than Wilson, who was then just a professor. It is hard to assign credit exactly, since the breakthrough resulted from a meeting of several minds, all trained by McCosh and passionate about England. Presiding somewhat listlessly over all of them was President Patton, the Bermuda native who insisted on retaining his British citizenship. Far more important was trustee Momo Pyne, the son of a Londoner; Momo was a staunch Episcopal churchman and a lover of English literature. His classmate Harry Osborn said it was Pyne who single-handedly brought over to Princeton “the beautiful architecture, the beautiful English tastes and the sense of English culture which clings around the Gothic architecture of the English colleges.” Dean of the Graduate College Andrew West, too, worshiped Old England and claimed to have convinced Pyne that Princeton should now turn Collegiate Gothic. West said in Harper’s Weekly that the new campus library, donated by the Pynes in 1896, referred specifically to Magdalen College, Oxford, in its “later fifteenth century style” as well as to the battlemented walls that overlook the gardens of St. John’s College, Cambridge. “Truly it is from such walls and towers Oxford and



Cambridge are ever ‘whispering the last enchantments of the Middle Age,’ and such have been the models.”3 As architect of the new library, Potter was given strict instructions to copy England faithfully. Henceforth the campus would be purely Oxfordian, the library leading the way with Tudor buttresses, mullioned windows with label moldings, oriels, leaded glass, crenellations, groin vaulting, sculptural adornment, and a medieval tower. One half expects King Arthur to gallop up, and the whole forms a theatrical ensemble curiously out of place in central New Jersey, U.S.A. The library enclosed a courtyard (“a hollow quadrangle”), Princeton’s first Collegiate Gothic “quad” just off the much older one behind Nassau Hall. (Far from being entirely innovative, this quad was a reduced version of those recently built at the universities of Chicago and Pennsylvania, where—along with Bryn Mawr College—Collegiate Gothic made its 1890s debut in America.) A big archway and statues of Princeton heroes formed a theatrical backdrop for the academic processions that would go winding through in a riot of medieval pageantry.4 Even more significant in 1896 was Blair Hall, a 120-student dormitory of stone that doubled as a spectacular gateway to the campus from the railway depot. Philadelphia architects Cope and Stewardson were chosen for their experience in designing Tudor Gothic dormitories at Bryn Mawr, as well as the Penn quads. Andrew West, the rich donor John Blair, and Princeton historian William Sloane had all admired Cope and Stewardson’s work. As Gothic Revival architect Ralph Adams Cram would loftily say, Blair Hall “began the redemption” of Princeton’s architecture in a perfect Collegiate Gothic direction.5 In a revolutionary breakthrough, the ground plan of Blair Hall was not strictly rectilinear but bent to follow the irregular line of the campus edge, the building thereby forming a screen to hide the ugly train yard. The twisting plan contributed to a picturesque, Old English quality that many found delightful. And the rambling Tudor style proved infinitely expandable: extensions could be added easily as enrollments increased and alumni classes gave money in modest amounts. With its low, domestic roofline, Blair Hall signaled Princeton’s uniqueness as a major college surrounded largely by countryside and where students lived right on campus, as at Oxford, forming the “community” Woodrow Wilson would extol. The Blair Hall plan used entries, the building divided vertically in-



Princeton reborn in Collegiate Gothic. Cope and Stewardson’s Blair Hall under construction above the depot, winter 1897–98. Behind are the gym, Alexander Hall, and (at right) Witherspoon Hall.

side by numerous staircases instead of horizontally by long hallways. Such entries had first been introduced in Princeton’s East and West Colleges by the disciplinarians of the 1830s, fed up with miscreants rolling cannonballs down the corridors of Nassau Hall. The entries had an unanticipated effect of dividing students into little congenial units, where fast friendships formed—most famously, the “South East Club” of East College residents in the 1870s, among whom was future trustee Momo Pyne. Blair Hall took the concept further, the whole arrangement quaintly low and domestic, its small entries expressing the much-lauded Princeton values of individuality, autonomy, and democracy, as opposed to the mass standardization of giant dormitories elsewhere. At least that was how Professors West and Sloane saw it, winning the day over a small but vocal opposition who resented the use of English architecture in Princeton dormitories as “wholly un-American.”6 So successful was Blair Hall that it was immediately followed by Stafford Little Hall, which continued its twisting line south in a pattern young resident F. Scott Fitzgerald would call a “black Gothic snake.”



Praising the work of Cope and Stewardson at Princeton, Ralph Adams Cram said that Little and Blair Halls effortlessly adapted Gothic for modern functions, without pedantry: “If there is anything more poetic, collegiate, racial and logical than the composition of these two buildings, so far at least as the product of the last four centuries is concerned, I do not know what it is. The thing is neither monastic nor medieval, it is without affectation or theatrical quality. It strikes exactly the right note, it is sufficiently British, sufficiently American, a perfect model of sound design and impeccable theories.”7

As university president, Woodrow Wilson meant to continue this inspiring Anglo-Saxon direction. His trips to England had been intensive study tours of medieval architecture—and what he did not know himself, his artistic and literary wife provided. Once when their daughter Nell was sick, he had entertained her by fabricating models of English cathedrals and Oxford quads with building tiles brought home from a campus construction project. “He had a real fondness for architecture,” Nell remembered. And from day one of his administration, he would make a mark on the physical layout of Princeton. Immediately after his swearing-in he dug a gilded spade into earth at the grassy site that he and C. C. Cuyler had chosen for Seventy-Nine Hall, a brick Tudor Gothic dormitory given by their class. The building would include a Tower Room for class reunions and, attached to it, a small, paneled President’s Room (opened in the fall of 1906) that Wilson used as his office, greeting visitors there on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday afternoons from two to four. Sculpture on the building, including a gargoyle of a monkey grappling with a camera, was by Gutzon Borglum, who years later became the artist of Mount Rushmore (and a brash critic of President Wilson’s wartime policies). So closely was Seventy-Nine Hall associated with the university president that the class considered calling it Wilson Hall (he himself wanted it named for Jimmy McCosh, and it was said that he infuriated classmates by prolonging a meeting until two in the morning trying to get his way). During the student unrest over the Prospect fence, someone threw rocks through the windows of Seventy-Nine—apocryphally, an absintheswilling Eugene O’Neill, Class of 1910. In his novel This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald described Seventy-Nine as “brick-red and arrogant,” perhaps hinting at its links to the controversial Woodrow Wilson.8



Seventy-Nine formed part of an illustrious series of Collegiate Gothic Princeton dormitories using the entryway system: Patton, Campbell, Holder, and Hamilton Halls shortly followed. Also Gothic were the new gymnasium, science buildings, and a classroom complex (McCosh Hall). The proud president told the New York alumni, “By the very simple device of building our new buildings in the Tudor Gothic Style we seem to have added to Princeton the age of Oxford and Cambridge; we have added a thousand years to the history of Princeton by merely putting those lines in our buildings which point every man’s imagination to the historic traditions of learning in the English-speaking race.” A frustrated architect himself, as he once confessed, he wanted to steer the physical development of the 225-acre campus as decisively as he steered its intellectual life. He astonished new trustee Henry B. Thompson, who had come to his office in Seventy-Nine Hall for a conference regarding the Committee on Grounds and Buildings, by saying, “Thompson, as long as I am President of Princeton I propose to dictate the architectural policy of the university.”9 Artist and alumnus Howard Butler drafted an amateurish campus plan that called for sweeping changes: removal of several Victorian monstrosities (Reunion Hall, West College, old gym, and the former University Hotel) and their replacement with Collegiate Gothic quadrangles. But the president rejected this, insisting that a professional architect take charge. “It was Wilson who backed with all his power the employment of a supervising architect,” Thompson recalled. The obvious choice was brilliant Walter Cope, designer of Blair Hall, but he had died of a heart attack at forty-two at the start of a historic competition for a new chapel at West Point, and his partner Stewardson, thirty-eight, had fallen through the ice while skating on the Schuylkill River and drowned. The demise of the firm cleared the way for the young Boston church designer Ralph Adams Cram, who won the West Point contest and was the first to acknowledge that his rapid ascent would not have been possible if the genius Cope had lived. Thus it was that in March 1907 Cram became supervising architect of the Princeton campus, a position he would hold for more than two decades, turning the place into what critic Montgomery Schuyler called “about the most attractive architectural Mecca in the United States,” one that still inspires visitors today.10 With Woodrow Wilson’s approval, trustee Thompson delivered a mandate: continue the direction that Cope and Stewardson had begun.



Cram instantly fell in love with Princeton. It was, the consummate aesthete told the Princeton Club of New York during a three-hour slide lecture in a smoky room, the “one university that stood for the high ideals of civilization,” the one that “wasn’t messed up with dental schools and veterinary departments and correspondence schools of business.” When Cram arrived, he found a fast-growing university in that novel country setting: it was perhaps the largest college in the nation (enrollment 1,350) to occupy so small a town (its population under four thousand). The recent Collegiate Gothic architecture had been an excellent choice, being easily expandable and, in its lowness, perfectly suited to the rural character of the place. But some of the older buildings were awful, Cram said—“The architectural estate of the University was parlous in the extreme.” Dod Hall dormitory of the 1880s was “ridiculous” and should never have been built on the main axis behind Nassau Hall, blocking the distant view to a blue horizon. This “intruder” needed to be moved back forty feet or demolished, a fate he likewise proposed, audaciously, for Prospect House. The sooty depot and train tracks were far too close to campus buildings and had to be relocated. The towers of Witherspoon Hall, “terminating ineptitudes,” must be lopped. The ugly Victorian front of Reunion dormitory could be disguised with a medieval cloister.11 Cram jettisoned the old Jimmy McCosh architectural vision, which he dismissed as a “pleasure park” of showpiece buildings widely scattered across windswept lawns and linked by squirming paths. Instead, the campus should be conceived as a single designed unit, axially arranged and bound into a living organic complex, “a great and homogeneous whole” that physically expressed the oneness of Woodrow Wilson’s “community.” Its vital heart was the Revolutionary war cannon half-sunk in the old Quad, that “absolutely sacred spot never to be touched by any architect at any time, or under any circumstances.” Buildings ought to be planned in association with one another and to link up. This “expresses materially the inherent quality of the University; it becomes by its very dynamic force a potent cultural influence.”12 Like Wilson, Cram was thinking of Oxford and Cambridge, where disparate pieces were tied together so effectively into a single “architectural entity.” And he was working for a client who demanded a big, unified concept. “Wilson had instinctively a fine sense of proportion and a keen appreciation of good architecture,” trustee Henry B. Thompson was learning. “His vision for the Princeton campus was a beautiful vision.”



Cram took things even further, believing in the “psychological power” of “good art” to act on people as, he thought, Americans had never really experienced before. He came to his countrymen as a messiah of good design. Such lofty ideas dovetailed with Wilson’s organic conception of the university and with his desire to uplift and inspire young minds. These men had much in common—both were minister’s sons and romantic idealists, viscerally attuned to the literary and religious associations of ivy-covered Gothic. Cram was snobby about what he considered Wilson’s corncob Southern background (when he insouciantly voiced this at a Boston party, Woodrow’s friend Bliss Perry was tempted to hit him). But he was genuinely impressed with Wilson’s intense interest in design— the president even got down with him on his knees on the floor of Prospect House to work over some big blueprints. And Cram’s enthusiasm rubbed off on Wilson, too, who once startled a professor he had run into on Nassau Street by launching into a disquisition on good architecture, stressing Cram’s thesis that ornament should be organically integral, not just tacked on, in obedience to the dictum form follows function.13 Cram’s radical plans for New Princeton disturbed some. The interloper with a New England accent clearly disliked the familiar campus with its open spaces and vistas; instead, he seemed to favor crowding and a suffocating loss of light and air. One nostalgic alumnus demanded trees to lie under and smoke a pipe, stretches of turf generous enough to kick a football on without shattering Gothic windowpanes. Wilson’s old friend Bobby Bridges could not resist sending satirical verse to the Alumni Weekly poking fun. The current lovely, parklike campus “benumbs and belittles the soul.” Edifices ought to form a “cultural whole,” so let’s “jam the buildings into a heap.” “Old North and West [Colleges] must ‘articulate’—Tear down a structure or two!” For Vistas and Views are nothing to keep, The Mass is the thing that talks. The whole must neatly ‘coordinate’ To lead in the cultural van; Mere Beauty you must subordinate To the architectural plan.14

But the criticism could not stop Cram’s organic scheme from going forward. An early entry was Campbell Hall dormitory, a gift of Momo Pyne’s proud Class of 1877 and meant as “a model of collegiate archi-



tecture” for all America. At least one old-timer vehemently objected to the way it was pushed up close to Alexander Hall, and Cram was forced to show slides of Oxford to the New York alumni to prove that there was comparatively little crowding. On completion in 1909 (a huge ’77 banner floated from a flagpole atop its tower), Campbell Hall came to life with the familiar Princeton dormitory customs. Friends sprinted up the entryway steps three at a time and barged in without knocking. Locks were hardly known. Inhabitants whittled their initials, Latin mottos, or sports scores in the woodwork. From open windows in the evening wafted music, not yet from radios, but rather the tinkling of rented pianos or odd yodels as a senior practiced for “spring singing.” Although the gurgle of the radiator was now universal, Campbell Hall had old-fashioned fireplaces just for socializing, reinforcing Woodrow Wilson’s idea of “community.” So perfect was Campbell Hall—and indeed Cram’s entire plan for campus—Wilson romantically pondered how “the imagination” and “the recollection” of “classes yet to be graduated from Princeton” might be “affected by the suggestions of that architecture.” And in fact authors F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edmund Wilson, and John Peale Bishop ’17, all of whom lived in or adjacent to Campbell Hall, wrote pages of poetry and prose inspired by Princeton’s new crop of Oxfordian “Spires and Gargoyles.” (In next-door Hamilton Hall, Edmund Wilson was kept awake at night by the rattling of the rope on the Campbell Hall flagstaff until he climbed up the tower to fix it.) A flurry of noted architects soon emerged, too, including Frank Voorhees ’00, Aymar Embury ’00, Art Meigs ’03, and Arthur Holden ’12, whose distinguished careers confirmed the heartfelt inscription in the archway of McCosh Hall, the new academic building on campus—“Here We Were Taught by Men and Gothic Towers . . . Love of Unseen Things That Do Not Die.” Their achievements seemed to prove Woodrow Wilson and Ralph Adams Cram right—there is psychological power in good art, and beautiful surroundings can indeed inspire young minds.15

Supervising Architect Cram had arrived on the scene just in time to lay out the walks around McCosh Hall and to resolve the “battle of sites” for a sundial. Of all the campus additions under the Anglophile Wilson, this stone monument was the most literally British, a replica of the ancient Turnbull Sundial in the quadrangle of Corpus Christi College, Oxford.



A quadrangle at Oxford. Sixteenth-century Corpus Christi College inspired McCosh Hall and the sundial at Princeton.

Of crystalline marble and oriented to the stars by a faculty astronomer, the shaft had twenty-four dials and was crowned by a pelican. The chosen site had been a potato field when Wilson was an undergraduate, but now it was emerging as another potential quadrangle. “This dial will, I hope, stand here for many ages,” the president said at the dedication. “It will stand here when all of us have been forgotten.” Immediately it formed part of Princeton’s rigid class-year structure: only seniors could sit on its steps, and for that reason freshman Amory Blaine in Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise lies on the grass beside it as he soaks in the ambiance of “Gothic halls and cloisters.”16 Cram consulted, too, on new science buildings. No one had expected Wilson to take an interest in science after he denigrated it at the sesquicentennial, but he had come to appreciate it, with his mathematician friend Dean Henry Fine pointing the way. He became intrigued by the scientist as a seeker of life’s truths, and with his burning competitive spirit, he longed to attract great ones like biologist Edward Conklin—



hence the huge outlays for up-to-date facilities, Guyot Hall for biology and geology and Palmer Physical Laboratory for physics. Conklin was even allowed to add an extra story to Guyot Hall, to the consternation of the architects. Miracles happened in the laboratories, Wilson thought. Undergraduates rubbed shoulders with graduate students over test tubes and beakers, younger men catching the contagion of learning from the older. This was his credo, that learning happens man-to-man, mind and mind, the way he had learned from his father, and he paradoxically came to regard improvements in science as among his greatest administrative achievements.17 Cram admired Wilson’s thoughtful involvement with the design of the new science buildings. To Wilson, the museum in Guyot Hall was especially important and educational. It was innovative to move it from the traditional top floor to ground level where “all persons entering the building must pass it and come within its influence.” The fortresslike Gothic structure—Cram said Guyot Hall settled the question once and for all as to whether Gothic, a “dead style,” could be used for modern purposes—was richly ornamented with carvings of animals living and extinct, for educational purposes. Vacationing in nearby cottages in the Adirondacks in summer 1907, Wilson and trustee Thompson spent hours pouring over plans for Palmer and Guyot Halls alike. “Why should not a laboratory be as susceptible to good architecture as any other building?” Wilson eagerly asked. Years later Cram would gratefully recall that “he was insistent that every building should be beautiful.”18

For these expensive new structures, Woodrow Wilson was pushed into his least favorite activity, fundraising. He hoped that fantastically rich industrialists Henry Clay Frick or Andrew Carnegie would help. Shouldn’t Carnegie take an interest in a school founded by Presbyterians and once headed by the great Scottish philosopher, McCosh? Wilson played on racial affinities, telling him, “The Scots blood that is in me makes me wish to renew the traditions of John Witherspoon’s day,” and he even visited the magnate’s Skibo Castle in Scotland to drop hints. But in one of the first stunning reversals of his presidency, he was outmaneuvered by artist Howard Butler, the man whose campus plan he had lately rejected.19 Butler was painting Andrew Carnegie’s portrait one day as the tycoon



read the paper after breakfast. Carnegie boasted of the four lochs he had dug in Scotland, and Butler replied that he had dreamed of lake-building himself as a college student in the 1870s, when the six-oar barge he coxed on the canal had to dodge steam-powered commercial shipping. To his amazement, Carnegie expressed an interest in creating just such a lake: “Wouldn’t it be a good place for the students to curl?” The next time Carnegie went down to Princeton to visit President Cleveland—Carnegie, too, was considering retiring in the fashionable town—he had Professor Henry van Dyke drive him in a two-seater to the frog-filled swamp where the lake would go. (An “unsightly marsh,” Wilson called it.) Carnegie agreed to pay the total cost, estimated by Howard Butler at $118,000. Coming out of the Carnegie mansion not long after, Butler encountered Wilson, who was just arriving to request money for preceptors. The two went back inside. “I am going to give a great gift to Princeton,” Carnegie told them. Wilson was elated, until the tycoon added, “It’s a lake.”20 Lake Carnegie gave American rowers a Cam or Isis, but it was hardwon. Farmers extorted for worthless land. The bed had to be cut extra deep, each inch another five thousand dollars. A faculty scientist predicted miasmas. Some called it vandalism to level one hundred acres of birch swamp and then dynamite the stumps. As more and more was spent, Carnegie grew furious with Butler. “You got me into all that trouble in Princeton,” he fumed. “It was the worst thing I ever got into. It cost me $450,000.” And Wilson considered it all frivolous. When he told an audience that Carnegie had given the university cake when it asked for bread, many puzzled about what he meant, but Carnegie knew and was insulted.21 Woodrow Wilson may have scorned the lake as a silly sideshow, but Princeton was delighted to have it. When Carnegie visited in December 1906, he climbed Blair Steps with Wilson as a banner floated from a student’s window above, “Welkum to the Laird of Skibo,” a playful reference to his advocacy of simplified spelling. In Alexander Hall, Carnegie proclaimed that rowing was superior to football, which he called young gentlemen groveling in the dirt. After lunch he, Wilson, and Pyne drove in a car around the frozen lake, admiring the view from the concrete dam. Eight hundred undergraduates were out skating. Three thousand people attended the dedication of Lake Carnegie the following autumn when, from a tugboat on the canal, the donor pulled a whistle cord that signaled with a shrill blast the start of the opening regatta. At subsequent



ceremonies at the gym, the undergraduates sang, “Carnegie! Carnegie! He is giving us a lake, you can hear the breakers break,” and the mollified ironmaster beamed. He foresaw many more regattas. In the distant future, he predicted, competing rowers would come from afar “on fast flying machines.”22 Woodrow Wilson was disgusted with the meddling Howard Butler. Not for the last time, he had been stymied by the self-serving actions of an alumnus who cared more for genteel recreation than the serious intellectual work of a university. He never got over his disappointment in Carnegie, either. Although he twice had the plutocrat spend the night at Prospect, Carnegie stubbornly declined to assist with Princeton reforms. He did give Wilson a present, however, a fancy spoon from Scotland. Many mornings the president picked it up at breakfast with a wry flourish and said, “Here’s to the Laird of Skibo and his confounded lake!”23 Lake Carnegie had marked the first great disappointment of Wilson’s administration—the first of many to come.


Fifty Stiffs to Make Us Wise


HE CENTERPIECE OF Woodrow Wilson’s New Princeton was his preceptorial system, which, like the campus architecture, was inspired by Oxford University. When President McCosh had begun reforming Princeton after the Civil War, he hired many new teachers and pioneered the use of tutors with a handful of “college fellows.” In his preceptorial system, at first called the “tutorial” system, President Wilson followed a similar course, but on a grander scale, as his fifty young preceptors would number more than the entire count of professors in the school’s first century. The goal was to shrink class sizes and bring students into intimate, “mind and mind” association with their teachers. More than one hundred years later, the system survives, in name if not in details, and is regarded as Woodrow Wilson’s proudest academic legacy. He dreamed big, and the cost of his visions was high. He calculated that Princeton needed a staggering twelve million dollars to become a fine modern university, with a graduate school, law school, school of science, electrical engineering school, and natural history museum. Just to establish the preceptorial system alone cost $2.25 million. When he told the New York alumni, they whistled and laughed, but he said brusquely, “I hope you will get your whistling over, because you will have to get used to this.” He turned to the Class of 1879 for help, and Cleve Dodge headed a Committee of Fifty to raise $2.5 million. The copper magnate and noted



New York City philanthropist was becoming one of Wilson’s staunchest backers.1 The preceptorial system owed much to that pervasive contemporary fascination with elite English schools. The celebrated will of Cecil Rhodes provided annually for fifty-two worldwide Rhodes Scholarships to Oxford University. A popular book of 1902, the year Rhodes died, was An American at Oxford. Woodrow Wilson talked constantly of how just one Oxford college, Balliol, had turned out generations of public servants and parliamentarians. But ultimately the preceptorials were rooted in Wilson’s own life story: even as an undergraduate he had recoiled from big lectures with their heaps of dry information delivered by a remote and robotic instructor. As a professor, he gave his own students coursesyllabi with just a few blank pages attached, instructing them to limit their note-taking to these. He wanted them not frantically scribbling facts but instead listening to him talk and absorbing big concepts.2 Crowded lectures, moreover, offended Wilson’s need for order and control. Even as a college senior he had editorialized in the Princetonian against the disorder in the back rows of Professor Guyot’s geography classroom, with its “disgraceful . . . continual buzz of conversation.” When he became a professor himself, his lectures were famously popular—“The greatest class-room lecturer I ever have heard,” a fellow teacher called him—but Wilson was never fully at ease, telling a young member of the faculty that his worst nightmare was an auditorium filled with shouting, disruptive students (much as Jimmy McCosh had always worried that a riot was about to break out). Princeton was famed for mischief, and lectures were a favorite venue. One observer was startled to see that students whittled their desks, talked and laughed, and cracked peanuts bought from an entrepreneurial “old darkey” at the door. Pupils who dared speak up amid the mayhem were met with a murmured chorus from their peers, “Bootlick, bootlick.”3 Wilson worked harder on his lectures, he said, than on any of his subsequent speeches in public life, and he recognized that they demanded much of the teacher, little of the student. His typical experience was that he “poured everything of himself into the lecture and afterward was so tired he would not recognize his best friend.” And as hard as he worked, it chafed him that graduates never thanked him for what he’d taught, only for personal favors outside of class. Students in big classrooms could



Professor Conklin lectures on eugenics. A crowded educational scene of the kind Wilson deplored.

tune him out if they wished—and in any case, he said, it took the first fifteen minutes to get them to quit thinking about football. In vain did he tell the restless sea of faces there was no such thing as a dry subject, only a dry mind.4 “A radical change of method” was required, and he launched it swiftly in 1905, at the start of the fourth year of his presidency. Attuned to words, he disliked the implications in tutor as a crammer or test coach dulled by a lifetime appointment; moreover, the title was undignified, and he desperately wanted to attract charismatic gentlemen to the job. The title preceptor, apparently current during his years at Johns Hopkins but more recently suggested to him by the name given to law tutors in the London Inns of Court, pointed to an especially red-blooded role. By picking the preceptors himself, he would weed out the pedants and ignorant specialists who burdened so many college faculties and instead favor the heroic types he associated with England—academic professionals in Britain being, he told Jack Hibben, “a little broader and more human men, a little more like all-round gentlemen, a little more marked by refinement and a broad and catholic taste for the most excellent things of scholarship and conduct, than the typical man of our faculties.” In choosing the



candidates he liked to quote McCosh: Is he alive? Wilson would have been happy with former prep school teachers, but a horrified Dean Fine insisted on serious university men only.5 “Here’s to those preceptor guys, fifty stiffs to make us wise,” the seniors irreverently sang on the steps of Nassau Hall. Preceptorials did not replace regular courses but instead formed part of them, so that pupils in effect had multiple teachers for a single subject. Three-hour courses would now meet twice for lecture and once for small-group meetings— “conferences,” Wilson wanted them to be called, and not “classes.” These were as informal and friendly as possible, places to discuss specialized assigned readings, not textbooks. The point was to introduce students to great ideas, then have the preceptors, or “reading guides,” probe their comprehension. Reading would take place daily all semester long, with no more cramming. Wilson hoped time given over to lectures (the “passive half” of learning) would dwindle by two-thirds and reading would take over—constant, zestful, active—as he had experienced years before when educating himself by what he called Enthusiastic Study. Students should amass a personal library and mark up the copies, as he had done. Preceptorials, Wilson explained to the Long Island alumni, were meant to show students that learning is a thing of independent endeavor. Once over a pile of letters to be answered in his Prospect study he told his parttime secretarial assistant, undergraduate McQueen Wightman ’04, “You can’t educate a man; he must educate himself, and the way he must do it is by reading. The most we can do is to direct that reading.” “A Probable Collegiate Revolution,” the Progressive journal World’s Work called Wilson’s preceptorial system, the birth of “essentially a ‘reading’ college.”6 Ultimately he was remembering the passionate tutelage of Joseph Wilson in his idyllic childhood. Once he was asked to name his favorite teacher: “My father! I got ten times more from my father than I got at college.” He told an alumni group, “All the sense I got, I got by association with my father. He was good fun; he was a good comrade. . . . Because I believed in him I aspired to do and be the thing that he believed in. We are carried forward, gentlemen, by our association with men of deeper and wider experience than ourselves.” He reminisced to Frank Glass ’77 how Joseph took him on long walks twice a week and “required him to repeat the substance of his reading for the few days previous,” exactly as a preceptor would do. And earlier, Wilson described a visit home from



graduate school and Joseph’s preceptorlike habits: father’s “ever-active mind keeps the minds of those about him alive with all sorts of interests which they would not of themselves be likely to hit upon, and astir with all sorts of topics which it needs a mind like his to suggest. He makes me his intellectual companion when I am at home, and the life he stirs up in my brain is worth a whole year’s course at ‘the Hopkins.’”7 Another prototype of the preceptor was Woodrow Wilson’s famously intellectual uncle, Dr. James Woodrow, president of South Carolina College, who had disciplined the boy’s speech and honed his expression—he even “flayed me on occasions,” but always constructively, as “he was an extremely affable man, kind old gentleman, very fond of me.” Wilson told the Chicago alumni that he wanted the older men to do exactly this for the younger at Princeton. The goal was to excite impressionable minds, not fill them with facts. Once a group of history preceptors complained that the new system did not allow them enough time to teach the “Theory of Marginal Utility” and the like. Wilson staggered them with his reply: such theories were esoteric and not what the ordinary undergraduate needed. When one preceptor sheepishly admitted he wasn’t trying to be a top expert but instead to offer the youngsters his own opinions, Wilson did not chide him, as everyone expected, but instead offered warm praise.8 For all the highly personal sources of Wilson’s preceptorial system, at the same time it reaffirmed the school’s old liberal studies emphasis. Princeton “endeavored to improve upon the commonly received plans of education,” one administrator wrote, by following not a “dogmatic” approach, “prolix discourses” and “burdening the memory,” but instead “in the Socratic way of free dialogue between teacher and pupil, or between the students themselves, under the inspection of their tutors.” This blueprint for the preceptorial system was offered by Aaron Burr’s father when president of Princeton in the eighteenth century! Similarly, Woodrow Wilson often said that James Madison’s relationship to John Witherspoon at 1700s Old Nassau was like pupil to preceptor, another specific inspiration to him as he developed the program.9 Jimmy McCosh loomed large as well, as Wilson passionately explained in a popular article titled “The Personal Factor in Education.” “McCosh was my own master in the days when he was transforming Princeton,” Wilson said. Jimmy had been



a great moral dynamo . . . the personal friend and counselor of every man in the little college of his day [and] the intimate guide and counselor of his pupils, an inspiration to them in study, a never-to-be-forgotten model in conduct; a man from whom ideals are taken. . . . I shall never cease to be thankful that I came into direct personal association with a man so vital and individual. . . . Nothing can communicate fire but fire itself; nothing can touch spirit but spirit; and there is no vital touch but the individual touch. Men must meet face to face to kindle each other, and must know each other, not in crowds merely, not in lecture-rooms and at formal exercises alone, but also intimately, singly, with a look directly into each other’s eyes, and that direct touch of thought which comes when the one fixes his attention upon the other and mind touches mind. The problem of the great university, where pupils throng thousands strong, is the problem of the separation of teacher and pupil, the problem of crowds and of the loss of this vital contact. . . . The personal factor in education is the chief factor.10

Joseph Wilson, James Woodrow, John Witherspoon, James McCosh: these illustrious men all rose before the eyes of Princeton’s president as he formulated the preceptorial system and put the “personal factor” front and center.

Key to the system would be the preceptor himself. Wilson was banking everything on finding the right men for the job. It was essential that they be paid enough, so that he could lure the best people: bright, ambitious, genteel. He valued gentlemanly qualities slightly above scholarship, for these men were to live with the students, and he wanted social bonds to form. (He knew the status-obsessed Easterners on campus would shun anyone with yokel manners.) The preceptor must differ from the lecturer of old: lecturers were scary authorities; preceptors would be guides. Lecturers described facts; preceptors would make telling comparisons to stimulate thinking. At a school with, as yet, hardly any graduate students, preceptors would model “adult” behavior and good study habits to the youths, who, to one researcher of American colleges, seemed more “boyish” than elsewhere (Dean West similarly liked to say that the typical Princeton senior had a man’s body but a boy’s mind). As a practical matter, preceptors were single men. The salary, at fifteen hundred to two thousand dollars annually, was insufficient for raising a family, so married academics were discouraged from applying. Preceptors needed



plenty of free time to interact with the students as, West said, “guide, philosopher, friend, critic, doctor, and politician all in one.” One or two preceptors were housed in each of seven undergraduate dormitories.11 The preceptors’ rank was assistant professor, with promise of consideration for full. They taught blocks of four or five men at a time and were expected when possible to shepherd that group through all four years. Ideally, the conferences were held around a table in the preceptor’s living quarters, with a fire in the hearth and everybody smoking briarwood pipes. This informality marked an educational revolution, given the traditionally adversarial relationship between professors and pupils in nineteenth-century American colleges. The preceptor sought to identify each student’s points of weakness, then help him improve, West said, “by talking straight from one man to the other.”12 Although West and other professors enthusiastically subscribed to it, the preceptorial system was entirely Woodrow Wilson’s brainchild. Because the new hires needed to be both gentlemen and scholars, he looked them over carefully (though in interviews, he did all the talking). He invited the candidates to his home at Prospect. He even met with one of them while sick in bed upstairs. He summoned others into the study, and all fifty returned for a group session there as the fall semester of 1905 began. It was said he made a point of dining with them to see if they knew how to use a knife and fork. Many of them subsequently said they came to Princeton only because of the extraordinary charisma of Woodrow Wilson, that spellbinding talker. Decades later, one of his most distinguished hires, constitutional law scholar Edward Corwin, called the interview at Prospect “one of the memorable moments of my life. Mr. Wilson seemed to me easily the most impressive human being I had ever met.” Professor Robert Root agreed: “Before five minutes had passed I knew that I was in the presence of a very great man.”13 Everything didn’t work perfectly, of course. The instructors varied in their effectiveness, Wilson being constantly reminded of the importance of genial “normal men” as preceptors, not the narrow eccentrics too often produced by the graduate schools. (It became critical to him that Princeton’s graduate program create the right type of teacher— hence his stiffening attitude, as we shall see, concerning West’s plans for the Graduate College.) Critics warned that the system would hurt the sciences, that an endowment was lacking, that at least four hundred instructors were needed to handle the crushing new preceptorial work-



load, that increased expectations would overwhelm the weaker students. Wilson was distressed when one pupil couldn’t tell him the name of his preceptor, only his room number. Preceptors occasionally played favorites with the well-heeled kids (“When he called them ‘Bill’ and ‘Jack’ and me ‘Mr.’ it made me feel more strongly that I wasn’t one of the crowd,” a poor student remembered). Some professors resented that Wilson had not consulted with them in advance on the preceptorial idea; others, the idea of preceptors coming between them and the students. A few preceptorials seemed just like the regular dull classes, only smaller.14 But on the whole the system proved a spectacular success, catching the fancy of the press as “an entirely new thing in American education.” The preceptors were young and enthusiastic, and rival schools complained that Wilson had siphoned off too much talent. He saw incredible things now . . . boys taking walks with professors, lights burning late in dormitory windows. Ecstatic faculty spoke of an intellectual revolution. “I live in the same entry with my preceptor, and I often drop in and smoke a pipe with him,” a student said to Wilson—and the young man was therefore embarrassed to go to the conference next day without having done the reading! As Wilson said proudly, this was truly to bring instruction close home, and it worked. Princeton students were at last making the greatest discovery of all, the one he had made as an undergraduate himself and proudly relayed to his father: “I have a mind.”15

Woodrow Wilson needed extra classrooms for the numerous conferences, not all of which happened in preceptors’ apartments (forty of the fifty men lived off campus). McCosh Hall was built for the purpose. It would share its fabled name with the adjacent elm-shaded walk where aged Jimmy McCosh had liked to stroll. Gingerly adjusting his eyepiece, Wilson inspected every diagram, and he made the architect narrow the rooms so instructors could control the restless. Numerous entries would allow swift change of classes, including from the twenty-six special conference rooms, each a vital laboratory for mind and mind. Hurrying inside the Oxfordian Gothic building as the bell of Nassau Hall clanged, students glanced up at gargoyles that spoke of the vitality of modern life: a lunging halfback, a goggled chauffeur gripping the wheel. And the fifty preceptors soon made McCosh Hall their home, drawing young minds within the charmed circle of learning. Edmund Wilson ’16 would



sit rapturously here listening to preceptor Kemp Smith talk philosophy, imbibing knowledge as the tree branches along the walk threw flickering romantic shadows on the yellow window shades. “I felt I had a friend in him all my life.” He worshiped Christian Gauss, too, who slipped into the classroom without catching anybody’s eye and just started talking. The balding Gauss taught Dante without notes, pacing between desk and window. “Go back to line 97,” he would say without needing to see the text, “and look at that third word again.” As the boys translated, Gauss’s shabby mongrel dog Baudelaire whimpered, it seemed, whenever they got something wrong. “You thought that barratry was the same as banditry?” the preceptor might say in mock grief to anyone who stumbled. “O-o-oh, Mr. Smith, that’s too-oo ba-a-ad!”16 Like all the preceptors, Christian Gauss owed much to Woodrow Wilson, though privately he whispered of the president’s flaws. Obsessed about English literature, Wilson cared nothing for German or French, delighting to quote his beloved Walter Bagehot that “a Frenchman can say anything, but has nothing to say.” Once when a preceptor spoke admiringly of Goethe’s ideals, he shot back, “How sordid.” When Gauss loaned one of the Wilson girls a slightly racy book of Elizabethan poetry, Woodrow Wilson happened to find it and flung it into the fire. Gauss had to maneuver behind the president’s narrow, limited mind, bypassing his suggested reading requirements as inappropriate and following his own instincts to create one of the best modern language departments in the country, the one that trained the famous American writers “Bunny” Wilson, John Peale Bishop, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.17

The preceptorial system truly made Woodrow Wilson a household name among educators across the United States. But those closer to home soon realized that the reformer, in his crusading enthusiasm, had overshot the mark. He had pushed the system through without waiting for money to come—a favorite strategy of his, it later turned out—and it was not long before the idealistic conception began to go to pieces for lack of funds. By necessity more lectures were added, and cramming slithered back in. Conferences swelled from five students to twenty-five. Harried preceptors read twelve thousand pages a week to keep up with as many as seven subjects, because Wilson was adamant that each man assist with every course his department gave. One preceptor didn’t know the defi-



nition of “jurisprudence” until the day he started teaching that subject. Some quit, knowing that their academic careers demanded they become specialists, not generalists. Wilson expected preceptors to remain five years, never foreseeing, one cynic said, that the best would leave in two and the worst would stay forever.18 Decades later, Wilson biographer Henry Bragdon would judge the preceptorial system harshly, pointing to its lack of evaluative tests, Wilson thoughtlessly taking advantage of the young teachers to “squeeze them dry,” and presidential claims for success overstated to the point of self-hypnosis. But the system endured at Princeton, at least in name (today it basically resembles a “section” as taught at any other university), and Woodrow Wilson attained a kind of academic immortality as a result. As many of the original preceptors rose to positions of prominence in their fields, they looked back on 1905–10 as a golden age, when Wilson dramatically forged New Princeton, and they praised his preceptorials as the keystone. “Wilson made Princeton,” his friend Dean Fine would say in the 1920s, by which time the school stood at the top in the nation in math, classics, physics, and biology. “There is not a Princeton man today, whether friend or enemy, who will not admit this.” If nothing else, Wilson had dramatically improved the student-teacher ratio, lowering it to seven and a half to one, a tradition assiduously maintained and indeed bettered in subsequent years, so that today it is an extraordinary five to one. Many credit Wilson with Princeton’s enduring focus on the quality of undergraduate teaching. “If Princeton is one of the very best universities in the country, indeed the world, today,” writes James Axtell in The Making of Princeton University: From Woodrow Wilson to the Present, “Wilson’s articulate goals, disciplined focus on its distinctive character, unlimited faith in its potential, and enduringly persuasive rhetoric” deserve much of the praise.19

Woodrow Wilson needed to find a room where the greatly enlarged faculty could meet, for “common counsel,” as he always delighted to say—as if professors were parliamentarians. Dinosaur bones and fossil fish were hauled away to Guyot Hall, freeing up the historic rear wing of Nassau Hall for a Faculty Room. Wilson oversaw the architectural conversion—English oak lining the walls, seats arranged just like the House of Commons, with him as Gladstone seated high on a dais at



one end. Here the Continental Congress had met, when this was the old college chapel; now George Washington looked down on the faculty in their deliberations from a gilded frame, the same one that had held King George II until Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Hamilton’s battery beheaded it with a lucky cannon shot during the Battle of Princeton. These rich associations in the Faculty Room were almost too much for trustee Grover Cleveland on dedication day; he feared to speak lest he “disturb the spell.” The new interior was not Gothic but Colonial, to resurrect the ghosts of Revolutionary heroes. The same was true for FitzRandolph Gateway along Nassau Street outside, designed by architect Charles F. McKim as a grand entrance to campus and named for the man who first gave land to the college. Long treated as utilitarian, Nassau Hall was regaining its prominence, its unaesthetic exterior walls now gowned in glossy ivy from base to cornice. Only one improvement remained, to remove the incongruous lions from the front steps. They symbolized Class of 1879 pride, but their zinc was brittle—a clambering undergraduate accidentally pulled one’s head off—and of course every visitor to Tigertown wondered, “Why lions?” Their aesthetical classmate Robert Bridges hired animalier Phimister Proctor, sculptor for the Bronx Zoo, to make the change. Tigers were a novel challenge, and the artist trailed a circus for weeks. Art critics applauded Proctor’s nine-foot felines, finished in 1911, but the community-minded Woodrow Wilson smiled to think how “the tiger is not an emblem of qualities desirable in human society.” And yet their ferocity would prove an apt symbol for the events that marked the autumn of his administration.20

With the preceptorial system in place and fine new buildings rising, Woodrow Wilson had accomplished in four short years what many called a miracle. Princeton stood at center stage in the national press, all eyes watching its efforts “in the nation’s service,” solving the most difficult educational problems. Some were declaring the preceptorial system the greatest breakthrough since the Johns Hopkins University introduced the true university concept to America. Wilson traveled the country expounding on his achievements, eyeing them as the bedrock foundation for future reforms that he expected could be achieved as deftly. For even with all his successes, he was far from satisfied. Some said



he was easily bored, always needed a new project—that he hated the real work of a college president, fundraising and business administration, and instead tried to twist the job into something more creative and statesmanlike. “He cannot sit patiently for a time and supervise the life of the college,” Edmund Wilson later mused. “He lays about him for another constructive proposal,” another way to improve and reinvigorate the American university as an instrument of national service, always his overriding preoccupation. The nation needed service as never before, he thought, as phenomenal twentieth-century growth in wealth, population, and industry were changing everything now. “We have stumbled upon a confusing age,” Woodrow Wilson told audiences. “Nothing is like it was fifteen years ago.”21 Princeton showed this vividly. When, for example, the Class of 1895 had graduated, its 250 members had enjoyed a college experience that in many ways had changed little since 1875 or even 1775. Ordinary Presbyterians still far outnumbered rich Episcopalians. Everybody knew everybody in the compact student body. Class solidarity remained ardent. Dormitories had no running water except maybe a tap in the basement, and every room had a pitcher that froze on January nights. Students read by kerosene lanterns and were warmed by coal stoves that a janitor cleaned twice daily. There was no studying in the evening in Chancellor Green Library, for it had no electricity. Chapel attendance was required at eight every morning and twice on Sunday, a spotter in the gallery checking who was missing. Athletic facilities were primitive, with no pool (Brokaw Memorial was unfinished for lack of funds), no tennis or squash courts, no really adequate baseball diamond or football field. There was nothing to do on the weekend except take “triangle walks.” Only rarely was there a dance or play. Organized activity clubs hardly existed. Upperclass eating clubs had lately appeared (ones of more permanent form than Wilson’s “Alligators”), but only a quarter of the students bothered to join. Little importance was attached to wealth or status, though the disparities were great: a handful of millionaire’s sons rubbed shoulders with scholarship students too poor to afford a chair in their dormitory room, or a washstand or even a bed. The whole life was amiable, relaxed, democratic; nobody owned a fancy suit, but instead, rich and poor alike donned a customary “horse-style” uniform of black sweater and corduroys, often just one tattered pair cherished for four years! In the isolation of the 1890s campus there flourished what one observer would call “the



Indian Summer of the age when college spirit, class spirit and college customs had reached the highest point in their development.” And yet plenty of students managed to study hard and read copiously.22 To the graduate of 1895, Princeton had always been just like this, and there was no reason to think that it would ever be any different. And yet within a decade everything had changed—many more students, increasingly rich and snobby; luxurious new standards for housing, clothing, and dining; and a rapid proliferation of nonacademic amusements. America was changing in the new century, and so were universities; run-amok capitalism and the pursuit of status, luxury, and entertainment seemed to be triumphing over the more sober ideals of the Victorian age. Walking the much-enlarged campus as university president, Woodrow Wilson was troubled by the ever-increasing diffuseness and frivolity of the undergraduate experience. Classes took only fifteen hours a week; what of the other 168—were they spent, as before, predominantly in study? Every year brought more distractions. In the 1870s, that decade to which he compared everything, there had been a bare minimum of extracurriculars, including the Glee and Instrumental Clubs and a few sports teams. But by 1908 there were more than eighty, many of them highly time-consuming, including endless games of chess and elaborate “Triangle Show” theatricals. He estimated that nonacademic pursuits now occupied two-thirds of the undergraduate’s time and energy. There were more games off-campus for the sports teams, longer road trips for the musical clubs. Together they went away seventy-five times in the 1906–7 school year, a doubling since 1900. (When the Glee Club played in Buffalo, a hilarious song about “Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup” convinced a boy in the audience that this was the delightful school for him— F. Scott Fitzgerald.) Such problems were familiar everywhere; European observers increasingly spoke of American students as ignorant of academic subjects and obsessed with fun and socializing.23 There were now four thousand millionaires in America, it was said, and they bought university educations for their sons as a mark of status— almost none of these self-made men had attended college themselves. No more interested in the intellectual life than their fathers had been, the spoiled children of the rich picked their schools on the basis of social status and a good football team. No wonder that Wilson said he felt himself and the other teachers sliding into the background. Nowadays the Princeton ideal, Professor Stockton Axson agreed, was robust man-



hood, athletic prowess, and devoted friendships, not learning: “college life” was morphing into a cult of decadence. With so many pleasant activities available—millionaires had just given the school Lake Carnegie and a sweeping, two-hundred-acre golf links—the New York Evening Post called Princeton University “the most agreeable and aristocratic country club in America.” The “country club” label stuck, and later Fitzgerald’s novel about the giddiness of campus life would repeat it and make it infamous.24 Wilson foresaw disaster if student activities were allowed to multiply unchecked and if the whole tone of Princeton grew idle and luxurious. Was this what stern Jimmy McCosh had fought for, what the vaunted change from “college” to “university” had promised? Everything Wilson stood for was at risk. Whereas others viewed the preceptorial system as a glowing success, he gloomily foresaw failure. After two or three years, he said, it had come to a dead wall. It worked well but could only do so much against the extracurriculars and social diversions. The “main purpose of college life, namely, serious study and a thorough orientation in the things of the mind” was relentlessly eroding. Repeatedly he called intellectual pursuits the only legitimate object of a university. Other outlets were fine so long as they did not interfere with the main goal, training young minds to serve the nation. If they did interfere, he now called ruthlessly for “the sacrifice of everything that stands in the way.” He began to drop clues about a radical “social reorganization” on campus.25 He was speaking with urgency, because a gigantic additional threat was rapidly emerging, an extracurricular arena so delightful and absorbing, it threatened to dwarf all others. After a string of extraordinary achievements, the idealistic president and bold crusader for educational progress now turned to confront his most formidable foe yet—the glittering new upperclass eating clubs of Prospect Avenue, adjacent to campus. “I wish it might have lasted longer,” Professor Axson said sadly, looking back on the early years of the preceptorial experiment when Princeton was united behind a thrilling and uplifting idea. But all too soon, Axson’s idol Woodrow Wilson shifted focus to the clubs, and skies began to darken. As hard as it had been to change the tone of Princeton intellectually, to change it socially would prove infinitely more difficult. “The next chapter,” Axson lamented, “brought chaos and confusion.”26

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The Quad Fight, 1907–8

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The Pleasantest Country Club in America


IKE A cute tiger cub that grows overnight into a ravening beast, the upperclass eating clubs were threatening to devour Woodrow Wilson’s ideal Princeton. Their numbers had tripled in ten years, so that by 1906 there were thirteen, and more on the way. They embodied everything that had lately gone wrong with the American university, he thought—the corrupting power of wealth, the multiplication of social distractions, the introduction of a culture of mere pleasure-seeking as “the sons of very rich men” who would never need to work now flocked to college because it was fashionable. Wilson the minister’s son felt a natural antipathy toward these dilettantes; Wilson the Southerner scorned their Northeastern ways; Wilson the Democrat had no affinity for their Republican elitism; Wilson the disciple of Wordsworth found their chic urban values abhorrent; Wilson the autocrat resented the growing power of the rich man’s dollar in his university affairs.1 In speeches to audiences nationwide, he used colorful analogies to express his mounting concern. College life had swallowed the college curriculum whole. Echoing the New York Evening Post, he said the university had become a country club where students only worked enough to avoid being dropped, which would take them away from such a pleasant place. Princeton, that great historic institution, was dwindling into “an artistic setting and background for life on Prospect Avenue.” The sideshows had swallowed up the circus.2 Ironically, the university administration had until lately encouraged



the proliferation of the eating clubs (even as they continued to ban fraternities), for they solved a serious problem. For years, students had frequented private boarding houses in town, paying large sums to eat in conditions unworthy of gentlemen—hats worn at meals, dirty linens, food fights with potatoes and pies, the contents of whole tables tipped out the window into the street in a burst of exuberance. At the Prospect Avenue clubs, on the other hand, the food was excellent and reasonably priced, in genteel surroundings. As “eating clubs,” they were not residential at all. They “eat you, but don’t sleep you,” visitors were playfully told.3 Tiger Inn, Charter, Elm, Terrace, Colonial . . . all were privately incorporated and free from university control. They had come a long way from the utterly informal institutions of Wilson’s undergraduate years, including his “Alligators,” which met in a nondescript wooden house on Nassau Street. Lining the avenue to the athletic fields like millionaires’ mansions, the modern clubs flamboyantly proclaimed the new affluence of Gilded Age America, when fortunes were made overnight. Agreeable as their ambiance was to the students, only the needs of the alumni could explain the dazzling cost and elaborateness of the newest facilities, starting in 1897 with Ivy Club (by Walter Cope) and Cap and Gown (by William Emerson of Boston) and followed by Cottage (by McKim, Mead and White). As these powerhouse architects suggest, the institutions emulated private clubs of the big cities. The cost alone of the “swagger clubs” on Prospect, rumored to be a million dollars in total, would have alarmed the democratic Wilson. And yet for this exorbitant price, they only served about thirty undergraduates each!4 Clubmen resented Wilson’s charge of luxuriousness, pointing out that the facilities (unlike New York clubs) had no bar, card rooms, barber shop, Turkish baths, or swimming pools. But the tone was undeniably swank: the servants taking students’ coats at the door. Evening dinners in formal attire. Teakwood furniture imported from England. A thirteen-course Thanksgiving meal. Membership rosters that read like the Social Register. As eating facilities, the clubs had kitchens and dining rooms and quarters for servants. But they also had numerous aftersupper spaces for entertaining: common rooms, libraries, billiard rooms, smoking rooms, and bedrooms for alumni. For this was a major function of the clubs, to provide a weekend retreat for the New Yorker, down for



“house parties” and football games. Club alumni were ever more numerous and wealthy; the ritzy Ivy Club, for example, had 379 living members by 1905, a powerful bloc that included some of the most influential of all graduates, including honorary members C. C. Cuyler and Momo Pyne, Percy Pyne ’03, and Junius Morgan ’88 (nephew of J. P. Morgan), whose ostentatious Jacobean manor house in town was a replica of Ivy Club.5 Woodrow Wilson never said the clubs were debauched or immoral. Indeed, by today’s beer-drenched standards they were virtual monasteries. By strict club rules, no liquor was served, with the exception of commencement dinner. (But muckraker Upton Sinclair, who for a time lived in a tent in the woods outside of town while writing a book and visited the university library for research, claimed regularly to see “young leaders of the future come staggering out of their clubhouses to vomit in the gutter.”) Clubs were usually empty by eight in the evening as students returned to their dormitories. There were no reports of sexual immorality or gambling. But Wilson was upset, among other things, by their role in commencement mayhem. In the Tower Room of Seventy-Nine Hall in June 1905, he warned class officers about a situation threatening to “do incalculable harm to the university,” as drunken, brawling club alumni gave the impression “that Princeton was merely a place for carousing,” doing disgraceful things they would never do in Manhattan. Dean Fine confirmed that “Friday night, after the club dinners, saw the worst scenes. The clubs are much to blame.” Mathematician Fine detested the clubs, and some thought he played a key role in turning Wilson against them.6 In general, though, club life was tame. “Nothing interesting is done in them,” Charter Club alumnus Edmund Wilson ’16 said, struggling to pinpoint their phenomenal appeal in spite of their being “monuments to the mediocrity of human taste and ideals.” The grandiose colonnade of Colonial Club, for example, “like a Hollywood set, had almost nothing behind it.” And yet alumni were fanatically loyal, including tuberculosisstricken George Edwards ’89, who famously came back to Ivy Club to die. In spite of their inherent “heaviness and emptiness,” Edmund Wilson supposed they connoted “that peculiar idyllic quality which is one of the endearing features of Princeton. It is difficult to describe this quality in any very concrete way, but it has something to do with the view from Prospect Street, from the comfortable back porches of the clubs, over the damp dim New Jersey lowlands, and with the singular feeling of free-



dom which refreshes the alumnus from an American city when he goes back to Prospect Street and realizes that he can lounge, read or drink as he pleases, go anywhere or dress anyhow without anybody’s interfering with him.”7 The masculine club idea was at its height in America during these years, and clubmen swore eternal loyalty. Indeed the whole town of Princeton seemed a kind of clubby retreat now. In this age of what wealthy alumnus Adrian Joline called “marvelous multimillionairism,” the New Jersey village had been transformed into a haven for the ultrarich, with Momo Pyne and Grover Cleveland showing the way. (The weekday express train to Wall Street was nicknamed the “Pyne Special.”) When Stockton Axson joined the faculty in 1899, “I saw that Princeton was selling its birthright; was in great peril of losing the simplicity of a country college town, and becoming merely a fashionable suburb for New York City.” The influx of the wealthy had changed the whole social tenor. “I became quickly convinced that they were a very demoralizing influence.” Woodrow Wilson agreed. When an undergraduate came to the Tower Room to ask whether he should join a club, the president leaned back in his mission chair and launched into a diatribe against them. He said that city values had already ruined Columbia and Pennsylvania and now were attacking beautiful Princeton, seeking to annex it as a country club. As he spoke, maple-lined Prospect Avenue lay just outside the leaded-glass windows, and through them he could constantly hear the sound of carpenters’ saws and masons’ hammers, building still more clubs.8

In spite of the construction boom on Prospect, there weren’t enough upperclass clubs for all the undergraduates. Indeed, minister’s sons (as young Tommy Wilson had been) could not afford membership in any case, nor could the “untouchables” of cut-rate Edwards Hall dormitory— scholarship kids who sold cigarettes and candy over the counter in freshman Commons to pay their way through college. Every year, one third of sophomores failed to win election (two black balls secretly dropped into the voting box were enough to deny admission). Efforts to gain entry were frantic, especially for the toniest clubs. F. Scott Fitzgerald of Cottage Club immortalized Prospect Avenue in This Side of Paradise through the eyes of his character, Amory Blaine:



There were fickle groups that jumped from club to club; there were friends of two or three days who announced tearfully and wildly that they must join the same club, nothing should separate them; there were snarling disclosures of long-hidden grudges as the Suddenly Prominent remembered snubs of freshman year. Unknown men were elevated into importance when they received certain coveted bids; others who were considered ‘all set’ found that they had made unexpected enemies, felt themselves stranded and deserted, talked wildly of leaving college. In his own crowd Amory saw men kept out for wearing green hats, for being ‘a damn tailor’s dummy,’ for having ‘too much pull in heaven,’ for getting drunk one night ‘not like a gentleman, by God,’ or for unfathomable secret reasons known to no one but the wielders of the black balls.9

Hopefuls like Amory Blaine engaged in shameless “bootlicking.” Alumni fathers brought their high school–age boys not to tour the Princeton campus but to meet club officers on Prospect Avenue. The wealthy, the socially connected, football players, “good mixers,” and shrewd schemers were often successful in gaining admission. But “unclubbable” was anyone who had “queered” himself or “gotten in wrong” (“running it out,” it was called in Fitzgerald’s time), often by a single goof freshman year or by appearing too serious or intellectual. Jews had no chance at all, a situation so infamous, Ernest Hemingway would later open his novel The Sun also Rises with character Robert Cohn suffering from “the feeling of inferiority and shyness he had felt on being treated as a Jew at Princeton.” “The democracy of Princeton! Faugh! The essence and acme of snobbishness, that’s what I found,” Leon Levy ’05 told Woodrow Wilson, explaining why he transferred to an urban school, the University of Pennsylvania. Old Nassau was just “snobbish, addle-headed young cads, with ambitions centered on upper-class clubs.” There was a larger issue here, both Levy and Wilson agreed: Prospect Avenue was coming to represent much of what Progressive Era reformers were railing against in America as a whole—the aristocratic, exclusive preserves of the pampered elite. “I am proud,” Levy said to Wilson after the president came out against the clubs, “to see that in you a strong man has arisen to lead the sons of Princeton forth from the bondage of narrow-mindedness and bigotry into a new atmosphere of tolerance and twentieth century broadness.”10 Ultraselective, the clubs engaged in arduous decision-making about potential members, a process called “bicker,” before dropping the little white and black balls into that terrifying box. One year, Ivy Club ac-



Wielders of the black balls. Young aristocrats of Ivy Club, 1902. To Wilson, these elitists were anti-preceptors.

cepted only eight men, leading the Daily Princetonian to protest, “Even Jesus Christ took twelve!” To improve their chances of admission, panicked sophomores organized themselves into eating clubs of their own that were meant to feed into specific upperclass clubs and wore colored hats and hatbands to distinguish themselves. Freshmen, in turn, jockeyed furiously to gain entrance to the best of these “hat lines,” for to wear a band became a status symbol, and having none was a hideous mark of shame. Mealtime in Commons, opened in 1906, was dominated by talk of hat lines. Woodrow Wilson was appalled by the strife that hat lines introduced and the fact that students who didn’t even like each other banded together out of desperation. How different this was from his beloved Witherspoon Gang!11 These artificial cliques collided with his most heartfelt convictions about Princeton, a place that an alumnus had proudly written about, just a dozen years before, as the most democratic place on the American continent, devoid of snobbery or exclusivity. That wonderful Princeton seemed to have died overnight, and with it, something fine and Ameri-



can. “Wherein does democracy consist?” Wilson asked. “In unselected, unavoidable contacts,” not hatlines. If the university were to “be national and serve the nation,” he was coming to realize, it absolutely could not harbor “undemocratic” tendencies. This bold new conviction about campus democracy, a more radical extension of his earlier ideas about “community,” would be the engine that drove his remaining years as president of the university—and ultimately came close to driving Princeton itself onto the rocks.12

Hat lines extended back even to boarding school life, for entering freshmen banded together along prep school lines with specific Prospect clubs in mind. Red Hat was composed of St. Paul’s School boys, Dark Blue Hat was Hill School, Light Blue was Exeter and Andover, and so forth. To boost enrollments in the years following the Civil War, President McCosh had wanted boarding schools to feed into Princeton, and by 1909, more than three-quarters of undergraduates came from such institutions, with nearby Lawrenceville Academy especially important (by comparison, less than half of Harvard students came from boarding schools, and two-thirds of Yale). Inevitably, the upperclass Prospect clubs had strong boarding-school flavors. At the most exclusive of them, only prep school boys had any chance at all. Ivy Club, a St. Paul’s bastion, would not admit a single public high school graduate until 1951.13 The prepster quality of the clubs alienated Woodrow Wilson further, for “Father was a staunch champion of the public school,” Nell remembered. Nor was he ever a clubman of any kind, nor interested in social climbing, much to the Hibbens’ dismay. As an undergraduate himself, a classmate recalled, “he was democratic by nature and absolutely uninfluenced by money or social position.” His personal success had come from grindingly hard work, not club connections. Severely frugal, Ellen was even more scornful of the rich than Woodrow was—the family joke was how a friend once said to her, “Mrs. Wilson, every fall you look sweeter in that brown dress.” When she was told that a wealthy woman in town idly dropped her clothes on the floor for the maid to put away, she said, “How disgusting.” And once she artlessly talked for forty-five minutes to a rich alumnus seated next to her at a formal dinner about ways of canning vegetables.14 Her democratic attitudes reinforced Woodrow’s—like her, a child of



the Presbyterian manse. It was proverbial that professors looked down their noses at local tradesmen, but Woodrow Wilson loved to stand and talk with the fellows who gathered at the hardware store or at Will Durner’s barbershop. “How’s the ice business?” he once asked the local ice vendor in the doorway of Hoff ’s Store. “How’s the education business?” came the friendly response, along with a sly question: “After you have them all educated, who’ll do the work?” A smiling Wilson appreciated the point. One time he reversed his decision on admitting a lowscoring applicant to the university when he learned that the youth had spent the summer laying tracks on the Erie Railroad to pay his way. “Is that so? That’s the kind of boy we want here.” On the other hand, for those who valued wealth and status above all else, he had venomous contempt. Once a freshman came into his office, smartly dressed and right out of a Choate or Exeter. Wilson asked what they taught there. “They teach us to be gentlemen,” came the insouciant reply. In retelling the story, the president snarled, “I could have kicked the young idiot.”15 Thanks to the eating clubs, interaction between underclassmen and upperclassmen had become highly suspect, since bootlicking was insidious. An Inter Club Treaty was established to stop the active recruiting of underclassmen by club members and drew an impassable line between upper and lower classes, one so extreme that it was forbidden for freshmen and sophomores even to set foot on the sidewalks of Prospect Avenue, except at commencement. A graduate of 1904 confirmed that friendships between younger and older men were becoming “very rare indeed,” a condition precisely the opposite of Woodrow Wilson’s mindand-mind philosophy of older men educating younger. The treaty itself was the subject of anguish and recriminations, because it was repeatedly violated. Wilson attended an electrifying meeting in Murray Hall auditorium where a burly football player sobbed as he confessed his guilt in breaking it. The “natural leaders” on campus were top picks for the clubs, which fought to win the best of them—like the Oughty-Eight who was kidnapped by Cottage Club and held at the Jersey shore to prevent him from accepting an Ivy bid. With his lifelong concern for “the born leaders and managers and organizers,” Wilson worried most about the exceptionally capable boys, the ones who, in the past, would have been the champions in Whig Hall debating society, “the finer, more spirited, more attractive, more original and effective men.” These were the ones now most likely to plunge into club life and become distracted from



higher goals, especially in April, when club elections grew all-absorbing and threw academics into disarray. Then “the campus became a document in hysteria,” Fitzgerald later said. One boy told President Wilson he didn’t have time to try for a fellowship, because he was a club leader and “had to run the college” socially. And the student president of Charter Club wrote Wilson after graduation that he regretted he hadn’t read more books. “I do begrudge some of the time which went in adding up bills, and ‘sophomore bicker sessions,’ and attending countless meetings of the Inter Club Treaty.”16 For the lucky few, however, club admission provided a thrilling ticket to success in college and beyond. Men of the top clubs spent their weekends and vacations at the finest country estates outside New York or Philadelphia, made the best connections for their upcoming careers in business, and were introduced to the most eligible sisters of their peers. Much was riding, then, on those black and white balls in a wooden box! The clubs were drenched in romance, Edmund Wilson capturing the excitement of the much-anticipated house parties night in commencement week: The freshmen came parading down Prospect Street for the first time, hot and excited in the lurid pink of their torches. Their Roman candles popped little comets against the blue night sky of June and showered sparks upon their hands and heads; but they did not mind this: it only added a little exhilarating danger to this last prescribed adventure of freshman year. They saw the clubs all alight and the diners at the doors and on the curb, in the dress clothes of undergraduates or the fantastic soldier, sailor, artist and Arab [beer-jacket] costumes of alumni. Some of them held champagne glasses in their hands; and this touch added glamour to the paraders’ impression that they were in presence of arcana more mysterious and magnificent than anything else Princeton had to offer.

Or that life had to offer, for that matter: as late as the 1940s, Eugene O’Neill ’10 (blackballed from White Hat) was still laughing at the type of man whose college years were “the most significant in his life, and the moment of his highest achievement the time he was tapped for an exclusive [eating club] at the Ivy university to which his father had given millions. Since that day he has felt no need for further aspiring, no urge to do anything except settle down on his estate and live the life of a country gentleman.”17



But what of the one third of students who, like O’Neill, were deemed unworthy of admission, the so-called sad birds? According to President Wilson, their fate was dismal. They couldn’t remain friends with their pals who had joined clubs, lest they be accused of currying favor, so they huddled together as gangs of bitter rejects. Some dropped out of college altogether. He heard horror stories: when one proud boy from a fine Cincinnati family failed to win membership, his spirit was “absolutely crushed.” An ’08 only confessed to his dad in the privacy of a canoe trip a year later that “his heart had been broken.” He would have quit Princeton, only the shame of having the sad bird reputation follow him to a new school would have been intolerable. His brother, a ’12, made Tower Club, and the father complained to Wilson that to this ambitious youth “the clubs mean more than the university.” The boy was well on his way to becoming “an aristocrat and a snob. . . . I have yet to find a single thing in the club system that appeals to me as an American.” Ernest Poole ’02 got himself blackballed, and “with a cold sick feeling, the bottom dropped out of my college life.” An alumnus ran into an Ought Nine—by then a judge in California—on a train forty years after graduation. As a minister’s son who ran a pants-pressing agency to pay for college and whose face was scarred by smallpox, the judge had been denied club admission, he explained, and as a result had felt inferior all his life and refused to send his own sons to Old Nassau. Similarly, Pompeo Maresi ’09, from a middle-class background in Brooklyn, was rejected by the clubs and “never got over that for the rest of his life,” according to his brilliant roommate Harold Medina—whose ethnicity hurt him, too. Although he had played the social game by joining White Hat freshman year, Medina was terrified he would ultimately be blackballed by the clubs, and waiting for word to come was “among the unhappiest days of my life.” Although he was finally accepted at low-status Terrace Club, Medina nonetheless graduated from Princeton still feeling like “a little fellow hanging around the edge.”18 Too often it was the intellectuals like Medina who got rejected, their low social rank suggested by the numerous disparaging nicknames then current—poler, dry-as-dust, greasy grind, gloom. Sophomores anxiously asked their preceptors for advice on whether to follow the studious course for their last two years, or the social. In the early evening, that postsupper time Woodrow Wilson considered so critical for the interaction of mind and mind, club members merely played billiards or bridge or lounged in front of the fire with comic books and magazines, aping in miniature



their clubbing fathers in the cities. Few “honor men” were to be found on club lists; according to one disputed count, only 9.6 percent of clubmen won honors, compared to 42 percent of sad birds. The idols of Ivy Club were almost exclusively athletes. (It was true that witty man-of-theworld and future novelist Booth Tarkington ’93 had gotten in there—but Scott Fitzgerald thought Tark had the mind of a little boy, anyway.) To Wilson the stylish upperclass good fellow was emerging as a kind of antipreceptor, a negative role model who canceled out the successes of that fledgling system. As the preceptorials got under way, he overheard with disgust a clubman complaining that his pals were boring him by talking too much about their coursework. Intellectual attainment was the only legitimate object of a university, Wilson repeatedly told audiences—and in things intellectual, eating clubs had no role to play. The Chicago Tribune would later summarize Wilson’s uncompromising position: FRATS CHEAPEN BRAINS.19 The clubs offered a striking contrast to the venerable debating societies, Whig and Clio Hall—so intellectual and valuable, Wilson had always thought. Every fall he met with freshmen in the Old Chapel and urged them to join a society, stressing “the superiority shown in after life by a man who has received a Hall training over one who has not.” The halls had been expensively rebuilt in the previous decade—the elderly former president McCosh had proudly laid the cornerstone of Whig, a shining temple of white marble—but by 1905 memberships were so low that the halls were begging the university to pay their electric and heating bills. Yet Woodrow Wilson the sentimental Seventy-Nine continued to believe in them, writing sweepingly that year in the college handbook that they “are now, as they have always been, the most important single influence in the intellectual training which Princeton gives.” Their keynote was democracy, he told the freshmen. All students could join, and all their business was undergraduate-run, following the rules of the House of Representatives. Practically Wilson’s earliest Princeton memories were of President McCosh bravely battling the upstart fraternities when they threatened Whig and Clio. Now the clubs were rearing, and President Wilson prepared to battle them, too.20

Each time he walked beneath the maples on Prospect Avenue, Wilson eyed the stylish clubhouses with increased contempt. If Princeton were ideally a community, he thought, the clubs existed outside of it. If the



school were an organism, the clubs enjoyed no organic connection to it. Indeed, they were a kind of disease that threatened to disorder, demoralize, or strangle the university, he told anyone who would listen. (These problems were common to many colleges—indeed, Harvard and Yale were more infected by the social climbers and their special privileges than Princeton yet was, he believed.) To him, “the first principle of university life is individual freedom and individuality.” Now the “free society of equals” had given way to feuding gangs of social rivals. Hat lines and clubs fostered a deadening standardization: to get into a club demanded a herd mentality, to join the pack and “not to get ‘queered’ by having any individuality whatever. And yet the object of intellectual training is individuality.” His whole “great man” ethos was being countermanded. What was to be done?21 As he stood grimly on the Prospect sidewalk, cane in hand, and thought hard about club evils, Woodrow Wilson cannot have been unaware of the suggestive linkage between clubs and those issues of burning concern to Democratic reformers nationwide leading up to the 1908 presidential election: trusts and tariffs and special privileges for the corporate rich. Indeed, it is striking how, in singling out the eating clubs for his next great reform program at Princeton, he seized on an issue beloved of the Progressives: the undue influence of the new urban capitalists. City clubs were growing fast and furious, a surveyor of the American social scene wrote in 1907. There were now, for example, thirty purely social clubs for the rich man in New York where he “sucks cigarettes, cocktails, and the head of his cane in the club window all day,” idly chatting about boat racing, polo, hunting, and stocks and watching pretty women in egret-plume hats stroll by on Fifth Avenue. The financier J. P. Morgan belonged to the most exclusive clubs of all—the Union League, Knickerbocker, Metropolitan, Century, Lawyers’, and New York Yacht Clubs. At such places, “many a noble stroke of finance or merger is done over a table supplied with all the fine art of a French cuisine.” Beneath contempt nowadays, affluent New Yorkers agreed, was “the unclubbable man.” In the context of contemporary politics, such a report made many a Southern or Western Democrat want to spit.22 By taking on the campus clubs, Woodrow Wilson was about to lob a shot at this new social order. Already, as we have seen, the Southerner had developed an antipathy for the sons of the New York rich. “I sometimes wish that it weren’t fashionable to go to college, that it weren’t



taken for granted that gentlemen of a certain class in society would send their sons to college,” he said in a speech to a prep school audience in Connecticut. If he had his way, he would actually “prevent young men from going” who weren’t serious about intellectual work. In those days before income tax (which he himself had the pleasure of signing into law as United States president), there was no limit to student affluence— take, for example, Gerard Lambert ’08, son of the inventor of Listerine, who inherited three hundred thousand dollars in cash during his junior year. Lambert had his chauffeur drive him in a limousine around campus and bought a $4,600 Peerless Runabout automobile with red leather seats to motor his friends down to Trenton at sixty miles an hour for steak dinners at Hildebrecht’s. Lambert and his cronies were daily rubbing Woodrow Wilson’s nose in the “special privilege” issue that reformers were now railing against nationwide.23 “In a country like this it is absolutely necessary that we should do democratic thinking,” he told the Princeton alumni in Chicago: The particular threat that seems to me the most alarming to our life at the present moment is that we are beginning to think in classes. . . . There must be absolutely a free field and no favor for anybody. . . . That is what I mean by democratic thinking, not stopping to ask a man’s origin, not stopping to ask a man’s influence, but regarding a man, every man, as different from his fellows only in capacity, only in trustworthiness, only in character. The world has been enriched by that idea, and by no other idea. . . . Now, if that is the case, you must organize the life of your universities also in that spirit.

With a free field and no favor, Wilson believed, the most skillful and intelligent people would naturally triumph by natural gifts and force of character; but money or lack thereof could easily interfere. He himself would have become a statesman if only he had been born rich—that resentment that darkened his youth. Old Princeton, for all its faults, had at least tried to level the playing field; at New Princeton the field was tilted against the little guy. Wilson had to tackle the clubs if he were going to make things fair and live up the words of his own inaugural address: “There are other things beside material success with which we must supply our generation. It must be supplied with men who care more for principles than for money. . . . We are here . . . to quicken their social understanding, instruct their consciences.” So he put the eating clubs in his sights.24



Woodrow Wilson’s radical plan for reforming the social scene on campus and in the process annihilating the clubs must be understood against the backdrop of a tumultuous year in his personal life, 1906. In winter and spring he exhausted himself lecturing to public audiences in many states, in the midst of which came political broker Colonel George Harvey’s heady pronouncement in Harper’s Weekly that he should be president of the United States. (“Why it’s impossible,” thought Professor Harry Garfield. “Wilson couldn’t stand the strain for a year.”) His high idealism was constantly apparent in these inspiring speeches, as were his religious convictions. Aspirations for personal greatness as a leader, for national political reform and a Democratic resurgence, for injecting Princeton into the vital life of America—all seemed to coalesce. But the work, the travel, the passionate exhortations, and the constant intensity threatened to break him physically, as had happened in the 1890s. Alarmed, trustee Momo Pyne warned him not to “jeopardize your health by attempting too much. You are too valuable to Princeton.”25 But Wilson kept relentlessly on, and one Monday morning in late May, that time of maximum stress for any college president, the fortynine-year-old awoke to find himself blind in the left eye. He never again had more than peripheral vision in it, a blood vessel having burst. Partial blindness was symptomatic of a more general collapse, what everyone in town called Wilson’s nervous breakdown. A Philadelphia doctor diagnosed arteriosclerosis and “an almost complete breakdown” and declared that his working days were over. “You have doubtless done too much in the last few years.” “He has lived too tensely,” a distraught Ellen agreed, and “prolonged high pressure on brain and nerves” had caused damage. She noted that he was “very nervous—annoyed by the things he usually enjoys.” She sent faithful Professor Jack Hibben alone to the doctor to get more information. Her brother Stockton Axson met Jack at the depot and, on hearing the grave news, begged him to soften the blow for Ellen. Axson and Pyne paced back and forth between the Prospect door and front gate for an hour, under the looming trees, and agreed that his death would lead to catastrophe for the university.26 Woodrow Wilson survived, but it was a moment of profound crisis. Several biographers have called this episode a major stroke, akin to the one he would famously suffer as U.S. president in 1919. In a more recent



analysis, however, medical doctor Bert E. Park has argued that Wilson’s chronic high blood pressure had caused tiny blood vessels to bleed inside his brain, in what is known as a lacunar infarction or “small” stroke. This would make the events of 1906 analogous not to 1919 but to 1918, when, it has now become clear to historians, President Wilson suffered a series of small cerebral episodes that caused striking personality change—including being “annoyed by the things he usually enjoys,” as Ellen noticed in 1906, and feeling a tremendous new sense of urgency about his mission in life, as likewise marked the 1906 crisis. If Park’s diagnosis is right, Woodrow Wilson the Princeton president suffered no major stroke but was nonetheless a very sick man—a ruptured blood vessel in the eye ordinarily being a symptom of the final stages of cardiovascular disease.27 Told by doctors he could never work again, a stunned Woodrow Wilson at first fell into a depression, then pulled himself out by a fanatical and defiant determination to regain health and work harder than ever before, to save Princeton University before he ran out of time. “They won’t let me so much as pick up a pin off the floor,” he lamented from his bed in Prospect . . . a statesman and visionary trapped beneath sheets when he had so many mighty tasks still to perform. But with surprising speed he began to feel better, as might be possible after a “small” stroke, though seldom after a major one. He seemingly recovered his physical and mental powers and would live nearly twenty more years—most of them phenomenally busy and productive—but his high blood pressure would remain untreated, because the condition was then poorly understood. And from 1906 on, the Woodrow Wilson historian must begin to ask whether the man’s thoughts and actions were entirely “normal” or perhaps at times tinged with the incipient dementia that small strokes can cause—a difficult biographical problem.28 As in the past, the ailing Wilson went to Britain to recuperate. In Edinburgh he consulted a wise old specialist who told him what he wanted to hear: “If everyone stopped work with such a complaint as yours, there would be a good many of the important tasks of the world left undone.” Feeling as if he had earned a second lease on life, Wilson retreated to the Lake District, his favorite place on earth—a spiritual hearth for the worshiper of Wordsworth, the disciple of truth and beauty in a fallen world. He rented Loughrigg Cottage on the banks of Rothay River near Wordsworth’s village of Rydal, a perfect fountain of poetical ideas. To neighbors he read poetry aloud after supper and sang Prince-



ton songs. And here in glorious isolation he devised his most poetical idea about education, the culmination of his thinking about university life and social reform. Amid pure, sweet simplicity, there came to him the ultimate answer to the corrupt eating clubs. This summer of healing turned into a passionate daydream about what Princeton could become, how it might be elevated above all other American schools as a radiant ideal, if only it would raise its eyes unto the hills as Wilson himself did every hour amid the peaks at Rydal. He fantasized again about the English universities and longed to infuse Princeton with their spirit—the England that had served as the touchstone of his reform principles ever since boyhood and Congressional Government. He was formulating his greatest plan, one that would eliminate the club threat and, he believed, ultimately prove the salvation of education in America. It was, he knew, a bold and perilous new course. “Cambridge and Oxford had put dreams into his head,” a friend later said, “which were to become nightmares, and were to be his undoing.”29


The Quad Plan


HAT WOODROW WILSON dreamed up in the Lake District was nothing less than the transformation of the American university into “the perfect place of learning,” as he had spoken of in his sesquicentennial address a decade earlier. He would fuse the best of the old college with the new; he would achieve community and an organic wholeness, forcing the grayest professor to rub shoulders with the greenest freshman; the school would produce not prigs and pedants or good fellows and club men but instead the healthy all-rounder, eager to serve his country. To make this happen, Wilson envisioned a “social reorganization” highly “radical in character.” He would forcibly integrate the classroom hours with the free hours, making every moment of the day potentially intellectual.1 From the ancient life of Oxford and Cambridge he derived a new, dynamic model, the Quad Plan. Using Collegiate Gothic architecture, he would subdivide the Princeton campus into small, familial units. All undergraduates from freshmen to seniors—this was critical—would be mixed in a series of residential quadrangles, “little communities.” The Quads (at first called “colleges”) would each have certain essential components: low, interconnected dormitories; a medieval-looking dining hall where the residents would eat together; an adjacent common room with a huge fireplace where leisurely conversations could continue amid curling pipe smoke after supper; rooms for one resident master and two or three resident preceptors; and a system of self-government. Here in the



Quads his “integration” would take place: the learning that happened in classroom hours would inevitably be continued, deepened, and expanded in the free hours. One could not escape it.2 Though serving an intellectual end, the Quads would be essentially social and residential—not places of classroom teaching, as “colleges” were in England. Their architectural self-enclosure and unified Gothic style would send a message, that the university was an organic whole, a simple place with a single guiding identity—a Republic of Letters, Wilson said. The dining halls would allow “a sort of family life,” a “vital academic family,” projecting his own famously happy and cerebral table at Prospect House, where talk was routinely lofty and dictionaries were frequently called for. The common room would encourage men to linger after meals, engaging mind with mind, older youths molding the freshmen. That room would be a safe zone for the campus types who ordinarily hid themselves in solitary study—the shy or proud ones and those of “slow development.” In the filigreed Gothic cages of Wilson’s Quads, sad birds would feel at home.3 Taking shape by day on the windswept alpine trails above Rydal and by night before a crackling fire in Loughrigg Cottage, the Quad Plan grew organically from Woodrow Wilson’s Academic Creed. True learning occurred one-on-one, not in lectures, as his father had told him long ago, and often happened after supper. Who was sitting there during those magical evening hours around the fireplaces of Princeton, he asked himself—a callow group of freshmen, obsessed with hatbands? St. Paul’s School elitists swapping stories about debutantes and house parties? Cottage Club snobs ridiculing the polers and greasy-grinds? Such cliques never discussed anything intellectual. But what if the group were a mixed one of freshmen, sophomores, juniors, seniors, with even a graduate student and a young professor thrown in? Southerners, Westerners, Easterners? Rich and poor, popular and gawky? “The circle must be widened”—true campus democracy—that was the only answer.4 In the Quads, the presence of adults with experience and seriousness would transform the minds of the young. (“We are all preceptors,” Wilson liked to say.) Older persons, not pedagogues but friends, would create an atmosphere in which learning was viewed positively, where big, general ideas were hashed out, where the intellectual life seemed glamorous instead of dull. And the more bookish, timid undergraduates would influence their less cerebral peers for once, creeping out of their



The Wilsons dine together. Rare snapshot of Woodrow, Ellen, and Jessie (on vacation in Ontario, 1904). Wilson wanted Quads to be an academic family, centered on the dining hall.

monkish cells into the mix of old and young, mature and adolescent, serious and gay. Create this mix, Wilson became convinced, and every other educational problem would solve itself. Those pesky extracurriculars would fade properly into the background, since the life of the mind, the excitement of pure learning, would come to be seen as the most delightful and compelling pastime of all—as it always had been, of course, for Woodrow Wilson.5 Resident faculty would be indispensable, because Quads were meant to provide a “point of vital contact” between them and the boys. No longer would the young professor be isolated from his pupils; no longer would Wilson have to lament of the boys, “They do not always know even what his name is.” In beautiful Gothic environs with ivy twining around leaded-glass casements in the shadow of lofty towers, the teacher could



really “mould and govern.” And living in intimate conditions with the professors, the youngsters would find affinities they never knew existed, as the precept system rose to a new level. They would experience discovery, Wilson said. There was no end to what the student might stumble on: the pleasure, he quipped, of using his mind “if you have one,” the undreamed-of fun to have intellectual ideas. “He may even discover his soul.”6 As for the troublesome upperclass eating clubs, they would become Quads, too—“club-colleges”—by erecting residential facilities for their members attached to the clubhouses and admitting underclassmen and at least one young faculty resident. Wilson would allow them to remain selective. But it was high time for the clubs to “give place to an organization absolutely controlled . . . by the university authorities.” If they proved uncooperative, he would destroy them.7

Few historians seem to have noticed how progressive, even radical, the Quad Plan was as an experiment in social engineering. It was truly a Big Idea, with Woodrow Wilson joining a long, colorful tradition of American utopian thinkers. He increasingly spoke of a “free field and no favor” doctrine, arguing that top-down control was needed to guarantee safe conditions for democracy to flourish, so that the best man could rise. The Quads represented a leveling of the social field. They were ostensibly student-governed so that leaders could emerge, but Woodrow Wilson—who had written a famous book called The State—was himself the autocratic mastermind hovering overhead. Forcing students of all ages and social conditions to live and eat together would break down cliques and destroy snobbery, making the school democratic again. Forcing professors to interact and talk with youngsters would shift the pedagogical focus from their selfish, specialized research goals and toward general education. The Quad Plan was a scheme of sociological manipulation, Wilson imposing his cherished values and preferences on every member of the community. Its implications for schools were, in a small arena, as dynamic and far-reaching as the Fourteen Points and the League of Nations would later be for the world—and, as it turned out, as controversial. Radical as it was, the Quad Plan was not wholly new with Woodrow Wilson, though as always he put his personal stamp on it. As early as



Quadrangles in America. The 1893 Collegiate Gothic plan for the University of Chicago helped shape Wilson’s thinking about Princeton.

1893, President Daniel Coit Gilman of Johns Hopkins had called for residence halls at American colleges like those of Oxford and Cambridge, with scholars living in them to provide intellectual guidance. There were several quadrangles designed into the Gothic plan of the University of Chicago—“Oxford Transplanted to Chicago,” Harper’s Weekly called it in 1904. This urban school had realized the “moral and spiritual gains that come with a distinctly college life,” a “more secluded and intensified academic life in separate colleges within the university,” allowing “daily human intercourse between older and younger men.” Educational researcher John Corbin traveled to England to find solutions to the problems of fast-growing U.S. universities, calling in his book An American at Oxford for introduction of the tutorial system as well as residential halls in a quadrangle. “A combination of the residential hall and the teaching university would reproduce the highest type of the university of the Middle Ages. . . . When the American university combines the old social life with the new instruction, it will be the most perfect educational instruction in the history of civilization.” At Harvard, Frank Bolles pointed with alarm to the burgeoning enrollment—eight hundred students in 1880, thirteen hundred in 1890, sixteen hundred in 1894. By 1950, he calculated, there would be 6,500! The university “should be divided,” he pronounced. And in well-publicized remarks, Charles Francis Adams,



also of Harvard, urged quadrangles in 1906. Familiar with many of these developments, Princeton’s Andrew West proposed a Gothic quadrangle for his Graduate College as early as 1896 and made a fact-finding trip to Oxford and Cambridge. All of these precedents laid the groundwork for Wilson’s Quad Plan.8 As a bold educational leader, pro-quadrangle William R. Harper of the University of Chicago was an especially important model for Woodrow Wilson. With Rockefeller millions (how Wilson wished he had those!), Harper created America’s third largest university from scratch. As he lay dying of cancer at forty-nine in December 1905, Harper was lauded by the Progressive journal World’s Work in terms that Wilson must have envied: a Napoleon of Education, an idealist, a born organizer and micromanager, a relentless overworker, an opponent of extracurriculars, a genius at recruiting young faculty. Harper had forged “a university for hard work” built around quads—and after his death Woodrow Wilson would pick up that fallen banner.9 But although others influenced Wilson, ultimately the Quad idea was deeply personal. A preceptor astutely observed that it offered “an idealized picture of McCosh’s Princeton as it was from 1875 to 1879, when Wilson was an undergraduate.” Wilson was thinking especially of the Witherspoon Gang’s conversations around the fireplace. In addition, he wanted Quads to replicate the Whig Hall debating society experiences of his youth, with its vigorous clash of wits. To some observers, Whig and Clio Halls appeared doomed to wither away in the new era of frivolity, but Wilson’s Quads would permanently institutionalize their old Victorian virtues. As a historian of the halls has written, they had existed in the nineteenth century “as colleges within the College of New Jersey, with their own officers, code of conduct, curriculum, library,” plus faculty advisers. The Quads, too, would be partly autonomous. As Wilson said, in the Quads the upper classes would rule and form the lower, exactly how Whig Hall had worked on him and his peers.10 Another personal memory was the University of Virginia, where he first experienced university as opposed to college life. He told the Chicago alumni that it was at Virginia Law School that he got “some conception of what a university was for, an idea I never got at Princeton.” At Old Nassau the professors taught, then disappeared for the rest of the day. At Virginia, with its famous quadlike arrangement around a lawn as designed by Thomas Jefferson, Wilson experienced close, daily min-



gling with his teachers, who lived in the handsome pavilions alongside their pupils in the ranges (Wilson himself lived in 31 West Range). The grounds were “so geometrically constituted that we were daily in contact with the most celebrated men in the faculty of the university. I shall never forget the influence upon me of merely passing every day of my life one of the most distinguished scholars in America and exchanging a few words with him and feeling that I was a campus comrade of his.”11 As at Virginia, architecture would enhance the educational experience. Tramping through the Lake District in 1906, that picturesque paradise that had nurtured the minds of the Romantic poets, Woodrow Wilson reflected again on how English Gothic architecture had “as great charm, dignity, and comfort as was consistent with simplicity. The house of learning to which a college man looks back should not be mean. It should suggest in its dignity and beauty the long, distinguished lineage of thought, the refined traditions of culture, its self-respect and quiet sense of privilege.” Anglo-Saxon architecture from the age of Shakespeare would form one of the key “influences of the imagination” that served as “most potent forces of development” for the young mind in the Quads. In the Gothic cloisters, students would truly live Wilson’s Romantic vision of the community-university. “The university is a place in which spirits are bred, in which ideals are formed, in which dreams are dreamed”: here the Wordsworthian mysticism of Wilson’s thinking fully showed itself—the gray-eyed, sweater-clad academic scrambling up the heathery hilltops of the Lake District, gazing across mirror-bright tarns. Young minds would be shaped by the “atmospheric influences of a certain kind of life,” “those subtle atmospheric influences in which culture thrives [along with] the spirit of service.”12 Laying a Princeton campus map on a desk amid the cool darkness and quaint clutter of Loughrigg Cottage, Woodrow Wilson drew his Quads on it, even naming their architects. One built-from-scratch Quad would go between Blair Hall and Nassau Street; another would be bounded by West, Alexander, and Blair Halls (by adding wings to existing buildings); a third would be linked to Little and Dod. And the instant Ralph Adams Cram was appointed Supervising Architect for the whole campus, Wilson would share with him his Quad scheme: science and academic quadrangles east of Nassau Hall, the three residential quadrangles west of it. Cram applauded this organic university concept and plunged into the problem, developing modified plans that allowed five residential Quads



and a great English Gothic chapel (not built for a generation). For a time the project became all-absorbing, Cram said, seemingly “of far greater importance and significance” than West Point Military Academy, that plum architectural commission of the age. Cram and Wilson eventually strolled down Prospect Avenue to see if the freestanding eating clubs could in fact be turned into Quads. Better to tear them all down, they finally concluded.13

The Quad Plan represented one of Woodrow Wilson’s favorite types of activity since boyhood: organization, the creative imposition of order on chaos—for that was what colleges were facing nationwide, increasing size and disorder and a breakup of the old organic connections. In Quads, his classroom teaching about rational societies and good politics would come excitingly to life. He had created a formula that appeared utterly logical and unassailable, of a piece with his philosophy, stated in his inaugural address, that “every concrete thing [America] has done has seemed to rise out of some abstract principle, some vision of the mind.” He knew that America was fast changing, that its problems were profoundly difficult. The nation craved college men to serve it as leaders and organizers: Princeton in the nation’s service; the college is for the use of the nation. Only 4 percent of young people then attended college, and just one American in 660 was currently enrolled (compared to an incredible one in nineteen today); collegians, then, were a crucial little cohort whose training mattered greatly. Should they be specialists? No, in part because technological innovation and “alterations in the markets of the world” threw narrow experts out of work nowadays. Instead, Wilson believed, they should be taught a broad citizenship and manliness and prepared for the duties and challenges of public life whatever they happened to be, a general serviceableness. Rather than know one subject minutely, they should be enlightened men. They should study American history in particular, so they could plan the future. Broad training would help them relate to all types and see their point of view. To train leaders, colleges needed to take boys and turn them into men, teaching what he called intellectual discipline—namely, that life’s greatest satisfactions are to be found not in seeking pleasure or wealth but in very hard work.14 The Quad Plan had the potential to trigger an academic revolution— but was 160-year-old Princeton University ready? It had better be, for



Wilson was determined to push it through quickly, as he had done with the preceptorial system. Haste seemed essential: for all his hearty exercise amid the mountains, Wilson knew his cardiac health was deteriorating and that a disastrous final breakdown could come at any time. He had recently watched his father die of “thickening of the arteries,” Woodrow’s newly diagnosed condition exactly. And more eating clubs were being proposed; soon it might be impossible to defy them. New Princeton, he said, was still fluid but on the verge of crystallizing into a form he vehemently disliked. The stakes were high, because his school had a fleeting chance to offer leadership to all other colleges in America, an opportunity that would not return in his lifetime. He would have to act decisively, knowing that his loyal lieutenants, Dean Henry Fine and Jack Hibben, would stand with him. His were the loftiest possible goals, worthy of sacrifice, warranting haste. “We dearly love Woodrow,” Fine would soon tell Professor Stockton Axson, “but he does drive too fast.”15

In their meeting of June 1907, the eloquent President Wilson stood in front of the trustees and convinced them to approve the Quad Plan and explore sources of funding. He implied that the scheme had emerged gradually from his solitary deliberations as an act of personal genius, “taking form in my mind for many years,” as he explained. “Will there be no end of revolutions?” a trustee said excitedly. But what actually happened in the meeting was later the subject of furious debate. Wilson thought he had won their backing entirely, and benefactor Momo Pyne’s support in particular. Pyne had recently called him Princeton’s most valuable asset and seemed willing to follow his lead. (Wilson was often highly convincing when he spoke, almost hypnotic.) Delighted with all his previous successes, the board threw their support behind him twentyfour to one—without quite thinking through the implications. The lone dissenter, trustee Joseph Shea, looked around the room at his fellow captains of industry, moustached and dignified, and wondered if they had all gone crazy.16 Woodrow Wilson strode back through the sandstone gates in front of Prospect House that afternoon with a feeling of elation: the Quad Plan would soon become an inspiring reality for America and the world! His euphoria proved fleeting, however, as he in his hubris had made what biographer John Milton Cooper, Jr., pinpoints as “the biggest blunder



of his educational or political career.” He had consulted with no one. He hardly mentioned the plan in advance to the faculty, perhaps trying to conserve his strength, as his doctors advised. Nor did he seek prior alumni support, most Princetonians hearing about his astonishing enterprise in the newspapers or the Alumni Weekly. And he did not bother to gain the endorsement of influential Dean Andrew West, for whom he had little respect nowadays. When West heard what happened in the trustees’ meeting, he was stunned at how Wilson had betrayed him: Wilson had promised both him and Grover Cleveland that establishing the Graduate College was the next big priority for Princeton! “Morally wrong,” West fumed to Wilson . . . and then he began quietly burrowing beneath his administration as he had done to President Patton a few years before.17 Another mistake was that Wilson was insufficiently careful to avoid the appearance of a frontal assault on the clubs. Ellen Wilson privately crowed that the trustees had “voted for the quads and to abolish the clubs,” which was how Prospect Avenue took it as well, in spite of Woodrow’s belated protestations to the contrary—if the clubs cooperated, he explained, they would be absorbed, not eliminated. But it did not help to have the New York Times tell the world, “WILSON TO ABOLISH CLUBS,” or for the New York American to say, “PRINCETON’S CLUBS TO BE BROKEN UP BY BOARD OF TRUSTEES. President Says Every Student Must Be on the Same Level.”18 Striding down from the Lake District like Moses with his tablets, Woodrow Wilson miscalculated the likely responses. Basking in his enormous personal popularity and the apparent enthusiasm of Momo Pyne, he said he expected no “serious friction” and only “the best feeling on all sides.” Unfurling a map of the Quads for Dean Fine and other faculty, he confidently explained that what he had once thought would take twentyfive years could in fact be done immediately—and the clubs would actually want to help him! All he needed to do was to go down and speak to them, he said. He thought opposition would blow over, leaving just one essential task: finding a rich donor. He told Professor Axson he expected the expensive and elaborate Quads to be completed in a mere five years. His trustee friend Cleve Dodge tried to slow him down, but Wilson assured him that they could have Quads plus all their previous plans for the university, too.19 Given Princeton’s budget deficits in the wake of the preceptorial sys-



tem, his cheery optimism seemed almost delusional, and today’s consensus is that Wilson had suffered some kind of stroke in 1906 and was experiencing loss of judgment. Or, as biographer Patrick Devlin writes, perhaps it was a deliberate leadership strategy on Wilson’s part, exceptionally bold and forceful. Stroke or purposeful choice? One hundred years later, no one can say for sure. Certainly his health crisis lent urgency to his timetable for reform even as it exacerbated his tendency to withdraw from those who opposed him. As he would later do with the League of Nations—another Utopian scheme he dreamed up in solitude and believed in utterly—he assumed that the public would instantly recognize its moral rightness and flock to his side. “He was always expecting human beings to act upon the highest motives,” said biographer Ray Stannard Baker. “It was one of the great elements of his power as a leader—as it was of his weakness!” Brilliant as it might have been, the artlessly presented Quad Plan was about to trigger a firestorm.20


Aristocracy of the Stomach


OMMENCEMENT WEEKEND 1907 was supposed to be a lark . . . class reunions, the P-Rade, Oughty-Four dressed as scarlet devils with His Satanic Majesty on a float pretending to roast a Yale bulldog. But in the midst of all this fun, a deadly serious circular announcing the Quad Plan was delivered up the brick sidewalks to the Prospect Avenue eating clubs. The circular was read aloud in smoky, oakpaneled club rooms on Friday night, that very Friday that eager freshmen first spilled down the avenue with red fire and Roman candles. “If Wilson had deliberately sought to discover a strategic move which would render a maximum of alumni opinion immediately antagonistic,” Edmund Wilson later said, “he could not have acted otherwise.” The usually jolly black-tie dinners were disrupted with shocked talk of confiscation and forced disbanding, appalling to men who had only recently contributed hard-earned cash toward expensive building campaigns. Surely this was a land grab by the university, with sacred private-property rights at stake. Upperclassmen in Ivy Club spoke with anguish of losing their hatbands and being reduced to the social level of the unclubbable “sad birds.” This night of horrors has never been forgotten there. A recent Ivy Club historian (aptly named Mr. Rich) writes with feeling of how President Wilson had been an invited guest for candlelight dinner just a year before but now unsportingly “held a knife at their collective throat.”1 As word of the Quad Plan spread through the alumni network nationwide, a deluge of protest cascaded into Wilson’s mailbox (along with a



few expressions of encouragement). Newspapers covered the furor with fascination, drawing all eyes to the audacious college president who was “treading on the toes of Capital.” As shrilly voiced by conservative alumni and faculty, opposition broke down into a handful of major points.2 Quads were unnecessary. Clubs weren’t so bad after all, and Wilson exaggerated the heartaches. Competition was good training for life. Undergraduates were tough; Quads would be “like building hot-houses for hardly perennials.” Any club evils could be reformed.3 Quads were expensive. Wilson guessed $2.5 million was required. Surely there was a greater need for new instructors, the Graduate College, larger dining commons, and a student union. The preceptorial system alone cost more than a hundred thousand dollars a year. Princeton was small and privately funded, with a limited budget, its annual income just a fourth of Harvard’s or Columbia’s. It simply couldn’t afford Quads. The most impassioned objections concerned social life, however. Quads were destructive of class spirit and Princeton spirit. They would chop the classes up into factions, killing the soul of the institution. Unlike the eating clubs, they would be all-consuming for the student, who both lived and ate there. Class spirit would give way to a malevolent “quad spirit.” The school was small, just a third the size of Yale or Harvard, and had evolved unique, quaint customs and the famous “Princeton spirit,” defined by Pyne as tradition, companionship, democracy, and loyalty. Now “the spirit of Princeton is to be killed,” Dean West loudly charged. Professor Henry van Dyke, another leader of the growing opposition, slyly pointed out that there was no such thing as “Oxford Spirit.” How long until one’s first loyalty was to Madison, Jefferson, or Prospect Quad? Until the proud “I’m a Princeton Man” became “I’m a Blair College Man”?4 Quads were undemocratic. Exactly contrary to Wilson’s view, opponents said that Quads promoted a less democratic Princeton. (For one thing, they had been proposed by a dictator.) Some Quads would be more elaborate and expensive than others, no doubt, fostering resentment among students who could not afford a high room rent. Princeton men would become mere boarding school kids suffering under something like the English House System of nearby Lawrenceville Academy. Ivy Club men said it was they who were fighting for “social independence and true democracy in Princeton.”5



Quads were unnatural and artificial. Students would always want to choose their friends. It was wrong to use authority to deny men freedom of association. “By a stroke of a pen he proposed to transform human nature,” one alumnus complained about Wilson. The president painted a “beautiful picture” of medieval life, but today’s students would run from that, Ivy Club stalwart Professor Paul van Dyke insisted (like his brother Henry, the forceful and eloquent Paul was both an academic and a Presbyterian minister, not to be trifled with in debate). Nor would a redblooded American boy ever choose to socialize with a teacher or spend free time in intellectual pursuits. Weren’t the Oxbridge quads famously snobby, with many calls to reform them? Why bring them here? An Ought Four guessed Wilson had been blinded by “aesthetic enthusiasm” for Gothic architecture. It was all “undemocratic, separative, exclusive” sniffed Henry van Dyke. And “un-American.”6

“Tune every heart and every voice, bid every Quad withdraw,” a witty alumnus sang to a modified “Old Nassau,” revising the opening lines of Princeton’s school song. Edmund Wilson later distilled the essence of alumni fury: the old grads were desperately fond of the clubs that provided them with relaxation and mirth and something to be loyal to, “a loyalty far in excess of the worthiness or interest of its object.” President Wilson could never have understood the harried New York businessman’s craving for unrestrained freedom and fun. Alumni in turn could not know Wilson’s “ecstasy of transcendent moral conviction, of the triumph of the personal will [and] of the shaping of God’s institutions from the baser habitations, however gilded, of the children of this world.” Fellow writer Booth Tarkington added that Wilson “did not sufficiently foresee the opposition of the man who had given $10,000 for the purpose of separating nice boys from the riff-raff.” He noted, too, that students had their own reasons for clinging to club life, including the clubman’s perennial popularity with the ladies, that singular preoccupation of Amory Blaine in This Side of Paradise. It was well known that Philadelphia girls preferred to dance with Ivy Men, and clubhouses were fine things to show off to dates on party weekends. Again, the ascetic Woodrow Wilson could hardly have appreciated such imperatives.7 The blistering letters piling high on Wilson’s desk opened up vistas into the social mores of America that he had hardly suspected. Gradu-



ates of Princeton showed themselves astonishingly anti-intellectual concerning education. Dean West, for one, cheerily proclaimed, “The true source of the devotion of our alumni is the free, joyous, unaffected, democratic, unforgettable student life on the old campus,” with not one word about academics. Alumni were aghast that the president wanted to turn the robust and hearty Princeton man into an intellectual prig. Corporate lawyer Adrian Joline charged Wilson with wanting to train “preceptors and pedants” and “mere scholars.” Clearly, old Woodrow had spent too much time in the study and library.8 It seems that Wilson had dug deep enough to uncover an entrenched element at Old Nassau that is skeptical of too much learning, that as late as the 1950s could sing the praises of the “Gentleman’s C” and declare that the clubman “has a greater place at Princeton than the brilliant but colorless and socially ill-at-ease individual who spends his four college years closeted in a library or laboratory.” (Even in the 1980s an alumnus would distribute a flyer that condemned students who stayed home from football games in order to study or “practice the violin.”) And as Wilson was discovering, the simple matter of eating turned out to be terribly important. His opponents asked, why spend a fortune to make men eat together who do not wish to? The vast significance that was attached to the matter of choosing one’s table companions can only be understood in the context of the times, when so much of hard-won social status centered on dining rituals and etiquette, an “aristocracy of the stomach,” as a graduate of 1896 called it. What was the world coming to, the clubmen asked, when a well-bred person was “compelled to submit to dictation as to his table companions”? Woodrow Wilson wanted to “make a gentleman chum with a mucker,” someone infamously said, an oft-repeated phrase that went to the heart of the gathering Quad Fight. “Wilson’s idea of uniformity as to food is socialistic and not natural,” Bayard Henry declared in whipping up opposition among fellow trustees. Elites “will not be put on a level with those below them.” (And of course nobody in his right mind would eat with a freshman.) The freedom to choose one’s dining companions was apparently an inalienable American right, which Wilson was trampling on, trying to force the spirited high-society boy to rub shoulders with his greasy-grind peers or coarse preceptors from, say, the coal-mining districts around Pittsburgh. This was far too high a price to pay for making students more “intellectual.”9 As the Princeton community divided into hostile camps, avid Tiger



Inn clubman and playwright Jesse Lynch Williams ’92 brought the Princeton Alumni Weekly to bear against Wilson. Skewering the president’s reforms, the editor humorously imagined two janitors mopping up the blood from the Faculty Room floor after a particularly contentious meeting, one trying to explain to the other what Quads were about. “A preceptor from the Banks of the Wabash knows better than a Princeton boy what he likes in the way of friends. What did you think the preceptors were for? To hear them say their lessons? No, that’s a German theory. It’s to hear them say their prayers. That’s the Princeton spirit. And then to tuck them into bed. That’s leadership.”10

Some historians say that Wilson the educator was slow to see the Quad Fight as about national politics—but his opponents certainly were not. Most students and alumni were Republicans (175 of the graduating Class of 1907, for example, compared to sixty-five Democrats) and unsympathetic to socialistic reform at Old Nassau, that place hallowed by memory. It has not been appreciated how overtly political their attacks on Wilson were, how tinged with the national debate about Progressivism. The buzzword radical appeared again and again. To W. A. Seymour ’97, the Quad Plan was “exceedingly radical,” nothing but “socialism superinduced and superintended by a ‘benevolent despotism.’” Did it not violate Wilson’s own classroom lectures about meddling governments stealing individual liberties? “Reform on the rampage,” Professor Henry van Dyke exclaimed. A letter signed “Ivy” in the New York Sun railed against “doctrines of the confiscation of property” and authoritarian rule characteristic of radical reformers nationwide. These had no place in “one of the most historic and conservative” schools. Older faculty, themselves former Princeton students, rallied against “revolutionary changes in their beloved university.” Paul van Dyke insisted that “Ivy cannot be expected to offer itself as a sacrifice on the altar of a revolutionary experiment.” Even Wilson’s friend Cleve Dodge urged him to use means that were “evolutionary,” not “revolutionary.”11 Arthur Osborn ’07 complained to Wilson that the Quad Plan was “far too radical.” When clubs became Quads, the returning alum would “find men living in the house that his energy, time, and money have helped to create.” Meanwhile he must scrounge for food at some dive on Nassau Street. “A man cannot help but feel angry” when he sees his



property confiscated. When the wealthy Adrian Joline spoke to the St. Louis alumni on economic issues, he, too, sounded a staunch Republican note: socialism’s “deadly embrace” was “a revolution which will drag down everyone to the same dull level of mediocrity.” America suffered from a mania for regulation, threatening private property rights. Agitators and anarchists wanted to destroy the Christian nation, and they breathed hatred of the rich. “The main cause of our troubles today,” he concluded, “is this tendency to socialism.” Not surprisingly, this same Joline called the Quad Plan “revolutionary,” a “useless experiment” that would “efface the honorable traditions of our grand old college” and lead to “the destruction of Princeton.”12 So the charge that Woodrow Wilson wanted to make a gentleman chum with a mucker had electric political implications—the wealthy and cultured Anglo-Saxon reduced by socialism to the “same dull level of mediocrity” as the mucker, the menial laborer, who perhaps came from the new hordes of swarthy immigrants. (The dichotomy was a familiar one at the time, for example in a boys’ novel in which two high school students are trading punches: “‘I’m a gentleman, and a gentleman’s son,’ proclaimed Fred, haughtily. ‘You’re a mucker, and the son of a mucker!’”) The gentlemen among the alumni instantly perceived that Wilson had declared class warfare on them. Eventually he realized it, too, as he saw that his fight was touching a public nerve. The New York American, for example, portrayed a courageous Wilson as seeking to “revolutionize college life” by eliminating the aristocratic clubs. “MANY LIVE IN LUXURY,” the headline read. “‘Ivy Club’ and ‘Tiger Inn’ Fitted Up Like Millionaires’ Villas.’” The nefarious clubs promoted “a life of luxurious ease” and sent out into the world “a yearly harvest of fops.”13 It was the height of the Reform Era, with the nation in the midst of an uproar over scandals in insurance and other industries, muckraking journalists demanding the return of power to the people after so many shocking abuses by the rich. For Upton Sinclair, who lived near Princeton for a time, Old Nassau afforded the nation’s most egregious example of plutocratic control of higher education. He took aim in particular at Momo Pyne—one of the wealthiest men in America, a director of the National City Bank, the Delaware and Lackawanna Railroad, and the Prudential Life Insurance Company, all three of them controversial trusts. Sinclair was repelled by the sight of Pyne’s garden at Drumthwacket, his Princeton estate, with its lily ponds and strutting peacocks, which he



visited just after returning from the Chicago stockyards (subject of his famous exposé, The Jungle) still “white and sick with the horror of what I had seen.”14 As accounts of Wilson’s war with the clubs filled the newspapers, Democrats took notice. Nationwide, they were searching for an equivalent to President Theodore Roosevelt, a white knight who would be anti–Big Business, opposed to special privilege, yet not a scary, firebrand Socialist. As he waged his fight for a “democratic” Princeton, Woodrow Wilson seemed to fill that bill—bold but reputable and informed. Thrilled by the response he was getting from across the country, gradually he would shift his emphasis from Quads as educational implements to Quads as democratizing ones—a fascinating moment in his career, as the academic started to turn, at first tentatively, into a politician at last. Trustee E. B. Seymour said the president told him he had finally concluded that in this country at the present time there was too strong a tendency to glorify money merely; that with the increasing wealth of the country this tendency would be accentuated. In short, he feared that we would rapidly drift into a plutocracy. To meet this condition he felt that the corrective of an education along purely democratic lines should be given. . . . At Princeton, whither come many sons of millionaires, he felt we should so impress these boys with ideals of democracy and personal worth that when they became, in the ordinary course of nature, masters of their fathers’ fortunes, they should so use their undoubted power as to help, not hurt, the Commonwealth.15

Wearily sifting through piles of hostile letters, Woodrow Wilson remained stubbornly optimistic about Quads but pondered an inescapable fact, that his innovations would require millions in cash. The Dreamer of the Lakes must now go begging. This was the part of leadership he found most distasteful—he a shy homebody laughed at for his plain clothes and unfashionable soft hats and prudent “safety” bicycle (he had never owned a carriage, much less an automobile) now having to pry a fortune out of Fifth Avenue millionaires he couldn’t relate to or understand. He was hopelessly lost in gilded parlors. The financial aspects were troubling: he longed for just one very rich donor who would see the genius of his educational vision but instead was getting hundreds of canceled smaller pledges, especially in New York, where the anti-Wilson campaign was working overtime that summer of 1907. (Older men could re-



call their similar efforts against President McCosh in the 1870s when he cracked down on fraternities—including the writing of inflammatory letters to the New York Tribune.) As the alumni cash stream dwindled, the trustees started to grow frantic, for without it the university faced catastrophe—alumni had contributed 90 percent of all giving over the past thirty years and half a million dollars in 1905–6 alone. Young, clubjoining alumni were especially numerous and vocal, as many Tigers having been graduated since 1896 as survived from all previous classes. They totaled seventy-five hundred by 1906, with a huge concentration at the elegant, fourteen-hundred-member Princeton Club of New York, and their financial clout was enormous.16 Dean Andrew West seemed to know all of them and was proving ingenious at stirring them up. Not only did he hate the Quad Plan for delaying the Graduate College, but he believed that it would pile new burdens on graduate students and faculty, who would be forced to live among unwashed undergraduates and waste time in low-level “mind and mind” drudgery. Professor David Magie found himself buttonholed by West one steamy day that summer on the steps of the Princeton Bank, the dean ranting how the Quad Plan would make life miserable for the whole teaching staff. As the fires West had lit spread a black cloud over Manhattan, the ever-generous Cleve Dodge warned Wilson that he could not rush to Princeton’s financial aid this time, since the price of copper—source of his great wealth—had lately plunged. “Those cowardly trustees are hardly responsible for what they do now,” Ellen Wilson said, “they are in such a panic over the money question.” As the painful “Roosevelt Recession” had just struck, the timing of the Quad Plan was proving tragic.17 Though his presence at the helm this summer might have countered Dean West’s machinations, Woodrow Wilson instead disappeared to the Ausable Club in the Adirondacks, twenty-four miles from any railroad and thirty-six long hours from New York. In a little cottage tucked amid fragrant hemlocks, the Wilson family relaxed by playing with a Ouija board, Ellen trying to get her fretful husband to forget Princeton for a while. This proved impossible. Once Ouija summoned the ghostly spirit of Jimmy McCosh. “What do you think of Andrew West, Doctor?” asked Woodrow. “West will burn in hell to the greater glory of God!” came the instant and gratifying reply.18 At night a smudge pot sputtered in the darkness of the porch as



Woodrow’s tenor voice sang the melancholy “Danny Deever,” which reminded everyone of undergraduate Booth Tarkington’s haunting performances on the Nassau Hall steps in the 1890s, back when Princeton was a quieter, more innocent place. But each morning the mailman brought more Quad Fight updates, an alumni firestorm that staggered Wilson as he tore open every hateful letter. All this was changing his attitude toward his fellow man. His brother-in-law Stockton Axson later recalled the alumni reaction in Princeton and New York as “violent, ultimately insane. Nothing that he has encountered in his subsequent political career has been more characterized by fierce hatred.” The Eastern alumni were “ready to fight him to the death.” Nothing about Princeton mattered to its graduates, Wilson concluded grimly, but club loyalty.19 Although dismayed by the scathing alumni attacks on the Quad Plan, he felt consoled by the accolades he was receiving in newspaper editorials and from college leaders nationwide. Over at Harvard they told him, “If you do it, we must.” Life, Review of Reviews, and the Chicago Evening Post all praised Quads, and the Universities of Michigan and Wisconsin said they would consider them. This had the makings of a huge reform movement, he told himself, with Princeton leading the way! The issues were much bigger than just Old Nassau, the frenzied hostility of the alumni proved—deep political and social matters were tied to this by a thousand strings. And the more he thought about it, the more he saw that the goal should be a renewal of democracy on the American campus generally. His cherished idea of older and younger men interacting could naturally be expanded to mean men of all social classes experiencing “unchosen contacts”—essential, he thought, to familiarize them with the people of the nation as a whole. After all, ordinary Americans then outnumbered the college educated by an overwhelming thirty-seven to one (compared to four to one today).20 He would later tell students at Charter Club that young gentlemen may fatuously pick their clubmates according to how they part their hair or what neckties they favor, but out in the working world they will find themselves at a desk next to someone who spits on his own shoes. These are the real Americans they need to know and serve, he said. And in a Murray Hall lecture he would observe that wealthy people foolishly seek happiness in material things—beautiful houses, furniture, paintings— but because we actually live inside our minds, we should seek to make those beautiful instead. Observing how the newspapers praised Wilson



as politically progressive, trustee ally Melancthon Jacobus urged him to take his campaign on the road to the alumni, emphasizing to the “plain people” among them what he called “the money spirit of the opposition,” “the tyranny of wealth,” and “the dictation of dollars,” all hot-button, front-page issues. With the voice of his campus allies in one ear and the sirens of national politics beckoning in the other, Woodrow Wilson planned his strategy while he swatted mosquitoes on his Adirondacks porch. Would he undertake a reasoned, calm, collectivist effort, the assembling of committees to agree on compromises and half-measures? No—he would launch an oratorical crusade for his academic creed and campus democracy. Everything now depended on Quads.21

The support of his dear friend Hibben would be essential, as always, but Jack was acting strange this summer. The agreeable “check-off man” was uncharacteristically cold concerning Quads. He suddenly announced he was coming for a visit. “He wants me to give up my plan for the quads,” a tight-jawed Wilson told his worried family. As Hibben stepped off the carriage at the Ausable Club, Ellen’s sister Madge privately wondered, “Why, why are you doing this?” It seemed obvious that “it was a waste of time to urge Woodrow to withdraw from what he considered a battle for the right.”22 Jack stayed for days, though, warning of the huge opposition. As he had told Stockton Axson of the president, “If he persists now he will split Princeton in two. I want to save him and Princeton.” The family was dismayed at his unsupportive attitude. Hadn’t Wilson always showered love and favors on him? Didn’t Jack owe Woodrow loyalty? On the day Hibben left, Ellen lashed out at him, accusing him of wounding her husband, disheartening him for the fight. He had “robbed him of hope.”23 One can imagine the thoughts that ran through Hibben’s mind as the homebound train thundered through the dark forests. Efforts to convince his friend to compromise had utterly failed—Woodrow was impossibly bullheaded, the Quad Plan fixed and irrevocable. “I had hoped that you would be willing, not necessarily to change your own point of view, but merely to allow the question to be reopened for more detailed investigation and discussion,” Hibben would write Wilson. That would have shown magnanimity. But the president would hear nothing of it. “I never had a clearer sense of duty,” Wilson had said loftily in pushing for



Quads. Jack had labored to show him how serious the opposition was, how great the danger of splitting the college, but Wilson only grew more implacable. What was Jack’s duty now? “You know that from the beginning of your administration, I have always had an instinct, the instinct of deep affection, to rush to your side whenever danger, however slight, seemed to threaten,” he wrote Woodrow. Here was the greatest danger of all, financial ruin—yet his friend spurned all warnings.24 Hardly anyone in Jack’s circle of influential Princeton friends thought Quads were necessary or practical. Momo Pyne had quickly been talked out of them when he saw how angry the clubmen were, and Andrew West had convinced Grover Cleveland and others that Quads were useless— besides being a shameful reversal of Wilson’s pledge to create a Graduate College. Opposition at so high a level could never be overcome, Hibben knew. Ordinarily “I would have gladly stood with you shoulder to shoulder against the world.” But what now, when Wilson stood alone in defense of a pet scheme that the most respected Princetonians called unworkable and dangerous? Back home, Hibben would telephone young New York mayor George McClellan ’86, saying he urgently needed to meet him for advice. A faculty vote was coming up, and the president had assured him he was absolutely free to follow his conscience. “You don’t suppose that Woodrow would tell me to vote according to my convictions and not mean it, do you?” McClellan astonished him with his reply. If he voted against his friend, he warned, “He will never forgive you.”25 Tanned and reinvigorated, Woodrow Wilson returned to Princeton to face the faculty in Nassau Hall in late September, expecting an endorsement of the Quad Plan from the men who had lately approved his preceptorial system so wholeheartedly. There had been fierce alumni opposition, it was true, but Wilson was convinced he would soon overcome the skeptics with oratorical eloquence. When the day of the faculty meeting arrived, the man who identified himself above all with English prime ministers sat facing the rows of Faculty Room seats so much like Parliament, an arrangement now suggestive of deep divisions, with the portrait of a sword-brandishing Washington at the Battle of Princeton keeping stern watch. Woodrow’s friend Professor Winthrop Daniels proposed a resolution endorsing Quads. But battle lines were drawn when Henry van Dyke offered a counterresolution that opposed them, “which everyone looks upon as a veiled hit at Woodrow,” a preceptor thought.26



And who should rise to second it but Jack Hibben! The room was frozen in stupefied silence. Sancho Panza might as well have stood up against his beloved Don Quixote. “The President’s look of shocked amazement was rather terrible,” an eyewitness reported. Another remembered the tightening of the muscles of Wilson’s long jaw, the pallor spreading over his face, as he said, “Do I understand that Professor Hibben seconds Professor van Dyke’s motion?” “I do, Mr. President.”27 At this decisive moment in the history of Princeton and of American higher education, with all of Woodrow Wilson’s dreams at stake, his best friend had suddenly betrayed him.


The Brutus of the Conspiracy


H, he might have let someone else second the motion!” exclaimed Ellen Wilson’s sister Madge as she burst into tears on hearing what Jack Hibben had done. It seemed incomprehensible that the Hibbens, their closest friends through all the years in Princeton, had turned on them. Someone recalled how Ellen and Madge’s brother Stockton, sick and delirious with appendicitis at Library Place years before, wouldn’t allow the amiable Hibben into his room. His strange words now seemed prophetic: “I don’t want you in here, you black traitor!”1 “We have all been under such a terrible strain,” Ellen told her daughter Jessie. The counterresolution was, she said, insulting and “virtually a vote of want of confidence” in Woodrow. Professor van Dyke read it “in a manner that was the most studied insult in itself, and then Mr. Hibben seconded it!! People could hardly believe their eyes or their ears.” She tried to comprehend Jack’s wickedness. “Of course he has (being very slow and stupid) been made a tool of by those malignants, van Dyke and West, and does not realize what he has done. . . . Mr. Hibben is called the ‘Brutus’ of the conspiracy and everyone says his influence and prestige in the faculty are gone forever.” Preceptors were “boiling with indignation—holding in fact ‘indignation meetings.’” Woodrow was “racked by pain and heart-break.” “He has been so hurt by Mr. Hibben that he doesn’t seem to care very much how it goes; and I am so anxious about



his health that I will be almost glad to have it all end with his resignation.”2 Woodrow Wilson had not seen this coming. In the Adirondacks he had assured Hibben that the dispute would never harm “our friendship, by which I have lived. . . . A struggle is ahead of me,—it may be a heartbreaking struggle,—and you cannot stand with me in it; but we can see past all that to the essence of things and shall at every step know each other’s love. Will not that suffice?” But now that love lay bleeding. Pulling himself together, he continued to try to win over the faculty in subsequent meetings. Preceptor William S. Myers (years later a staunch Republican adversary) would never forget him standing erect on the dais, pressing the tip of the gavel against the desktop and pleading earnestly, “the whole thing in superb language and diction.” He seemed “a truly wonderful man.” Decades later the elderly Myers would call it “probably the greatest speech I ever heard made by anyone.” “I beg of you to follow me,” Wilson had said stirringly, “in this hazardous but splendid adventure.” The faculty was swayed by his passion, voting to support his Quad Plan eighty to twenty-three, the preceptors lining up behind him. If only he could talk to people—that always won them over, Wilson thought, as his ideas were so obviously right.3 But only the board really mattered, and in October 1907 the trustees met again—just as all of capitalistic America was riveted by the plunging stock market. Dean West saw the mighty trustee Grover Cleveland as his single best hope of defeating Quads and had spent the whole summer working on him. “How do you feel?” a reporter asked the corpulent and ailing ex-president as he hobbled to the meeting on his cane. “Oh, I’m just patched up for a little while.” In spite of obvious exhaustion, he gave a short speech that did more than anything else could have to sway the faltering board against the Quad Plan. In June, every trustee but one had voted for Wilson’s Quads; now all but one voted against! They even shut down debate, not allowing further discussion of the controversial matter.4 Wilson was stunned. It was, he told a friend, “an insult to his whole career and to his sincerity of character as a man and a citizen.” To his trustee ally Melancthon Jacobus he spoke of his “complete defeat and mortification.” After their former vote and Momo Pyne’s reassurances, it was a humiliating blow. Just one visionary trustee could have funded



Wilson and Cleveland together. The former U.S. president sits immediately behind the future one at an academic gathering at Nassau Hall, 1903. At upper left is Hibben, with young Axson seated beside him.

the Quad Plan, he thought (there were at least eight millionaires among them); instead, nearly all proved themselves spineless and disloyal, abandoning Quads not on principle but for expediency’s sake . . . the cowards!5 A rumor went around that he had impetuously offered his resignation on the spot. Jacobus tried to prop him up, saying he ought not be cowed by “the smart set of the Clubs or the scared set of the Board.” But things were “desperately strenuous,” Ellen told Jessie. She had to be with him constantly to keep him afloat. The trustees “did desert your father



according to prediction,” beating a retreat from the “storm in New York.” Woodrow told them he would of course resign. “For two days we felt that it was all settled and it was a real relief to have it so.” But Pyne and Cleve Dodge would not have him leave, stressing that his resignation would mean utter ruin for the university. The wealthy Dodge’s words were decisive, saying “he would never have done anything much for Princeton but for his love for and faith in Woodrow;—as it was he had really pledged his fortune to it. Of course you can see how impossible it was after that for Woodrow to leave his post.”6 Following a friendly suggestion of Dodge’s that allowed him to save face, the trustees granted Wilson permission to talk up the Quad Plan among the alumni nationwide. In retrospect, Dodge admitted that this was a terrible mistake; given the new, implacable attitude of the trustees, Wilson should have followed through on his instinct to resign. By taking his Quad Plan on the road, he allowed his hopes to soar again even as he isolated himself from the board and sowed the seeds of endless strife. Naturally Wilson jumped at the opportunity to do what statesmen do, however—appeal to public opinion. He felt a surge of unwarranted confidence. Ellen told their daughter Maggie, “We all feel pretty sure that your father will win in the end.” Woodrow cockily assured a New York newspaper that the trustees supported him “on principle,” as indeed their allowing him to talk up Quads seemed to imply. But when Pyne read that story, he was livid and put out word that the Quad Plan was “absolutely Utopian” and would never happen. And it was Pyne who quietly commanded that the Princeton Alumni Weekly start to beat the drum against Quads.7 The Quad Fight was about to tear Princeton apart, exactly as Jack Hibben had predicted. In essence, pro-club and anticlub constituencies began lobbying for alumni support, with the larger goal of swaying votes among the trustees. They did this through public speeches and letters to big-city newspapers and the Alumni Weekly, a war of words in which nobody shed blood but friendships were destroyed and the atmosphere was poisoned. The campus split into what one might call the “Puritan” Wilson-Fine camp (intellectual, democratic, modernizing) and the “Royalist” West–van Dyke camp (social, aristocratic, traditional), with mighty trustee Cleve Dodge siding with the former and Momo Pyne and Grover Cleveland with the latter. Republican, Northeastern alumni rooted for



clubs; Democratic, Southern and Western ones for Woodrow Wilson, mirroring the nationwide political split. Not only clubs were at stake: all the fault lines of New Princeton gaped at once, and into the fray jumped those who favored the fun of gentlemanly “college life” versus those who preached stern academic excellence and meritocracy; those who loved Old Nassau the way they rather fuzzily remembered it versus advocates of radical improvement; older, stodgy professors versus younger, experimental preceptors; wealthy students versus scholarship kids; local aristocrats versus just plain folks—and in the broadest sense, conservatives versus progressives. Because the Quad Fight was waged in the national press, all America was watching, and Princeton’s outspoken president was in the spotlight.

As Woodrow Wilson began zealously talking up the Quad Plan in lectures and articles, he collided with a gigantic countervailing force, Grover Cleveland. It was an epic clash between the two men who served as America’s only Democratic presidents between 1861 and 1933—a fascinating, tragic conflict that historians have largely overlooked. Grover Cleveland’s status in the small town was truly awesome. Princeton put Cleveland on a pedestal, bowed down, and worshipped him, a professor said. At first the ex-president had admired Woodrow Wilson, though even when they were getting along, he joked that Woodrow liked to “correct the mendacity of others.” No sooner than Wilson had first hinted at the Quad Plan to the trustees, Cleveland summoned Cleve Dodge to his New York office, “a good deal worried” that it meant the indefinite postponement of the Graduate College. As chairman of the Committee on the Graduate College, his first loyalty was to his friend Andrew West, who was, Wilson said, in constant attendance upon him.8 West recalled that when Cleveland first read his glowing plans for the Graduate College, he turned to him with unaccustomed feeling and exclaimed, “I believe it—every word of it.” Now it was time for them to rally and crush the threat of Quads. West lived in a wisteria-draped stucco home at one corner of Westland, the Cleveland property in Princeton, right across the street from an estate called Merwick, where a little, experimental graduate college had lately been established in a vacant house. The graduate students saw Cleveland, walruslike under his tall silk hat, plodding every afternoon with Andy West down Bayard Lane,



across the trolley tracks, and up the shadowy wood path, deep in talk and strategizing.9 Woodrow Wilson passionately tried to impress on Cleveland the dangers of club snobbery and enlist his support for Quads, showing how recent years had brought “a change of conditions to which I knew he would be very sensitive if he once got sight of them,” given his staunch Democratic principles. To his dismay, he could not sway Cleveland one inch. The taciturn and hardened ex-president and outdoorsman thought Quads would coddle the boys, not train them in tough individualism and initiative. The plan “has neither reason nor common sense to commend it,” West gleefully quoted him as saying. What an irony that the legendary Democrat had become, at the end of his life, a conservative supporter of special privilege (as indeed many Southern and Western members of his party had complained all along). West, Cleveland’s tutor in conservative thought, loved to repeat his remark at Wilson’s inaugural, “If false educational notions should prevail, Princeton will bide her time till they are spent.” “If that is not Princeton,” West exulted, “there is no Princeton.”10 Woodrow lamented to Ellen how the elderly and ailing Cleveland “failed and disappointed us” and “allowed himself to be made West’s dupe and tool.” And he told a friend, “I don’t understand; we ought to have agreed. We have never had a greater Democratic President. . . . It’s sad to admire a man so much and to find he doesn’t admire you at all.” He ascribed it to senility and, toward the end, to his being a shut-in, tapping his finger to his forehead to illustrate the point: “Poor old Cleveland, poor old man.” A cutting comment of Wilson’s made its way back to the former president, rendered variously as, “I am prepared to believe that Cleveland was a better President of the United States than a trustee of Princeton,” or, “After all, what does Grover Cleveland know about a university?” This tactlessness was the final straw.11 Back in 1906, well before the Quad Plan was announced, Dean West had been offered a great honor, the presidency of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (Actually, West was second choice. The mathematician Dean Fine told friends that MIT had secretly asked him first—an infinitely more appropriate candidate—but that he refused because his presence was the only thing keeping his friend Woodrow Wilson’s administration from going “on the rocks.”) Now at a meeting at Westland, West complained loudly that Wilson disliked him more and more and asked



assurances that, if he stayed in New Jersey, the president would fasttrack the Graduate College, moving it beyond the experimental stage. In Cleveland’s august presence, Wilson agreed—the infamous Pledge to Dean West. But eight months later, Wilson announced Quads.12 At Wilson’s breach of the agreement, townsfolk gossiped, Cleveland was deeply shocked and very bitter. “You have touched my personal honor,” Cleveland fumed to him, by not keeping faith with his friend West, who out of a spirit of self-sacrifice and love for Princeton had given up a university presidency and a doubled income only to be cruelly betrayed. In a two-hour debate at Westland, Cleveland argued ceaselessly with Wilson against Quads, being “as emphatic to him as the English language permits,” the ex-president recalled. But hours later, he heard from Jack Hibben, another close friend, that Wilson was going around boasting, “I think I have virtually won Mr. Cleveland over to my side!” Cleveland stared at Hibben in consternation, then sputtered, “It’s a damn lie!” Cleveland was now fully convinced that Wilson was dishonest and self-serving. As alumnus Edmund Wilson later observed, Cleveland’s hatred for Wilson tipped the scales in the Quad Fight and ultimately helped doom his Princeton presidency—a good thing, ironically, for the national Democratic Party.13 Edmund Wilson said that Woodrow was “so exaltedly preoccupied with his new dispensation for Princeton that it was easy for him to brush aside the small-minded and snobbish West and his archaizing graduate school. . . . In matters of no importance, it was not important to keep one’s word.” But this was a fatal mistake, for Andrew West—well connected as the university’s chief fundraiser and alumni-relations man— was as wily as a serpent. When Woodrow Wilson biographer Henry Bragdon conducted living-room interviews with elderly Princetonians three decades later, few could agree on just what kind of man the enigmatic Wilson had been, but everyone described West the same way: incredibly witty and charming but an inveterate schemer. Once he spied an enemy, he did not stop until he destroyed him.14 Grover Cleveland’s judgment was no doubt impaired by his failing health. In the spring of 1908 the Sage of Princeton fell ill in Lakewood, New Jersey, and was secretly rushed home on a mattress in the back of a car. As the public learned of his death, they deluged the local telegraph office with cables and sent wagonloads of flowers to Westland. His last rites, planned by Andrew West, were unlike any ever seen for a president.



No friends of Wilson. Hibben (behind) led a student delegation to Westland to present Cleveland with a silver cup on his seventieth birthday, March 1907.

In accordance with his democratic wishes, all was kept severely plain. Only close friends and relatives attended the home funeral, plus President Roosevelt, who came by train to the depot. It lasted half an hour and consisted mostly of Henry van Dyke reading Wordsworth’s “Happy Warrior,” Cleveland’s favorite poem since he had first heard Woodrow Wilson deliver it. Then the casket was driven through dusty streets to Princeton Cemetery as the bell of Nassau Hall tolled. Burial took less than five minutes. Afterward Roosevelt gathered cabinet officials about him beneath the trees for a private, impromptu eulogy. Cleveland had been adamant there be no military presence, so state troopers wore plain clothes. So hated was Woodrow Wilson in the Cleveland circle now, the ex-president’s young wife and children threatened to boycott a subsequent memorial service in New York if Wilson had anything to do with it,



forcing him to withdraw. Mrs. Cleveland would long tend the fires of her husband’s anti-Wilson crusade, saying she would never allow her son, Dick, to live in a Princeton Quad where he had to eat with companions assigned by the faculty. Her vehemence on Quads did much to polarize the town—where she reigned as grande dame another forty years.15

Among Cleveland’s pallbearers that June day in 1908 were three professor friends who now conspired to destroy Woodrow Wilson’s dreams for Princeton: Paul van Dyke, Andrew West, and Jack Hibben. All had allied themselves closely with the former president, and the last two were his near neighbors (as was Paul’s brother and fellow professor, Henry van Dyke, who along with Cleveland was one of America’s most famous outdoorsmen and anglers). Wilson’s academic friend Bliss Perry recalled how Dean West had an almost “hypnotic” sway over Hibben—for years he lived next door on Princeton’s Washington Road, and, when West moved across town onto the Cleveland estate, Hibben moved too, occupying a house on adjacent Cleveland Lane. Perry was sure the scheming West had convinced Jack to betray his best friend, Woodrow. During his summer of intrigues in 1907, West doubtless helped Hibben see how the center of Princeton power had decisively shifted from Wilson to the Grover Cleveland camp, and he urged him to jump—a safe bet, as Momo Pyne’s huge fortunes lay there. Though often called modest, Hibben was not without ambition, especially when urged on by his forceful wife, Jenny. Both enjoyed the company of the local aristocracy and, as we saw, had tried without success to coax the Wilsons into that circle. (“Snob to his fingertips” was muckraker Upton Sinclair’s opinion of Hibben.) Professor George McClellan, though a Wilson opponent, felt that Hibben was “very simple-minded and straightforward,” “lamentably weak,” one who followed the line of least resistance and lay completely under his wife’s domination. Years later, Professor Winthrop Daniels told an interviewer, “I ought not to say it, but Mrs. Hibben was the real brains of the pair. She was looking to Jack’s future and thought he ought to line up with Moses Taylor Pyne.”16 Who was this Jack Hibben, really? As early as 1898 he had been mentioned in the New York papers as a pillar of the philosophy department for which Princeton, since Jimmy McCosh, had been especially strong. He had achieved “fame by his writings,” especially Deductive Logic. But



Professor Kemp Smith, a rising star of that department, begged to differ: “He doesn’t know what philosophy is, you know.” This comment was recorded by Smith’s young protégé Edmund Wilson, whose father had held a similarly low opinion of Jack Hibben since undergraduate days—he aimed always to “lift himself by his bootstraps.” Hibben was currently lifting himself, some charged, by abandoning Woodrow Wilson.17 So why did Hibben betray a man who had befriended him and trusted him utterly? Some peers counseled a different route, for Jack to resign. Professor Axson, who remained close with Jack and Woodrow both, thought Hibben badly misjudged in going with the opposition. Instead, he should have quit the university. And one of Wilson’s trustee allies asked Hibben, “Are you opposing the President in his quad fight because of conscientious scruples?” “No, but I want to save Woodrow from himself,” Jack answered. “If it is not a matter of conscience with you, your place is by Woodrow Wilson’s side.” But Jack Hibben had no interest in quitting and indeed would spend the rest of his life comfortably at Old Nassau. By firmly opposing the president, he cemented his position with the Momo Pyne camp, which proved an excellent career move. In his heart he thought he was working for peace and conciliation and the financial security of Princeton—not to mention his own security. The price was his friendship with Woodrow Wilson, whose prestige and influence in the university seemed to be fast slipping.18 Some thought that the friendship had been odd from the beginning. Wilson’s longtime correspondent, Edith Reid of Baltimore, pondered how dissimilar the two men were, Hibben being given to compromise, tactful and diplomatic, warm and friendly, never “a man who would give his life for what he thought was a losing cause.” Stockton Axson agreed: Hibben would compromise for half a loaf if the whole loaf seemed too hard to get. This was of course the opposite of Woodrow Wilson. Professor Charles McIlwain remembered, “We could not understand why he put so much trust in Hibben, who was distinctly a second-rate man. Hibben was a poor teacher—very poor, a bonehead—but was popular with the undergraduates.” Why Wilson did not have qualms about Jack Hibben earlier is mysterious—unless he was blinded by his almost childishly poetical, Wordsworthian romanticization of friendship. Madge Axson thought her brother-in-law’s “bitter hurt” owed to sudden shock in



finding that after all their years of intimacy, Woodrow had showered affection on a complete stranger. Reid supposed that the egomaniacal Woodrow habitually saw his friends as extensions of himself. He cherished what she called a figment Hibben; when the real Hibben stood up, Woodrow was horrified.19 What Jack Hibben had come to think of Woodrow Wilson can perhaps be glimpsed in a essay from 1911 that forms part of one of his books, warmly dedicated to Pyne. Hibben talks in abstract terms of how hidden flaws can bring about the fall of great men, just as the steel cantilever bridge at Quebec had recently collapsed from secret weakness. “It is the fall of the strong man that is so difficult to understand. . . . Then we ask how it is possible that a man with such tested character should come to disappoint every expectation and promise of his nature. . . . With success comes . . . added sources of power, the means of gratifying every chance desire, and the call of ambition. . . . The intoxication of success may induce a recklessness of enterprise which puts in jeopardy the fortunes of himself and of others. Their happiness, and possibly their lives, is in his keeping.” For Hibben, Wilson’s recklessness of enterprise in the Quad Plan was about to destroy Princeton. Hibben felt he had no choice but oppose his friend, who had become so inexplicably rigid, self-deluding, and impossible and who had treated the capable Andrew West so contemptibly.20 A rare, further glimpse into the secretive Hibben’s feelings came when Wilson’s biographer Ray Stannard Baker interviewed him many years later. “A conciliatory man, with the marks of worry between his eyes” was how Baker found him in Princeton in June 1925. “He is a man of no such power or personality as Wilson.” “It is plain that he still feels the old wounds of the broken friendship. . . . He spoke several times of its being a painful story.” But Hibben offered few details, fearing further embarrassment to himself and to Princeton University, then trying to put the epic quarrels behind it. (Covering his tracks, Hibben would later burn his personal papers.) “He is a timid man, extremely anxious in regard to his own record,” Baker concluded. “He wishes to give the appearance of frankness without being frank. . . . He says that he never had an open break with Wilson, that no bitter words or bitter correspondence ever passed between them—that the friendship upon Mr. Wilson’s part simply stopped.” Another time, Hibben showed Harvard president Lawrence Lowell “extremely affectionate” letters Wilson had written him



before the rift, then explained sadly that he had been cut off “because Wilson could not stand disagreement.”21 For his part, Woodrow Wilson found Hibben “hopelessly weak and utterly in love with what would ruin the place—viz. the Pyne-West standards and ideals.” “Men are tested,” Wilson once said in articulating his stern philosophy of life, and in the test Hibben proved himself the opposite of a great man. If Wilson always strove to be a staunch individualist, the flimsy Hibben clung to the coattails of his rich pals. And Hibben was unprincipled. Had Jack not agreed with him in years past that the eating clubs were troublesome? Had they not talked for hours about reforming social life on campus and ushering in New Princeton? But in the moment of decision, Hibben scurried into the safe corner with Momo Pyne. He didn’t think the Quad Plan was a bad idea so much as he thought it dangerous to try. “He talks expediency!” Hibben represented the worst moral failings of the new, uncouth twentieth century, Wilson thought, when the practical always seemed to triumph over principles. “The malady of the age,” he called it, “lack of individual courage, lack of individual integrity of thought and action.” He detested men who “run with the crowd out of craven fear and in despite of their convictions.” We must “judge men according to their essential character,” and so he cut out the disloyal Jack Hibben forever.22

Few in the little Princeton community understood exactly why Wilson had chosen to condemn his best friend, however. Many thought he was just being stubborn, even cruel. “His inveterate habit, when pressed, of raising every issue into the realm of principle made compromise seem abdication of conscience,” a preceptor remembered. “What had begun as a battle of principle ended in a clash of personalities. . . . All his defeats sprang from his loss of the support of honest, able and efficient men, because of his assumption that any challengers of his measures were unprincipled.” Many later said that this pattern of behavior followed him to Washington.23 On a return visit to the Lake District in the summer of 1908, when he was again trying to escape “Quad. complications and consequences,” Woodrow Wilson reconnected with a plainspoken friend, Fred Yates, and poured out his grief. Yates shook his head and agreed, “There is no pain like the disloyalty of a man that one has trusted through a life time.”



And the pain never lessened as long as Wilson lived. After an awkward encounter with Hibben on a visit to campus in 1911, Governor Wilson would wonder to a correspondent, “Why will that wound not heal over in my stubborn heart? Why is it that I was blind and stupid enough to love the people who proved false to me, and cannot love, can only gratefully admire and cleave to, those who are my real friends . . . ? Perhaps it is better to love men in the mass than to love them individually!” After Hibben, it was hard to trust anyone. When Professor Magie, the university clerk, voiced opposition to a Wilson policy after a faculty meeting, the president sank into his office chair, bowed his head to his hands on his desk, and moaned, “Oh, Billy, you aren’t going to desert me too!”24 His renunciation of Hibben was absolute and permanent. For a time they remained on speaking terms, but any lingering cordiality quickly evaporated, especially with the corrosive chatter of their respective wives. Edith Reid thought that Ellen Wilson and Jenny Hibben “took up their advocacy much too zealously” and fatally widened the rift. Ellen was always stoking Woodrow’s conviction that he was a great man and, as such, ought to be catered to. She was adamant that his underlings should try to live up to his ideals or at least keep the faith. For Ellen, Hibben would always be Brutus.25 Years later, no less an expert than Sigmund Freud co-wrote a book psychoanalyzing Woodrow Wilson. In it he claimed, among other things, that his subject mistook himself for Jesus Christ, with Hibben playing Judas. Or perhaps the Hibben friendship substituted for Wilson’s lost relationship with his own domineering father, recently deceased—Jack being expected to act the role of an obedient little boy and then getting spanked when he behaved badly. Freud’s book has been dismissed as vapid and spiteful—Vladimir Nabokov ringingly called it “the last rusty nail in the Viennese Quack’s coffin”—but it does at least seek answers to that perennial problem, what Freud termed “the neurotic nature of Wilson’s intense friendships.” This neurosis was to arise again and again, for “he was just as unreasonable in friendships as in his hates,” Princeton professor Paul Thilly said. As we shall see, Woodrow later replaced Jack in his heart with an inadvisable female companion, Mary Peck, a relationship that again was marked by overfond trust and dependence. It very nearly put his marriage on the rocks. And it all played out once more in Washington with Colonel Edward House, who stirred up plenty of mischief in the administration before Wilson finally decided to drop this shifty soul



mate, too (The Strangest Friendship in History, one biographer calls it). In reviewing Wilson’s life, one watches him repeatedly use other people as a psychological safety valve. He does so selfishly, seeming to excuse it by thinking himself innately superior to others. Freud calls Hibben a “loveobject,” and indeed there are overtones of romantic obsession in several of these attachments—a flavor not uncommon to Victorian friendships. And there is condescension, too: a biographer labels all these Wilson associates “stooges.”26 As often, Woodrow Wilson presents us with a puzzle—how could so staunch an individualist and so brilliant and incisive a thinker become almost pathetically dependent on poorly chosen friends? As early as his years at Johns Hopkins, Wilson had voiced the idea that intellectuals suffer from painful isolation unless they find a special, close companion whose “wonderful sympathy enables them to reflect the sentiments and opinions one pours into their ears . . . like a mirror without a flaw!” He had borrowed this “mirror” concept in part from Philip Hamerton’s Intellectual Life, that British book that helped lure him away from law toward university teaching. “The intellectual life is sometimes a fearfully solitary one,” Wilson liked to quote Hamerton. It made a person feel utterly alone. But “give him one friend who can understand him, who will not leave him . . . one friend, one kindly listener, just one, and the whole universe is changed.” Conversely, abandonment by the friend shook that universe apart. Wilson’s mirror friendships repeatedly showed grandiosity, Southern chivalric expectations of undying loyalty, and affection so deep it blinded the intensely needy man to larger perspectives and contexts, ultimately snaring him in embarrassment and pain. And always there is that recurrent irony, Wilson the clear-minded rationalist tripped up by his burning emotions. The heartache concerning Wilson’s first broken mirror, Jack Hibben, spilled out in his baccalaureate address of June 1908, where he seemed to imply that he was himself the “unhappy man” who has tried to serve the world, “who has lost what he loved, who has struggled through pain and disappointment and heart-breaking strain, that he might stand erect and see the light.” He told the students that those who place duty over friendship and happiness achieve “triumphs over themselves”—as if he took stern pride in his ability to renounce his former friend for the greater cause. And yet it must have been agonizing to think that he now had to face his arduous executive responsibilities alone.27



With Wilson so stubborn and his heart bleeding, the Quad Fight descended into what Henry van Dyke called “truly academic ferocity,” each side accusing the other of disloyalty to Princeton. All the protagonists had grown up together under the revered Jimmy McCosh, who had packed the faculty with his former students—Andrew West, for example, had been a McCosh favorite, hired as early as 1883, and so were Pyne and Hibben—and all felt they were carrying on Jimmy’s vision. All loved Princeton passionately and opposed anyone who threatened it. Nell Wilson rightly said that her father’s pain came from the fact that “his old friends and his heart were involved.” So were everyone else’s. As war raged, few stopped to recall what the Quad Plan was even about. Wilson had conceived an ingenious idea, but it was never given a rational airing. As we have seen, he stood for putting the undergraduates first, for curtailing faculty specialization and pedantry and culling out the eccentrics in favor of “normal men,” for forging close relationships between older and younger students and between students and teachers, and for tightly controlling the free-for-all of college life. But all of these worthy causes were collapsing now, thanks to the implacable opposition of the Wests and Hibbens to Quads.28 The 1907–8 school year went “very hard with me,” Wilson told his loyal supporter Cleve Dodge. He was blocked at every turn by the trustees, and “it has been a struggle with me all the year to keep in any sort of spirits.” He dreaded board meetings and the associated wrangling, which he could only erase from his mind by a long “lonely walk into the country, or through the lanes and by-ways of the little town,” especially the “little triangle” of his undergraduate days. Meanwhile he trustingly took the Quad Plan to the alumni nationwide—to the American people, as it were. He believed in the masses, who could bring great pressure to bear on the likes of Sir Momo Pyne. It was the way of the English prime minister who, checked in Parliament, “goes to the country” to orate. Or perhaps, as biographer Jan Nordholt says, “It was the old notion of a good people under a bad government” that went back to his Southern Democratic views forged during Reconstruction. When an opponent warned that Wilson was alienating himself from both the trustees and the faculty by stubbornly pushing for Quads, Wilson supposedly replied,



“What do I care for either? I am speaking to a larger audience over their heads.”29 The Eastern alumni remained unresponsive, however. When he spoke in New York, the reaction was icy. “They want to get rid of me,” a shaken Wilson told Professor William B. Scott afterward. Yet the more they resisted him, the more he burrowed into his own position. Resistance made him “hold on like a bulldog,” Stockton Axson remarked—the personality that the world eventually would come to know. “When he finally made a decision, the argument was closed; once the vessel was under steam and headed for the other shore, there was never any thought in the captain’s mind of turning back,” a cabinet officer later said of Woodrow Wilson in Washington in words that describe Princeton, too. “It did not make any difference if everybody else thought him wrong.”30


I Am a Good Fighter, Gentlemen


S THE Quad Fight dragged on, Woodrow Wilson baffled friend and foe alike by refusing to compromise. Abolish the hat bands?—eating club zealots would establish something else, he argued. Create a club for the sad birds?—no one would join it. Appoint a committee to oversee the clubs?—that gave the university’s stamp of approval. Force the clubs to take every junior and senior?—this still left the rift between under- and upperclassmen. (He rejected, too, millionaire Junius Morgan’s Machiavellian deal that Ivy Club would cooperate with him if it could be left the only club standing.) Older and younger Princeton men simply must rub shoulders, Wilson argued. How else to achieve this except by Quads? For his own plan, he said, “I can find no substitute.” And he wanted all the Quads at once, no small experimental one, although Momo Pyne, seeking a middle way, offered to fund it. Nor did he sanction a committee to study the problems of student life. “The body of teachers and pupils must be knit together,” he insisted, “else nothing truly intellectual will ever come out of it.”1 Nothing! Here was his infamous “single-mindedness” at work. In lashing out against the old-guard Eastern alumni he began to sound radical indeed, declaring he would shake them off “no matter at what cost” to Princeton. He would even fire preceptors and shrink the school (enrollment was already down thanks to his tougher academic standards) if that was needed to wrest it from their financial control. He was fed up with the sideshows of campus life, and alumnus Adrian Joline was



staggered to hear him say that he would rather have just one scholarly student enrolled than a thousand regular men. Wilson went so far as to call for “the sacrifice of everything that stands in the way” of intellectual attainment and propose bold steps to “greatly reduce” extracurriculars. Undergraduates would not be “permitted to do” them! Some thought the man was showing his true colors as a fanatic.2 The Quad Fight revealed for the first time, historian Patrick Devlin says, how “he was always to meet opposition.” So we must ask—where did this antipathy to conciliation or compromise come from? Why did this esteemed university president, in the heat of his crusade, make inflammatory public statements that portrayed his school as elitist and undemocratic, permanently damaging its reputation (Princeton has never quite shaken the snob label he branded it with) and in the process infuriating his opponents and exasperating his friends? What led him brutally to cut off and denigrate those who dared contradict him? To trust his angry instincts and reject appeals to act civil, even as the little Princeton community was torn apart by fighting?3 Woodrow Wilson offered an answer of his own, jovially blaming his bullheaded temperament on Scotland, land of his ancestors. Indeed, his personality fits English essayist Charles Lamb’s humorous description of the Caledonian. “He has no falterings of self-suspicion. . . . The twilight of dubiety never falls upon him. . . . Between the affirmative and the negative there is no border-land with him. . . . His taste never fluctuates. His morality never abates. He cannot compromise, or understand middle actions. There can be but a right and a wrong. His conversation is as a book. His affirmations have the sanctity of an oath.” Wilson himself told an audience at Harvard the month he announced Quads, “I am one of those who are of the seed of that indomitable blood, planted in so many parts of the United States, which makes good fighting stuff,—the Scotch-Irish. The beauty about a Scotch-Irishman is that he not only thinks he is right, but knows he is right. And I have not departed from the faith of my ancestors.” And at times he pointed wryly to his ethnic heritage for what he called “my Scotch-Irish temper.” Pious biographers have downplayed that temper, but it was terribly real. Everyone around him felt its blast at times, a fate only his immediate family seems to have escaped. An observer of him in the White House thought he had “as hot a temper as ever burned in any breast,” and he himself often said that he felt like a volcano waiting to erupt. “Tommy dear don’t talk about knock-



ing any body down,” his mother had once pleaded with him as an undergraduate when he became angry at his Northern, Republican classmates during the contested election of 1876. One time when hurrying from a train to the Jersey City ferry the adult Wilson was roughly jostled by a Negro. He became so angry, he nearly struck the man. “You can’t behave this way,” he told himself as he struggled to control his fury. “You’re the President of Princeton University.” In telling this story to Professor Edward Capps he added, “I’ve had to fight my temper all my life.” During the Princeton struggles, he told a friend, he was always “fighting to hold my tongue from words that might make all breaches irreparable. I have a sharp tongue, I am afraid, when I am excited.”4 Whereas Victorians explained personality in terms of race and bloodlines, modern science points to hidden factors in the brain. If recent studies are right, the aftereffects of the 1906 mini-stroke exacerbated Wilson’s innate temper. Biographer Henry Bragdon, who conducted interviews in Princeton in 1939–40, was one of the first to posit this theory. To his pointed questions, Professor William Magie agreed that the man’s character had changed profoundly after the 1906 episode, becoming suspicious, not trusting anyone, seeing schemers all around. He “lost his moral sense,” Magie thought, and tried to use him “as a cat’s paw in something essentially dishonest,” the pushing through of Quads even though he had promised a Graduate College to Andrew West. West himself complained of how Wilson’s suspiciousness and hostility toward him spiked suddenly that year. Because high blood pressure causes blood to leak into the brain, mild dementia can result. Patients may become hasty and reckless in their actions even as they disregard details. They ignore contradictory viewpoints and withdraw into a citadel of self-importance. And they can become exceedingly harsh toward their enemies. Small strokes, Dr. Bert Park says, can make people “caricatures of themselves.” Ornery individuals become even more ornery. Quite possibly this is what happened to Woodrow Wilson starting in 1906—he became ever more “Fighting Woodrow,” not the gentle constructive Woodrow, that other side of his complex personality. Thus the fundamental tragedy of his later life began to unfold.5

One of the most valuable contributions that Arthur S. Link made during the many years he edited Wilson’s papers at Princeton (1958–94) was to



show how seriously ill the man was with cardiovascular disease during much of his life. It was Link who commissioned Dr. Park’s study, and it was Link who made possible Dr. Edwin Weinstein’s book Woodrow Wilson: A Medical and Psychological Biography (1981). In making this exhaustive contribution to the new field of “psychobiography,” Weinstein left no stone unturned—he even examined a surviving pair of Wilson’s eyeglasses, concluding that he was moderately farsighted. Weinstein explained the Quad Plan in psychological terms, in essence seeing Wilson as a shattered stroke victim trying, by sublimation, to knit a shattered college back together: “He feared deterioration and death; hence he put emphasis on healing and the life processes. . . . Less consciously, he may have been symbolically representing the threats of bodily and mental deterioration that his illness posed. These were projected outside of the self. It was Princeton University which was in danger of dissolution and the students who were threatened with mental stagnation. The clubs stood for the agents of evil and disease. . . . Thus the quadrangle plan was the symbol of Wilson’s physical, moral, and mental integrity.” Weinstein’s book is filled with fascinating speculations of this kind, tricky to prove. His larger point—that Wilson’s behavior was warped by repeated strokes—has now become enshrined as the normative biographical explanation of the difficult man and his unpredictable actions.6 There is danger in overstating the case, however, and in painting Wilson as a hapless victim of forces beyond his control. Yes, he sometimes waxed angry and impatient and grew quite impossible—but it must always be remembered that “Fighting Woodrow” was a cherished part of his self-understanding going back to his hero-worshiping childhood: to an extent, it was deliberate. Whereas we view ourselves today primarily in terms of psychology and related sciences—unconsciously assembling our identities from the dominant, secular spheres of thought in our times—Victorians like Wilson built theirs from old-fashioned sources: literature, poetry, history, the Bible. (This makes it hard for us to understand them, and hence the struggle for the biographer, as Mark Schorer outlined it—not only “that he must make his subject live, but also that he must make him live in the reanimated history of his time, make him live in a living world.”) Steeped in literature that romanticized the AngloSaxon hero, Wilson fervently admired great men who were aggressive warriors for just causes. One was desk-pounding Jimmy McCosh, eulogized by Harper’s Weekly as having gambled everything on his plans for



the college, pushing for change with a personality “strong, aggressive, pervading.” Most of the pantheon of Woodrow Wilson’s personal heroes were like McCosh in that they glowed white-hot with righteous indignation—after all, this was the Wilson who had, as a college junior, rhapsodized in Whig Hall on Bismarck, one of those leaders who “burn their way to success. . . . This was a man.” Historian Robert Kraig notes how his orations as an undergraduate were “loaded with images of solitary statesmen fighting alone for their principles. This was the way Wilson most often depicted Webster, Clay, and Calhoun. . . . The most powerful statesmen always stood alone [as] crusaders for deeply held convictions who sought to crush all opposition on behalf of the public good.” “When you come into the presence of a leader of men,” the adult Wilson said of Robert E. Lee, “you know you have come into the presence of fire. . . . That there is something that makes it dangerous to cross him.” And Fighting Woodrow especially admired George Washington, subject of his doting biography and a hero whose presence he felt keenly in the colonial town of Princeton (“he walked these streets as Witherspoon did”). For Wilson, Washington was the consummate Southerner, showing their typical “unique individuality” and “ardor of opinion”—yes, even “prejudice”—as contrasted with the Northern “instinct to be like everybody else.” “Once and again his anger flamed at perverse neglects and tasks ill done.” No one dared blame Washington for being stern, imperious, impatient, and “a hot tempered man.” Taking Washington as an exemplar, Wilson perhaps recast his own temperamental shortcomings into virtues.7

Days after one of his routine defeats by the uncomprehending Princeton trustees, Wilson told the Philadelphian Society (a student YMCA club) in Murray Hall about George Washington under the rubric, “The Importance of Singlemindedness.” Don’t worry about the opinions of others, he advised. Anyone who does so will be of no importance in the world, which needs leaders, “men who form their purposes and then carry them out, let the consequences be what they may.” The difference between a strong man and a weak one was that the former does not give up after a defeat, but continues the struggle. Washington never knew when he was beaten and fought even harder after a setback. The work of the world is



The good fighter. A stern Wilson strides through the gates of Prospect.

done by the man who lives true to the purposes of his heart, not the opinions of others. He concluded that one should embrace a Washingtonian single-mindedness and “attach oneself to some great cause” in order to serve America.8 So where historians see the physiological aftermath of small strokes, Woodrow Wilson (never one for scientific theories anyway) saw himself carrying out an intentional leadership strategy based on the example of his heroes, who always offered simple, clear visions and plowed boldly ahead. In laying out one of his usual stark educational dichotomies he declared, “It is only by cutting the issue clear in this way that we can accomplish anything.” To waver from one’s strict ideals showed nothing but weakness and threatened to confuse and demoralize supporters. “If you doubt what you say, those who listen to you will doubt.” In the context of a twentieth-century modern existence that was increasingly chaotic and murky, the educational statesman’s duty was to be unwavering, to hold



the flag high, come what may. “History shows that the men who have done what they believed to be right regardless of whether it happened to be easy or opportune at the time are the men who have moved the world,” Wilson said. Things unfolded decisively in books—why not in his life, too? There was much to be said for the bulldozer approach, his study of government had taught him. Reflecting on his Princeton administration to his admirers in the Class of 1879, he concluded, “There is nothing that succeeds in life like boldness.” And speaking once to an audience on the subject of national government, he said that Americans “would rather have their President aggressive to the point of recklessness than see the prudent calculations of political managers prevail.” He often returned to his boyhood hypothesis that committees only produce base pragmatism, whereas a strong leader alone can yield a moral outcome.9 “The crying need of modern society,” Wilson audaciously said, “is the man who will fight for what is right without stopping to count the cost and consequence to loved ones.” As much as this indomitable approach distressed his friend Dean Fine, he had to admit that, in Woodrow’s case, it sometimes worked. “Having made up his mind upon a question, he was always unchangeable. He did not doubt. He was a man of certainty. While it made him enemies . . . yet it was one of the most powerful factors in his success. To be certain of anything in a world of doubt is to have one of the most powerful weapons that ever comes to the hand of man.”10 As biographer John Mulder has pointed out, at the moment of the Quad Fight Wilson was intoxicated by the new potentialities of the Rooseveltian American presidency, writing in his 1907–8 book, Constitutional Government, that the president “is the only national voice in affairs.” If the president can capture people’s imagination, Wilson wrote, “no combination of forces will easily overpower him”; if he boldly insists upon right, “he is irresistible.” A people always wants unified action, and it craves a single leader. And a strong president “can not only lead it, but form it to his own views.” The country craved leaders who “hold militant ideals for which they are ready to fight . . . though no man at first agree with them.” Wilson cited the Democrat Grover Cleveland as a strong president who had stood bravely for right, though for years he stood alone. Wilson’s militant leadership style at Princeton put these ideas into practice, for better or worse.11



Finally, his extraordinary severity owed much to his Calvinism—then and now, the catch-all explanation for everything Wilsonian. (It is a good explanation—just not the only one.) Steeped in Presbyterianism as a boy, he read the Bible every night and quoted it as a matter of course. In a famous episode, he attended a banquet at Cottage Club where former President Patton, now head of the theological seminary, cleverly used biblical parables to demolish Wilson’s arguments for Quads. Then Wilson rose and, in an astonishing extempore performance, refuted Patton entirely by quoting parables of his own. Wilson’s tradition, then—especially once he inherited the presidential mantle of Witherspoon, McCosh, and Patton—was one of learned and hugely confident religiosity.12 Wilson’s leadership approach is routinely blamed on this religious bent, which in times of crisis became especially inflexible and fiery. “The stern Covenanter tradition that is behind me sends many an echo down the years,” he said in 1906, referring to the seventeenth-century Scottish National Covenant signed atop an Edinburgh tombstone, a vivid scene he enjoyed describing in the classroom. John Mulder summarizes the Calvinist strain that ran through Wilson’s life: his minister father’s uncompromising teachings, offered up against the backdrop of Civil War and Reconstruction, about the moral individual struggling with a fallen world; the “muscular Christianity” and service gospels of his Princeton youth; his inner “creed which brooked no opposition” made even stiffer by heady U.S. imperialism in 1898 and his supposed stroke; a growing concern with personal “integrity” and his own legacy; his lifelong need to impose order on unruly systems. (Later Woodrow Wilson would write the League of Nations “Covenant.”) His undying conviction that he could convince anyone if only he could orate to them was likely rooted in the Calvinist emphasis on the evangelical sermon that converts sinners. “He more or less believed the kingdom of God was at hand,” Professor Hardin Craig felt, and Wilson saw Quads as part of this larger program. Although he secularized and modernized Princeton, at times Wilson fell back on the methods of a nineteenth-century fighting divine, especially when he branded the opposition as immoral. “The fight is on,” he told his trustee friend Cleve Dodge from the Adirondacks in 1907, “and I regard it, not as a fight for the development, but as a fight for the restoration of Prince-



ton. My heart is in it more than it has been in anything else, because it is a scheme of salvation.” Pious advisers played on this hot Calvinism. The trustee Melancthon Jacobus, a Presbyterian minister himself, urged his coreligionist to fight: “I would not resign now,” he advised after the board had abandoned Woodrow. “I would fight it out. . . . In the end you have got to win.” Wilson assured him, “I have never for a moment thought of giving the fight up.” Raymond Fosdick ’05 would later call him the most Christian world leader in modern history, save Gladstone, and recalled his familiar and somewhat chilling phrases, “God save us from compromise” and “Let’s stop being merely practical and find out who’s right.”13 In the middle of the Quad Fight, Wilson’s June 1908 baccalaureate address on campus brought the religious dimensions into sharp relief. In the modern world the great man was needed more than ever, a hero of “indomitable intellectual and moral initiative.” Who would fearlessly apply the moral standards of the Bible, “terribly direct and simple” in contrast to today’s complexities? Only a great man. He should be unyielding, one of “those who live as models to the mass” of Americans. “The moralist will dictate” to society, he said; “every age needs to have righteousness preached to it.” The great man would be like the righteous hero of the Psalms: he shall never be moved and will form a bulwark. Biographer Mulder agrees with the 1906 stroke hypothesis—after it, Wilson was “a different man”—and yet at the same time he sees throughout Wilson’s life a Calvinistic tension between authoritarianism and freedom, between which he constantly vacillated. When stressed and threatened, he fell back on authority and order—regardless of any stroke he might have suffered. Perhaps this absolutist Calvinism explains his tendency toward renunciation, that pernicious habit he had of giving the cold shoulder to anyone he had suddenly decided to dislike. Many of his personal disasters, Dean Mathey ’12 saw, flowed from his being “eaten by a venomous intolerance of those who did not go along with him.”14 Such extremism exactly resembled his father’s. Ellen’s brother Stockton had the chance to study old Joseph Wilson up close in Princeton, finding him a “good hater” who nurtured certain choice antagonisms “which he kept like jewels in a casket, something precious, not to be lost.” Even in planning his own funeral he growled to Woodrow, “And don’t let So-and-So come to it.” (Axson also recalled him saying, “I never had a friend who was faithful to me.”) As Woodrow grew older, Axson thought, he became more like his dad: blunt of speech, unwilling to



mollify or conciliate the enemy, sternly consistent in matters of faith or prejudice. Woodrow might not see it, but “the resemblance became obvious.” Mulder has astutely noted that Woodrow’s actions in the Battle of Princeton echoed those of his father at Columbia Theological Seminary three decades before. When Joseph tried to boost the authority of his fellow faculty and met with resistance from above, he grew angry and intransigent, and he ultimately quit as the school descended into wrangling and temporary closure: “I know, I know, I know that I have done right, and by that right I will stand to the end.”15

Looking back on the career of Woodrow Wilson at Princeton, preceptor Edward Corwin did not mince words. “The core of his being was a flaming ambition, which his religion fanned rather than quenched, by presenting it with successive programs of reform. And along with ambition went an impatient craving for immediate domination.” Inseparable from the president’s fighting spirit was his inflated sense of the importance of his mission; Corwin thought the Calvinist Wilson routinely mistook opinion for conscience. A solitary dreamer at heart, Wilson exaggerated the significance of everything he touched, took matters too personally. “I am not getting much vacation,” he wrote Cleve Dodge from the Adirondacks. “The task is every way legitimately mine. I feel that I am in reality engaged in nothing less than the most critical work of my whole administration, the work upon which its whole vitality and success depends.” No one else would have said that Quads were that important!16 And he acutely felt the loneliness at the top, “a sort of isolation of responsibility the extent of which I had not at all anticipated,” he told Professor Henry Garfield. But to find himself entirely alone was, perversely, proof that he was doing right and becoming great at last, his self-reliance turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Long languishing on a sleepy campus, an eagle consorting with professorial crows, his experiences paralleled those of former New York mayor George McClellan. “I was greatly disappointed to find that university life was exceedingly narrow and exceedingly petty,” McClellan complained after joining the Princeton faculty. “Most college professors are mediocre men who have not made good and would have been failures in any other walk of life.” Now Woodrow Wilson had a chance to soar high above this crowd. Many a night in the sitting room at Prospect, a fire burning on the hearth, he



would recite his favorite Wordsworth poem to his daughters, “Who is the Happy Warrior? Who is he / That every man in arms should wish to be?” Now at last, the question was decisively answered—Princeton’s Happy Warrior was Woodrow Wilson.17 He was not young anymore, and turning fifty in 1906 had woken him up. His days had been frittered away. “Life is a very serious undertaking,” he warned the carousing Pittsburgh alumni. “When you get to be fiftyone, you will know it.” Others might mellow, but time had ripened him to a feistiness: “The older I get the hotter I get.” He told an audience in New York that as he aged he was “growing hotter, taking the world more seriously, feeling more and more as if it were my particular function to straighten it out.” To another audience there he said, “We were put into this world to fight. For my own part I find no more stimulating exercise.” And he advised the Chicago alumni, “I am a good fighter, gentlemen,— on the whole I would rather fight than not.”18 The flames were fanned by Ellen, another child of a divine and even more implacable in her grudges than her husband. “She went to the bottom of all the Princeton controversies,” her brother Stockton remembered. “She really hated some of the Princeton opponents, had scurvy nicknames for them.” He wished she had advised mollification and less fighting, but she would not—“a principle at stake.” And besides, “she loved good fighters”—“What a warrior she was.” “Your father is in the mood for a stern fight” over Quads, Ellen told their daughter Jessie proudly as the battle began, and in the Adirondacks she had warned Jack Hibben that her husband was in the thick of a lonely war he “must wage to the finish without yielding in any respect whatsoever.”19

On top of all the other, inward factors—egotistical, medical, psychological, religious—Wilson’s Quad Fight was tinged with the currents of national politics. As we saw, by February 1906 George Harvey was loudly pushing him for U.S. president, praising him in a speech that made the front pages of the New York papers. Returning from Manhattan afterward, Wilson found Stockton Axson at the foot of the grand Prospect staircase and Ellen rushing down to greet him. “I see Colonel Harvey has nominated you for the presidency,” Axson said with a laugh. “Was he joking?” Ellen asked eagerly. Woodrow replied, “He did not seem to be.” In a long article in April 1907, the New York Times weighed him



In the public eye. Hoping to steer Wilson’s political future, Colonel Harvey put him on the cover of his national magazine, March 1906.

as a presidential candidate, saying “it might worry the machine politicians to have to deal with such a man” who had studied their ways so long. What better means of affirming his independence and burnishing his reform credentials than to take a bold and even intransigent stance against clubs at Princeton, and to do it in such a way that the reforms were clearly identified with him and him alone?20 Presidential talk would flare again in summer 1908. A recently graduated class marched in its first reunion P-Rade with a transparency that read, “1907’s Candidate for President Is—Mr. Woodrow Wilson—That’s All!” (“Wilson—That’s All” was a slogan for a popular brand of whiskey.) With such seductive political music in his ears, Wilson emerged from the Adirondacks, as Axson said, a “fighting democrat.” He told the Memphis alumni he now saw the university “as a political instrument.” His enemies would charge that he was cynically exploiting the Princeton disputes for political advantage. Perhaps this went too far, but his pugnaciousness did make him highly conspicuous, serving his not-so-private



goal of becoming a national figure. Not that he was controlling events altogether; as the Quad Fight played out, he often seemed swept along, and meanwhile his opinions were evolving month by month as his growing anger about the meddling rich, along with the praise he was getting from the newspapers, nudged him ever closer to political radicalism.21

Woodrow Wilson’s indomitable leadership style during the Quad Fight anguished his friends and infuriated his enemies, as a chorus of contemporary comments attest. Trustee Henry B. Thompson thought him “absolutely obdurate.” Professor “Wick” Scott lamented “his impatience for prompt action and immediate results.” His self-defeating “faults of temper and temperament” were lamented especially by those who were praying he would win. Trustee Jacobus acknowledged “a certain failure on Wilson’s part to handle situations.” “He wanted it all at once,” Dean Fine remembered. “He was ardent, impatient, eager, and went too fast for human nature to follow.”22 “He did not have as open a mind as his friends often wished,” said Professor Edward Conklin. “He put ideas ahead of human relationships.” Wilson was quicker than most people to analyze situations and quicker to reach an immutable conclusion. Conklin recalled Fine saying to him urgently, “We must get to Tommy with this before he makes up his mind.” Referring to Wilson, trustee David B. Jones said at the time, “I should be glad to see more team work and less individual initiative and action at Princeton.” His brother Thomas Jones often counseled patience to the president: “With all his great talents he was not a skillful fighter, and this was largely because he could not be patient.”23 Wilson’s sister-in-law wished he would listen to his opponents, but “Woodrow couldn’t conciliate”—the same failure that would later haunt him at the Paris Peace Conference, she noted sadly. A preceptor described him as like a razor-edged clam, tightening his position by the minute. At such times he could be utterly selfish and even ruthless, another remembered. Trustee Thompson happened to be on vacation near Wilson in the Adirondacks that fateful summer of 1907 and found him “not in as good physical or mental condition as I should like to see him. This subject has taken such a hold on him, he is nervous and excitable.” He told Cleve Dodge, “I sincerely wish I could feel absolutely in sympathy with Wilson. The more I see of him the more I like him. He appeals to



your affections. He is so sincere, so anxious for the promotion of higher ideals in the academic life, and with it all so strong and firm.” But he seemed one-sided on this question of Quads. Nearing despair at Wilson’s indomitable approach, his ally Cyrus McCormick would eventually propose an advisory committee with whom the president must check before taking any actions, so reckless was he on his own.24 “He was fussy and had the art of making people angry,” Professor William Magie said. One day a well-meaning young professor had an idea of how to tweak the Quad Plan, but Wilson dismissed him with a “no” after ten minutes. “Damn the President!” the red-faced man sputtered as he emerged from Prospect—another opponent born. In after years, the editor of the Trenton Times reflected shrewdly on Woodrow Wilson as he had watched him at Princeton and later. “By nature Wilson was a lonely man, a dreamer, with the type of intellect that found it difficult to tolerate ordinary mortals. His supreme self-confidence was perhaps his biggest handicap, as well as his most outstanding virtue. His habit was to rely upon his own dominating personality and power of persuasion to put things across. It was his lack of flexibility, of accommodation of mind, that led to much of the bitterness and disappointment that came to him in life.” Even the most admiring Wilson biographers cannot sidestep this looming granite outcrop of concurring opinion from the men who knew him in life, shrewd observers who all agreed: his leadership was fatally flawed.25

The professor who had been the most popular of all among students in the 1890s now found himself ostracized by many youngsters as he tried to take the eating clubs away. There were still fervent Wilsonites who found his principled stance inspiring, of course; when a group of alumni once strolled around campus singing a song that ridiculed Wilson the “Quadruped,” loyalists dumped water out a dorm window on them. Other students created “Dial Lodge”—pointedly not called a “club”—as a democratic alternative on Prospect Avenue. A pleased Wilson invited them to his home, where they sat awkwardly in the library discussing books with him. “It was a trying evening,” one recalled. “Wilson relaxing was like a Newfoundland dog guarding a litter of pups.” He had reason to be on edge, for nowadays student clubmen were loudly deriding what they called his “Squab Plan” and averting their eyes as they passed him



on campus sidewalks. At a student banquet at the Princeton Inn for the Princetonian, the invited speakers—Dean West, Henry van Dyke, and Charles Scribner ’75—were all anti-Wilson and pro-club, as were many in the audience, including Jack Hibben. Nell watched from the veranda. “I could see father’s face, and I was almost frightened. His eyes were steely gray and there was a curious bulge in his long, fighting lower jaw.” Woodrow Wilson spoke last, unleashing what Axson described as a whitehot torrent of lava. “It is my lonely privilege, in gatherings of educated men, to be the only person who speaks of education,” he began as he cast his eye coldly over his fellow professors in the smoky darkness. His opponents had depicted college as a place of beautiful friendships, which the eating clubs nurtured. “Do I not know what those friendships mean? Was I not here four years as an undergraduate?” But friendships were secondary to the intellectual purposes of the school and the high call to national service. “I summon you men to follow me,” he exhorted the students at the end, and in a complete change of face they now sprang onto the tabletops and cheered. Wilson took his seat in stony silence. “Jack looked ill,” he later told Axson with satisfaction. Walking home with friends, he could only talk about how much he hated the other speakers. “Damn their eyes!” he sputtered. Later Axson asked Professor Edward Elliott if the students had in fact been convinced. “No, they are not yet for the quad plan,” Elliott replied, “but they know a man when they see him.”26 “I wanted Quads but only got Rangles,” Woodrow Wilson supposedly said as his administration was consumed by fighting. As happens in tight communities, Wilson’s personal anger quickly spread to many other people, permanently destroying the old nineteenth-century spirit of intimate collegiality on campus. Members of the philosophy department, for example, would now cross the street to avoid each other. The dispute split the faculty from top to bottom, one professor said, with preceptors favoring Wilson (educated elsewhere, they had no stake in Princeton “traditions”) and older teachers defending the clubs; moreover, Wilson encouraged the generally more liberal faculty to split from the conservative trustees, a rift that would take years to heal. The whole town turned bellicose. “We ate and drank quads,” a relative remembered, and even children in the streets took sides and quarreled.27 Eastern alumni grew more alarmed every time Wilson opened his mouth. They were so agitated by published accounts of a luncheon



speech at St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire that he was forced to reassure the Alumni Weekly it was “not radical in any respect”—but it certainly sounded so. Addressing these sons of the New England elite, Wilson said he was growing tired of being ringmaster of a sideshow and warned that St. Paul’s and Princeton were both doomed to disappear unless they reformed and adapted themselves to the needs of modern life. By promoting social exclusivity, they were failing to train leaders, and today’s college men would find themselves capable of playing little useful role on graduation. There were so many rich people now, he felt sorry for them, as money no longer conferred any distinction. For days afterward, newspapers ran attacks on Wilson from across the nation, including from the presidents of New York University and Cornell, alarmed that higher education in general was getting a black eye. A reporter corralled Wilson in New York for an interview before he had even made it home to Princeton. “The student is not educated in the classroom,” Wilson said, but by mind-and-mind discussions after class with peers—yet he found that boys streaming out of his lecture hall were usually engaged in “a conjecture upon the result of that day’s conflict between the Pirates and the Giants.”28 As the fiery reformer spoke at St. Paul’s, he was thinking of how that school sent many boys to Princeton’s Ivy Club. Soon to enroll at the exclusive prep school was a talented young hockey player from Philadelphia, Hobey Baker, who would later enter Princeton himself with the Class of 1914. An Ivy Club historian unsympathetic to Wilson has commented that Hobey Baker’s career proves how completely the president failed in his lofty goals, for Baker became the darling of Old Nassau, idolized by the F. Scott Fitzgerald generation for his astonishing athletic skill, daring, and charm (to cheers he ebulliently walked up and down the Ivy Club stairs on his hands). Baker was “living proof that Wilson was wrong” in predicting that intellectual attainment would be the coming hallmark of American universities, the historian writes. Instead, the ideals of wealth, pleasure, and adventure would irresistibly dazzle college men for years to come. A 1928 guide to American schools, published four years after Wilson’s death in a decade in which enrollments doubled nationwide and college life grew ever more boozy and decadent, called the university degree “a stamp of social superiority, its lack, a social stigma. Each one believes that it is a magic key to happiness, success, and riches.” Yes, Woodrow Wilson would ultimately lose the Quad



fight, and Princeton’s heroes of coming years would be jocks like Baker, adventurers like Richard Halliburton ’21, and charming good fellows like actors Jimmy Stewart ’32 and José Ferrer ’33. It was even the school of choice for rakish John F. Kennedy ’39, who spent a few weeks at Old Nassau freshman year (he withdrew because of illness) and who wrote on his application for admission, “To be a Princeton Man is indeed an enviable distinction.”29 And yet there were Princetonians for whom the austere Woodrow Wilson himself became a hero—the inevitable freaks, polers, and sad birds. One was David Lawrence ’10, an impecunious youth who scraped together a few extra dollars as a campus reporter. In later years, an admiring Lawrence covered Wilson’s political career for the Associated Press and wrote a book about him. Another fan was Norman Thomas ’05—though his politics would soon drift far left of the president’s as he became America’s top Socialist. And a third was muckraking journalist Ernest Poole ’02, whose novel The Harbor features an iconoclast, the character Joe Kramer, who educates his fellow undergraduates about how socially retrograde Princeton really is. Kramer is a Midwestern populist of immigrant stock, a materialist, and a skeptic who reads subversive books and talks about big ideas, not caring if it “queers” him. Railing against the stupid “thoughtlessness” of campus life, he tells a young friend in Wilsonian terms, “I think it’s this ‘dear old college’ feeling that’s to blame for it all.” “My God, Joe!” This was high treason! “Sure it is,” he retorted. “It is your god and the god of us all. This dear old college feeling. It’s got us all stuck together so close that nobody dares to be himself and buck against its standards.”30

Woodrow Wilson had raised a flag around which a ragged crew began to gather, a process that quickened once the World War broke out and old conventions were loudly questioned. Edmund Wilson ’16 devoted his last Nassau Lit editorial to blasting club elections as “arbitrary and unfair,” beneficial only to “fools, cads, and snobs.” All his life, “Bunny” Wilson would fault Princeton for failing to nurture its unconventional types. “Princeton did not serve them very well,” he later said of Fitzgerald and the other creative souls who had been his friends there. “It gave you too much respect for money and country-house social prestige.” AntiProspect feeling flared during wartime, and in an ironic twist, it was



Grover Cleveland’s son, Dick Cleveland ’19, who joined his artistic and free-thinking classmate Henry Strater in leading ninety sophomores in a short-lived revolt against the clubs. (“It horrified us,” an Ivy man recalled of this insurrection, “because we were so happy.”) This was the same Dick Cleveland whose mother had boasted during the Quad Fight that she would never let him eat with a mucker! “Dick had political ambitions at that time,” the elderly Strater recalled in 1985. “He heard about our rejection of the eating club tradition and he saw it as a chance to enhance his political reputation,” as Woodrow Wilson himself had once done. Evidently the president had begun a process of radicalization, modernization, and self-criticism on campus that resonated with more than a few disaffected youth. Asked in the 1960s about his Princeton experiences, Edmund Wilson recalled how “my reforming zeal came to the surface” concerning clubs, the start of his long and colorful career on the left. And a certain graduate of the College of the City of New York watched Woodrow Wilson’s Princeton crusades with fascination, since he himself had been rejected from a fraternity because he was Jewish. Bernard Baruch later became a Wall Street mogul, contributed enthusiastically to Wilson’s presidential campaigns, and served him as adviser—another “sad bird” made good.31 In the short term, however, Wilson was routed. Not one Quad was built. No club was confiscated. The wealthy philanthropist Mrs. Russell Sage declined to contribute, as did John D. Rockefeller. Near the end of his years as university president, Wilson appealed again to financier Andrew Carnegie to make the Quad Plan a reality. He wanted $3.5 million. “Things have come to the turning point with me,” he said. “If I cannot do this thing I have spoken of, I must turn to something else than mere college administration, forced, not by my colleagues, but by my mind and convictions and the impossibility of continuing at an undertaking I do not believe in.” Cleve Dodge brought the matter up with Carnegie during a golf game, but the tycoon shook his head and reached inside his bag for another club. The Quad Fight was over. Wilson was utterly defeated.32

Although his social reorganization of Princeton came to nothing, the visitor can get an idea of what a Quad would have looked like architecturally by visiting Holder Hall today. Its tower and courtyard are familiar



Princeton after Wilson. Some quadrangles were built, but stripped of the social agendas of his controversial Quad Plan. Begun during his administration were Holder courtyard and tower (finished 1912, foreground). Later came Madison dining halls (1917, at the street corner). Between Holder and the tower of Blair Hall (above it and to the right) is L-shaped Campbell Hall (1909).

symbols of Princeton at its most romantic, frequently gracing covers of Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise. “It began to rain in spite of the late silver sunlight behind Holder Tower, and we saw the fine silver sheen playing against the gray stone and the green trees,” undergraduate Edmund Wilson wrote in his diary. (A resident of adjacent Hamilton Hall, “Bunny” was labeled by his friend Fitzgerald “the shy scholar of Holder Court.”) Following Woodrow Wilson’s visions—the president who boasted that he had planned the architectural development of campus as far ahead as 1960—Ralph Adams Cram called for a complex of dormitories and dining halls here. Because Cram was busy with adjacent Campbell Hall and had just been appointed architect of the Graduate College, he suggested Frank Day of Philadelphia, a former pupil of Cope and Stewardson (architects of Blair Hall) and, for present purposes, a designer he preferred “to any other man in the United States.” In May 1908, Day visited Prince-



ton, running into Cram and his talented associate Bertram Goodhue on the way. They all walked up to Prospect and around the house to see if Wilson was at home. Day made plans to sail with Cram to England that summer to study Oxford and Cambridge. Cram called Day’s drawings for the Holder complex “the high-water mark of collegiate architecture in this country.” Woodrow Wilson went over them, too, insisting that the commons be “of a size and sort which would render them suitable for the object contemplated in the quad plan,” should that hapless scheme ever be implemented. Day and Cram, he said, were both “thoroughly in sympathy” with his Quad idea.33 Construction of Holder went ahead even after the Quad Plan crumbled, and Woodrow Wilson presided over the dedication ceremony on June 13, 1910, in Holder Court, in the last months of his presidency. The picturesque complex was derived from New Quad at Oxford, with a tower like one at Canterbury Cathedral. Wilson said the lofty tower, for which he broke ground that day, would catch the eye as the visitor ascended the road from the railroad station, approaching “the busiest corner of town, its very heart and center.” Topped with tiger weather vanes, it would form part of “the most conspicuous and architecturallyimportant group of buildings” on campus and lend an English character to “this delightful university town.” To save twenty-five thousand dollars, Day used purplish local stone, copying nearby colonial houses. (Wilson and trustee Henry B. Thompson prevailed on the other committee members, who were dead set against this material, to allow sample panels to be set up. The stone proved so successful, it became the trademark of future Princeton buildings.) During construction, graves were unearthed from the ancient FitzRandolph burying grounds and reinterred under a Gothic arch, with an inscription that ironically united two mortal enemies: Woodrow Wilson provided the English text and Dean Andrew West, the Latin.34 After Holder came a series of five Gothic dining halls to the west, with medieval trusswork ceilings and leaded glass, plus intimate common rooms like those Wilson had originally proposed for Quads. “I’ve been a ‘mess hound’ for four days,” freshman Richard Halliburton would write his parents. “What a vile job. . . . My old black sweater is caked with butter and fish and soup and molasses. . . . The dago cooks flop slices of meat from the stoves into the dishes with their hands.” These were not



Quads as Wilson dreamed of them—only underclassmen lived and ate here—but their cloisterlike Gothic architecture comprised a beautiful fragment of his unfulfilled educational vision.35

And after all the fighting, what happened to the upperclass clubs on Prospect Avenue? Ironically, Woodrow Wilson’s attacks fertilized the roots of their snob appeal. They numbered seventeen by the time Fitzgerald immortalized them in This Side of Paradise, the book that sold twenty thousand copies in a week in 1920 and launched the Jazz Age. “Ivy, detached and breathlessly aristocratic,” he wrote as he began his account of Prospect; “Cottage, an impressive mélange of brilliant adventurers and well-dressed philanderers” (he was a Cottage man himself ). Fitzgerald’s fascination with clubs owed something to memories of how Wilson had demonized them—“Woodrow thought they should be abolished and all that,” a character says—as well as to the Dick Cleveland– Henry Strater revolt (Strater appears in the novel as “Burne Holiday”). Fitzgerald’s hero Amory Blaine, a regular Anti-Woodrow, picks Princeton precisely because it is rumored to be the “pleasantest country club in America.” Fitzgerald was intrigued by the Wilson legend, the way his sanctimoniousness strangely jarred with rumors of sexual misbehavior that, as we shall see, his political enemies began spreading about him once he ran for office. “I am quite drunk,” Fitzgerald wrote his friend John Peale Bishop ’17. “I am full of my new work, a historical play based on the life of Woodrow Wilson. Act I at Princeton Woodrow seen teaching philosophy. Enter Pyne. Quarrel scene—Wilson refuses to recognize clubs. Enter woman with Bastard from Trenton. Pyne reenters with glee club and trustees. . . . Oh Christ! I’m sobering up.”36 This Side of Paradise played up those elements of Princeton that Wilson hated most. It was, Fitzgerald later confessed to a disapproving Jack Hibben, “the Princeton of Saturday night in May.” “My idealism,” Fitzgerald added, “flickered out with Henry Strater’s anticlub movement.” After the novel was published, he and his wife, Zelda, returned for spring 1920 house parties at Cottage—“the damnedest party ever held in Princeton”—and a week later he motored down with John Peale Bishop and Edmund Wilson, stumbling into Cottage adorned with angel wings and a lyre and behaving so outrageously, he got himself ejected from a rear window. Prospect Avenue was on its way to becoming a perfect emblem



of the Roaring Twenties, but still with plenty of pain for the rejects. The diplomat George Kennan ’25, for example, never forgot the “cruel experience” of having lost his club membership after a financial setback—for “social distinctions cut deep.”37 Even as they flourished in the Jazz Age and beyond, the Prospect Avenue clubs parried regular attacks from administration, faculty, and democratic-minded students, who routinely invoked the reform spirit of Woodrow Wilson. These volleys culminated in protests against the notorious “Dirty Bicker” of 1958, when many Jewish applicants were blackballed by the clubs and the national media loudly branded Princeton University anti-Semitic. In spite of all assaults, however, the stately clubs still line Prospect today, more than a century after Wilson foresaw their imminent doom, and 75 percent of juniors and seniors still join them. The number of clubs still active has shrunk to ten, all are coed, and only half still practice selective admission; moreover, the visitor may find hardly any resemblance to the gentleman’s club atmosphere of a hundred years ago—they savor of beer and pizza and echo to the noise of table football and video games. But many university officials continue to resent their autonomous status and their lingering reputation for Fitzgeraldesque elitism, noting that African Americans in particular are less likely to join them (to redress past injustices, Princeton has lately increased its minority and international enrollment to over 40 percent). Some undergraduates were recently asked to describe the typical Ivy Club member of the twenty-first century—a club that, in the previous fall semester, had forty-five students apply for admission (still called “bicker”) and accepted only eight. “Preppy, snobby, snotty.” “Elite, wealthy, not very academic.” “Likely to go into finance.” These stereotypes, clichéd or not, have deep roots in history. “Hat lines” have even reappeared lately in the form of underclass fraternities and sororities feeding into selective clubs. The controversy seemingly will never end: a certain type of student will always find clubs to be delightful bastions of sophistication, friendships, and fun, whereas another will loathe them as distasteful relics of an age of social injustice and discrimination. As for Woodrow Wilson’s Quads, years after Princeton rejected them they were instituted as “houses” at Harvard and “colleges” at Yale, to the vast satisfaction of aging Wilson supporters. (These were made possible by a single wealthy donor, Edward Harkness. Although those schools denied any debt to Princeton, Yale provost Charles Seymour, who pushed



for colleges, had been an adviser to President Wilson in Paris, where Wilson often talked with frustration of his foiled educational reforms.) The prophet was without honor in New Jersey, however; in a 1936 straw poll, the Class of 1912 voted two to one against hypothetical Quads, evidence of unabated anti-Wilson sentiment. Not until 1960 was Wilson College established at Princeton, a Bauhaus-looking modernist quadrangle with dormitories, dining hall, and small library. Ironically, it represented a concept Wilson himself had rejected, being a haven for six hundred unclubbable outcasts from Prospect Avenue; nonetheless, it was greeted with cries of alarm from many alumni, who saw the ghost of Wilson returning. By the 1980s, in the era of coeducation, five underclass “colleges” had been established using existing dormitories (Wilson College was folded into this program). These were still not Wilsonian Quads, however, being meant for underclassmen only. But in an extraordinary historical twist, Woodrow Wilson’s Quad Plan was dusted off at the start of the twenty-first century, a time of renewed interest nationwide in establishing “residential colleges” to reduce student drinking and encourage greater intellectualism, especially in the evenings. Starting in fall 2007, a century after he proposed Quads, three Princeton colleges were thrown open to members of all classes, along with ten or so graduate students each, exactly as he would have wanted for “mind and mind” interaction between older and younger men (and women). One is Whitman College, built from scratch on the former site of Brokaw Field, a true Gothic quadrangle designed by an American architect who had worked at both Oxford and Cambridge—how Wilson would have approved! A donor was billionaire alumna Meg Whitman, founder of the online company eBay. When reporters asked Princeton’s current president, Shirley Tilghman, why this four-year college system was being instituted, she pointed a finger at the clubs. “There are still five that are selective,” she noted disapprovingly, “and they don’t for me represent the spirit of Princeton. They tend to select more homogeneously than I would like.” And she decried “a bicker process that every year leads to unhappiness, that separates friends from friends, that causes real pain and suffering.” This could have been Wilson talking. But learning a valuable lesson from his mistakes, Tilghman was careful to involve the clubs in the planning for Whitman College, promising that the new system was not meant to replace club life, merely offer more options. And yet some alumni voiced fears of a secret agenda: to rout the clubs



at last. In a modern university that has worked desperately hard for forty years to replace snobbery with meritocracy and to attract nonwhite students, should elitist clubs still be tolerated, with all their lingering associations of WASP privilege and hauteur? Can history be scrubbed away in the name of making everybody feel comfortable—and should it be? In a way fascinating to watch, the debates of 2007 echoed 1907, many of the fundamental dilemmas about higher education (and class structure in America) remaining baffling and unresolved.38 So the last act of Fitzgerald’s imaginary play might show Woodrow Wilson alone on the stage, the new Gothic rooftops of the Whitman College quadrangle glowing rosy in the sun behind him as a flock of sad birds wheels triumphantly overhead. Grinning, Woodrow holds up a copy of the Quad Plan . . . musty after a hundred years but still intact. At his feet lie Momo Pyne and the trustees in a pool of blood, vanquished at last. It is a surprise ending for our hero, and a happy one. The next fight would have no cheerful resolution, however, as Woodrow Wilson ultimately destroyed his academic career fighting with Dean Andrew West over the Graduate College in the infamous Battle of Princeton.

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The Battle of Princeton, 1908–10

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We Must See Who Is Master


S BITTER AS the Quad Fight was, it paled before the ferocious struggle over the Graduate College. This imbroglio, too, played out against the backdrop of tumultuous events in Woodrow Wilson’s personal life. Back in 1905, Ellen Wilson’s younger brother, Edward, who had lived with them when he attended Princeton, drowned along with his wife and infant child when their carriage plunged off a ferry into a Georgia river as they were going to a baseball game. Ellen and Woodrow were devastated, as was her young sister Madge, whom Woodrow tried to console in the study at Prospect. He spoke of his closeness to his own older sister, Marion, and his grief when she died fifteen years before. He recalled how Edward was like the son he never had. “He was sitting behind his big desk, I in a big chair facing the tree-dotted front lawn,” Madge remembered. “I noticed vaguely that the grass had turned golden in the light of the setting sun. . . . As Woodrow’s quiet voice went on and on, the horror was leaving me. . . . I looked up and met Woodrow’s clear gray eyes. ‘Thank you!’ I said. . . . Of all the gifts of understanding that he had given me, that hour in his study was the greatest.”1 But Ellen fell into a depression. It took a toll on their marriage, which, her brother Stockton Axson thought, had never been the same since they moved to Prospect House and the presidential strains began. All she did was worry now, especially about Woodrow’s health, growing frantic when, late in 1907, he experienced further numbness in his arm,



evidence of great strain. She blamed it on “the loss of the friend he took to his bosom,” Jack Hibben. He traveled alone to Bermuda to recuperate. The melancholy Ellen would not come, explaining, “I must stay with the house, like the fixtures.”2 Vacations always loosened Woodrow up, and this one fatefully led him to develop an intimate emotional relationship with another woman, Mary Allen Hulbert Peck. She was the forty-five-year-old wife of a woolen manufacturer in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, who was horrid to her and from whom she would eventually receive a divorce. Mary and Woodrow’s close friendship was inextricably bound up with Bermuda, a place that seemed to have escaped the march of progress. It swept him away with its Britishness and leisurely charm. (Finally, he said, he understood Princeton’s languid President Patton!) The sophisticated Peck circle, which included the aged Mark Twain, moved in a gracious round between estates named Water-Ville, Inwood, and Shoreby, with coral walls, ancient brown beams of cedar, and capacious verandas overflowing with bougainvillea. In this setting, Woodrow Wilson was released from his long worry and struggle about Quads and drifted back into the half-remembered world of his Southern youth. Long hours sipping cordials and eating cake with a picturesque and elderly hostess at Inwood made him feel “as if I were a lad again sitting, ‘on my manners,’ with some gracious dame of the old regime in our own dear, forgotten South. It is a balm to irritated nerves to think of it.”3 Charming Mrs. Peck, who collected male admirers, deftly worked a spell on the president of Princeton. Watching him as he smiled and chatted with new friends on a sun-dappled piazza as the sea breeze rustled the palms, she saw that the tired, harried man craved leisure and had long been denied a genuinely social environment. Now he opened up. “I lost all of the abominable self-consciousness that has been my bane all my life, and felt perfectly at ease, happily myself,” he said, enjoying good books and leisurely talk. He had discovered nothing less than “the life in which my character seems to have been formed.” Close to the blue sea, he recalled a boyhood fantasy: “I would have been at the prow of a ship . . . if I’d had my way.” The elegant and worldly socialite was amused by her catch. He dressed badly. He would not go swimming. He left his spoon in his cup when he drank tea. Even when ostensibly relaxed he remained stiffly formal, “stilted and puritanical.” Worst of all, he refused to caress her lapdog, Paget Montmorenci Vere de Vere—“I always resented



A fateful friendship begins. With Ellen left behind in Princeton, Wilson unwinds in the Bermuda sun with Mary Peck.

this coolness.” But she was nonetheless growing fond of him. As he unburdened himself, monopolizing hours in intense discussions of what he should or should not do in the Princeton fight, she was wryly aware of his ego: “Of course the final decision would have been the same whatever I had said.” And yet she felt bourgeoning affection for the man in whom the child was only thinly disguised. He showed an almost pathetic delight in vaudeville shows and detective novels and responded eagerly to her invitations to laugh and unwind. “One sensed that he often saw that little boy who was himself—shy, dreaming, alone; and it often seemed to me that I found him longing to make up as best he might for play long denied. That, I think, is why he turned to me, who had never lost my zest for the joy of living.” She helped replace Hibben in his broken heart. In Bermuda Wilson discovered “friends—real friends,” Mary Peck being the “friend whom I had found when those I had deemed my friends were falling away from me, and all the world looked gray and bleak.”4 In subsequent visits to the island and through scores of letters begin-



ning “My dear friend,” Wilson and Peck grew closer. He followed a regular epistolary pattern: part confession of his never-ending struggles at Princeton, part cheering affirmation of her fine qualities as she wrestled with a failing marriage. She became his safety valve, and whenever he was feeling overwhelmed, he would write to her and find catharsis. He told her all the things he withheld, out of compassion, from fretful Ellen. The Woodrow Wilson of the Mrs. Peck affair was a romantic idealist suffering from overwork, stress, and disillusionment, desperately seeking a haven and an outlet. Recent scholars have sifted for evidence that the relationship turned sexual, but this remains doubtful, in spite of the intense guilt we know he felt years later. Probably it was the emotional betrayal of Ellen that he anguished over—and the violation of his own superhigh standards of personal honor. When rumors of a physical tryst were floated by his political enemies in 1912, friends and relatives unanimously laughed at the absurdity of the notion. Mary Peck had been a good family associate, visiting Prospect on more than one occasion, befriending the daughters and giving Ellen a lace collar—“She sends you her love,” Woodrow reported back to Peck, adding, “I have seldom seen her so pleased.” Woodrow’s visits to her eleventh-floor apartment at the Hotel Manhattan have lately been construed as dalliances in a love nest, but it should be recalled that Mary Peck shared the place with her elderly mother, who adored the Wilsons, and that Ellen sometimes went along—she enjoyed the view from the balcony, where she could gaze out at the roof of Madison Square Garden and the soaring Metropolitan Life Tower, the tallest building in the world. The fashionable Peck helped Ellen with shopping for clothes, even in the White House. When interviewed years later by Wilson’s biographer, Ray Stannard Baker, Peck denied that she shared anything but beautiful friendship with “that nobleminded man!” He had a kind of unguarded frankness in his letters to me, since we both knew what friendness really is, that might have been embarrassing to him if the letters became public. He had the highest ideals of loyalty— all guards down—with those whom he regarded as true friends. He kept nothing back. I warned him, since I knew so much more of the world than he did. His wife and family knew always of our friendship. I visited in his home and he and Mrs. Wilson came to mine. I corresponded also with Mrs. Wilson.5

But surviving letters prove that Woodrow Wilson fell in love with Mary Peck, far more deeply than he admitted to anyone. The gallant



gentleman did everything he could to make up for the scandalous way her husband had treated her. She saw him as unfailingly the Virginian, always ready to “see women through the Southerner’s eyes, and to express by word and manner his chivalrous devotion.” His fervent letters were meant to prop up her despairing spirits—and his. His need for her soothing presence grew dangerously ardent. All the while, the dutiful Ellen felt obliged to tolerate this passionate friendship. After all, Mary Peck was the kind of worldly, entertaining woman that she had never been for Woodrow, whom she frankly worshiped and who had seemed so blue lately. This was the price to be paid for living with a dynamic man who needed emotional and social stimulation. But tolerant as Ellen appeared, inside she seethed with resentment and hurt. (As Stockton said, it was “scarcely ‘beer and skittles’ for her.”) Woodrow later rued his folly in becoming so close to Mary Peck—though he had been led there by noble intentions—and confessed to his White House doctor that the friendship, indiscreet but not improper, was the only unhappiness he ever caused Ellen. The affair may not have been sexual, but it was misguided. It sheds light on his mental state during the Graduate College fight: under terrible stress, isolated, trusting few now that Hibben had betrayed him; craving friendship and release no matter whom it hurt for him to get it; noble and gallant, yet curiously blind to the misery his highly individualistic choices might cause others. “I do think that he was often foolish in the way he acted,” his enemy Andrew West recalled of his strange liaison with Mary Peck (which even he was convinced had not been sexual). “He was avid for feminine adulation, and would go a long way to find it.”6

Graduate studies at Princeton had first begun decades before with a small group of returning members of the Class of 1877, handpicked by President McCosh. They discussed Immanuel Kant around a pine table in a little second-floor room in Dickinson Hall on which Professor William Sloane, mindful of history, asked them to carve their names. It was a humble beginning. With 1896 and the coming of Princeton “University,” the need for a true graduate school was urgent. As a component of this, all parties wanted a residential Graduate College, the first in the United States—a quadrangle in which housing and food would be provided, a model for other universities to follow. The culminating battle of Woodrow Wilson’s academic career concerned the allied questions of who should



control the Graduate College and where it should be located. Wilson wanted it firmly under his thumb, naturally, and he wanted it on campus, where graduate students would inspire the undergraduates daily. But his nemesis West, named dean of the Graduate College by the trustees in 1900, had been given extraordinary prerogatives in an attempt to keep the fledgling institution out of then-president Patton’s cologne-scented fingers. And Dean West eventually came to favor an off-campus location where he could guarantee a cohesive community of graduate scholars, leading a high-minded and stimulating life free from the taint of the undergraduate horde.7 The battle between Wilson and West over the Graduate College may be the most famous academic quarrel in American history. Even now there is little agreement over who was right. The renowned Princeton graduate school, which recently turned one hundred, long favored West, the winner, whose bronze statue sits enthroned in the central quad there. But historian James Axtell has turned the tables, branding West a “dilettante dean” of little substance whose notions of graduate education were fundamentally wrong. Contemporaries, too, were divided. West and Wilson both had admirers: each man was nationally famous, brilliant and charming, politically savvy and shrewd. It was even possible to love them both: so staunch a Wilson supporter as Stockton Axson greatly admired Dean West. He saw West not as a dilettante but as a deeply read Latin scholar, recipient of a rare honorary degree from Oxford, a dazzling conversationalist, a genial man of remarkable gifts, unfailingly kind. West’s wife went insane and lived on for decades; he remained devoted to her, a touching sight to all who witnessed it. He invited dying Professor Walter Wyckoff and family to move in with him because he had a big, comfortable front porch where the stricken man could rest. In his loneliness, his stylish Arts and Crafts home became a center for young, unmarried faculty who admired him as a man of wealth and taste and enjoyed grand parties thrown by his son, whom he had raised alone. There was much good in Dean Andrew West, much that inspired.8 But as we have seen, there was a dark side. A colleague remembered him as “a very charming, brilliant, and able man, a delightful friend, but a ruthless enemy.” Woodrow Wilson could be like this, too, and indeed the men had much in common—like Wilson, West was the son of a minister who was deemed among the “most implacable fighters in the Presbytery.” He and Woodrow “hated each other like true Scotchmen,”



said their student Raymond Fosdick. Some undergraduates cozied up to Dean West as a witty companion who made dry Latin come alive, but others resented how he constantly skipped class, treated them with condescension, and played favorites. Edmund Wilson ’16 detested him as “one of those tiresome snob humanists who put on airs about Greek and Latin and always are ramming them down people’s throats.” West would “address the class in an arrogantly patronizing tone” and was a repulsive sight jostling across campus in a hack, “his great round paunch protruding above his long thin legs, as if it were a watermelon resting on his lap.” Fifty years after leaving Princeton—in the age of rock and roll and Vietnam—Edmund Wilson still talked about the late Dean West with scorn.9 Historian Axtell calls West a dilettante in part because he had no formal graduate education, having instead taught high school after Princeton, traveled in Europe, and briefly worked as a headmaster. This placed him the same category as Henry van Dyke, called to an “ornamental” professorship for personal qualities and literary gifts rather than academic credentials, as was still considered valid in that day. Dean West’s vision of what a graduate student should be—foremost a gentleman, second a scholar—was rooted in a disappearing value system. Professionalism was gaining ground. Woodrow Wilson, by contrast, had attended two graduate schools, the University of Virginia and the Johns Hopkins University (though he, too, was skeptical of narrow scholasticism). Though in a sense untrained, Andrew West had much to offer Princeton, including clever showmanship in the organizing of festivities and a genius for fundraising. “Here’s to Andy Three Million West, sixty-three inches around the vest,” the seniors sang. “Why, my dear fellow!” he would exclaim when meeting an old grad on campus, hand on shoulder, his ruddy face beaming in delight. He did this to everyone, and “it was highly effective,” a Wilson relative sniffed. Children were said to gravitate toward Woodrow Wilson, who delighted little girls by gallantly raising his hat and bowing to them—but they crossed the street to avoid Dean West’s smothering bear hugs.10 Many thought a clash between West and Wilson was inevitable. “It would only be a question of time” until one or the other was forced to leave town, trustee Henry B. Thompson thought as early as 1906. On a train platform in Boston just after his inaugural, Wilson had told Professor Bliss Perry glowingly of his hopes for the future. Then he added with



a grim smile, “If West begins to intrigue against me as he did against Patton, we must see who is master!” Wilson seemed sure of his eventual victory. Yet “in the subtleties of academic intrigue,” Perry later observed, he was to prove “no match for West, and the game went to the more resourceful player. It was tragic overconfidence that brought disaster to Wilson’s dreams for Princeton.”11

“He had wanted to be president of Princeton,” Nell Wilson said of Dean West, “and I believe that jealousy of father was at the bottom of most of the trouble he caused.” Professor George McClellan, who knew the parties well, concurred: after being passed over for president, West “declared a blood feud against Wilson.” But West considered Wilson the one with the vendetta. By 1906 he could stand it no more and complained loudly to the trustees about “the increasingly unfriendly attitude of President Wilson toward me personally.” Wilson replied, “I challenge you to give any instance of this.” West then offered several—he was skilled at compiling lists of grievances—and Wilson could only comment, “I must say you have a remarkable memory.” This confrontation took place during that meeting at Grover Cleveland’s house after West had been offered the presidency of MIT. With West threatening to abandon Princeton, Wilson reluctantly followed the wishes of the trustees and asked him to stay on, though goodness knows he would have preferred that he leave. West agreed to remain, but only after receiving assurances that the Graduate College would be hurried along—the “pledge” that Woodrow Wilson soon violated by announcing the Quad Plan.12 Having been betrayed in this way (tricked into forfeiting a university presidency for nothing) Dean West became obsessed with the idea that Woodrow Wilson was a liar, for decades to come telling anybody who would listen that he had “a barrel of letters” to prove it—apparently false reassurances about the Graduate College. He claimed Wilson told him on Nassau Street one day, “You must not lay too much stress on commitments.” There were private moralities (such as promises) and public ones (anything done for the good of the university), Wilson said, and private morality sometimes had to give way to public. “Which one do you intend to use on me?” Dean West shot back. If Wilson was not deliberately malicious, he was, West believed, at least grossly self-serving and deluded by ego. Once when Professor Winthrop Daniels ran into the dean outside



West’s office in the east wing of Chancellor Green Library, West angrily called Wilson a liar. “That is not true,” Daniels exclaimed. “I cannot stand hearing you say that.” “He’s a liar,” West replied, “but he does not know it.”13

Tired of waiting for Wilson to act, West had gone ahead in 1905 with an experimental, temporary Graduate College—made possible by his friend Momo Pyne, who bought a leafy eleven-acre estate east of Bayard Lane called Merwick. Here at the edge of town a miniature graduate residential facility was established in a rambling Victorian house. Under the daily oversight of West (whose home was directly across the street) and his lieutenant Howard Butler ’92—an equally splendid host—Merwick gained an attractive reputation as first-class graduate housing, far different, say, from the infamous “rat holes” of Harvard. Here eighteen students from all disciplines took their meals and a dozen of them lived. West was thrilled with how the experiment worked. Though poorly heated, Merwick was a very decent residence—it even had showers! And the estate was beautiful. Dean West was earnestly trying to boost enrollment by making graduate study seem pleasant as well as intellectual. He wanted to create a delightful lifestyle, with nature nearby to inspire the young men and distract from the grind. Good food and physical activity ranging from tennis and baseball to cross-country runs would yield those classical virtues, a sound mind in a sound body. These were Princeton traditions long enjoyed by the undergraduates; why shouldn’t graduate students benefit, too?14 Merwick convinced Dean West that the ideal Graduate College, when made permanent, should be located away from the main campus. It was eight minutes’ walk, which seemed just right. The advantages were numerous: servants weren’t tempted to wander to the saloons on Nassau Street. There was plenty of land to expand. It was leafy and quiet, whereas the main campus was cacophonous with an unprecedented construction boom, two million dollars in new buildings going up there and on Prospect Avenue in one year alone (1908). But the biggest factor was the need to avoid the cyclone of college life. Many of West’s graduate students were former Princeton undergraduates, and they were constantly straying back to campus and especially to the clubs. There were just a



handful of graduate students as yet, West noted, compared to twelve hundred raucous younger kids with their ever-multiplying “athletic, social, sight-seeing and miscellaneous undergraduate diversions.” In the typical dorm room, he observed, the neglected Bible lay buried under piles of well-thumbed magazines. By contrast, he had a beautiful dream for the Graduate College as a sanctuary from the crass world, a special place of high-minded talk, thoughts striking on thoughts after dinner to the aroma of roast coffee and cigarettes. This has been called “luxurious,” but one can see West’s point: the modern world offers innumerable distractions from study, and he wanted to create a sanctuary. He never intended to hide the graduate students completely away (all their classrooms and science labs were on the main campus), but he hoped to ensure that the rest of their hours were spent in monastic quiet. Both West and Wilson were alarmed by college life; but whereas Wilson proposed inserting graduate students into the thick of the undergraduates as an elevating influence, West wished exactly the opposite.15 Dean West savored the peaceful hush of leafy cloisters, yet at the same time he and his sidekick Butler had a definite weakness for the merrily genteel and aesthetical sides of life. They loved to be feted on the local estates of Momo Pyne and Junius Morgan, where regal swans eyed their shimmering reflections in black lily ponds. Like Pyne, West had been intoxicated by the medieval pomp of Oxford University, coming home to exclaim, “It is such a blessed thing to look around you and realize that there is not a man there who is not a gentleman.” An archaeological adventurer in biblical lands who founded the Princeton architecture school, Butler had helped establish Tiger Inn on Prospect Avenue and design its Old English clubhouse—these two men knew the pleasures of conviviality in picturesque surroundings. Stories circulated about lazy mornings at Merwick when graduate students dawdled over newspapers, cigarettes, and coffee before wandering outside for tennis. Academic gowns were mandatory dress at dinner, where grace was said in Latin. Sometimes the beaming Dean West was escorted from his home across Bayard Lane in a candlelight procession.16 West’s vision catered especially to elites, to true gentlemen, because he considered them endangered, having watched America become grossly pragmatic and materialistic since 1890. The really bright, capable men no longer bothered to seek pure knowledge but rather saw myriad chances to get rich. Minds that in his youth would have sought scholar-



Andy Three Million West. The classics professor turned fundraiser extraordinaire, memorialized for eternity at Princeton’s Graduate College.

ship now were seduced by Wall Street. Incoming students were no longer gentlemen but a mere “heterogeneous mass of uncultivation” who desperately needed to be taught manners. West’s answer to what he called on the lecture circuit “The Present Peril to Liberal Education” was to make graduate study appealing by providing first-rate facilities and social amenities like those aimed at undergraduates, a “delightful life” sure to draw the best types. His ideal students were “unusually able, attractive and efficient men” who would grow to be intellectual leaders in whatever field they chose, some of them outside academia altogether.17 West’s major publication (some in town said it was ghostwritten) dealt with Alcuin, greatest teacher of the Middle Ages, who gathered a little band of students under him, nurtured them, and sheltered them from the world outside, which was ugly and gross. Alcuin’s greatest student was that splendid man of mind and action blended, Charlemagne, patron of this Palace School. But this appealing vision—Dean West as Alcuin training virile, enlightened leaders for the twentieth century—



could never compete with the dissipated delights of Prospect Avenue. With his men mingling freely with undergraduates, how could he hope to instill “a distinct graduate attitude”? “The quiet book by the quiet lamp”—how could that survive the club scene? At bottom, West viewed the undergraduates as hopeless and Woodrow Wilson as naive in thinking they could be transformed into America’s leaders. Instead, West put his faith in the graduate students, who had infinitely greater seriousness and focus. And so his mantra became, residential separation of the graduate students from the undergraduates.18 This put him on a collision course with Woodrow Wilson’s equally passionate, opposite mantra of residential integration. Wilson viewed the Graduate College as a component of the organic university. By daily contact, professors would inspire the graduate students, who inspired in the same way the upperclassmen, who inspired lowerclassmen—that was the “organic idea” he expounded, “contact of mind with mind.” Dean West would break that chain! As for location, had Wilson not said in his inaugural address, “We shall build it, not apart, but as nearly as may be at the very heart, the geographical heart, of the university”? The graduate students were, he hoped, his future preceptors, and the leaded glass windows of their rooms would look directly out onto the sidewalks and lawns and lecture halls of the campus they were being trained to serve, the studium generale. He had learned much from the preceptorial system about the right kind of graduate student. Isolate scholars-in-training and they become narrow pedants, eccentrics devoid of “naturalness and human sympathies,” of no use in the future classroom; integrate them into the rough and tumble of college life and they grow into fine teachers, normal men. He had seen the wrong type of graduate student at Johns Hopkins—hiding in narrow cubicles, suffering from “intellectual poverty” because too specialized. Princeton ought never create that type. The perfect site for the Graduate College was next door to his house, Prospect—indeed, occupying the eastern part of his garden—to form a quadrangle strategically lying between Palmer Lab (sciences) and McCosh Hall (humanities), near the library and chapel and forming an aweinspiring counterweight to the frivolities of Prospect Avenue, just yards away. Undergraduates walking by, peeking into the wisteria-scented gardens and cloistered courts, would be seduced by the charms of learning. It would be, in a way, a shining advertisement for the Quad Plan he still hoped was coming.19



All this horrified West. His beloved Graduate College, nurtured over years of patient planning, was about to become a cog in the misguided Quad scheme. West laughed at the notion of residential integration— for graduate students would always look down their noses at the lowly undergraduates, who felt a healthy contempt for them in return. This was human nature, of which Wilson seemed bafflingly ignorant. Moreover, the site was intolerable. It was literally in Woodrow Wilson’s yard, sandwiched between his office in Seventy-Nine Hall on one side and his bedroom in Prospect on the other. The president would have his hands all over everything. And of course West bitterly protested its being so close to the clubs.20 For his part, Woodrow Wilson thought that distant Merwick sent a bad signal that educated people were aloof from the life of the country, not obliged to participate “in the nation’s service.” With every passing day he became more convinced that West wanted the Graduate College to be his private demesne where he oversaw elitists who weren’t learning much more than how to be cultured. West would select which applicants could live there based on family background and status. “His influence upon the graduate students is one of the most serious things of the whole situation,” Wilson warned gravely. West would extend the snob values of the upperclass social clubs to graduate student life. In fact, West was the very kind of professor the Quad Plan was meant to reform: the Ivory Tower intellectual who was too good to associate with the rabble. Put him in charge and he would ruin generations of teachers by inculcating this rotten attitude.21

As the two men argued, the matter of where to situate the Graduate College was becoming urgent. Wealthy widow Josephine Swann had settled in Princeton and taken an interest in the Graduate College. She left three hundred thousand dollars for its buildings, and they had to go somewhere. The original plan (as early as 1896) was to put them on the empty “Academy Lot,” but McCosh Hall was eventually built there to serve Wilson’s preceptorial system. With that site off the table, West insisted on Merwick, Wilson on Prospect. Conciliators suggested other locations east of Washington Road or downhill from campus, but one or the other would shoot them down. (One compromise location seemed promising until it turned out to be an old sewer field.) Wilson’s stubborn-



ness on the question of site was baffling to many. Even allies like “Wick” Scott couldn’t see why graduate students absolutely had to live on campus. A trustee asked flippantly, why all the wrangling over “the location of a boardinghouse?” Momo Pyne couldn’t understand what difference it made “a few hundred yards one way or the other.” And Dean Fine, who had supported Quads, now found Wilson’s obstinacy on the Graduate College location “incomprehensible to most people” and begged him to concede. “Harry, you are asking me to give up my whole case,” Wilson replied. The Graduate College ought to lie at the heart of the organic university; moreover, it ought to fall under the control of the president of the university. He was certain that a distant location automatically meant an Andrew West fiefdom, and that was unacceptable.22 At this tense moment, Ralph Adams Cram stepped onto the stage, tapped as architect. He thought it was the opportunity of a lifetime. “I cannot begin to tell you what the giving of the Graduate College to my firm means to me,” he gushed to President Wilson. “Nothing that has ever come our way in twenty years’ experience has been so interesting or so wonderful in its possibilities.” He prepared to sail for England to study Oxbridge precedents. The Prospect site (which the trustees had for the moment agreed on over West’s objections) delighted Cram as a highly central place to set his masterpiece because the established trees and gardens there would give it the instant feeling of age. Still hoping for a change in location, Dean West worked with Cram in conceiving the designs. When they were unveiled in 1908, however, key faculty members denounced them. All was far too big, costly, and elaborate—too many private bathrooms and studies for the young “gentlemen”; the suites too spacious; too many servant’s quarters. Why did every room need a fireplace? Room rents would be double the costliest undergraduate dorm. In the context of the Quad Fight, Dean West’s fancy Graduate College could be seen as a kind of “great big upper class club.” Only rich students would be able to live there, while the rest huddled in rickety boardinghouses in town—a two-tier social system like Prospect Avenue’s. This backlash revealed deep resentments against West, who was accused of wasting money on pretty buildings instead of focusing on better salaries to lure top faculty. He controlled things absolutely, threatening graduate professors’ “academic freedom.” What distinguished candidate from another university would want to come work under a dictator more interested in table manners than scholarship? With rumors flying that nobody



lifted a pencil at Merwick—they just played tennis and bridge—Princeton was getting a bad reputation, and no wonder its graduate program was languishing, with just forty students enrolled compared to Yale’s 385. A damning faculty report concluded, “We cannot attract strong men by adherence to dilettante ideals”—wording that West’s supporters found deeply unfair and hurtful.23 “West would use the graduate college as a means for widening the gap between the rich and the poor,” an alarmed Professor George Harper told Woodrow Wilson. “I know Prof. West as an after dinner talker and getter of donations,” said the father of a student. “In either character I intensely dislike his work and his point of view.” Wilson eagerly seized on this sudden outbreak of dissatisfaction in his attempts to build an antiWest, anti-Merwick coalition. West, Class of 1874 and a former darling of President McCosh, was far too popular with the alumni and trustees for Wilson to dare insist he be removed—he was a Princeton institution—but perhaps pressure could be brought to bear against him in the hope of limiting his authority. Wilson was pleased to find many faculty allies, including some who had opposed him on Quads. Together they loudly tarred the proposed Graduate College as “exclusive,” with Dean West alone to say who was “privileged” to live there—based on social pedigree, no doubt. The “special privilege” issue so acute with the eating clubs would now “invade” graduate life, the Wilsonites charged.24 As opposition suddenly became more vocal, Dean West grew deeply discouraged, blaming Wilson for everything. He had led him on, pretending to want a Graduate College but then announcing the Quad Plan instead: that was “morally wrong,” he ceaselessly fumed. And now Wilson and allies were trying to steal control of West’s beloved institution, for which he had been tirelessly lobbying and fundraising for a decade and for which he had been persuaded to give up that MIT presidency. Some thought he ought to surrender now and resign the deanship, but he held on stubbornly. Friends found him “almost vindictive” against the president. Young alumnus Raymond Fosdick happened to sit beside him on the train and was shocked by the vehemence of his language against Wilson, “the unrestraint of his characterizations.”25 Things got worse when West’s stalwart ally Grover Cleveland began to fail. As we saw, the statesman summoned West to his deathbed and told him he had read the report on the Graduate College yet again, finding West unimpeachably right. But Woodrow Wilson was not to be trusted,



he warned. “Hang onto it like a bulldog,” Cleveland grimly advised, “no matter what is done to you. Your present outlook is very dark.”26 What could Andrew West do? He was dealing with a dishonorable man who had lied to him about the Graduate College—lied to an ex-president, even! If he were going to retain control of the Graduate College and have it built in an elegant form on a distant site, as he thought proper, he would have to act fast, finding some way to baffle the enemy. Circumstances called for extraordinary cleverness. And West was a clever man.


The Owl, the Eel, and the Soap-Fat Man


UST WHEN things looked darkest for Andrew West, something extraordinary happened. In May 1909, Cooper Procter ’83, head of Procter and Gamble soap company in Cincinnati, came forward with a fabulous offer: five hundred thousand dollars for the Graduate College, provided the university could raise an equal amount. A million dollars finally to get it going! But oddly enough, the announcement came in a letter not to President Wilson but to Dean West, who, it turned out, had taught Procter years before at Cincinnati’s Hughes High School and had tutored the young heir for Princeton. And the letter stated that Procter had lately visited the campus and examined possible Graduate College sites, including Prospect—without once knocking on Wilson’s door. West had secretly led him around, and, lo and behold, Procter found the Prospect site “not suitable.” He offered his enormous gift with a caveat: that “some other site be chosen, which shall be satisfactory to me.” And he just happened to like Merwick. Suddenly the balance of power had shifted, and the ever-resourceful Andrew West was calling the shots on the Graduate College again.1 “Procter’s gift is made to put West in the saddle,” Woodrow Wilson saw at once, and he was livid at the trick. It was West at his most slithery. Procter, forty-six, was an unknown alumnus, without apparent affection for alma mater, having been busy “turning soap fat into millions,” Stockton Axson sniffed. (Then rapidly expanding, Procter and Gamble



was famous for Ivory soap and would soon introduce Crisco shortening.) Only now, when Princeton had become fashionable, did Procter wish to associate himself with it for the “pleasing sensation which a snob covets.” He sought only “display and social advantage.” Trustee and Wilson sympathizer Cleve Dodge privately called the offer a “bribe” meant to cement West’s position.2 But what could Wilson do in the face of half a million dollars— among the most lavish offers thus far in the history of American higher education (worth tens of millions of dollars in today’s terms)? Of course the trustees would accept it, and then West would be in charge forever. Wilson protested by saying that Swann’s will disallowed any off-campus Graduate College, but Momo Pyne (salivating for the gift) had his lawyers find a way around that, which Wilson thought was dishonorable to her. Cooper Procter came forward with a “compromise,” but it was little better. Instead of Merwick, “I will accept the Golf Links”—land that Momo Pyne had given to the university four years earlier and that was even farther afield than the Merwick site (it was about half a mile from the edge of campus, more than twenty minutes’ walk from Nassau Hall or the library). Some compromise! Secretly, Pyne began working to purchase land between there and campus to improve the connection, eager to accommodate the generous Procter. Architect Ralph Adams Cram was easily won over to the golf links site, when he considered how beautiful his buildings would look in that high, splendid location—“the selfishness of the architect,” he conceded.3 Wilson anguished about Pyne and West’s shenanigans and the loss of ally Cram. His enemies, he thought, had cynically usurped his presidential authority using Procter’s fortune. The noble realm of higher education seemed threatened with takeover by the nouveaux riches, the robber barons, the trust tycoons . . . men motivated by greed and devoid of vision . . . and once such a thing got started in America, no university president would ever be independent again. Schools would be the slaves of capital. The whole Wilson household was livid about the situation, especially the acutely sensitive Ellen, who found an outlet for her pain in doggerel verse: The Owl, the Eel, and the Warming Pan Went to call on the Soap-Fat Man. The Soap-Fat Man wasn’t within,



Graduate College at the Golf Links. Cram’s preliminary model on display in Princeton, showing Cleveland Tower (left) and Procter dining hall (right rear).

He’d gone for a ride on his rolling pin. So they all came back by way of the town, And turned the meeting house upside down.

No doubt the scholastic and clever Owl was Dean West; the slippery and changeable Eel, Momo Pyne; and the sycophantic Warming Pan, Jack Hibben. Together they threw the “meeting house” into turmoil, wreaking havoc on the traditional, autonomous university of high thoughts and careful deliberations.4 As earlier with Quads, Woodrow Wilson found himself hamstrung, abandoned by Moses Taylor Pyne. Once cordial, they now despised each other. In fact they had never had much in common: as an undergraduate Momo spent Sundays in his room in South East entry smoking his corncob pipe, brewing a pot of Turkish coffee, and reading the New York papers—he was a decadent Episcopalian—while Woodrow was studying the Bible or writing essays on Christian duty for the journal his father edited, North Carolina Presbyterian. In later years Pyne, a big-hearted plutocrat, gave a fortune to Princeton but, the Wilson family thought,



showed little comprehension of educational problems, beyond expounding in his distinctive thin, petulant whine about the beauties of medieval architecture. Who was in charge of Princeton University, they asked— Woodrow Wilson, the elected president—or Momo Pyne, local squire?5 Much was riding on public perceptions of Wilson’s actions and his response to Pyne’s maneuvering. Days after Procter’s offer, Wilson’s publisher and political backer Colonel George Harvey announced in Harper’s Weekly that “we now expect to see” Woodrow elected governor in 1910 and U.S. president in 1912. Wilson asked wealthy alumnus Junius Morgan if he thought it proper for a college president to resign to become a governor or senator. Morgan said no. Wilson then wondered aloud, “Suppose that he were offered the nomination for President?” “Certainly I do not want the presidency!” he told friends—but duty would compel him to accept a nomination. Moreover, “I have made up my mind that I won’t be president of a country club.”6 He needed the summer of 1909 to plot his next move. He went to elm-shaded Old Lyme, Connecticut, where Ellen, picking up the artistic career she had abandoned when they married, joined the art colony run by Florence Griswold. Woodrow was amused by the ramshackle conditions and bohemian attire (he was reduced to eating without his coat on). The Procter matter colored his view of everything, and sitting on the porch he fumed about the fat-cat motorists roaring by in a cloud of dust on their way to northern New England, “Specimens of the sort of people I like least, the restless, rich, empty-headed people. . . . They and their kind are the worst enemies of Princeton.” He unwound by playing golf in a rocky sheep pasture at Professor Will Vreeland’s place, an old Dutch farmstead three miles away, perched above the Connecticut River. (The impaired vision in his left eye didn’t hurt his game much, he was pleased to find.) They talked so much of Princeton affairs, the sport was sometimes forgotten. He had decided to use the Procter crisis to talk directly to the American people about his academic creed and Quad Plan, writing magazine articles in shorthand that he read aloud to Ellen before typing them up. For years he had written essays on contemporary political issues; now the subject truly hit close to home. “What Is a College For?” he asked in a think piece that faithful classmate Robert Bridges accepted for Scribner’s. “The Ideal University” appeared in the Delineator. Public opinion was the one lever he could use against the formidable Momo Pyne crowd.7



“West must be absolutely eliminated!” Wilson raged to his supporters privately. For “that arch-intriguer,” it must be “a total elimination or nothing.” He would make no “concession of any kind which would not entirely eliminate West from the situation.” The trustees needed to choose between keeping their darling fundraiser Andrew West as dean of the Graduate College or Woodrow Wilson as president of the university. He hinted at resigning and entering “a new field,” politics. What he would never do was compromise. “Every turning point in the history of mankind has been pivoted upon the choice of an individual,” he told an audience of ministers in Chicago, “when some spirit that would not be dominated stood stiff in its independence and said, ‘I go this way. Let any man go another way who pleases.’” A leader’s job lay in “telling the world in very plain terms whither it is bound” and always “the ultimate and complete truth of the matter.” He insisted on “speaking the full truth to it and never letting it forget the truth; speaking the truth again and again and again. . . . That is what I mean by the indomitable individual. . . . The individual who does try, and cannot be shamed, and cannot be silenced.”8 Wilson’s public condemnations about the stranglehold of the rich on academic affairs infuriated Pyne even more. Ever since the ill-conceived Quad Plan, Pyne thought, Wilson had seemed hell-bent on scaring donors away. Pyne warned him that to chase Procter off would be to tell the world that Princeton University was so rich, it needed no further donations from anybody. Wilson behaved himself at Christmastime 1909, when Procter came for a triumphant campus visit and Dean West proudly invited the faculty to meet him. Professor Howard Butler marveled at the sight of “Dr. Patton and West, Fine and Hibben, Daniels and Magie, Pres. Wilson and everybody else gathering about the beer and sandwiches and all having a good word for Procter.” The cordiality was illusory. Next day Cooper Procter met privately with Wilson and repeated his insistence on the golf links site—either the university would agree to it or he would rescind his offer entirely. Although he had promised himself he would not compromise, Wilson now made a strange, Solomonic proposal: to split the Graduate College between the links and the campus. (“Ridiculous,” Pyne called this.) Wilson seemed cornered and desperate, as when he brashly claimed that faculty support for West’s plans had dwindled to less than 10 percent; that was not the impression Procter had gotten over sandwiches the night before. “He then rose rather



abruptly from his chair,” Procter later informed West, “Saying he was in despair over the situation, that he was worried to death about it and could see no solution. . . . He made some remark, which I can’t quite remember but which prompted me to say, ‘You had better change your Board of Trustees then,’ to which he replied, ‘No, I think they had better change their President.’”9 Storming out of the meeting with Procter, Woodrow Wilson was near the breaking point. He had to take a train to New York, but he got off at the station in Jersey City at five o’clock that afternoon to scribble a note to Pyne. “The acceptance of this gift has taken the guidance of the University out of my hands entirely—and I seem to have come to the end.” On Christmas Day he followed up with a brutally candid letter to Pyne that he irrevocably distributed to his allies and others—the beginning of the end of his administration. It asserted Wilson’s ancient creed of the Indomitable Individual and renounced cooperation. “I know it will distress you,” he told Cleve Dodge. It stated his case in the starkest terms: “the graduate establishment on the Golf Links cannot succeed”; “nothing administered by [West] can now succeed”; it was unethical to violate the terms of Swann’s will by putting the Graduate College offcampus; the whole “educational policy of the University” had been torn from the hands of the faculty and president and been given to “those who give money.” If the trustees accepted the Procter gift, Wilson would not “consent . . . to remain responsible for the direction of the affairs of the University.”10

The board assembled in the Trustees’ Room at the west end of Chancellor Green Library at eleven o’clock Thursday morning, January 13, 1910, for a meeting that became legendary. The matter on the table was, should they finally accept Cooper Procter’s gift? Determined not to lose this fortune, Momo Pyne had been scheming with Procter to find a way to delve under Wilson and blow him to the moon. Delayed by a snowstorm, Pyne barged in late, then pulled out a letter from Procter that said he was suddenly willing to accept Wilson’s Solomonic “two Graduate Colleges” idea! In his strategizing, Pyne calculated that Wilson had never really wanted that solution and would not agree to it now, though it was his own idea—which would make him look like an obstructionist. At best, it



might force Wilson out into the open with his irrational hatred for Dean West.11 And the trick worked. It was “the bomb that broke up the meeting,” Thompson said. Unable to contain his anger any longer, an incensed Wilson revealed his true motive for opposing the Procter gift: because it was designed to implement West’s flawed academic program. “The question is one not of geography but of ideals,” he exclaimed in a dramatic shift of argument. “If the Graduate School is based on proper ideals, our Faculty can make a success of it anywhere in Mercer County.” Waving a copy of West’s Proposed Graduate College book, he denounced West’s plans as “his personal ideals . . . and they are radically wrong.” The Graduate College was rooted in “dilettante ideals.” Indeed, “the whole trouble is that Dean West’s ideas and ideals are not the ideas and ideals of Princeton!”12 Now his opponents pounced, loosing the full force of their frustration and anger on the president. If he objected so vehemently to Andrew West’s ideals, why had he once written a commendatory preface to that very book he was holding and urged West to decline the MIT presidency in order to create the Graduate College? Trapped, Woodrow Wilson replied that he had written the preface without having seen the book— which no one believed. Momo Pyne was secretly delighted to watch as the cornered man contradicted himself: “It is difficult to tell the vagaries of his mind as he changes so.” As Wilson became livid—supposedly he had to leave the room to recover—his opponents found their opinion of him confirmed. From now on they did not hesitate to spread rumors of a “mental condition.” Whispers of Wilson’s “degeneration” began this day and would follow him for the rest of his life.13 The explosive meeting revealed the true issues concerning the Graduate College. “The plain fact is that this is a duel between the President and Professor West,” a member of the faculty said. “Everybody here knows that. The question is: Which can Princeton least afford to lose, Professor West and $500,000, or Woodrow Wilson and our honorable rank among American universities?” But Pyne had gained the upper hand now. “Anywhere in Mercer County” would be repeated again and again to show how Wilson habitually flip-flopped, looking for any frivolous pretext to refuse money. Plus he appeared to prevaricate in his estimate of how much faculty support he enjoyed. One trustee said his shifting answers



to their questions were not commensurate with “strict honor.” Some who had supported him found it bizarre that he had rejected his own proposed compromise. His appearance of obstinacy seemed a “serious error of judgment.” He had made “an almost capitally disastrous mistake in administration” by digging in and effectively dividing the board in two.14 After the fracas, which ended with no definite decision on the gift, Thompson could see that Pyne had been “disingenuous” toward the Wilsonites all along: “I think Momo, at heart, is in to beat the President.” “It is Pyne vs. Wilson,” and “Pyne is more valuable to the University.” Standing beside Pyne on the platform at the depot after the meeting, Thompson perceived that he “was unquestionably more bitter than I have ever seen him, and more resolute.” Thompson later urged Dodge, “I think there is only one thing to do now, and that is, take off our coats for a fight, and put Wilson through.”15

Livid as never before at the intrigues of Momo Pyne and Cooper Procter, on January 17 Wilson delivered a scaldingly Democratic speech to New York bankers at the Waldorf, angering at least one prominent listener, J. P. Morgan. Wilson warned them that there was a higher law than profit and that they should be broader-minded to see what was best for America. The newspapers took note. Not long after, an enthusiastic Colonel Harvey spent an evening in the library at Prospect discussing Wilson’s possible entry into active politics. The time seemed right, Harvey said. And as 1910 went on, the outspoken Woodrow Wilson would more than ever play a dual role—Princeton’s embattled president and eloquent national Democrat reformer, each cause lending fire to the other.16 Meanwhile Pyne gloated to Cooper Procter about how their trick in the meeting had flummoxed Wilson. “He was confused and selfcontradictory, and I never saw a man more embarrassed or in a more unpleasant position. . . . It is incredible that any one could take such a position as the President has, and is only explicable on the ground either that he is not mentally balanced or that he is suffering from extreme jealousy” of West. The president had gotten himself into his awful position by “his foolish actions, and how he can have the respect of the men who are backing him up is more than I can understand.”17 Pyne was certain that his gambit had shifted the preponderance of



trustee votes to him and the Procter gift. The next step was for Cooper Procter to issue a conciliatory statement that he wanted “not a luxurious or dilettante college” but “a hard-working, broad, democratic institution, very much on the line of the undergraduate life.” This would strengthen their side. At the same time, Pyne secretly intended to publicize all the ways in which Wilson had tried to thwart the Procter gift, so that the president would seem given to mischief or madness. The ultimate goal was a “new administration,” which “cannot be long in coming when these facts become known to the public.” Procter wholeheartedly agreed: no progress could be made “while Woodrow remains.” The endgame had begun.18 Acting on Pyne’s behest, a trustee circulated a five-page list of Wilson’s inconsistent statements, and editor Jesse Lynch Williams again mobilized the Princeton Alumni Weekly against the president. Whenever Wilson didn’t get his way, the magazine declared, he chose to “knock over the chess board and refuse to play.” How dare he falsely accuse the loyal West of being “an enemy to Princeton’s best interests, as inimical to democracy, as a promoter of dilettantism”? Williams foresaw lasting damage. “For years after this present controversy is ended, and all have settled down to the long, hard task of repairing the injury done, the stigma of cherishing snobbish ideals will cling to Princeton’s name”—as indeed came true.19 Pyne had influential friends, and by late January 1910 the New York Herald was publicizing the struggle, having been fed dispatches that portrayed the situation as Wilson versus alumni, a culmination of the Quad Fight. “Small and sharp politics,” Wilson’s trustee friend the Reverend Jacobus called Pyne’s media strategy, and “despicable.” It was obvious what was happening, “a combined effort to force Wilson from the Presidency.” Indeed, “Wilson Must Go” became the cry as agitated alumni circulated a resolution demanding that the Procter gift be accepted immediately. Alumnus Billy Wilder angrily reminded Wilson that he had pleaded with the New York crowd at the Waldorf in 1902 for “millions” but now was “permitting this million to get away from us during your Presidency.” “I am distressed beyond measure,” Wilder said, and warned that Wilson was “sure to get the blame, if for any reason, good or bad, we lose the million dollars.”20 But if Pyne could use the media for his purposes, so could Wilson. At this opportune moment he was contacted by the sympathetic reporter



Herbert Brougham of the New York Times, a Yale man who had first become intrigued by Wilson when he heard the New Haven faculty praising his Graduate College fight and talking him up for U.S. president. Happy to find a supporter, Wilson wrote Brougham a letter explaining his struggle against “social exclusiveness” and for “real democracy” on campus, and later he secretly read Brougham’s draft editorial and approved it. Technically the editorial was not Wilson’s, but all the ideas were his, even if his signature nowhere appeared. The town that saw a Revolutionary battle “for the establishment of the American democracy,” the anonymous editorial read, was now witnessing “a struggle not less significant for the future of American youth and of Government in the United States.” “The Nation is aroused against special privilege,” that insidious mainstay of the Republican Party; it had already seized control of commerce and industry; would “its exclusive and benumbing touch” now fall on academia? Woodrow Wilson wanted to train men, whereas his opponents desired “exclusive social cliques, stolid groups of wealth and fashion, devoted to non-essentials and the smatterings of culture.” Universities were threatened by “the invasions of the dilettanti.”21 For his opponents who read this over eggs and coffee at breakfast, it was too much. Wilson had penned the editorial himself, the New York alumni were instantly convinced. It was “indecent” to go public with Princeton’s internal business and to strike the generous Cooper Procter “below the belt.” Wilson was cynically advancing his political career by ambushing Princeton University and ruining its good name. What kind of person would do this to a school he had been chosen as a high honor to serve? Dean West was so infuriated by the implied attacks on himself and the late Grover Cleveland, he refused now even to speak to Wilson supporters, avoiding any but the most cursory talk with Dean Henry Fine for the rest of his long life. When asked to repudiate the editorial in order to save Princeton’s reputation, Woodrow Wilson refused; when asked if he had written it, he would not comment but gave the impression of denying involvement. To his foes this was further proof: he was a sneak and a liar.22 His popularity among the great mass of Eastern alumni was now completely shattered. Jessie Lynch Williams, who as a student had admired Woodrow Wilson more than any other professor, was among those disillusioned. “I gave up my belief in his character as a sportsman and fair fighter,” he said. “For his methods of dealing with fellow human beings



I shall always have unbounded contempt.” Momo Pyne wrote angrily to the New York Times denying all charges of elitism and dilettantism and pulled strings to silence the journalist Brougham, who recalled, “I had the mortification of seeing my work quietly throttled through the influence of Mr. Pyne.”23

Now more than ever, Pyne was determined to oust Wilson from the presidency. Having stirred up the alumni with the newspapers, he prepared a second punch: he would privately convince Procter to withdraw his offer. Princeton would lose a fortune. The hurricane of condemnation that was sure to follow would blow Wilson out of office. Then Procter would give his gift after all.24 Cooper Procter announced the withdrawal on February 6, and newspapers nationwide carried the story. “PRINCETON LOSES HALF MILLION GIFT,” said the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin. “SENSATION IS EXPECTED.” But liberal journalists failed to give the story the spin Pyne had wanted. Stressing the Progressivist angle, they lauded Wilson as a “hero,” the “college president who turned down a million dollars.” Conservative New York alumni might be enraged that Woodrow Wilson had driven Procter off, but reporters emphasized his courage and high principles in daring to fight special privilege. As pro-Wilson editorials piled up, an ecstatic Cleve Dodge now predicted that it was Dean West who would be forced to resign and that Princeton would enjoy “quiet and peace such as has not existed for years.” Woodrow replied joyously, “At last we are free to govern the University as our judgments and consciences dictate! I have an unspeakable sense of relief.” He told Mary Peck he was “wounded, but serene.” When people asked him why Procter had pulled out, he mildly said he wasn’t sure . . . all he had done was to ask some very reasonable questions about whether there were strings attached.25 Friends expressed pride in his having held firm. Classmate John Davis wrote to congratulate him “with all my heart. . . . Half a million dollars is a small loss compared with surrender to outside control.” Samuel Thompson ’97 wrote from Denver to assure him of the support of Westerners, never mind the “‘Blind-as-Bats’ New York alumni. New York is the curse of the United States for two reasons—egotism and ignorance.” Southern supporter Walter Hines Page, founder of the Progressive journal World’s Work, called Wilson “eternally right; and the principle is worth standing



firm for and fighting for.” Even campus opinion began to swing back his way. As Wilson introduced a guest lecturer in McCosh Hall one evening, the students spontaneously rose and gave the president a standing ovation.26 Others were less pleased. “The Withdrawal of Mr. Procter’s Gift,” read the cover of the Princeton Alumni Weekly in baleful black letters against a funereal gray. It described the situation in town as “internecine warfare” and a “civil war.” To find comparative peace, the Princeton resident was grimly advised to visit the bloody car strike in Philadelphia or the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Some joked that the most appropriate site for the Graduate College was indeed the golf links, scene of the final, savage assaults in the Revolutionary conflict.27 As the modern Battle of Princeton reached its height, Americans from coast to coast were talking about Woodrow Wilson, educational reformer. Was he, Princetonians furiously debated, a visionary leader of unimpeachable principles or a reckless destroyer of a great university’s finances? Was he motivated by the highest social and academic ideals or by his own burning political ambitions? Was he a paragon of honesty or basically devious? Was his vendetta against West justified or not? Was he capable and steady or afflicted with mental vagaries and self-delusion? Answers to these questions remain slippery even today. As with the Quad Fight, liberals played up the struggle as mirroring the national one, plutocrats versus democrats—or, as the embattled Andrew West phrased it, aristocracy versus socialism. Conservatives mocked Woodrow Wilson’s reform credentials: he lobbied for what he called “democracy,” but hadn’t the greatest Democrat of all, Grover Cleveland, repudiated him—as former President Patton (now a staunch Wilson opponent) never hesitated to remind alumni groups? Everyone was forced to take sides. Writer Booth Tarkington, who adored his former professor Wilson, did not want to believe that he was as terrible as his friend Jesse Lynch Williams was now making him out to be. Surely the originator of the Princeton honor code was not a liar! And yet “there is something disturbing,” Tarkington had to admit, about how Wilson treated Dean West.28 At the heart of the Battle of Princeton lies a deep mystery—the personality, character, and medical condition of Woodrow Wilson. Years later, Professor William Magie looked back on his colleague with bafflement. “I don’t really know whether he was a scheming man or whether he was actuated by the highest motives and was able to convince him-



self he was always right.” “I came to feel that he was almost a pathological case,” Professor Henry Duffield said with unabated anger thirty years after the events, speaking for many Wilson haters in town. “He was drunk with egotism. In my opinion he was a paranoiac and never knew whether he was telling the truth or not.” Another hater was Robert Annin ’80, whose description of Woodrow Wilson in Washington fits the Battle of Princeton perfectly: “The President’s critics differed widely in their moral estimates of his character. There were many who gave him no credit for sincerity, but attributed his blunders wholly to his egoism and an ambition which had recourse to methods consciously and deliberately dishonest. There were those who believed that he sincerely sought high and worthy ends, but by questionable and perilous methods.” No biographer, no matter how admiring, can afford to ignore these criticisms, made by intelligent men who found Wilson genuinely insufferable. Had his cardiovascular disease caused an incipient dementia and an erosion of his moral sense?29 Many suspected that deep down Wilson was holding out for his cherished Quads, and indeed a pro-Quad tract went around as late as June 1909, part of a brisk pamphlet war. To place the Graduate College “adjoining his own house” at Prospect, the Wall Street Journal said, “would prove to be but the entering wedge for the consummation of his purpose to establish a quadrangle at Princeton.” (When asked “isn’t that scheme dead?” Quad opponent Henry van Dyke liked to reply with a dialect story about a headless chicken that fluttered away: “He’s daid but he done forgot it.”) An angry member of the Class of 1898 said that Wilson’s Graduate College ideas were grounded in the same “fundamental fallacy beneath the Quad scheme: i.e., because men live in the same boarding house they will permanently affect each other.” For this a fortune had been lost, sacrificed to “the unreason and Quixotic obstinacy of one man.” Wilson clung to “an ideal conception for a University in Utopia.”30 As earlier with Quads, even his closest friends at times deplored his reckless talk and cussedness. Cyrus McCormick urged his fellow trustee Sheldon “that W. W. be persuaded to use all the tact possible in dealing with students and faculty. . . . He has made lamentable mistakes and has therefore prepared the ground for unfriendly feeling where he could just as well have created a friendly condition. . . . He should do more consulting with members of the faculty and not try to work out so many problems alone.” All through the fight over the Graduate College,



Woodrow Wilson failed adequately to explain his position, and few in the Princeton community could understand the fuss over “the location of a boardinghouse.” As he would do later in politics, he adhered to a public policy of talking about issues, not “naming names,” and thus his pronouncements grew murky as he avoided attacking Andrew West or Momo Pyne directly—“we must observe all knightly and gracious courtesy.” Besides, these adversaries were strong, and to go after them could only make him look small and weak. So he spoke of spiritual ideals, often glowingly imprecise, without touching on sensitive specifics. One trustee seeking compromise came to town to interview Wilson, Fine, and Professor Daniels and came away thoroughly confused by their arguments on the location of the Graduate College. Princeton University was at an impasse—Procter’s offer had been replaced by “one million dollars’ worth of hot air,” lamented Henry van Dyke. Wilson’s reputation had been wrecked, but increasingly Pyne’s was under assault, too, the war revealing simmering discontentment against his quarter-century reign as Mr. Princeton. He had made the school “a proprietary institution,” some now dared say openly—like a country squire in England or a robber baron with a trust. Pyne’s many friends were profoundly offended at such attacks, which took his generosity to Princeton and used it as a stick to beat him.31

Ellen Wilson marveled at how the endless media reports drew attention to Woodrow, enhancing his political stature. He was the most hated man in Princeton now but a beloved one among reformers and liberal newspaper editors across the U.S.A. “This thing has strengthened you immensely throughout the whole country, it is said that there have been hundreds upon hundreds of editorials and all wholly on your side.” Wilson’s faculty opponent Paul van Dyke watched in dismay as “reports based upon that Times editorial have gone from one end of this country to the other and this controversy has been represented as a fight for democratic ideals against the demoralizing influences of unsound and artificial social standards.” Wilson was buoyed by fan mail. An 1897 Princeton graduate who worked with 450 school principals in Pennsylvania, for example, said Wilson was now their most idolized college president. Americans were looking to him for guidance, and he promised he would not betray their trust: “When you have once taken up the torch of leadership you cannot



lay it down without extinguishing it.” But Wilson’s idealism struck other observers as self-serving. The Republican Wall Street Journal pointed to “the strong suspicion now prevailing that Princeton University is to be made the stepping stone for the consummation of political ambition.” Should Wilson eventually become the Democratic candidate for U.S. president, as increasingly seemed “inevitable,” “then for the first time in the history of American educational institutions, one of them will have been used with intent to secure political prominence.”32 On one of his recuperative trips to Bermuda, Wilson chatted with the venerable Mark Twain, who was likewise enjoying the escape from trolley cars, newspapers, and nagging reporters. But Wilson endured bad dreams about Princeton, “The struggle all night with college foes, the sessions of hostile trustees, the confused war of argument and insinuation.” Did he regret his indomitable style? No—“we have no compromises to look back on.” He savored his new national prominence and mulled over political broker Colonel Harvey’s heady suggestions. Woodrow wrote Ellen, “It would be rather jolly, after all, to start out on life anew together, to make a new career, would it not?” The editor of the Elizabeth, New Jersey, Evening Times told him excitedly that the Democrats “propose launching you as a candidate for Governor . . . and as such Governor you would stand a full even chance for the nomination of President in 1912.”33 Tantalized by the Sirens of politics, he was weighing all his options now. But should he leave the helm of the university in the middle of the great fight? After all, his friends were saying that he was on the verge of winning the Battle of Princeton! Cooper Procter had pulled out, and it seemed possible that Momo Pyne—now taking the heat—might finally sacrifice Andrew West just to gain some peace. Sitting on an oceanfront piazza in Bermuda watching the blue waves roll in, Woodrow Wilson could almost taste victory.


Licked by Ten Millions


E RETURNED from Bermuda ready to resume the fight with his adversaries, whose scalding letters filled the pages of the Princeton Alumni Weekly. “I feel as if the whole air about me were poisoned,” Ellen Wilson said. She thought her husband’s hand was stronger than ever, though, and if Momo Pyne stubbornly continued to support Andrew West, “it sets you free again to leave if you wish,—that is to accept the nomination for governor.”1 An alumni trustee vacancy had arisen, and the candidates took sides in the Battle of Princeton: Adrian Joline of New York, who had helped defeat the Quad Plan, was against Wilson, and one John Barr of Louisville was for him. A deeper issue was the overweening might of the East Coast alumni. Almost a third of Princeton graduates, but only five of the thirty trustees, lived west of the Alleghenies, making the West conspicuously underrepresented. For progressive Westerners, Woodrow Wilson was a hero now, and they lined up behind him and Barr. Alumni nationwide would vote, and, trustee Henry B. Thompson told Pyne, “The election of Joline means the immediate resignation of Wilson.” Pyne certainly hoped so.2 Following his old oratorical instincts, Wilson launched into a speaking tour through four states in opposition to Adrian Joline. Some of his trustee opponents shadowed him, sitting prominently in the front row to show they were keeping an eye on what reckless things he said. At the St. Louis Country Club, Wilson rose from his seat next to Cooper Procter to discuss the passing away of Old Princeton and the foolish consternation



of alumni who still cherished it. The familiar place, “the little family” of their youth, had long since given way to Princeton University, and they had better get used to it. But at the end of the evening it was Procter who was carried away on the shoulders of the cheering alumni like a championship basketball player. Even in the West, quite a few found Wilson a bitter pill. At times in these talks he hinted how close he was to leaving Princeton; in Jersey City he concluded by saying, “If we are wrong it is your duty . . . to get a new president.”3 An icy reception awaited him from an audience of three hundred in New York. An anti-Wilson pamphlet was circulated in the crowded hall, one of a dozen published during these years of conflict. This one argued that Procter’s fortune had been “willfully thrown away, through bad judgment.” There were no cheers for Wilson, only for “The President of Princeton.” He started out by saying sarcastically how delightful it was to talk to New York alumni when they were interested in a “purely educational question” for once. He knew that they were thinking, “It is bad business to refuse half a million dollars.” But the whole nation now admired Princetonians as “men who prefer ideas even to money.” To woo Procter again would be to say to everyone, gosh, we were wrong, “We prefer money to ideas.” Then he summarized once more his academic creed: “The whole Princeton idea is an organic idea, an idea of contact of mind with mind.” A remote Graduate College would introduce a fissure. This was all about far more than Princeton’s internal affairs: “There is nothing private in America. Everything is public.” “The tribunal by which this university is to be judged is the nation itself.”4 The place emptied quickly after he spoke. “The New York and Philadelphia alumni,” he concluded gloomily from his tour, “have made up their minds to bring about a change of administration for fear a democratic reorganization of the University may be eventually effected which would strike a blow at club interests both here and in New York.” He had made it obvious that the fight wasn’t just about Princeton anymore, but all America. The political dimensions were clear to his critics, too. As a member of the Class of 1872 wondered, “Are personal ambitions playing football with the interests of the university?”5

After they snubbed him in New York, he was furious. Alumnus Philip Rollins perceived the irony in his angrily asking, “Phil, how can Princeton be made democratic unless I have my own way?” As often in such



Tough crowd. The New York alumni, here seated by class year as they banquet at the Waldorf, proved Wilson’s sharpest foes.

moods, he did not speak prudently the next time, which came days later at the Princeton Alumni Association of Western Pennsylvania meeting at the Hotel Schenley in Pittsburgh, oldest and largest of the Western clubs and presumably friendly. A huge canvas reunion tent, strung with electric lights, filled the ballroom, with vents to let out the cigar smoke and



set the orange and black streamers fluttering. Two hundred diners sat on camp chairs, smiled at the papier-mâché tiger with illuminated eyes, and enjoyed a new song with “a swing appropriate to a tent meeting,” the now-famous “Going Back to Nassau Hall.” An undergraduate was humorously introduced to the audience as being in charge of “every one of the fifty-two sideshows at Princeton.” But the laughter ended when Woodrow Wilson rose to speak.6 He made reference to his “splendid isolation” now that the trustees had defied him at every turn. He didn’t know whom he represented anymore except himself. He condemned Andrew West’s Graduate College plans as being out of touch with trends nationally: “How does the nation judge Princeton?” Thinking of the ministers among the trustees and faculty (including Jack Hibben) who had been seduced by Cooper Procter’s cash, he began to talk about America’s churches and the need to reform them, too: “They serve the classes, not the masses” and cared about pew rents, not souls. “The colleges are in the same class, looking to the support of wealth rather than to the people.” Warming to his subject, he hailed “the great mass of the unknown, of the unrecognized, whose powers are being bettered by struggle.” Today’s colleges would have ruined Abraham Lincoln, as they regularly ruin other potential public servants with their aristocratic “spirit . . . most dangerous to America.” True leaders don’t seek class esteem but rather are “saturated with the impressions of common men. All the fruitage of the earth comes from the black soil.”7 The alumni were now in shock—this was worthy of a Socialist labor hall! “What we cry out against is that a handful of conspicuous men have thrust cruel hands among the heartstrings of the masses of men upon whose blood and energy they are subsisting.” But Woodrow Wilson was here to fight those men. “I have dedicated every power that there is within me to bring the colleges . . . to an absolutely democratic regeneration in spirit. . . . I know that the colleges of this country must be reconstructed from top to bottom, and I know that America is going to demand it.” The stakes were high, he said, alluding to the civil unrest of the French Revolution: “If she loses her self possession America will stagger like France through fields of blood before she again finds peace and prosperity under the leadership of men who know her needs.”8 How to explain this extraordinary speech? As often when wracked with stress and emotion, Wilson lost his cherished self-control and good judgment. He had lately been stonewalled at another board meeting,



with Momo Pyne “absolutely implacable.” He dreaded having to go to Pittsburgh at all, telling Stockton Axson he had nothing to say. On his arrival there, local alumnus Lawrence Woods ’91 was shocked to find him in a state of dejection. When Wilson sat down at the end of his talk, Woods was certain he had witnessed the death of Wilson’s Princeton presidency, everything sacrificed for high moral principles. Driving to Woods’s home the morning after, soot-belching smokestacks rising darkly in the distance, Woodrow Wilson declared that his entire life had been a failure. “I am throwing away any chance of carrying out my educational plans. But what can I do? I must follow what I think is right.”9 An eyewitness said the Pittsburgh speech left the audience “stupefied with surprise,” a feeling shared by many readers of the sensationalized media accounts in days following. “Whenever I make a speech without supplying the newspapers with what I really said, I get into trouble,” Wilson only belatedly realized. Editorials said the attack on the churches could hardly have come from “the most radical Socialist.” As the printed accounts piled up and made him look ridiculous, he regretted his comments. “I let myself go,” he admitted, crossing the line into political stump speaking. It was all the result of “my deep excitement” owing to the trustees and the “impossible situation” they had created, “but that is only an explanation of my stupid blunder, not an excuse for it.”10

Blunder or not, the address, which his enemies gleefully published as That Pittsburgh Speech, marked the final, explosive moment of fusion between Woodrow Wilson’s educational idealism and his Democratic Party politics. “The conclusion is unavoidable,” biographer Henry Bragdon says, that it was “a bid for political favor. . . . He may have been carried away, but what carried him away seems to have been the vision of high political office.” He responded all too eagerly to the toastmaster’s introduction of him as “the true type of American statesman,—he has loved truth for truth’s sake, for truth’s sake alone.” Furious reaction to the speech was rife with political overtones. The Princeton Alumni Weekly published a spoof using Wilson’s exact words but demanding “CO-EDUCATION,” an even more radical program—how long until “Miss Susie Spankhurst, our first co-ed?” Probably that would be reckless Woodrow’s next reform. Western rancher and future novelist Struthers Burt ’04 warned of the “demagoguism about this continued cry of ‘Democracy.’” But an



alumnus in Scranton, Pennsylvania, predicted that circulation of That Pittsburgh Speech would backfire, further making Wilson “a prominent national figure; he will be regarded no longer as the president of a great and aristocratic university, but as one of the leaders of progressive statesmanship in America. . . . Before our whole country Woodrow Wilson will emerge from this contest with tremendous additional prestige.”11 Throughout the Battle of Princeton it has been difficult to disentangle Wilson’s campus actions from his emerging political aspirations, the two spheres converging and influencing each other in complex ways. His lifelong habit of boldness and fixity served his higher political goals as he spoke “to a larger audience” over the trustees’ balding heads, trying to build a reputation so mighty, the board would be unable to resist public support for him. But for a long time he talked about education, not “democracy,” biographer John Milton Cooper, Jr., stresses. “Despite clear temptations and the urging of some supporters. . . . Wilson kept his priorities straight. His highest aim at Princeton was educational, not social or political.” And on the national stage he had mostly tried to keep his political pronouncements non-radical, because he wanted to be seen as a stable alternative to William Jennings Bryan. But by 1909 he was plainly showing his radical stripes both on campus and off. In January he said, “I believe that many of the alumni of Princeton would now describe me as a radical,” and even he was starting to admit it. He was talking loudly and often about the themes of democracy and social reform. As always, the examples of great men stirred him, and in that year of the Lincoln centennial he thought of Honest Abe as a paragon. The Lincoln reference in the Pittsburgh speech resonated with certain of his previous firebrand comments to Williams College alumni at Delmonico’s: Take Abraham Lincoln, for example. He couldn’t have been born in the present City of New York. He would have fought New York. Any one who thinks New York today doesn’t think American. This city doesn’t make generalized Americans, and that is just the kind of Americans that the American universities must make. Our colleges are not doing this today. Colleges must not be mere country clubs in which to breed up a leisure class. I don’t blame the leisure classes for doing wrong. If I belonged to a leisure class I would try to see how near I could come to getting into jail.12

“Wilson’s declaration of ideological emancipation,” biographer John Mulder calls this feisty speech. And by early 1910, Wilson’s Princeton



battles had morphed into a true national campaign. “Club interests” defined narrowly as Prospect Avenue had grown into the pernicious effects of the rich on the whole country. He dared hint at his radicalism now, telling an audience in March, “The dangerous radical is that man of middle age who has been hurt in one way or another. . . . To tell the truth is to hurt, but that must not matter.”13 More and more his words carried the dual freight of Princeton and America. In Pittsburgh he mentioned the Graduate College only once, to ask, “Will America tolerate the seclusion of graduate students?”—but his concluding statements referred constantly to the nation. No snobbish class can serve America; the voice of America arises from farms and factories and mills; America wants to know that college men are democratic; America demands the reconstruction of the universities; the free air of America will come blowing into them. He offered a choice: the seven thousand living Princetonians could do what their small, selfserving vision suggested for their pet institution, or they could nobly put themselves “at the service of the millions.”14 As he become more outspoken and America-focused, support was building in New Jersey in spring 1910 for Woodrow Wilson as gubernatorial nominee. He received wide publicity for a speech to a Democratic dinner in Elizabeth, printed by the enthusiastic Colonel George Harvey in Harper’s Weekly. One political backer had it figured out: “You will be nominated and elected Governor of New Jersey. . . . Then the Democracy of the nation will make a choice. In my opinion, the determining factor will be your Southern birth, for the South is sentimental and the appeal to that section will be tremendous. Your present residence in New Jersey is strategic, and service as Governor is necessary to make you a national Democratic figure.” By April 5, rumors were circulating widely that Wilson would run. With all this electrifying talk, his youthful aspirations for office were “set throbbing again,” he told Mary Peck. “This is what I was meant for, anyhow, this rough and tumble of the political arena. My instinct all turns that way, and I sometimes feel rather impatiently the restraints of my academic position.” Trustee Henry B. Thompson urged Pyne to back off from his aggressive anti-Wilson campaign and support for Adrian Joline, because “Wilson is sure to be nominated for Governor of New Jersey. . . . If it should come about, his resignation would come through perfectly natural causes” without further rancor or resignations of faculty and trustees.15



As Mulder points out, Wilson’s thinking this spring was strikingly moralistic and reformist as he made the strange and uneasy transformation from professor to politician. Often there was a retrospective nod to his Princeton career. “Courage, principle, self-sacrifice [are] the finest forces in the world,” Wilson told a senior prayer meeting on campus. He said to the Philadelphian Society in Murray Hall, “He that observeth the wind will not sow. . . . The men who have done what they believed to be right regardless of whether it happened to be easy or opportune” are, history shows, “the men who have moved the world.” A true leader identifies what his duties are, then performs them without regard to the fickle winds of opinion. To go with the crowd is “despicable.” He spoke to the National Democratic Club of New York on the subject of Grover Cleveland, but he was really talking about Woodrow Wilson. Cleveland/Wilson had never abandoned the noble standards of individualism taught him in childhood. “He was a bold man and an absolutely pertinacious man.” “Obstinate,” his enemies said, but to his friends it was all “courageous.” “The real test of character comes when audacity works along lines that are certain to be unpopular.” America loves “a bold and fearless man.”16

The past four years had been extraordinarily rancorous at Old Nassau. As Bragdon has written, all sides were to blame for devious tactics and inflammatory rhetoric as they fought for “the spirit of Princeton.” But the Indomitable Woodrow Wilson, he concludes, was chiefly at fault. He dug in obstinately on pet issues, such as the site of graduate housing, which few others thought important. Highly emotional, he shifted his ground in a way that infuriated his enemies and undermined his friends (“Anywhere in Mercer County”). He failed to conciliate or build bridges. He wallowed in his hatred for Andrew West. He stressed the social exclusiveness issue in a way calculated to enrage alumni. Bragdon blames Wilson’s high blood pressure for causing mood swings and extreme irritability, and we could go even further, pointing to his ministroke in 1906 and possible changes in the brain. But along with his deteriorating health there was another factor, his swelling ambition and craving for political clout. The “great men” of his childhood fantasies were bursting the seams of his orderly, everyday life.17 He told his trustee ally David B. Jones that he was definitely considering a run for governor, depending on the outcome of the June trustees’



meeting. If that went badly, he would announce in September his retirement. Jones, who viewed the governorship as merely “a means to an end,” urged him to announce his candidacy sooner, two days after commencement. “To resign a position second only to the Presidency of the country as a pulpit, because you would not submit to the control of education by money and for money, would create a situation of national interest. It would then be the most natural thing in the world for a nomination to come to you in September.” But Woodrow Wilson was too busy to think of this now; he would make all decisions in June.18 The fates, however, do not wait until times are convenient, and his future (and indeed the course of American political history) was determined by a telephone call in the night. Ellen’s sister Madge, whose bedroom was in the Prospect tower with its window facing hers, was awakened by the sound of Woodrow’s voice, alarmingly tense. She slipped on a dressing gown and went out into the hall. Through the door she saw Ellen lying back in a big chair, close to tears. Woodrow replaced the telephone on the table and, seeing Madge, called her in to tell her the news: just when they thought Andrew West was really defeated and indeed about to be ousted from the deanship, by secret machinations he had secured ten million dollars for his Graduate College! It came from an ancient alumnus named Wyman who had just died and left Princeton everything, with West specifically named as executor. Woodrow Wilson’s mouth was grim as he said, “I could lick a half-million, but I’m licked by ten millions.” Next morning Nell came down to breakfast and heard an odd laughter in the dining room. Father told her what happened. “We’ve beaten the living, but we can’t fight the dead—the game is up.”19

“I can hardly believe it all! It is so splendid,” West exulted to Pyne in describing how he had hooked the huge gift from Isaac Wyman ’48, a crusty Massachusetts bachelor with vast real estate holdings. “TE DEUM LAUDAMUS.” Knowing that Pyne was tiring of the Battle of Princeton and was being pressured by some trustees to cut him loose, West had gone to work on old Wyman zealously in the summer of 1909. The decrepit man had never been back to Princeton since graduating sixty-two years earlier but had a sentimental tie: at seventeen his father had served in the Continental Army there, and his flintlock musket, powder horn, and



sword were treasured relics. West seized on this. When Wyman mused that he might leave his fortune to Harvard, West shrewdly countered, “Where did your father fight, in the Battle of Cambridge or the Battle of Princeton?”20 West was fighting for his survival. It is said that trustee Sheldon was on his way to Princeton with a letter in his pocket removing West from his deanship when he read about the Wyman bequest in the newspaper—or that a messenger boy bearing word of the bequest ran right by Sheldon as he strolled up the street toward West’s door. Whatever the circumstances, Dean West often reminisced how close he was to being thrown overboard when the Wyman miracle happened. It was one of the great surprises and turning points in American academic history—a kind of magic, perhaps, in a month that saw the Earth glide through the tail of Halley’s Comet. The gigantic sum, estimated by West to be at least two million dollars and, when he felt expansive, as much as twenty or thirty million (equivalent to hundreds of millions today), was expected at a minimum to double the entire Princeton endowment. There was no question that he would now get exactly the Graduate College he had wanted. He urged Ralph Adams Cram to send the final architectural drawings right away so that the site on the golf links could be staked out, before Woodrow Wilson could think up further mischief. To start the foundations soon, Cram agreed, “will make a tremendous show and ought to serve your purpose.”21 For Wilsonites like Stockton Axson, the Wyman millions meant that Princeton had finally “sold its soul.” But Momo Pyne could not contain his jubilation, writing Cooper Procter of “the absolute defeat of the other side,” “complete surrender,” and “a most gratifying victory for us. . . . The victory for us is so complete that it is hard almost to realize it.” The Battle of Princeton was over, and everything had turned out perfectly, except that Woodrow Wilson was still in Prospect, and, he told a friend, “We must keep our eye on the ball as long as he remains President.”22 Meanwhile, a defeated Wilson summoned West to Prospect. “Don’t say anything till I have finished,” he began. “You know how I set my face like flint against the site on the golf links. But the magnitude of the bequest alters the perspective.” He would now accept the links and West’s remaining as dean. He appeared totally conciliatory—but it was merely a grim strategy, one urged on him by his friends. “They with one accord



declared that it would look like pique at the success of West in getting those great sums of money, if I were to resign, and that it was expected of me to do a bigger thing, viz win by concession.”23 But to resign was definitely tempting. He talked the matter over on a long “triangle walk” with Stockton Axson, concluding fatalistically as they came in the stone Prospect gates that he would never be able to defeat the rich alumni and trustees, for “privilege never yields.” The American university lay entirely in their clutches now, and higher education was doomed. He sat glumly on the porch and said he felt like a mere figurehead. “I am not interested in simply administering a club. Unless I can develop something I cannot get thoroughly interested.” He added thoughtfully, “I can be elected Governor of New Jersey, and I am tempted to let them nominate me.” He told trustee Cyrus McCormick that the question of his future at Princeton was still open—he might yet remain—but “with West’s great power under the will of Mr. Wyman, it is evident that he must be handled most wisely and diplomatically. I am not at all sure that I have a strong enough stomach for that.”24 Not that he was definitely leaving. The huge gift was any educator’s dream, even if it meant working with Dean West; his faculty allies Fine, Capps, and Conklin, who had been threatening to leave, would now want to stay; and it appeared that the pro-Wilson candidate was likely to be elected as alumni trustee. But many allies suspected that this was the end. Classmate Hiram Woods told him from Baltimore, “The general opinion here is that West has this enormous amount to do with as he pleases, and that, whatever else the money will do for Princeton, it means your enforced resignation.” “I want to stand by,” Wilson replied. “I am afraid it would seem small and petulant if I were to resign in the circumstances.”25 He would wait and see, he told trustee Thomas Jones, whether “the temper of the Pyne party” would continue “implacable and hostile” toward him. His next encounter with that group, a meeting of the Committee on Grounds and Buildings in late May, was not auspicious, as they lorded it over their defeated foe. “The spirit shown at the meeting was a thoroughly nasty one,” his friend Henry B. Thompson was dismayed to find. In a petty matter concerning renovations to a campus house for Wilson’s future brother-in-law, Dean Elliott, they coldly snubbed him. “The whole action of Wilson’s opponents was ungracious, and, if not in-



tentional, then thoroughly stupid,” Thompson said. “I felt ashamed and disgusted with the whole performance, as it seemed to me an intentional attempt to demean Wilson in his position as President.”26 That meeting left Wilson feeling “rather hopeless,” tipping him for the moment toward the option of resigning. “We are certainly going through deep waters,” Ellen told a cousin. “There is no light at all yet.” Woodrow told Mary Peck that he did not know what to do, now that “Mr. Pyne seems to have changed his very nature and to have become so incalculable as to seem all but irresponsible. The whole matter still hinges on him: and of that I am getting precious tired! . . . I am almost getting used to the state of doubt and conjecture, and keep myself, like a cat, at poise, ready to jump in any direction.” “The game now,” he suspected, was for his enemies to get Cooper Procter to renew his offer in a form impossible for him to accept. “If they win, there will be an upset”— he would resign. “If they do not, I shall have to drudge on here, trying to wring something out of an all but intolerable situation, out of mere loyalty to the fine men, the splendid friends, who have stood by me through thick and thin.” He had held out an olive branch to Pyne and West only because of “the literally unanimous opinion of all the splendid men who have stood by me.”27 A vindicated Cooper Procter visited Princeton on June 4, and Wilson had to show his entourage through Prospect garden. The president “moved amongst those dames and gentlemen like a man trying not to overhear their thoughts or to show any consciousness of the complacent triumph and condescension in their bearing,—or of their whisperings apart. . . . It was a trying experience.” Even harder must have been the ceremony on the steps of Nassau Hall before the P-Rade, at which he handed Momo Pyne a huge gold beaker for twenty-five years’ service to Princeton. Yet commencement made Woodrow Wilson feel better. He was cheered in Alexander Hall in a spontaneous ovation as tears streamed down his face: “I seemed for some inscrutable reason to be the hero of the occasion.” Going into these events he had feared he would be perceived as weak, but he held his chin up, and, he told Mary Peck, “I made a speech, too, which, I dare say, sounded little enough like the speech of a man who has surrendered. It was, of course, no surrender in fact to yield what I did; but, in my stubborn pride, I was mortally afraid it might seem so.” Since Barr had happily beaten Joline for trustee, 1,255 to 754,



Wilson could tell his academic friend Harry Garfield on June 15, “There is now at least a good fighting chance to guide things as they should be guided, and so long as that is true one must stick to the great job.”28

As summer began, then, it was by no means clear that Woodrow Wilson was through at Princeton. His ally Edward Sheldon thought he had shown a total “ability to control the situation” during the past weeks. Trustee David B. Jones felt that matters were “very greatly improved” and that a favorable majority on the board might even be assured in five years. Robert Garrett thought Wilson had “won the main issue.” Even his opponent Joe Shea told him that Princeton was “started again on another era of good understanding.” Wilson himself could speak confidently of “our present advantage,” telling a friend, “I have just won a substantial victory at Princeton, and my position there has just been greatly strengthened by a heavy vote of the alumni.” But to Garrett he sounded gloomier. “I wish I could regard our recent fight at Princeton as virtually won,” he said. “I could, if West were not left in a position of extraordinary power.”29 No matter how things were going in Princeton from day to day, politics continued inexorably to beckon. Just before he left for Old Lyme, Connecticut, on June 25, he asked David B. Jones whether he ought to run for office. “The settlement of our questions at Princeton has not settled anything so far as the politicians are concerned.” And no sooner than had he arrived in Connecticut, he was whisked to Deal, New Jersey, for a crucial dinner with Colonel Harvey and other Democratic big guns, who made it clear that he must decide immediately if he wanted the nomination. Back in Old Lyme, he sat on a little trunk by the fireplace in the family quarters and told Ellen and the girls about this profoundly important meeting—teasing them by interrupting his narrative at critical points to show them his new rubber golf tee and expounding at a leisurely pace on its virtues.30 He was excited by the political possibilities but unwilling to act without the approval of his Princeton allies, men who had promised large sums of money to the university and ought to have their say about its future. And certainly everyone should work together to ensure that “no reactionary be chosen” as his successor, should he step down. He consulted with trustees and Professors McCormick, Sheldon, Fine, Daniels, and many others. All agreed the decision was a difficult one but that



“A lasting love, rarely seen between men.” Cleveland Dodge ’79, Wilson’s staunchest backer at Princeton and beyond.

Woodrow Wilson should do what he thought right for him. None implied that he had been fatally weakened, was desperate, or was being driven out, although trustee Melancthon Jacobus shocked him by saying, “I suppose you know what this means in connection with the fight at Princeton? It means that we shall have to surrender.” And Trustee Robert Garrett urged him to stay, not quit. “It would in my judgment be deplorable to withdraw” and leave Princeton in the hands of men who were incompetent, prejudiced, and petty. But his good friend Cleve Dodge spoke for the majority in saying, “You are answering a bigger call which may result in untold good to the country.”31 The Wilsons had returned to Florence Griswold’s art colony that summer, the place still tumbling about their ears, its century-old floors never scrubbed, the bathrooms ancient, the food unpalatable. Ellen painted in her shacklike studio; Woodrow typed all morning, then walked to Princeton professor Will Vreeland’s place for golf on the rocky course. His mind was full of politics. He talked over his future for hours with Dodge on his yacht, Corona, and with Jacobus. As much as he regretted leaving Princeton before the fight was won, he was concluding that he must enter politics now that he was being asked. As professor he had always told his jurisprudence class of the “imperative obligation” of the call to serve. He said he could never face his students again if he disregarded that sacred duty.32 In early July the New York American broke the story of his possible



candidacy, and the reporters descended. He was playing golf when one caught up with him at dusk. “He was collarless and perspiring and his face was bronzed,” but his smile soon darkened to a frown as he said, “I don’t want to talk politics at all.” He denied any candidacy and expressed annoyance at the rumor that he was the tool of Wall Street interests. Then he jumped into an automobile and was whisked away. The official line was, “I sincerely wish to be left to do my work at Princeton.” But on July 12 he attended another meeting with Colonel Harvey and New Jersey political operatives at the Equitable Building in Manhattan. At first he acted diffident, but by the end he spoke once more of service: “I have always taught my boys that they should be ready to meet any emergency that should arise.” Three days later he telegraphed a statement from Old Lyme: he was not a candidate and did not seek it, but if it were thrust upon him, “I should deem it my duty” to accept.33 At long last, the political career of Woodrow Wilson was about to begin—that fateful leap into the unknown.


Governor, President— and Aftermath, 1910–24

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Kicked Upstairs


F AN ACADEMIC with no practical experience could win the New Jersey governorship, it would be a political miracle. Just wanting to get rid of him, Wilson’s Princeton opponents were praying that it happened. A story went around that they had actually promised the machine bosses of the state that they would bankroll his campaign! These foes were sure he was unfit for the job, anyway. Trustee Joseph Shea warned Wilson “as a very sincere friend, although at times an unwilling opponent” that public office would overwhelm him with “the strains, the worry . . . they would break your heart.” Thomas McCarter ’88 stressed that politics was unpleasant. “After a generation spent in a scholarly and academic atmosphere, I shall be surprised if you like it.” And former president Francis Patton made the New York alumni laugh when he punningly predicted the neophyte politician would soon encounter “the frosty caucuses.”1 But the ball was rolling. In August 1910 a circular was mailed to all fourteen hundred Princeton alumni living in the state urging them to support Woodrow Wilson’s nomination. A Princeton Alumni Wilson League was founded. And he was nominated as Democratic candidate for governor at Taylor Opera House in Trenton on September 15, with forty Princeton students and alumni strategically placed on the stage “sis-booming” for him. The scene was frenzied, with opponents loudly hissing the name of Wilson and an anti-Wilson delegate breaking his cane over an adversary’s head. Professor Stockton Axson went down



to Trenton from the university with some Wilson haters who were perversely rooting him on. “They were quite frantic to get him out of the presidency.”2 Wilson himself played golf that morning on the Princeton links— the ones where the Graduate College would soon go—having secretly come down from Old Lyme to be near the proceedings. As he chipped and putted, the machine bosses steamrollered the convention for him, an ironic start to a reformer’s career (once in office, they fully expected the naive academic would prove a stool pigeon for their interests). In the afternoon a big touring car zipped him off to Trenton, where he learned of the victory of “Mr. Wilson, the candidate for the governorship, and the next President of the United States.” Still wearing his knitted golf jacket, he addressed the cheering throng, many of whom had never laid eyes on him before, so completely absent had he been from state politics. One yokel in the hall exclaimed, “Gawd, look at his jaw!”3 “As you know, I did not seek this nomination,” Wilson told them from the stage. “It has come to me absolutely unsolicited. . . . No pledges of any kind have been given. . . . I cannot but regard these circumstances as marking the beginning of a new and more ideal era in our politics.” With its ringing declaration of his personal independence and its eloquent call for change, the speech thrilled reform Democrats in New Jersey and beyond, winning over many skeptics who assumed the neophyte was in the pocket of the bosses. “Thank God, at last, a leader has come!” shouted a group of young onlookers. “Princeton has produced the next president of the United States,” his old student and New York lawyer Bill McCombs ’98 would write him confidently. Harvard president Lawrence Lowell said, “So you have gone and done it! Are not the seas of university management boisterous enough that you must seek the storms of politics?” Many believed Wilson owed his nomination entirely to the reputation he had gained in the Princeton fights, which had first made him famous as a national Progressive. “Because the people of New Jersey knew all about this modern Battle of Princeton,” an anonymous admirer wrote in Vanity Fair, “they knew that when it came time to line up for or against Money and Privilege, they could be sure on which side they would find Wilson!”4

The next day, a New York World reporter chatted with him for an hour on the porch at Prospect—the same day Wilson announced he was sub-



mitting his resignation as Princeton president at the October trustees’ meeting. The candidate’s age was hard to guess, as he was “old-young,” seemingly about forty, not his actual fifty-three. “Seeing him walking in the college grounds with students all about, one might easily mistake him at a little distance for a senior.” Wilson stood erect, was spare but broad shouldered, and not so ugly as he himself gave out. “He has what is sometimes called ‘a strong face.’ The brow is both high and broad; the blue eyes deep set, the nose long and the mouth quite straight and not very large. The whole face is long and somewhat narrow and the lines at either side of the mouth are very deep. The most noticeable feature are the ears. They are very large, protrude, and have very long lobes. The doctor’s dark hair is turning gray and is quite thin.” Wilson was alert, with a penetrating glance. In an ebullient mood today, he smiled frequently, spoke quickly and with distinct enunciation, yet used colloquialisms and even slang. “I have always wanted to go into politics,” he said. “As a young man that was my ambition. But I came to the conclusion that it was not the place for a man who was not independent. . . . So I studied law.”5 The fall would be a whirlwind for the “Scholar in Politics.” Photographers besieged Prospect and harried the Wilson daughters with requests to pose. Unhappy with his looks, the candidate only reluctantly submitted to the lens, wearing his familiar plain gray suit and brown fedora. The telephone rang constantly. (“I can see that our beautiful private life is gone,” Ellen sighed.) Immaculately dressed Democratic “Boss” Jim Smith and his cronies, who had steamrollered the convention, came to the study to size the greenhorn up. At first, Wilson said, they were absurdly quiet in such bookish surroundings, although Smith had sent three sons to Princeton, who had raved to him about this Woodrow fellow. But the bosses treated him “like a schoolboy when they got over the professorial atmosphere,” Wilson added with a smile. Privately calling him the “Presbyterian priest,” they expected to pull the puppet strings now. Wilson warned Smith that he was “an absolutely independent person”—truer words were never spoken—and as it turned out he would lose little time after the election in turning against the Boss, denying him his expected reward of a seat in the United States Senate. This audacious move further burnished Wilson’s Progressivist reputation but also fueled talk that he was a sanctimonious weasel, not to be trusted. “Wilson is the greatest faker, imposter, liar, ingrate,” a Trenton political operative fumed to a reporter. “Wilson? The world can never know the depths of his perfidy.”6



On public display. A press photograph taken at Prospect as the gubernatorial campaign got under way (September 1910) shows Maggie, Ellen, Jessie, Woodrow, and Nell.

In his damning book Woodrow Wilson: A Character Study, Robert Annin ’80 gave the version of events that Wilson’s Princeton enemies told. “I did not seek this nomination”—that was a lie. In fact, Wilson had long craved the U.S. presidency and himself approached Smith about becoming a candidate in New Jersey. Later he manipulated the Boss ingeniously. Annin marveled at “Governor Wilson’s fruitful use of Mr. Smith for his own ends; his ruthless elimination of him as a political leader; and the enviable reputation as a reformer which he gained thereby. His antagonists were completely mystified by his tactics.” With the Smith episode, the Woodrow Wilson myth hardened further—“an autocrat who played a lone hand instead of inviting counsel; an ingrate who took but never gave, possessed of a cruel, mean streak precluding loyalty.” Where did the scholar learn his tough tactics? Wilson personally pointed to his schooling in the Battle of Princeton. “Those fellows could give lessons to professional politicians,” he said again and again of his old campus



enemies. “After dealing with university men,” he told one audience, “the men I am striving with appear as amateurs. I fail to find the same subtle games that I found in the university”—although his foes said he was the master of subtlety himself. Left a broken man, Boss Smith was heard to lament, “Why did no one tell me that Wilson was a liar?”7

The gubernatorial campaign now began in earnest. From his desk in Prospect, Wilson dictated 150 letters a day to two stenographers and prepared twenty-seven speeches in a little more than a month. He traveled by train and car, orating to thousands, just as he had dreamed of doing as a boy—“the hardest and most interesting job I ever undertook,” he told Professor Garfield, himself the son of a president. He had to adjust his speaking style to the unfamiliar circumstances of the campaign trail. He took a train to Jersey City to give his first stump speech, and it fell flat—the great orator stammered, and his comic “Negro story” elicited no laughs. But he soon found his voice, crisscrossing the state and discussing politics and reform in a connected way that Stockton Axson felt was “educational to an extraordinary degree.” His classroom teaching served him well, even as he dropped his classical form of address in favor of a simple style, occasionally fiery. When concepts were difficult, he explained them in academic language, then restated them in slang. The speeches amazed listeners with their conversational tone and freedom from the expected pedantry; nor did they bloviate, in the usual manner of the stump. (They were free from “flares or the thunder crash,” a reporter said.) As in class, Wilson rarely gesticulated except to point at the audience with his right finger. Princeton University was often on his mind; once when using guns as a political analogy, he added that there were several people he wouldn’t mind shooting.8 Wilson remained intensely controversial in Princeton town. Two wealthy ladies threatened to boycott Joseph Hoff ’s store if he didn’t take down a Wilson photograph. Other observers doubted the candidate could possibly have the common touch. “Dr. Wilson ain’t used to people like that,” said the local hack driver—but then the man came back from a rally exclaiming, “He couldn’t have looked more at home if he’d been talking to the senior class.” “He’s smart as hell,” one rough-looking onlooker was heard to shout in Newark. “What I don’t see is what a fellow as smart as that was doing hanging around a college for so long.” When



an old farmer slapped him on the back and said, “Doc, you are all right,” Wilson knew he was connecting. Not everyone raved, though. Once in a parade a little boy jumped on the running board of his car and demanded, “Which is Wilson?” “I am,” the candidate said. “Well, why don’t you have a better football team?”9 Democrats nationwide followed the extraordinary campaign avidly, thrilled that memories of the gawky William Jennings Bryan were now dispelled by this polished intellectual, the first scholar and philosopher to head their ranks. No one doubted that “Dr. Wilson’s campaign is one of the most interesting and important political experiments made in this country in this generation,” the New York Sun said—only the candidate had told the press he didn’t want to be called “Doctor Wilson” anymore. As he attracted bigger and bigger crowds, worried Republicans stopped dismissing him as the “College Professor.” But opposition was stiff: his skilled campaign rival, Vivian Lewis, was state commissioner of banking and insurance and a twenty-year veteran of public life. New Jersey was famous for its Republican domination, corruption, and the entrenched power of political machines. For a time it appeared that the inexperienced Wilson would soon find himself both unelectable and unemployed—and yet he had gambled everything in life on winning.10 Alighting briefly back in Princeton, Wilson greeted the new freshmen at the Philadelphian Society reception in Murray Hall. And in October the undergraduates assembled one evening at the cannon and marched to Prospect to cheer him. “The keenest pang of my life” would come when he left here, he said, but they would know that exact feeling on their graduation day. Arthur Holden, a student reporter for the Princetonian, met with Wilson in the Tower Room of Seventy-Nine Hall to get an advance copy of a speech he was about to give in Trenton, finding him charming in person, though his hand was strangely cold when he shook it good-bye. It was a vivid impression Holden could still recall in 1991 at age one hundred.11

Ever since the president announced he would submit his resignation, observers wondered what the trustees would do. His supporters wanted them to hold his job open in case he lost, whereas opponents grumbled that he should already have resigned. When word reached Momo Pyne in October that he might not resign after all—hedging his bets—Pyne



angrily arranged to resolve that Woodrow Wilson’s being a candidate was “inconsistent with the retention of his office.” The Pyne faction gathered the night before the official meeting and, concluding that they had a majority, sent Stephen Palmer over to Prospect to tell Wilson that he must quit. In the Trustees’ Room at Chancellor Green Library the next morning, October 20, Woodrow Wilson read his letter of resignation and asked that it be accepted at once. Then he turned, picked up his hat and coat, and, as the trustees watched in silence, walked out of the room. It was finally over.12 “Wilson is no longer President at Princeton,” Momo Pyne told Cooper Procter with infinite satisfaction. “According to the newspapers he forced his resignation on a reluctant board, although actually he was most reluctant to put it in and had to be told pretty positively that it had to be done.” Having all but fired Wilson, Pyne added insult to injury by vindictively insisting that the family leave Prospect House quickly. “Yesterday’s business as it effected you, almost broke my heart,” Cleve Dodge told his friend Wilson after the meeting, “But the last straw will be your hurriedly vacating Prospect. I don’t blame you for being mad—you are not half as mad as I am.” Dodge told trustee Henry B. Thompson, “I am afraid Wilson is so bitter that he will never forgive Momo” and would not remain in Prospect now even if it were offered, nor continue to draw salary. “Momo might have thought of all this before he kicked him down stairs.” Dodge was sure that Pyne had installed decrepit trustee John Stewart, age eighty-eight, as interim president so that he himself could be “acting and actual President in the saddle indefinitely.”13 “I am thankful that I was in the midst of the campaign and that it absolutely dominated my thoughts,” Wilson said. “Otherwise I believe that I should have broken down under the mortification of what I discovered last week to be the real feeling of the Pyne party towards me.” He was so angry, he refused to accept any of his remaining salary, putting the family under severe duress—“We were utterly without income for three months,” Ellen remembered, “and people were declaring his election impossible!” In this crisis, his faithful friend from undergraduate days Robert Bridges acted as intermediary for a payment of four thousand dollars from Cleve Dodge and other Class of 1879 friends—first of many such contributions as the impecunious Wilson embarked on the hazards of public life.14 For all the bitterness in Princeton, some were sorry to have Woodrow



Wilson go. “Old Nassau will consider Wilson her greatest son,” one observer mused, “because, though he was always fighting somebody there, he added more than $2 million worth of new buildings to the university and so stiffened the courses that Princeton jumped into the front rank.” Alumnus Samuel Thompson of Denver, then busy painting his den orange and black, told Wilson his resignation “almost makes me sick and, to my mind, is a calamity. I hope the ‘yapping’ monied interests are satisfied and that they will rue the day they ever made an attack on you.” Classmate Hiram Woods was disappointed that Wilson had left when he was needed most in instituting reforms. But “you could not have stood the mental state you were in last March a great deal longer,” he said. “Still, just how Princeton will come out under what seems to be the inevitable ‘conservative’ or ‘midway’ successor no one can foresee.” The 181 students in Wilson’s jurisprudence class sadly petitioned him to come back and at least finish their lectures.15

The political miracle happened. In November 1910, Woodrow Wilson was elected governor of New Jersey by a landslide, 233,700 to 184,600. Nationwide, a long Republican hegemony had been dashed by the new Progressive insurgency, fatally splitting the GOP ranks and putting fresh Democratic faces in office—including Wilson. Friends congratulated him on the cleanness of his campaign and the way his gamble in leaving the university had paid off so spectacularly. “You have a great chance which you have abundantly earned by your own efforts,” Bobby Bridges wrote. Gridiron idol Edgar Allan Poe ’91 praised him for his “appeal to the intelligence and honesty of the voters” and looked forward to supporting him for president in two years. Architect Frank Day found his election a source of “profound satisfaction.” “What a vindication it is of your work at Princeton!” Francis Kane wrote. “The people have declared their approval of democracy in college life and college management. I think the Trustees will take the lesson to heart. Oh, but the news is good!” “Hearty congratulations,” Professor Frederick Jackson Turner wired from Wisconsin. “You are bringing Princeton into the nation’s service.” And the nurse of the campus infirmary sent flowers.16 News of his election had come in a telephone call to Prospect. As word spread, the grounds were invaded by well-wishers. Undergraduates who had been following the returns on the bulletin board at Re-



union Hall now marched by torchlight, eliciting a bow by Wilson from an orange-glowing window and then, to their entreaties, a speech. In the days following, reporters interviewed him in his library, heaps of congratulatory letters and telegrams piled on the big table in front of him. He leaned forward, hands palm to palm, as he discussed the implications of the election, now and then gazing out at the snow-covered lawn through the evergreen trees, wilted clumps of rhododendrons shaking in the cold wind. He was talking to everybody—indeed, he planned to structure his governorship around his ability to reach the public through oratory. His friend Bridges had once warned him not to run, because the legislature would stymie reform. “His eyes snapped and he said: ‘Well, I can talk, can’t I?’”—talk directly to the people.17 The democratic principle of service he had long expounded on campus now found broader scope. “The Spirit of Princeton when properly understood is the Spirit of America,” he told the Philadelphian Society in Alexander Hall. “Our universities are not intended to enjoy their own fraternity, but to make the torches which light men’s paths through the world.” At the Princeton Inn he accepted a silver cup from the senior class, telling them, “My thoughts run back to the time when I, like you, was a college student. And as I look back the thing that I chiefly remember is not the fun of it all, but the serious part of undergraduate life.” College should not appear “a thing apart from the life of the world,” he warned them in his familiar way, not “a recess from life.” His experiences on the campaign trail had only strengthened that conviction. He found himself “more at home before an audience composed of humble working men than in the presence of audiences in highly cultured communities,” men who understood “what are the real tragedies of life itself.” College students should see things through that lens as “citizens of the world,” not representatives of an elite class. “Does this general view of life that you are getting here mean something to you? Are you getting something out of it? Are you going to go home and tackle your fathers, to tell them that there are certain things they have forgotten?” Alumnus Booth Tarkington was struck by Wilson’s saying that men deceive themselves when they suppose they have many choices. No, there was always only one right course of action. Woodrow Wilson was unmellowed! When Tarkington saw him strolling through the gates of Prospect next day in gray sack coat and black fedora, out for some exercise, he “seemed happy and confident, just walking where his feet would take him.”18



Constant travel had broadened Wilson’s perspective far beyond that of a provincial schoolteacher, and never more so than in crisscrossing New Jersey in the 1910 campaign. “What pleases me most,” he told Mary Peck, was the enthusiasm he felt from “very plain men”—the railway conductor, for example, who “expounded to me his theory of the relation of the States to the general government; and a most sound and intelligent theory it was, too. I would rather have the trust of such fellows than that of all the swells in the world. These men are ‘up against it’ and know what life means.” Never had his passion for democracy been greater, and he was prepared to follow its refreshing dictates wherever they led. At the start of his speech to the Princeton seniors he said of their cup, “Your gift is a token to a Princetonian embarking on a voyage, for what port I do not know. Nor do I care. I am making it for the fun of navigating well, whatever the destination.” An artist for the Baltimore Sun seized on this remark, showing him as a grizzled sea dog piloting the motorboat Democracy amid the jagged rocks of Machine Politics: “He don’t know where he’s going, but he’s on his way!”19

Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated in Trenton on January 17, 1911, by Chief Justice William Gummere ’70, legendary to Tigers as captain of the first university football team. “With his lean, long-jawed face and beak of a nose,” an audience member said of the new governor, “no one would call him handsome,” but his voice was rich and full. Days before, the family had left Prospect House—cruelly driven out, they would never set foot in it again—and checked into the Princeton Inn. (There was no official governor’s mansion in the state. When one was acquired years later, it was, ironically, Momo Pyne’s Greek Revival mansion in Princeton, Drumthwacket.) “Alas! it is not pleasant,” Woodrow Wilson confessed to Mary Peck from the little den that formed part of their tiny suite at the hotel. But these quarters were all they could afford. Especially irksome was having to eat in the public dining room. “My heart aches at the break-up of the old life, interesting and vital as the new life is. I did not realize it until it touched our home and sent us into lodgings at an inn. I feel like a nomad! The idea of a man of fifty-four (no less!) leaving a definite career and a settled way of life of a sudden and launching out into a vast sea of Ifs and Buts! It sounds like an account of a fool.”20 Every weekday the new governor commuted to Trenton by train, ar-



riving at work at 10:30 and departing at 5:00, bringing home piles of work. His leadership strategy was to attack quickly with a barrage of reform, standing firm and absolute for right—exactly as he had done at Princeton, for good or ill. Primary and election reform, corrupt campaign practices legislation, a public utilities statute, workmen’s compensation— such innovations benefited the common person and helped weaken the old, boss-led political machines in the state. (These reforms became legendary; when Jon Corzine, a Democrat, was elected New Jersey governor in 2005 and tackled widespread corruption, he made frequent reference to Wilson’s achievements.) Once a preceptor ran into Wilson on the windswept platform at Princeton Junction, waiting for the train. “You appear to be revolving a deep problem in your mind,” the young man walked over to say. “I am thinking about leadership,” Wilson replied. Once action was demanded of the leader, “he should not look back.”21 In Trenton this indomitable strategy worked, as it initially had at Princeton, too. With the help of his former student, legislator Elmer Geran ’99, the governor piled up success after success. He told Mary Peck that such victories always came from “standing fast.” He had received a first-rate training for his current tasks in the Battle of Princeton, he was sure. Professor Charles McIlwain once happened to sit beside him on the spur-line train to Princeton, and Wilson spoke of the resistance he was receiving from the legislature. “These politicians,” he observed, “are just children beside Andy West.” The uncompromising way that Wilson had treated West sometimes marked his dealings with political foes in Trenton, too—including the Republican attorney general Edmund Wilson ’85 (father of the literary critic), who had fought against Woodrow’s election. The governor would not even speak to Edmund Wilson, recalled his assistant attorney general, Nelson Gaskill ’96, who made a careful study of the neophyte politician from Princeton. Woodrow Wilson could tolerate no criticism and suffered from an inferiority complex, Gaskill concluded—perhaps owing to a childhood spent amidst “the frustrations of the post-war South.” Whatever the cause, “his constant necessity was to maintain his own sense of superiority. This was the great compulsion which finally wrecked him.”22 The governorship proved exhilarating but at times overwhelming. “An interminable round of comment and planning and speculation and consultation and advice—the press of the whole country discussing me,” he told Mary Peck, “and I, meanwhile, toiling on in my thought, feeling sin-



gularly lonely.” The pressure, the isolation, the stress were like Princeton all over again, though without the acute heartaches. In his exhaustion, he turned to Mary for succor through an exchange of long letters: “It revives me only to think of you.” In his formal office overlooking a street on one side and the Delaware River “with its uncouth banks” on the other, office seekers droning interminably on, he allowed his mind to wander. Now he was aboard the Bermudian over the bright water, now stepping onto the narrow dock in Paget, now hurrying up the path to Mary Peck’s home Glencove, where she awaited him in the hammock, ready to talk through languid easy hours about people and things, relaxing him at last.23 His innumerable chores included the occasional call to Princeton University on business, for as governor he was, awkwardly enough, president of the Board of Trustees. In February he attended the unveiling of a portrait of his former professor Charles Shields—he would have skipped it, except that Ellen was a friend of Shields’s daughter. In between speaking engagements he hurried there on the train, rushing to Nassau Hall from the depot and stepping into the Faculty Room to find, he told Peck, an “audience made up almost entirely of the people who fought me while I was President here and who were rejoiced to get rid of me, and all banked on one side of the room, the side opposite the portrait. There was no place for me to sit but upon the empty seats opposite, where I faced the crowd in dignified isolation, sitting almost under my own portrait. . . . To complete the situation, Dr. Patton, the other rejected president, presently came and sat near me. . . . There I sat and heard discourses from men whom for one reason or another I despise. The portrait was accepted, for the University (why, in Heaven’s name, I cannot guess, except that his faction is now in the saddle) by Hibben.” It turned out that this was an ominous sign.24

As Woodrow Wilson embarked on a mid-1911 political tour of the West, marveling at the cheers and how Americans already seemed to know him, the Princeton trustees tried to make up their minds how to replace him. Pyne forces and Wilsonites were deadlocked, unable to agree as more than fifty names were proposed—some said more than a hundred, even Teddy Roosevelt’s. For a time Dean J. R. Angell of the University



of Chicago was the leading candidate—to Wilson, a loathed “pragmatist.” Princeton professor Frank Abbott was discussed, but he was so frail, some speculated the job would kill him. An alarming development was reported by Ellen to her husband as he traveled: “We are so mortally afraid of this growing movement to stampede the alumni for Hibben,” Wilson’s former best friend turned West and Pyne’s servile lackey. The news gave him “the greatest concern,” Wilson told Cleve Dodge. “That ought to be prevented at all hazards. No one would so lay the dear old place at the mercy of the reactionary forces.” But what decent candidate would want to come to Princeton after seeing how Woodrow Wilson had been manhandled by the imperious Momo Pyne?25 Options were dwindling for the trustees. When Johns Hopkins surgeon John M. T. Finney ’84 declined the offer, Jack Hibben emerged as the favored choice over Henry Fine, who had ultimately been rejected as too close to Wilson. The arch-Wilsonite Cleve Dodge having quit the board in October 1911, the way was cleared for Hibben to be tapped in January 1912 as, one observer said, “the least disliked” candidate. The selection committee was dissolved and Hibben elected seventeen to nine, on a day that four trustees happened to be absent—supposedly because they had been promised there would be no vote that day. Pyne went to find Hibben at his McCosh Hall classroom, where he was lecturing to sophomores on logic. He was brought back to the Trustees Room and sworn in on the spot. “Sharp practice,” Wilson allies called the process. Thomas Jones quit the board in protest, as did Robert Garrett, who was so outraged, he withdrew all financial support from Princeton.26 “The worst has happened at the University,” Woodrow Wilson groaned to Mary Peck. “Hibben has been elected President!” It was awful—his old foes victorious, his former best friend now seizing his job, moving into his old house. “I wish I could see you more often, my dear Bobby,” he told Bridges glumly. “I am very unhappy about Princeton.” Nell was shocked at how hurt her father was, even amid his busy new career, by the success of this “timid and conservative” man Hibben. “He felt that all his dreams and hopes for the college were now irreparably lost.” So did Ellen, giving vent in a splendid poison pen letter to Hibben, with scathing insults couched in supposed congratulations. His friends had rewarded his “very unusual loyalty and availability,” she said. He had been elected by underhanded means that “will not bear the light. But



since for the credit of Princeton all parties are equally determined to bury those facts in oblivion, you need have no serious concern on that score.”27 Few college presidents have encountered such difficult circumstances at the start. Hibben’s hasty election followed by days the appearance on newsstands across America of a World’s Work article about the Battle of Princeton by muckraker Bayard Hale, part of a general effort to promote Woodrow Wilson for the U.S. presidency. In making Wilson seem heroic, Hale portrayed Pyne and his cohorts in the worst possible light. President Hibben’s first task was to mend fences on campus and bring peace, even as he distanced himself from anything Wilsonian. A reporter asked, “Are you going to create a spirit of democracy in Princeton?” Hibben instantly replied, “No, thank God, it is here already.” He told the New York alumni what they longed to hear: “The policies of this administration cannot be solely ‘my policies.’ They must be our policies.” There would be no “shock of radical change.” He would “conserve the old Princeton traditions” and oversee evolution, not revolution. The goal was “peace and harmony.” In the Prospect eating clubs he saw no “serious evils.” Above all he stood for unity: “Right or wrong—PRINCETON!”28

The fall of Woodrow Wilson had brought misery to his campus allies, which the election of Hibben only exacerbated. Walking home the day the president resigned, Professor William B. Scott said to a colleague, “That throws Princeton back a generation.” Dean of the College Edward Elliott left for California to practice law and “get as far away as possible.” Dean Fine told him glumly, “We have seen academic life at its best. Never again can we hope to attain the conditions that marked the first half of Woodrow’s regime.” If he were younger, Fine confided, he would go to California too. Professor Henry van Dyke had opposed Woodrow Wilson on Quads but later supported his gubernatorial campaign, which cost him his membership in the Pyne-West clique. The peaceloving and bookish van Dyke, who had named his daughters for Tennyson characters and his house a poetic “Avalon,” took the loss of those old friendships hard. Colleagues found him “utterly dejected and wrathful,” tortured by the infighting, that odium academicum. Finally he resigned for a time and left town. Greek professor Edward Capps told Wilson gloomily that he was considering quitting himself, as “I have become an object of hostility



to a considerable element in the community. . . . All this I shouldn’t mind much in a good stubborn fight for a principle with you to lead it.”29 Among the pro-Wilson faction of the English Department that had met at Stockton Axson’s apartment over the grocery store at 10 Nassau Street, littered with books and strewn with cigar ashes, was Professor Frank MacDonald, who recalled how “we’d debate for hours about the cultural value of four or five sonnets of Keats in the curriculum, and then, all of a sudden, we’d hear a bunch of students coming down from the Inn . . . singing ‘Going back to Nassau Hall,’ and gosh! the futility of the whole thing, don’t you know—!” His pupil Edmund Wilson said MacDonald never got over Woodrow’s defeat: “I think the passing of this kind of idealism left him feeling rather stranded.” Hardest hit was Stockton Axson himself, who suffered a nervous breakdown. To a Philadelphia neurologist he lamented his “moral collapse” and consequent inability “to talk to boys about literature and life.” He would “never take up his work in Princeton again” and made plans to enter a monastery. The doctor warned that, if Axson abandoned teaching, he would follow his father into an insane asylum. Fortunately, he recovered enough to accept a lectureship at Rice Institute in Texas (another Cram-designed campus), where he remained the rest of his life. Professor Conklin wrote him, “However much I lament your loss to Princeton I recognize that you have done the right thing in turning from a hopeless situation here to one full of promise elsewhere.” Conklin added bleakly, “The prospect for the immediate future of Princeton seems to me very dark. . . . It seems to me that we face disaster.”30

All during 1912, Andrew West’s glorious Graduate College rose stone by stone over the golf links, funded by the Wyman bequest and riches of the “Soap-Fat Man,” Procter. West boasted that fifteen million people would see the attached Cleveland Memorial Tower from the Pennsylvania Railroad, making it a national shrine akin to the Washington Monument— although that view was increasingly blocked by ugly billboards for, of all things, soap.31 Following the example of Blair and Little Halls, Ralph Adams Cram daringly created a ground plan for the Graduate College that was subtly nonrectilinear, diverting the masses five to seven degrees—making a crooked pattern, as if designed centuries ago without the benefit of



proper measuring devices. Thus did he follow the organic spirit of the Gothic to an astonishing degree. The “best thing which I have ever done,” he called the complex, “or ever expect to do.” It consisted of interlocking parts that flowed together around a quadrangle, all except Wyman Hall, residence of Dean West, set to one side in a “rose-pleached” garden. West proudly hung over his library fireplace the flintlock musket, powder horn, and sword that Isaac Wyman’s father had carried at the Battle of Princeton, the last stages of which had been fought on that very site. How much he owed Wyman!—and yet, ironically, the many millions West had ballyhooed in fact amounted to no more than $171,000 by 1917, hardly more than his residence cost. Had Woodrow Wilson foreseen that outcome, he would never have backed down so easily. Many whispered that Dean West had deliberately lied about the sum. True or not, Wilson was defeated by a chimera.32 The glory of the Graduate College was Procter Hall, worthy of a medieval castle in England, where students would dine in academic robes, as they had at Merwick. Dean West used a secret side door to slip back and forth from adjacent Wyman Hall to the raised dais in Procter Hall where the faculty ate beneath a gorgeous stained-glass window. The hall was roofed with beams carved from old ship timbers (to make the room look venerable) and adorned with humorous carved portrait heads, said to represent the trustees, plus Cooper Procter holding a bar of soap. Cram’s idea to have the ornamental bosses by the fireplace represent baseball, football, track, and crew was immediately nixed by West.33 The Graduate College was dedicated in a three-day gala in October 1913. The sun came out for the ceremonies, in which West outdid himself with the splendid pomp. One English academic was heard to say to another, “These people certainly do understand ceremonial.” Another declared that Procter Hall “was five hundred years old the day it was finished.” It seemed a slap to Wilson that the keynote speech, an emotional tribute to Democrat Grover Cleveland, was by Wilson’s recent campaign rival, President William Howard Taft, a Republican. Cram proudly handed the keys to Jack Hibben and, as Leopold Stokowski’s Philadelphia Orchestra played “The Star Spangled Banner,” prep school student Richard Cleveland pulled a halyard to unfurl an American flag atop the tower, the same one that had flown over the White House in his father’s day. Wilson had been invited but declined to come. Sophomore



The men Wilson hated most. Exultant at the dedication of the hard-won Graduate College were Patton, Taft, Pyne, Hibben, West, and Procter.

Edmund Wilson skipped, too, and went to New York for a Shaw play. “Woodrow Wilson was a hero of mine,” he later recalled. “West had won and was now ensconced in this luxurious mock-English mock-Gothic affair, located, as Wilson had not wanted it to be, aloof on a hill.”34 With Wilson out of the picture, Andrew West had gotten exactly the Graduate College he wanted, far from the undergraduate throngs. He trumpeted it as a haven for the liberal arts, a refuge for pure scholarship in a country drowning in commercialism and greed. He would serve out a full twenty-seven years as dean. Near the end of his tenure the seniors sang, Here’s to Andrew Fleming West, A Latin scholar self-confessed. He lived to see a lifetime’s hope Constructed out of Ivory Soap.35

He lovingly tended his hatred of Woodrow Wilson—he or him, he preferred to say—for decades. Ralph Adams Cram had been fond of Wilson (forgiving him for his plebeian origins) and hardly knew what to make of what West and others said about him, which seemed to him “a scandal. They insisted that he was an unconscionable liar, that he was a philanderer, that at one trustees’ meeting he had been caught in a deliberate



lie and had gotten up and left the room.” Cram wondered, could the esteemed Woodrow Wilson be afflicted with “a dual personality”? Dean Mathey ’12, a young friend of Dean West’s son, was once invited to stay at Wyman House. He found West a delightful gentleman of the old school, until Mathey innocently asked him his opinion of Woodrow. West’s demeanor instantly changed as he shouted, “Wilson was an ingrate and a liar. He would spit in his mother’s face if he thought it would help him!” Later on, during World War I, West told playwright Booth Tarkington that Wilson cared nothing for the plight of the Belgian people, only for what would benefit him personally and win votes. West gleefully circulated doggerel ridiculing the president’s policy blunders. At his eightieth birthday party in 1933, the enfeebled and nearly blind West grandly announced that he had “forgiven everyone”—but nobody believed him for a minute.36 Admirers thought Dean West did a fine job running the Graduate College, but Wilson never lost his contempt for him or the institution, which developed exactly as he had feared, a place where “university ideals have been . . . perverted and distorted,” as he told his friend Hiram Woods. As Wilson predicted, only social elites could afford to live in the splendid college, and poorer students were forced to scrounge for substandard lodgings elsewhere (including the distinguished future president of Princeton Harold Dodds). A young chemist of 1915 recalled miserably how “we were apart, as a group, from campus activities of undergraduates and from the elite Graduate School housed in Dean West’s Monastery under the Cleveland Tower. I recall one visit to its cloistered halls, not by invitation.” Wilson laughed heartily with Cleve Dodge when the town decided to tax the buildings, declaring them “not devoted to educational uses.” Some charge that the school remained substandard until after World War II because of the direction West put it on.37 The graduate students had a long, half-mile trek from the campus to the Graduate College. It gave them plenty of time to think, and it was on the winding walk beside the golf links that student Thornton Wilder conceived the idea for his novel, The Bridge of San Luis Rey. Owing to the great distance, the graduate students would “have almost nothing to do with undergraduates,” a complaint made as late as the 1960s. “What 50 yrs. hence? ” Wilson had jotted prophetically in notes to himself when he warned the trustees in March 1908 not to locate the college far away.38



The problem remains acute even now. At a 2006 conference honoring Woodrow Wilson’s 150th birthday, current Princeton president Shirley Tilghman was asked how the university would be different today had Wilson won the Quad and Graduate School Fights. Thinking of his dream to have graduate students and undergraduates constantly interact—a dream foiled by Dean West’s remote Graduate College—Tilghman unhesitatingly took Wilson’s side in those two historic battles: “I wish he’d won them both!”


Big Three Election


VEN AS Governor Wilson was being touted as the next Democratic candidate for United States president, he had never met his party’s often-defeated stalwart, William Jennings Bryan. The opportunity came at last in March 1911. Driven up in a car from Burlington, New Jersey, Bryan addressed a Princeton Seminary conference in Alexander Hall on “Faith.” “It was the first time I had ever heard him speak, and I was exceedingly pleased,” Wilson said. Over dinner in the Princeton Inn dining room, Bryan charmed the governor: “A truly captivating man, I must admit.” Nell Wilson was intrigued at how Bryan disregarded her completely, seemed almost fanatical in his absorption with issues and ideas, and how his beautiful voice emerged from a strange, thin-lipped mouth. The foundations were laid for an improved relationship, which lead eventually to the Great Commoner becoming Wilson’s Secretary of State—for Wilson desperately needed the votes of Bryan supporters. Ellen had cannily arranged the meeting, and she later said proudly, “That dinner put Mr. Wilson in the White House.”1 As yet Woodrow was coy about whether he actually was a presidential candidate, however. He needed to declare, Ellen warned, lest his enemies call him disingenuous. But he was sincerely torn. Nell saw it as conflict between two sides of his nature, the thinker and teacher, and the man of action. He had felt that same conflict when first elevated to the Princeton presidency. He feared the White House, with its loss of simplicity and freedom, the enormous burdens of duty. But on the other



hand there was the extraordinary chance to serve America, the fulfillment of the ambitions of a lifetime—and, flashing out to his family, a frisson of revenge. “I’m frank to say that I get a wicked pleasure in thinking of the blow my nomination would be to some of the gentlemen at Princeton.”2 Once he threw his hat into the ring, he found that his educational credentials helped. College presidents spoke up for “the scholar in politics” and faulted Republicans for sneering at him as a “schoolmaster.” Ten thousand students joined the Woodrow Wilson League of College Men. Rural schoolteachers comprised a formidable pro-Wilson bloc, with forty thousand in Texas alone. And as the Wilson for President campaign gathered steam, friendly Princetonians stepped forward to help. “It is a singular thing that so much of the fighting force behind Wilson lay in the very men he had inspired and trained at Princeton,” recalled Roland S. Morris ’96, who was part of an active Philadelphia group. “Everywhere in the country where there were Princeton men who had ‘sat under Wilson,’ there was red-hot support.” Wilson’s former pupil Bill McCombs ’98, a former advocate of the Quad Plan, ran the New York campaign office. (McCombs, thirty-five, had adored Wilson ever since the professor had bothered to walk him home from a meeting of the student Southern Club freshman year.) Wilson’s mid-1911 speaking tour featured addresses in each town mostly organized by local Princetonians, as McCombs had arranged. When a reporter later asked the candidate on the train, “What is the source of the Wilson campaign fund?” he replied, “In a general way I would say that most of it came from my old Princeton friends, and it has been mostly in small amounts.”3 The indispensable Cleve Dodge was the biggest backer, the friend who in the Quad Fight said that he “would never have done anything for Princeton but for his love for and faith in Woodrow.” Now he gave a thousand dollars to establish the New York office, and up to the convention he contributed $51,300, more than a quarter of all donations. In addition he drummed up $10,500 from Thomas Jones and $12,500 from McCormick, Wilson’s stalwart allies among the trustees. (Jones was president of Mineral Point Zinc Company; McCormick, of International Harvester.) Dodge offered his yacht Corona as a hideaway, the harried Wilsons driving over to Sandy Hook, New Jersey, for relaxation and speechwriting. “He was a Godsend,” a campaign organizer recalled of Dodge. There was little the Wilsons could do to thank him. When Dodge’s daughter mar-



“Three cheers for Old Nassau.” Wilson and the Princeton alumni club of Denver doff hats as they sing the college song during his 1911 Western trip.

ried an Ought-Four, Ellen splurged and sent a Dutch landscape painting: “The frame alone was $20.00! . . . I knew of course that under all the circumstances we had to do it well.” She considered a more conventional gift, but “it seemed silly to get silver for those millionaires.”4

But if Princetonians could help candidate Woodrow Wilson, they could also harm. Political enemies scrounged for dirt from his past. Someone told them about Bermuda, and soon whisperers vilified Wilson as “Peck’s Bad Boy.” “The campaign of slanders against him was almost unbelievable,” Stockton Axson remembered. It was said that Momo Pyne and fellow trustee Bayard Henry, desperate to save the country from the fate of having Woodrow Wilson in charge—after what he did to Princeton, just imagine what he could do to the United States of America!—hired detectives to shadow the candidate and Mary Peck, but they turned up empty-handed. Seeking salacious details, newspaper reporters knocked on doors in Princeton, but they, too, met with frustration. No one could imagine Woodrow Wilson as a Lothario, nor the sexual innuendoes as anything more than “tommy-rot.” One reporter visited Professor Paul



van Dyke twice, but Wilson’s old foe on Quads would only say, “I know nothing to his discredit.” Another enemy, Professor Magie, was asked what he thought of reports that Wilson and Peck dragged steamer rugs to a secluded Bermuda beach screened by bushes. “Personally, I think he read her poetry.”5 “Too absurd to refute,” said Professor Vreeland of the charges. Even Andrew West laughed at the thought of Woodrow having a sex-capade: “Heaven knows I hated Wilson like poison, but there’s not one word of truth in this nonsense. It is simply not in character.” West told a former student, “While Wilson might be a damned liar and in other ways beneath contempt, he didn’t have that fault.” The last word belonged to Wilson’s campaign opponent Teddy Roosevelt, who made the immortal pronouncement, “No evidence could ever make the American people believe that a man like Woodrow Wilson, cast so perfectly as the apothecary’s clerk, could ever play Romeo.”6 If genteel Princetonians distanced themselves from whisperings about sex, they were perfectly willing to attack Woodrow Wilson on other issues. Former student Joseph W. Park ’95 told the Los Angeles Tribune and the Salt Lake City Herald Republican that Wilson was secretly a reactionary, recalling how he had told his pupils, “I do not believe in democracy—the rule of the many. I believe in aristocracy the rule of the few; but I wish an aristocracy of brains, not of wealth.” The New York Herald published a letter that claimed that Wilson’s secularization of Princeton University had greatly harmed religious feeling there. And the New York Sun was fed an unflattering story about how he had applied to the Carnegie Fund for a pension, a charity meant for poor professors and not men drawing full salaries as governors. This must have been leaked from the inside, and Wilson was sure the perpetrator was Murray Butler, Andrew West’s old friend who was now president of Columbia University and who hated the sanctimonious Woodrow, describing him as a cross between a Presbyterian minister and a Jesuit. The mild Stockton Axson boiled over at Murray’s leaking the story, calling it “contemptible conduct” by “a liar, a hypocrite, and a snake.”7 Rumors circulated, too, about how Wilson was ambitious, selfish, angry, ungrateful, and disloyal to friends. These smears were meant to scare off potential political backers. Much was made of Grover Cleveland’s dislike of him, as proven by a certain letter the ex-president wrote Professor Henry van Dyke during the Graduate College controversy



citing Wilson’s “lack of intellectual integrity” (meaning his dishonesty toward West) and “ungovernable temper.” Wilson strategized with Robert Garrett, the Joneses, and other friends on how to handle the slander, should it appear in print. “I have no doubt that my Princeton enemies will use it,” Wilson said. David Jones hoped “that brainless gang down at Princeton . . . so fatuous and foolish” would be dumb enough to raise the issue of the Graduate College again, allowing Wilson to hammer home his anti-elitist message on the national stage. “West, of course, would be willing to wreck Princeton to gratify his hate,” Jones said, “but a man so wanting in character and in academic standing as Dean West, is powerless to harm.” Stirred up once more, Ellen Wilson was convinced that the letter did in fact exist and that Dean West (“of course”) and Butler were behind it. West “had poor old Cleveland, (who failed miserably towards the end, mentally as well as physically) completely under his influence.”8 Disparagements of Woodrow Wilson did not stop there. Word reached him that opponents were preparing to publish attacks that called him chronically “unreliable.” He had lied about annotating the Dean West book on the Graduate College, then been caught red-handed when the proof copy surfaced with his pencil notes in the margins. At board meetings he would agree to something one day and repudiate it the next. He was graciously allowed to resign rather than be fired. Inside information from the January 1910 trustees’ meeting appeared in the Boston Herald as “The Wilson Mystery,” stressing the matter of the West book. An innocent story of classmate Bob McCarter’s about Wilson as an undergraduate hiding some cards and grabbing a Bible when he heard a knock at the door was twisted into his being “a terrible hypocrite.” And as late as 1919 the story would go around that Wilson had once tricked the august Cleveland, begging him to stay home from an important meeting out of concern for his health and then using his absence to score a victory.9 In the most infamous smear of all, Wilson’s words were used against him by his old foe, corporate lawyer Adrian Joline—another of the “Princetonians who hate me,” as Wilson described him. The New York Sun published a five-year-old private letter from Wilson to Joline that disparaged William Jennings Bryan, wishing that somebody could find a way “to knock Mr. Bryan once for all into a cocked hat!” A collector of autographs, Joline had kept the letter because it had Wilson’s signature, but now it seemed priceless as an instrument to unglue the fledg-



ling Wilson-Bryan alliance. It was considered a particularly dirty trick to broadcast a personal letter. “If I wrote what I think of that man,” Wilson said in fury of Joline, “it would have to be on asbestos.” According to Jessie Wilson, it was Andrew West who transported the letter in his pocket to Washington for release the day of an important preconvention Democratic dinner, but because West couldn’t resist showing it around to reporters, it got leaked forty-eight hours early. Ellen Wilson felt that Joline’s attack backfired, however. “His reputation as a gentleman was destroyed by his little bit of malice,” because the club crowd in Manhattan disapproved of anyone who showed private correspondence around. “To Joline” somebody became a verb for betrayal, and when he died just before the election, some cited his humiliation. Wilson candidly blamed the “cocked hat” remark on his old habit of blunt speech, and with some careful smoothing of ruffled feathers, his alliance with Bryan survived undamaged.10

In October 1911, the Wilson family moved out of the Princeton Inn for a “pretty and comfortable” rental house owned by Parker Mann at 25 Cleveland Lane, behind the Grover Cleveland gardens. Eager to get away from the noisy hotel, Nell had busied herself in finding these new quarters. Their resources were so slim, they could afford no sizeable residence and indeed had to share this one with two lady friends. The quaintly half-timbered house (telephone number 98) was modern inside—no gas, but fully electrified, certain unfair rules concerning the electric meter occasioning one of the governor’s periodic blasts against the monopolistic Public Service Corporation. Reporters who sought Woodrow Wilson out marveled at the simplicity of his lifestyle. Seated with legs crossed in a big chair in his cozy library, he was surrounded by books and Ellen’s paintings. He owned no car, shaved himself, polished his own shoes. He seemed cheerful, but the strain of the campaign and the chaos in the house, which overflowed with letters and newspapers, were wearing Ellen down. One afternoon Nell saw a little old lady creeping along the sidewalk far ahead of her and was shocked to realize it was her mother.11 Even in the midst of the campaign, Wilson could not forget his Princeton agonies, for by an unpleasant irony, the hated Jack Hibben lived next door—although he was soon to be inaugurated and move to Prospect.



Professor George McClellan recalled a walk with the Hibbens when they happened to run into the governor, who took his hat off to McClellan but “cut the Hibbens dead.” “My walk has left me sad,” Wilson wrote to Mary Peck after another stroll. The university eyed him with “spiteful hostility. . . . It is a dreadful thing to be hated by those whom you have loved and whom you have sought to serve unselfishly and without fear or favour! It sickens the heart and makes life very hard. I went about from familiar place to place with a lump in my throat, and would have felt better if I could have cried.”12 Splits with old Princeton friends came to mind once again when he suddenly broke with Colonel George Harvey, who had been doing so much to help. Wilson asked Harvey to dial back on his fervent support of him in Harper’s Weekly, since Westerners thought it proved Wilson was in the pocket of Wall Street. Harvey was insulted and turned on him, becoming an intense adversary. “It was another example of the thing he had spoken of so often to us,” Nell said, “‘I can’t ever seem to remember that there are people who cannot be trusted.’” For his critics, it was yet another example of Wilson throwing away a valuable friendship.13 All was not hostility toward him in Princeton, of course. In some local circles he was still passionately admired. One day the student band beat drums and cymbals going from dorm to dorm, forming a parade that shouted “locomotives” to the candidate. Alexander Hall was thrown open to a student rally at which Wilson condemned the Sherman AntiTrust Act and the Taft administration. He avoided attacking personalities, keeping focused on issues, the same approach he liked to think he had used in the Graduate College fight. Throughout his campaigns he showed a relaxed, self-deprecating side few had seen in the Battle of Princeton. “I thank God I am merely a schoolmaster,” he told an audience at Harvard University. And he once spoke of a visit to a doddering relative in the South. “Tommy, dear, what are you doing now?” she asked vaguely. “Auntie, dear, I am now Governor of New Jersey.”14 Campaigning energized him, and Stockton Axson said he seemed happier than in years, fighting a winning fight for once. “I haven’t seen you looking so well physically in thirty years,” Robert Bridges told Wilson when he ran into him at a Princeton football game. But Ellen worried constantly about her husband’s health, which had failed so often during his Princeton career. To their mutual surprise, it had dramatically improved once he became governor and got away from Andrew West.



The campaigner. Wilson and his political manager, former student Bill McCombs ’98. The smiles would not last.

A Philadelphia doctor gave him a perfectly clean bill of health in February 1912, she told a friend. “He said he was actually in finer condition than he was when he last examined him, some fifteen months ago.” To a reporter she stressed his fitness: five feet, ten and a half inches tall, 170 pounds, “in much better physical condition than when he was a young man. Then, owing to bad food at colleges, etc., he suffered from chronic indigestion.” But privately she suffered constant and intense anxiety for him, which she tried to conceal. “It is my own special grievance that few of his friends seem to realize that he is even mortal. They are pitiless in their demands upon his time and strength.” His daughters fretted, too. Days after his inaugural in Trenton a friend told Nell, “Everyone knows now that he will be President.” Nell cried, “No, I can’t bear it—it will kill him.”15 The old fighter for campus democracy was steadily becoming more radical in his views, some thought. “Wilson Believes in Elimination of All Classes,” a reporter wrote after his address at the University Club, Buffalo. Graduates should get out among ordinary working men. “It will be surprising how much you can learn. You are living in a narrow circle.” He had been there himself, part of an elitist caste, cocooned by “so-called refinement. . . . Life is a gross reality and those who hesitate about touching unrefined things are not fit to live in a Democracy. I have felt this repulsion and I had to overcome it and by overcoming it I have learned more than I ever did any other way. . . . That is why I am a



Democrat. Anything that teaches otherwise is no Democracy. All my life I have been an insurgent against the class in which I was born.” He even reassessed the meaning of his Southern heritage. “The South is a very conservative region,” he told Mary Peck, “and I am not conservative. I am a radical.”16

In the middle of campaigning in May 1912 came an invitation to speak at the inaugural of Jack Hibben as president of Princeton, a horrid task. “I cannot say what I really think without causing a riot,” an anguished Wilson told his family. Immediately he declined with the excuse that he had an engagement elsewhere. Then he made plans to leave town the night before: “I could not be present or play any part without hypocrisy.” Yet he felt guilty at shirking his responsibilities as president of the Board of Trustees—“I feel like a runaway, and as if I were doing an ungenerous thing,” he told Mary Peck, “because I love the University, I suppose, and many of the fine men who are connected with it,—and also because I am constitutionally averse from sparing myself anything hard and disagreeable.” As so often in his life, he was torn between politeness and truth, peace and duty. “There’s the whole point of the matter! To be present and silent would be deeply hypocritical: to go and speak my real thoughts and judgments would be to break up the meeting and create a national scandal, to the great injury of the dear old place. No doubt I should stay away. But it is hard and it is mortifying. To be true to oneself and candid in the utterance of the truth is to live in a very embarrassing world. And yet what man would buy peace at the price of his soul.”17 Wilson’s Philadelphia backer, Roland S. Morris, strongly urged him to attend. To show rudeness might damage him politically, the alumnus warned. “Why Morris, that man has abandoned his ideals” in his eagerness to become president, Wilson said angrily of Hibben. “He knows it himself.” As Morris feared, Wilson’s decision greatly perturbed his Princeton enemies, one foe remarking, “Of all the instances of bad manners on the part of a public man of which I have knowledge, this action of Wilson’s was outstanding.” People in town would still be talking about his snub a quarter-century later, how he lied about having a prior engagement. As one imaginative version had it, “At 11:15 Wilson walked out of [Cleveland Lane], came down by the campus, got Mrs. Peck and went to see the Yankees play ball.”18



In spite of Wilson’s absence, the Hibben inaugural went off with the expected fanfare. “I have not had such a good time in a year,” President Taft beamed. The day was brilliantly clear—too much so for certain “portly dignitaries” assembled in the noonday sun on the platform at Nassau Hall. “Hibben, Jack Hibben,” the students sang and cheered. All day, people looked about for Governor Wilson, thinking he would surely come, but no speaker mentioned him, and, a reporter marveled, “a stranger could not have guessed that such a person ever ruled the destinies of that campus.” “WILSON’S NAME IGNORED,” a headline read. One of Hibben’s speeches paid tribute to his “great predecessor, that great teacher and man of learning, that wonderful man,” and a stir went through the crowd—until it became apparent he meant President McCosh! It was an embarrassing moment, followed by stifled laughter from the audience beneath the elms. The whole day was mortifying to Woodrow Wilson supporters as they watched his political rival Taft strut his former stage and pointedly reassure the assembled Princetonians, “You breathe the atmosphere of real liberty and real democracy.”19

Days later came a dramatic episode of the national campaign, a speech ( just before the New Jersey presidential primary) by an exhausted Teddy Roosevelt from a balcony of the rickety old Nassau Inn. Among the crowd standing in front of First Presbyterian Church across the street was a silent and unimpressed Woodrow Wilson. Afterward, undergraduates paraded to Cleveland Lane, where one hour after Roosevelt’s talk Wilson addressed them from his front steps, “flaying privileged business and urging straight thinking.” He condemned monopolies and the Sherman Act, issues from which the public had been distracted by the mutually hostile attacks of the “two very militant gentlemen,” Taft and Roosevelt. Not since Revolutionary days, perhaps, had little Princeton seen so many politicians vying for the spotlight.20 Only a sense of obligation to the Class of 1879 could bring a reluctant Wilson to help lay the cornerstone of a new Gothic dormitory on campus that June. He made a point of saying that he was merely there to honor the man it was named for, his old classmate C. C. Cuyler. He did not speak to President Hibben. Then he went on vacation to the governor’s summer home in Sea Girt, New Jersey, meeting with political allies and awaiting the Democratic convention, which got under way



in Baltimore in early July. Visitors to Sea Girt included Illinois Democrat Lewis Stevenson, who brought his twelve-year-old son. The boy was awed by Woodrow Wilson. “That’s what decided me on going to Princeton, right then, and there,” Adlai Stevenson ’22 later remembered, a twotime Democratic presidential candidate himself and lifelong Wilson admirer.21 The convention was held at Baltimore’s Fifth Regiment Armory, just a few blocks from the boarding house where Woodrow Wilson had lived as a graduate student at Johns Hopkins. Wilson headquarters was at the Emerson Hotel, where Princetonians paraded through the corridors giving the Tiger yell. A judge delivered the nominating speech for “the seer and philosopher of Princeton—the Princeton schoolmaster— Woodrow Wilson!” and quoted admiringly from Wilson’s Pittsburgh address, the one circulated two years earlier by his university enemies in that misguided attempt to destroy him. (“The gods were having their revenge,” Axson saw.) On the convention floor, alumnus Lawrence Woods thought instantly of the Bible verse, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner”—for wasn’t this the same Woodrow Wilson who had lamented to him in Pittsburgh that he had just thrown his whole future away? Thinking how far his friend had come since that dark hour, Woods burst into tears of joy and buried his face in his arms.22 As the convention dragged on through forty-six ballots, Wilson gave the appearance of complete nonchalance as he recited limericks to Ellen and their daughters as they rocked on the veranda at Sea Girt in the summer heat. “There was a young lady from Niger,” he began, “who smiled as she rode on a tiger.” Awaiting results around the tent on the lawn that served as telegraph station, reporters bided their time playing baseball. The governor strolled over to umpire. “I never saw such uniform incompetents,” he laughed. “You are worse than the worst reactionaries.” A player who slid into base was put out, to the sound of giggles from the veranda, and Wilson quipped that Roosevelt’s campaign had likewise been “trying to steal third.” The reporters asked him, was it true that in college he was a fine baseman and fielder but “too lazy to run bases and shone only in making speeches of congratulation as he presented medals to the stars”? Quite true, Wilson laughed.23 Though he acted relaxed, the suspense was almost unbearable as the exhausting convention ground on. A dramatic moment came when the



Massachusetts votes were thrown to Wilson by JFK’s grandfather, John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald. At last the final results were telegraphed. If they were defeated in Baltimore, the Woodrow Wilsons had decided to vacation again in their beloved Lake District and take stock of the future. “When I heard Gov. Wilson coming up the stairs,” Ellen would tell a reporter, “I just knew it was all over [and] I was thinking of that dear little cottage at Mount Rydal. And what do you think the Governor said to me? He said, ‘Well, dear, I guess we won’t go to Mount Rydal this summer after all.’”24 What a ride they had experienced in the past two years! The astonishing political ascent of Woodrow Wilson could only be explained by the notoriety he first gained in the Battle of Princeton, Vanity Fair reported in the aftermath of the Baltimore convention. Months earlier he had been “practically forced out of his Presidential chair because he had dared to fight Money and Aristocracy.” That had proven he was a real reformer. The human drama was riveting, too, as the scheming Andrew West and Momo Pyne, seeking to ruin Wilson, had inadvertently launched him to national prominence. “And now, in spite of everything that political opponents could do, including hostile and disgruntled Princeton alumni, Woodrow Wilson, kicked out of Princeton, stands in imminent danger of being booted into the White House by an excited American Electorate, who had their attention first called to him by the activities of Messrs. West and Pyne! You certainly never can tell! O, you ‘Andy’ West! O, you Moses Taylor Pyne! You modern Warwicks! You up-to-date King Makers! You are really entitled to all the credit, for YOU TWO HAVE MADE WOODROW WILSON PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES!”25

The 1912 campaign shaped up to be one of the most thrilling in history. The neophyte Wilson faced two of the most seasoned politicians of the age, not one but two former U.S. presidents. “The Big Three Election,” the newspapers called it, for the top schools the men represented: Taft, Yale ’78; Wilson, Princeton ’79; and Roosevelt, Harvard ’80. Historian John Milton Cooper, Jr., describes it as chiefly a battle between the “Bull Moose” Roosevelt, the most colorful presidential candidate since Lincoln, and Wilson, the most conspicuously intellectual since Jefferson. These two brilliant men waged an “ideological duel” over how to rein in corporations, making this practically the only campaign in history to



center on “questions that verged on political philosophy.” All three men used phonograph records to get their message out, and today one can still hear Woodrow Wilson’s calm, mellow, slightly English-sounding voice addressing, with pithiness and dry wit, the burning issues of the day. The saucy Roosevelt famously labeled Wilson a “Byzantine logothete” and relished portraying him as a colorless pedagogue wedded to “outworn academic doctrine which was kept in the schoolroom and the professorial study for a generation after it had been abandoned by all who had experience of actual life,” to which Wilson made a confessional reply: “A great many people in the United States have regarded me as a very remote and academic person. They don’t know how much human nature there has been in me to give me trouble all my life.”26 Backing Woodrow Wilson staunchly was the Class of 1879, which had helped him at every turn in his remarkable career. Now they intended to win him the White House, as much as cash could guarantee such a thing. After his nomination at Baltimore, Wilson went aboard Cleve Dodge’s yacht to write his acceptance speech, to be delivered on the breezy lawn at Sea Girt. Half the funds spent by the campaign up to the time of nomination had come from Princeton friends. The McCormick contribution of $12,500 was later returned when it was feared that political enemies would use it against Wilson, for McCormick’s firm, International Harvester, was then embroiled in a high-profile lawsuit. Wilson drafted a statement praising both Dodge and McCormick for agreeing that the funds should be returned, as was honorable. They were his “classmates and life-long friends” who had stuck up for him “at a great personal cost to themselves” when he was “making my fight for scholarship and democracy in the University.” The fight had been especially hard on these friends, he said, as Momo Pyne and fellow adversaries were their intimates and equals in the business world, whose cherished “social standards” they were attacking. Between the nomination and the election, these invaluable Princeton supporters gave even more money to the Wilson campaign, Dodge another thirty-five thousand dollars and the Joneses twenty thousand dollars.27 Making full use of these funds, the Democratic candidate stumped nationwide. Nell Wilson thought his background as educator smoothed his way. “Direct and frank, lucid and balanced, he inspired confidence.” Absent was the usual “empty bombast and devious palaver” of the seasoned politician. As two years earlier, skeptics expected the schoolmaster



The candidate goes South. Rare snapshot of Woodrow and Ellen campaigning from a train in their native state of Georgia, 1912.

to fail to connect with crowds, but he proved surprisingly adept at reaching the common person. When anyone called him “Woody,” he grinned. It was an exhausting circuit, and not until late September did he return to Princeton, coming home to vote in an election. Paul Myers ’13, president of the student Woodrow Wilson Club, drove him to town from the Junction in the rain. As the automobile crested the Washington Road hill, student supporters burst into cheers and ran behind as the vehicle turned up Nassau Street to the Chambers Street firehouse. Wilson reminded the crowd that New Jersey law prohibited speeches within a hundred feet of a polling place, so he counted his paces over to the side steps of Second Presbyterian Church. He was trying to turn his former classroom teachings into action, he said—leaning forward against the ornate metal railing and gesturing with his right hand as he had always done in classroom lectures. Every time he proved a point on the campaign trail, he joked, Roosevelt dismissed him as “academic.” Among the crowd, perhaps, stood the moon-faced freshman “Bunny” Wilson, for whom Woodrow was then “a great hero”: “I read and listened to Wilson’s speeches and accepted him as a shining champion in the war against sordid business, a reformer-intellectual in politics.”28 Weeks more campaigning followed, covered for the Associated Press by cub reporter David Lawrence ’10, who in later years would found U.S. News and World Report. Finally returning to Princeton just before the



November election, Wilson’s chauffeur accidentally drove the car over a mound of dirt in the road at Hightstown, and the candidate was thrown against the roof, gashing his scalp. Blood ran down his head and onto his overcoat. A local doctor treated the wound, but the governor refused to wear a bandage. “I don’t want to go home with my head tied up,” he said forcefully, fearing Ellen’s reaction before he would have a chance to explain. Already she was on edge following an assassination attempt against Roosevelt. Two days later, on November 5, Wilson walked from home to Chambers Street as flashbulbs burst around him. On the way he laughingly pointed out to his companions the little house where he took his meals as a freshman, all those years ago—Mrs. Wright’s Boarding House, which had long since been relocated. “See that porch there? I jumped off that six times trying to shake the bone out.” In the afternoon he took political adviser Dudley Malone on a walk to the old bridge over Stony Brook and the Revolutionary battlefield, then back to campus to see his former Witherspoon Hall dormitory room and, in the university library, the diploma of James Madison and the plaster death mask of his former foe Grover Cleveland (“What an extraordinarily stubborn face!” Wilson mused aloud). His political secretary Joe Tumulty called from the Princeton Club of New York at 6:15 that evening with the earliest returns, and soon messenger boys were knocking on the Cleveland Lane door with further word. The family was eating dinner when the telegraph ticker in their library began to rattle—auspiciously, the same machine that had signaled a Democratic victory for Cleveland in 1892. Friends read the returns to the newspapermen crowded around the big library table. “You gentlemen will ruin your eyes,” Woodrow Wilson said, and brought them an oil lamp. Later the governor relaxed in the parlor, telling stories to his family and laughing around a blazing log fire. “That is encouraging,” he would say to favorable reports.29 Until ten o’clock he stood with his back to the fire. “I was standing near the door,” Nell recalled, “when I heard the first muffled tone of the bell of Old Nassau—in another moment it was ringing like a thing possessed, and we all knew what it meant.” As the grandfather clock in the library chimed the hour, Ellen placed her hands on his shoulders to kiss him. “My dear, I want to be the first to congratulate you.” So long as he lived, Stockton Axson would never forget the look of pride on his sister’s face. Nell was watching her father. “All the gaiety was gone; suddenly he



A vote for himself. Wilson on election day at the Chambers Street firehouse.

looked serious and grave. People began crowding around him and I was pushed aside.”30 Woodrow Wilson won 435 electoral votes to Roosevelt’s 88 and Taft’s 8, though not a majority of the popular vote—he won two million fewer votes than his combined opponents. But it was enough—Taft and Roosevelt had canceled each other out, the Bull Moose insurgency knocking the Republican Party out of the White House for the first time in sixteen years. A special telegraph wire had delivered the news to crowds in Alexander Hall, who rushed to Prospect House, where Hibben greeted them at the door. Then on by torchlight to Cleveland Lane, singing “Old Nassau.” Turning the corner at Andrew West’s, they cheered him, too—as “The Kingmaker”! At the Wilson house, the governor’s assistants, Malone and Tumulty, pulled an old broken rocking chair onto the little front porch and held it for the victorious candidate as he climbed atop. He joked that he was up high so the crowd couldn’t see the shaved spot on his injured head. Nell hung out of an upstairs window. “In all directions, as far as I could see, there were people coming; swarms had already invaded the little garden



and were crowding around the porch. Swaying torches made grotesque circles of light and there, sharply silhouetted in the open doorway, a red glare shining full on his face, was father, utterly, utterly unfamiliar.” To the students who crowded in the gravel lane or on the lawn strewn with sycamore leaves, Wilson recalled his days among them on campus, then added with tears in his eyes, “I have no feeling of triumph tonight, but a feeling of solemn responsibility. I know the great task ahead of me. . . . I look almost with pleading to you, the young men of America, to stand behind me.”31


The Loneliest Place in the World


N THE MORNING President-elect Woodrow Wilson needed to clear his head. So much had happened so quickly! After posing for photographers on the porch, he sauntered five miles with a bodyguard his Western political backer Colonel Edward House had provided, grizzled Captain Bill MacDonald of the Texas Rangers, who toted a sawed-off gun on either hip. Well-wishers came up constantly. From a corner of the grandstand at University Field, Wilson watched football practice, as he had done, it was said, three or more times a week during all his years in Princeton. (Days later, on November 9, he would return to watch the Tigers play New York University, joining the rest of the crowd in the bleachers in stamping his feet to keep warm.) Wilson strode with his usual brisk, cane-swinging pace as they went down to Lake Carnegie. MacDonald fended off a grass snake with the governor’s walking stick, breaking it in the process, for which he ruefully apologized. It was OK— like a true Princetonian of the 1870s, Wilson had a collection of hundreds of canes.1 MacDonald took his job seriously. When a photograph of Wilson at a football game once appeared in a shop window in town, the bodyguard was aghast. “I’m no good, Governor, you ought to get rid of me—I didn’t see that fella—I’m no good to you at all.” Ellen Wilson loved to hear him talk of his sagebrush exploits. He had filled many men with bullets, “always,” she said with satisfaction, “on the side of the law.” Once he accompanied the family to a lecture on Wordsworth in McCosh Hall



by a visiting Frenchman, over Woodrow Wilson’s objections: “It seems very ridiculous that I have got to go with a guard to the very hall where I have been lecturing myself for several years past.” They rode over in a hired four-seat wagonette. Captain MacDonald had experienced many unpleasant things in his career, but never a lecture on Wordsworth.2 Descending on Princeton, newspaper reporters tried every trick in the book to get Wilson to reveal his cabinet choices, only to meet with frustration. One asked if he would favor prominent politicians “or men who have led more retired lives, such as yourself?” “I will not name a Cabinet of college presidents, if that is what you mean,” Wilson replied cryptically. Journalists soon grew frustrated by this cold and standoffish man. “Liars who invent stories out of whole cloth,” the academic called them in turn, complaining about their casual inaccuracies and scandalmongering. When he joked that his postelection workload reminded him of a frog that has fallen into a well and struggles to climb out, a New York newspaper blithely reported, “WILSON FEELS LIKE A FROG.” He was furious at this, as well as at the fact that cameramen were sent to Bermuda when he took a much-needed vacation there with his family. After posing for pictures, he made them promise to take no more. A young man snapped the shutter anyway, and the president-elect rushed over to him, shouting, “Have you no instincts of gentility or gentlemanliness, whatever? I have got a notion to thrash you in an inch of your life.” As the photographer stammered an apology, Wilson added, “I insist on seeing you smash that plate right here.” WILSON THREATENS TO BEAT CAMERA MAN, the New York Times dutifully reported.3 No surprise, then, that many journalists disliked him. “His expression in repose is hard and cynical,” one wrote. “His mouth and chin are powerful, but harshly moulded; his eyes narrow and astigmatic, with a steely glint.” (He added, “Women call him ugly until they hear him talk.”) Still, a few pressmen were converts to Wilson’s subtle charms. “He is so darned human,” one concluded, “although you wouldn’t think that when you first got acquainted with him.” He was “a very amiable gentleman who is possessed with a quick temper. . . . He won’t apologize. He flares up and says something nasty, and then spends the rest of the day brooding over it and kicking himself. He won’t apologize, but the next time he sees that man he will go out of his way to say something nice to him just to make him feel good. That’s the kind of man Woodrow is.”4 But few would have so favorable an impression once Wilson’s White



House press conferences got under way. He prepared them as carefully as any Princeton lecture, he said, intending to use them to educate the nation; but the reporters seemed only to want to contradict him or ask stupid questions about the sheep on the White House lawn, what the family ate for dinner, or whom the girls were dating. The first conference, held in the East Room, was “appalling,” one journalist remembered, with the president coming off as “suspicious,” “reserved,” and “resentful.” Reporters left the room “almost cursing.” He soon canceled press conferences altogether, shunning all but a few journalists, David Lawrence ’10 being a rare exception. Revengeful newspapers would tar Woodrow Wilson as cold and aloof, with fateful results for his public image.5

Nearly overwhelmed with tasks after the election, Wilson found that sauntering helped him regain his sense of self. His life had changed dramatically, but the little town he called home was always the same. Just before Christmas he received another walking stick from a Western admirer, and it occurred to him to take a long stroll with friends, “seeing Princeton” as a break from the workload (fifteen thousand letters and telegrams had poured in during the first few days alone). He pulled on his gloves, and the party set out briskly for campus. At Witherspoon Hall he pointed nostalgically with his cane up to the second-floor window of his student room. At Seventy-Nine Hall he was in a frisky mood. “I guess I’m entitled to go in here,” he said as he produced (to his own surprise) his office key from the ring in his pocket. “You see, since I am Governor I am ex-officio President of the Board of Trustees, so it isn’t burglary.” They discovered that Hibben had emptied the office, shifting operations to Nassau Hall, where they remain today. Then they walked down Prospect Avenue, Wilson eying the eating clubs scornfully. “Hardly a chummy entrance that!” he exclaimed at newly erected Cannon Club, guarded by an enormous gun. They returned by Holder Hall dormitory, currently nearing completion, and the presidentelect was feeling puckish, laughing and joking. “See that nice slate on the roof?” It was beautiful, everyone agreed. “And you’re all wrong. There’s no slate up there; it’s a glass roof built to match the slate-covered buildings round about.” (Glass shingles had cleverly been used as skylights.) So often Wilson had looked grim as he stalked the campus, but now his mood was buoyant. “For that day, I think, he lived in the past again,” Nell



Wilson remembered, “going over many incidents of his life as a student, as professor, and later, as President of the University. His love for Princeton had never diminished and he knew that he had reached the end of a chapter of his life.”6 An exultant Class of 1879 gave their hero a dinner at the University Club in New York. “Boys, I want to find some way to bring the Executive in closer contact with the legislative branch of Government,” he said, voicing an idea they knew went back to undergraduate days. They would recall it again when he broke a century of precedent and spoke to Congress in person. Then Christmas came, and two feet of snow. Ill in bed with a cold, he conferred with advisers on banking and currency reform, a two-hour talk that laid the groundwork for a Federal Reserve System. (To biographer Arthur Link, Wilson’s grasp of economics was astounding. “I have never encountered a person,” Link concluded after decades of studying Wilson, who had “read so widely in so many fields”— his Princeton mantra of general studies now truly bearing fruit “in the nation’s service.”) In January, Colonel House came down by train to discuss the cabinet. The Texas political broker—small, quiet, secretive—was becoming a bosom friend . . . indeed, a new Jack Hibben or Mary Peck. Ellen met House at the station and drove with him to the Princeton Inn for dinner and strategizing with Woodrow before going on to Cleveland Lane. “I was struck by the extreme courtesy of the President-elect,” House told his diary. “He refused to either enter or go out before me. He was particularly solicitous as to my comfort and got up during dinner to regulate the air.” He was struck, too, by the spareness of Wilson’s diet: cereal for breakfast followed by two raw eggs gulped down like oysters in lemon or orange juice; never tea or coffee.7 During another visit, Wilson read House his planned inaugural address and dazzled him with recitations of Wordsworth. And once he unburdened himself of his feelings about Old Nassau. Over sandwiches at House’s place in New York, “He told me something of his troubles at Princeton. He said that Princeton was really for sale, and if he could find some man with ten millions of dollars to invest, he would like to have him take Princeton out of its present influence and make it what it should be.” House added “that it was a matter of real sorrow to him that Hibben had gone over to his enemies.”8 The searing Princeton experiences had a direct bearing on his cabinet selections, making him absolutely determined to choose men who



would be loyal. House asked how Wilson intended to reward Bill McCombs ’98 for his assistance in getting elected—perhaps a cabinet post? The very name agitated Wilson now, who had discovered him to be “weak and vain” (an index entry in Ray Stannard Baker’s presidential biography reads, “McCombs, William F., makes Wilson’s life miserable”). Wilson told House that “he had made a mistake while President of Princeton in trying to reconcile that kind of people, and that he did not intend to make such a mistake again.” In spite of his many services to candidate Wilson, McCombs was jettisoned, to the outrage of some of his loyal classmates and friends. One was Thomas Ridgway ’96, who told his fellow alumni how Wilson had turned McCombs away from his door in Princeton with the awesome words, “God ordained that I should be the next President of the United States.” So McCombs, the adoring freshman whom Professor Wilson had kindly walked home from the Southern Club meeting long ago, now joined the ranks of vocal Wilson vilifiers. It was a particularly poignant break, because McCombs had personified the kind of public service that Wilson had preached in his undergraduate courses. He later partnered with Louis Jay Lang ’81 to write a scathing book, Making Woodrow Wilson President, that blasted their subject for “vanity and greed for individual power,” calling him an opportunist who constantly strove to advance himself and was “brutal in victory.” A vengeful McCombs concluded that Wilson was “drunk for power. The idea of ‘serving’ that ran all through his speeches disgusted me, because it was apparent that he meant in fact serving himself.”9 Wilson the Fighter, Wilson the Ingrate—at least one potential cabinet appointee had hesitations about this strange man, given all the bad press. Could he “do team work”? asked David Houston, appointed as secretary of agriculture. “I had some apprehensions about his executive ability, as it had seemed to me that, while he had been mainly right at Princeton, he had created unnecessary friction and had finally failed to carry his point except with resulting disorganization. I raised the question whether or not the same trait, whatever it was which hampered him in Princeton, might not plague him in Washington.”10 Woodrow Wilson appointed no Princetonian to his cabinet, which proved once more, critics said, that he had been an autocrat ungrateful to his lackeys: “He took none of his associates out of Princeton into public life.” But that was not quite true; the presidency brought a chance to reward a number of faithful allies and to rescue those who were suffer-



ing under the conservative, anti-Wilson backlash at Old Nassau. Cleve Dodge declined an offer of the Court of St. James’s, saying it would cost him a hundred thousand dollars a year. (David B. Jones turned it down, too, as did Harvard’s president Charles Eliot.) Wilson repeatedly urged his staunch ally Dean Henry Fine, unhappy at Hibben’s Princeton, to accept the important ambassadorship to Germany. According to a Wilson enemy, Fine complained, “He offered me Berlin because he knew I hadn’t a cent and couldn’t possibly accept it, damn him!” But Dodge was willing to make it possible by giving Fine twenty-five thousand dollars annually. Ellen Wilson assured Fine that he would have plenty of time to do research at Berlin universities, because no world crisis could possibly erupt concerning quiet, civilized Deutschland.11 But the math professor sensibly refused to go—as lacking in training, being weak in German, and temperamentally unsuited to the lavish lifestyle of an ambassador in a great European capital. He told Princeton friends privately that he feared having to work with Woodrow Wilson at a distance; the only way he had been able to deal with this difficult man on campus was by hashing out issues face-to-face. Disappointed, the president wrote him, “I can not tell you how deep a delight it was to me to have the opportunity to show just what I thought of you.” Wilson added, “The old days, in Princeton, days of strain and pain, were days when men were bound together by something more than ordinary affection. . . . Your deanship was the center of my strength in the administration of the standards of the place.”12 In early January 1913, President-elect Wilson took some newspaper men on another of his nostalgic (if not slightly revengeful) strolls through the university grounds. They stopped to watch the construction of Cuyler dormitory. “I have often regretted that I did not become an architect,” he told them. He did not shy away from the campus these days. Researching his inaugural address, he twice visited the library, taking shorthand notes on brown cards as he browsed the stacks. Later he returned and sequestered himself in the history seminar room to compose the address itself, again in shorthand. A few months later the librarian requested a copy and placed it proudly next to the address of the earlier Princetonian president, James Madison.13 As Woodrow worked, Ellen made preparations for their new life in Washington. She dreaded the White House, with its hugeness and for-



mality. Few First Families have ever moved from such a tiny dwelling (Cleveland Lane was a mere cottage—which they didn’t even own) into such an enormous one. President Taft helped her plan housekeeping arrangements, and in thanking him she confessed, “I am naturally the most unambitious of women and life in the White House has no attractions for me! Quite the contrary in fact!” In spite of many past heartaches, she and Woodrow felt ambivalent about leaving Princeton, their home for more than two decades. He wrote to Mary Peck on February 16, “The days hurry on and bring us near the time when we must say good-bye to dear old Princeton, where we have enjoyed and suffered so much. . . . Frankly, we dread the change.” A week later he confessed, “We are not as light-hearted as we might be. Much as we have suffered in Princeton, deep as are the wounds our hearts have received here, it goes hard with us to leave it—and next Sunday is our last day here.”14

Woodrow Wilson resigned the governorship on Saturday, March 1, 1913, and promised himself he would find a way quietly to enjoy the next three days as “a plain and untitled citizen.” But those days were crowded with events large and small. That evening he walked into Will Durner’s barbershop and asked a special favor, that Will would come to the house tomorrow after lunch to cut his hair. (In the chair, Wilson would chat about the vagaries of the weather and apologize for making his friend break two rules, working after hours and on the Sabbath—but the situation was unusual.) Later Saturday night, fifteen hundred students and townsfolk assembled on Nassau Street with red flares and Japanese lanterns, then marched through the byways to Cleveland Lane, where a band played “Hail to the Chief” under the sycamores that lined the sidewalk and Wilson, in gray suit and soft hat, accepted a silver loving cup from the citizens of Princeton. Ellen had remained inside, peeking through a crack in the door, but when the cup was presented she joyously burst out saying, “Let me see it!” The band struck up “Auld Lange Syne,” and the hero led the crowd in singing “My Country, ’Tis of Thee.”15 “When a man has lived in one place as long as I have lived in Princeton and had as many experiences as I have had here—first as an undergraduate and then as a resident—he knows what it means to change his residence and to go into strange environments and surroundings,” he



told them. “I have never been inside of the White House [laughter], and I shall feel very strange when I get inside of it. I shall think of this little house behind me.”16 On Sunday, Woodrow and Ellen walked to First Presbyterian Church, entering the whitewashed Greek Revival sanctuary where he had graduated college thirty-four years before and where Jimmy McCosh had told them, “You will influence many, many people. What a power for good you might wield!” After the service Wilson was astonished at the crowd of hundreds that pressed forward to shake his hand on the steps beneath the big columns. As he pushed out into the street, two hundred students across the way respectfully doffed hats. That night he wrote Peck, “This is our last evening in this little house, and we find our hearts very heavy. We leave familiar scenes, which we may possibly never know again, and go out to new adventures, amongst strangers. New adjustments must be made all along the line,—a new life must be worked out,—a life full of strain and anxiety.” It was the end of an era for the family. Neither Woodrow nor Ellen would ever spend a night in Princeton again, where they had lived since 1890—what seemed a lifetime ago.17 The Wilsons were going to Washington, but they were not going alone; the inaugural festivities were interwoven throughout with Princetonians and Princeton associations. On a sunny Monday morning, hundreds of students wearing broad felt sashes of orange with a black “P” assembled at Cleveland Lane at 10:30. A motorcade ferried the family’s thirteen trunks to the depot (the man of the hour had handwritten their labels just that morning, “WOODROW WILSON, WHITE HOUSE”). He and Ellen preferred to walk—down the brick path from their front door to the sidewalk, then turning right for Library Place where they went past their old home for a last, sentimental look. The students marched behind all the way to the depot, thronging the foot of Blair Arch and the bank by Little Hall before boarding the special nine-car train that would take everyone to the Capital. Woodrow Wilson and a beaming Ellen climbed the metal steps to their railroad car as the boys gave the college yell again and again, “Sis, boom, ah, Wilson,” and sang the college anthem as the train pulled away. The president-elect stood on the rear platform waving his silk top hat at the customary place in the song: “Her sons shall give, while ere they live, three cheers for Old Nassau.” (The hat was “aristocratic” headgear he had agreed to wear at the inaugural only with reluctance, acceding to tradition.) The idea of eleven hundred students going



Good-bye to Princeton. Woodrow and Ellen leave the house at Cleveland Lane to walk to the depot, Monday morning, March 3, 1913.

to Washington had been anathema to the anti-Wilson administration of the university. “They say Hibben had a hard time getting the bitter pill down,” a Wilson relative reported. “He didn’t want to allow it and the students informed him they were going anyhow!” Giving in, the faculty granted them all a holiday.18

At Union Station in Washington, D.C., the student escort formed a double line, and the Wilsons’ car swept down the middle on its way to the Shoreham Hotel, a scene, Nell found, “of indescribable babble and confusion,” as a suffragettes’ parade was noisily going by at just that moment. That night the president-elect attended a smoker organized by the D.C. Princeton alumni association on the tenth floor of the New Willard Hotel. Two thousand had come by train from everywhere, and Wilson shook hands with all of them. “Fellows, I hadn’t expected to say anything tonight,” he said in answer to their demands for a speech. “There are some emotions that are very much deeper than a man’s vocabulary.” He referred to “the part that Princeton has played in public life and of the part she ought to play in public life” as well as “that sense of having a great invisible brotherhood that binds a man by uncommon standards of honor and of service.”19



The next morning, an overcast and gloomy March 4, the undergraduates in sashes and white gloves escorted Woodrow Wilson’s carriage to the White House, singing college songs. Only five semesters earlier he had stood among them as a mere professor in the classroom, a complete stranger to active politics. He cut short a chat with President Taft to come out on the front porch and sing “Old Nassau” with them one last time, a mass of uplifted hands waving precisely back and forth to the chorus. The White House usher could see that he was moved. Then Wilson and Taft rode in a two-horse victoria to the United States Capitol. As Wilson descended the steps of the greenery-festooned East Front toward the wooden platform, deafening cheers arose from the crowd of thousands, and the sun came out in time to shine on his inaugural address. Ellen pushed her way forward and stood directly below him, listening rapturously as all her dreams for her husband were fulfilled. The oration was brief and dealt entirely with the domestic matters he had spent his career analyzing, this hour in 1913 marking, perhaps, the last sighing breath of the old nineteenth century, with America still in its adolescence and the horror of global wars as yet unimaginable. “It would be the irony of fate,” Woodrow Wilson had told Professor Conklin before leaving Princeton, “if my administration had to deal chiefly with foreign affairs.”20 At lunch afterward in the White House, Taft suddenly lost his usual grin as he told his successor, “I’m glad to be going—this is the loneliest place in the world.” He was off to teach law at his alma mater, Yale. The new president chatted with young Cary Grayson, Taft’s physician, who had been summoned to assist Wilson’s sister when she fell and cut her brow on a marble staircase. A vigorous man who spoke with a soft Virginia accent and loved to ride horseback through Rock Creek Park, Grayson soon became Wilson’s inseparable companion, for he immediately perceived a certain physical frailty about his new boss, later confirmed to him by Wilson’s Philadelphia neurologist, who predicted that one term in office would surely prove fatal. (Grayson shadowed Wilson everywhere he went and, he said privately, saved his life more than once by speedy medical action.) Fear of what the pressures of Washington would do to both of her parents terrified Nell Wilson, too. Just last night she had crawled under her bed in the Shoreham Hotel, pounded the floor, and cried, “It will kill them—it will kill them both!”21 A grandstand had been erected in front of the White House where one had stood almost a half-century earlier for the reviewing of the



A long way from the classroom. The dreams of a lifetime fulfilled, Wilson delivers his inaugural address at the U.S. Capitol.

Grand Army of the Republic after the Civil War. Today’s procession of forty thousand was the longest ever recorded, and Woodrow Wilson was near exhaustion by the end, having stood four hours. By no means a military man, he sometimes doffed his hat to the wrong flags. Watching the spectacle, a Princeton professor reflected with awe on the suddenness of Wilson’s political ascent, which ultimately owed to Pyne and West. The commander in chief, he ironically mused, was “the man of whom his enemies had said that he wouldn’t resign as President of Princeton because he knew if he did he wouldn’t be able to get another job”! Near the back of the parade marched student representatives from many colleges. “Here comes Princeton!” cried Nell, rushing to the railing with her mother. They waved handkerchiefs as the Orange and Black went by, including, among the throng, the president’s young student admirer, Bunny Wilson. Waving, too, were thirty-four members of the Class of 1879, prominently seated directly across the way. Woodrow Wilson gratefully bowed. Relieved to be back inside the White House late that after-



noon, he and Ellen and her brother Stockton, bookworms all, flipped through the volumes in the stately library and laughed heartily at the literary taste of that earlier occupant Teddy Roosevelt.22 The man who had tried to ban Princeton eating clubs now made headlines by canceling the customary inaugural ball as costly and undemocratic, sending a definite signal that a decade and a half of aristocratic Republican ways were over. (When he went on to refuse an honorary membership in the Chevy Chase Country Club, Washington elites again laughed at his lowbrow ways.) The Class of 1879 had dinner that night in the Gold Room of the Shoreham, and a tired Woodrow Wilson stopped by, to the surprise and delight of the sixty-nine classmates attending, including Charlie Talcott, with whom he had sworn his “solemn covenant” as an undergraduate that they would someday enter public service. Talcott was now a congressman from upstate New York. As Wilson rose to speak, fireworks were bursting in the sky behind the White House, that place he had never even visited before but was now his home. Were any reporters present? he asked cautiously. None were, so he proceeded to talk from the heart. He began by mentioning a play he had recently seen in New York, Under the Law, about wretched women who earn too little to live on. A bad play, but it reminded him how life was inexorably getting harder for everyone as the cost of living steadily rose. No wonder there was unrest in American society . . . and even some smoldering fury. He said he disliked newspaper men, who “distorted things.” They always portrayed him as stubborn and obstinate, but he appeared so only because he stood firm for right. Take Princeton, for example. He had loathed the undemocratic tendencies he saw there. “Now the only way to stop certain things when they once got to tobogganing downhill, was to put up a firm resistance.” What annoyed him about many people, he added, was their “confounded complacency.” Sometimes a leader had to “stir them up” and “make them mad.” He ended by commenting on how he had felt like a spectator at his own inauguration today. The job of president was immensely important, and he could only hope that he would be able to carry out the will of the people. He asked the Seventy-Nine to help him. “It was profoundly moving,” one classmate remembered, “and many were in tears.”23 Near midnight in the White House, Wilson noticed a trunk was missing. Trying to summon the servants, he rang all the wrong bells. When a doorkeeper suddenly appeared in his room, the surprised president was



wearing only his underwear. Thoroughly overwhelmed, he dropped exhausted into Abraham Lincoln’s bed that night in a suite looking out at the Washington Monument. The Schoolmaster in Politics was far away from the little college town in New Jersey where once he had dreamed, oh how earnestly, of someday “doing something.”24

As Woodrow Wilson embarked on one of the most eventful and dramatic of all U.S. presidencies, his old friends watched his every move, cheering him on and occasionally offering advice, as, for example, the Delaware textile manufacturer Henry B. Thompson did regarding labor unions. No one was prouder than Cleve Dodge, invited to spend two nights at the White House in April. It would give him “supreme satisfaction,” Dodge said, to see Wilson “in the place I have longed to see you in, ever since that fateful day, in the summer of 1910 when you decided to accept the proffer of the Gubernatorial nomination.” Dodge re-read Congressional Government, the first parts of which had been drafted when Tommy Wilson was a senior living in Witherspoon Hall, and marveled at how “what you are doing at Washington” was “in direct line with your thoughts of thirty years ago.”25 Meanwhile the country watched in fascination to see how the professor with the pince-nez would deal with the seasoned politicians in Washington. Evincing the formidable, great-man leadership style he had longed for in Congressional Government and breaking more than a century of precedent, Wilson delivered messages to Congress in person, as calmly as if addressing the faculty in Nassau Hall. No president before or since has felt so comfortable visiting the Capitol, and this familiarity helped him as he began to push for extraordinary reforms. The contrast between the schoolmaster and the congressmen was amusing to many observers; British artist Max Beerbohm, for example, caricatured Wilson as a wraith in academic garb wagging a finger at comically corpulent and scowling legislators. Right off, Republicans resented Wilson’s congressional visits and flayed him for his pedagogical ways. “He was the schoolmaster beyond all question” as he stood before Congress, one said. “Yes, he was the schoolmaster from head to foot.” “His idea is to gather the lads in the lower class room and then to tell them in a general way their course of studies for the ensuing term,” a newspaper humorist joked of “Dock Wilson.” “So far they’re an obedient lot and he’s had to



larrup very few of them.” “He has taken his autocratic, pedagogic ideas to Washington, and is having everything his own way,” complained Republican Chauncey Depew. “His Cabinet he regards as merely university professors. . . . He regards both Houses of Congress as his student body.” He addressed Congress directly only “because he is accustomed to call his students together to give them a lecture,” and he dragged legislators to his special room there “just as he would summon bad boys at Princeton.”26 The university was often on Wilson’s mind as he made official appointments. Young Paul Myers ’13, who had organized the Woodrow Wilson Club on campus and planned the student trip to Washington for the inaugural, became a member of the committee that drafted the federal income tax. The president named the loyal professors Winthrop Daniels and Henry Jones Ford (Ford wrote the laudatory book Woodrow Wilson: The Man and His Work) to the Interstate Commerce Commission. Classics professor Edward Capps was named minister to Greece (though never approved); Henry Breckinridge ’07, assistant secretary of war; Roland S. Morris ’96, ambassador to Japan. (When asked what accounted for the excellence of Morris’s reports, Wilson instantly replied, “That’s easy. Because he was a pupil of mine at Princeton.”) Former professor Harry Garfield became United States fuel administrator; Samuel Thompson ’97, assistant attorney general; William Roper ’02, appraiser of the Port of Philadelphia; Breckinridge Long ’03, assistant secretary of state. Long said that he had first discovered a sense of life’s purpose in Woodrow Wilson’s university lectures and owed more to him “than to any other man.” John MacMurray, another “of my pupils at Princeton,” became a secretary in the diplomatic service. Evincing a change of heart, Wilson sounded out Edmund Wilson’s father for Supreme Court justice, though the Republican privately called the president “an animated corpse.” The hefty “Big Bill” Edwards ’00, a former Tiger football star who had gained a measure of fame for subduing the would-be assassin of Mayor Gaynor of New York by sitting on him, became collector of internal revenue for that city. Finally, Gilbert Close ’03, once Wilson’s secretary on campus, would serve that function again in Paris during the peace conference and draft the Fourteen Points.27 The president made the pompous former professor Henry van Dyke minister to the Netherlands, which some thought strange, because van Dyke had opposed him furiously on Quads. Van Dyke was a faithful



Democrat in a preponderantly Republican small town, however, and had supported Woodrow Wilson for governor and president. The professor was astonished by the appointment, thanking Ellen Wilson with tears in his eyes. Some thought van Dyke had won Woodrow over with flattery, to which, Wilson’s enemies said, he was endlessly susceptible; but the president seemed to know what he was doing, telling Professor Garfield slyly, “Harry, I have heaped coals of fire on Henry van Dyke’s head.” After World War I erupted, van Dyke’s reports about German atrocities would rivet Americans, but he annoyed the young official in charge of Belgian relief, Herbert Hoover, by clamoring to have his name mentioned more often in news dispatches. One observer famously said, “Van Dyke is the only man in the diplomatic service who can strut sitting down.”28 Wilson supported his staunch trustee ally Thomas Jones for the new Federal Reserve Board because he was one of those he had “tested” and would not have to “sit up nights and wonder what they are going to do.” The president told a senator, “I have been associated with Mr. Jones in various ways for more than fifteen years and have seen him tried by fire. . . . He has always stood for the rights of the people against the rights of privilege. . . . He stood by me with wonderful address and courage in trying to bring the University to true standards of democracy by which it would serve not special classes but the general body of our youth.” The nomination was derailed by the fact that Jones owned a share of stock in International Harvester, however, one of the “trusts” Wilson had campaigned against. The matter threatened for a time to strain relations with Wilson’s Princeton classmate who ran that company, Cyrus McCormick.29 Princetonians helped Wilson in unofficial capacities, too. Andy Imbrie ’95, who had stood by him on Quads, now advised him on the cutoff of German dyestuffs, his area of professional expertise. William Chambers ’76, a missionary in Turkey, warned of the extermination of the Armenians. Cleve Dodge, who funded Christian charities in Turkey, was Wilson’s chief adviser regarding that nation and convinced him not to declare war lest the Turks “gobble up everything we have” there. In ways big and small, Cleve proved indispensable, inviting “Tommy” to relax with him at Riverdale, his home on the Hudson, whenever he visited New York. When Ambassador Walter Hines Page in England (the former World’s Work editor) complained of a salary shortfall, Wilson asked Dodge to make up the difference of twenty-five thousand dollars yearly.



“I know of no other friend like you. . . . Thank God that it is so, and that there is room somewhere for perfect trust!” Dodge agreed to help, adding with a smile, “Fortunately I have no longer any burdens connected with Princeton,” since he had cut all ties. Wilson replied, “Certainly God has blessed me with one of the truest and most generous friends a man ever had!” Not all of his classmates earned such praise, however. Wilson was angry when businessman Moreau Ballinger wrote him “Dear Tommy” letters trying to influence governmental policies and Phillipus Miller begged to have his son admitted to Annapolis.30

In July 1913, the president sent his regrets that he could not attend the one-hundredth anniversary of the Town of Princeton’s incorporation, though “my affection for Princeton draws me very hard.” In late September, Wilson, Dr. Grayson, and Stockton Axson were there for three hours to vote in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, a ritual that would become regular at election times—the stepping off the train below Blair Hall, handshakes with a few local Democrats, the brisk walk to the firehouse on Chambers Street. To return home like this was always emotional: “It was like revisiting my old self,” he would say, “and the experience was both sweet and bitter.” As a guilty pleasure, Wilson and his friends had themselves motored to the nearly completed Graduate College, and no doubt the president had some choice words for it and Andrew West, too.31 They arrived back at the depot early, with time for a short stroll onto the campus. Wilson wanted to show Grayson the display in the gymnasium of the blue and red footballs Princeton had won from Yale and Harvard, as well as the adjacent, below-grade power house of which he had once been quite proud. This walk proved a mistake, however. A mustached man rode by on horseback—President Hibben! Dismounting, he shook hands with Wilson, who glowered. “Unfortunately I ran across Hibben just before leaving,” Woodrow later told Ellen. “Stock says that I behaved pretty well, and did not freeze him as I did [Librarian] Richardson who seemed, in his infinite stupidity, quite taken aback by my manner towards him.” The encounter with his archenemy caused Wilson acute embarrassment, for, as historian Patrick Devlin says, “the Presidency of the United States was to make no difference to Wilson’s loves nor to his hates.” Old wounds never healed, nor could the most



honored and important man in the country show a little magnanimity and kindness to his former foe. Word of these awkward encounters spread as gossip, many shaking their heads over the president’s chronic rudeness. Edmund Wilson, who like many early Wilson admirers later became disillusioned, sought an explanation for such petty behavior. The president suffered from “passionate pride,” he concluded, rooted in a “Puritan nature: he was, at the same time, obdurate and ruthless, and excessively thin-skinned. He was sensitive to criticism from friends; he was suspicious and vindictive to his opponents.”32 Woodrow’s spurning of Jack Hibben on a campus sidewalk was a small incident, but highly revealing. For one anonymous political observer in Washington, the key to understanding Wilson was his lifelong sense of inferiority, barely masked by arrogance. “So full a life as Mr. Wilson led” as president, the critic wrote, “ought to have made him less self-conscious.” But Wilson could never escape his feelings of failure, the result of fifty years of dreams deferred. He had floundered at law in Atlanta; he had shelved his youthful goal of a public career; he had endured near-poverty as a professor; he had written books that were more or less dull; “then the crowning unsuccess as President of Princeton.” Wilson’s whole career was marked by overwork, strain, shortages of time and money, and a retreat from genial human contacts. Now this crabbed man was, most improbably, president of the United States. A more confident person would have “laughed as he fought, found something to respect in his foes.” But with Wilson there was only a brimming contempt, that perennial balm for his bruised ego. “He seems to have fortified himself against failure with scorn. He had a scorn for the intellects of those who succeed by arts which he did not possess. He had scorn for politicians. He had a scorn for wealth. He had a scorn for his enemies. He had a scorn for Republicans.” And he reserved a special scorn for President Hibben.33

As in his early days at Princeton and Trenton, Woodrow Wilson racked up successes as United States president by acting boldly, tossing precedent aside and bypassing established channels. As before, he made many enemies, who screamed of his autocratic style—especially as regards foreign policy, where, biographer Baker believed, his “in the nation’s service” Princeton ethic had been reformulated as an exalted vision of



America as servant to the world. Wilson explained his ill-conceived 1914 military involvement in Mexico, for example, as an effort “to serve mankind.” (For a time his chief adviser on Mexico was Princeton classmate Dodge, whose mining company had connections there.) A Republican angry over the Mexican incursion fulminated in a letter to the Chicago Tribune, “Woodrow Wilson is making precisely the same mistake he made as president of Princeton University. He thinks he is the whole thing. . . . President Wilson has been successful for a few months, because he has appealed to the people over the heads of Congress to sustain his personal views and plans. But the people are getting their eyes open to his schemes. They are deserting him.” These words were to prove prophetic.34 As he led decisively, Wilson had a new best friend now, his Texan political adviser Colonel House. Wilson unburdened himself to House about urgent matters and, at times, old Princeton miseries. “Whenever we have no governmental business to discuss, somehow or other, we drift into his life at Princeton and his troubles there,” House told his diary. It showed “how deeply the iron entered his soul. I asked where he would live when he was out of office. He thought not at Princeton [as] he had an unmitigated contempt for those who are managing it.” One morning at the White House, Wilson came down and complained of nightmares. “He thought he was seeing some of his Princeton enemies. Those terrible days have sunk deep into his soul and he will carry their marks to his grave.”35 His dear friend Dodge watched Wilson with awe, noting the “great epic nature” of his travails. He was convinced that an “intense love of democracy” had “pervaded his life in college and during his struggles for a more democratic social life in Princeton, and of course throughout his whole political career.” Constantly Wilson himself remarked how the Princeton fights had taught him all he needed to know about politics. At a cabinet meeting he recalled his old rule of thumb, “If you don’t understand a question, never vote as West does”—that was always the wrong side! “You fool, didn’t you see how West voted?” the president would say, laughing. Wilson’s bold policies were successful, and the American people seemed supportive, but the president worried constantly that things would turn sour . . . just as they had at Princeton after his initial victories. In vain did House reassure him that the American people were not going to behave like that “small clique of selfish millionaires” had.



Division and reunion. The first Southern-born president in forty-four years greets veterans at the fiftieth anniversary of Gettysburg. As a professor he had once written a history of the Civil War era.

Painful memories were kept alive by reports that his campus enemies constantly maligned him. An Ought-Nine warned him that Dean West’s Graduate College in particular was swarming with “pernicious, insidious and untruthful criticism” of Wilson’s former performance at the university. No wonder that when his daughter Nell spoke to him exultantly of his current popularity nationwide, Wilson put his hand on hers and said quietly, “Remember, the pack is always waiting near at hand to tear one to pieces.”36


The Old College Life Is All Shot to Hell


HE Professor and His Lady,” the White House staff affectionately called the Wilsons behind their backs—for Woodrow and Ellen had the common touch. The servants were less fond of their spirited daughters, who loved practical jokes—placing orders and then pretending they hadn’t, jumping out from dark corners to scare the servants into dropping things; taking the public tours disguised as ordinary visitors and then loudly badmouthing the Wilson girls. The president amused the staff with his frugality, not allowing them to turn on the electric lights, for example, until it was dark outside.1 The Wilsons tried to retain a sense of family normalcy, as at Prospect. Evenings were spent in the Oval Room before the fireplace, Woodrow Wilson reciting limericks, reading from Burke, Bagehot, and Wordsworth or singing “Old Nassau” with Maggie. Invited down for a visit, Professor George Harper found a scene right out of Princeton, Wilson on the hearth rug happily rocking back and forth in the firelight, his knees clasped between his hands, declaiming sonnets. The indulgent president pushed so many éclairs on Harper’s son, the little boy got sick. The maids concluded Wilson was a frustrated actor, so often did they come upon him clowning or making faces to his daughters or playacting with one arm histrionically raised. He loved going to the theater for vaudeville, and he and Nell watched the Triangle Club perform on stage and lustily sang along to the college anthem.2 As First Lady, Ellen Wilson maintained a grueling schedule, impos-



Ellen Axson Wilson. Joyous at Woodrow’s political ascent, in the end she could not bear the strain.

ing high standards on herself as the first Southern hostess in the home since Sarah Polk in 1848. Jessie and Nell were both married at the White House in elaborate ceremonies. Francis Sayre had proposed to Jessie in Princeton, from which college his brother Nevin, later a leading pacifist, had graduated; Secretary of the Treasury William McAdoo proposed to Nell at the Washington Monument. Twice Nell’s age and only seven years younger than her father, Southern-born McAdoo had first met Woodrow Wilson on the train to Princeton, where he was visiting his son in the Class of 1910, then sick with diphtheria. He was impressed by Wilson’s charm and courtesy and how the busy university president insisted on walking him over to the infirmary.3 As at Prospect, Ellen undertook a garden renovation, redesigning either side of the South Portico and sending for roses from her earlier campus home. In Princeton she had engaged in charity work in the Negro district on John Street; now in Washington she visited alley slums and pressed for legislation to combat poverty. She set up a studio in the



White House attic, selling landscapes to benefit charities and exhibiting five works with the Association of Women Painters and Sculptors. She told the visiting Mary Peck that she shopped endlessly for dolls and handkerchiefs as gifts for the expectant public. “She was already tired,” Peck could see—“Poor woman.” Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels thought Ellen worn out the day she arrived in Washington, as the “bitter feeling” from the Princeton fight “had laid its heavy hand upon her.” She told him wearily of political intrigues, “They are as nothing to the feuds and depths of separation and bitterness that changed the whole atmosphere of Princeton in the conflicts through which I have passed.” “Truly they had been searing to her,” Daniels concluded.4 Dr. Grayson worried about her poor health, listing the “hard years of fighting” as among the troubles that had worn her down—“these things take their toll.” Her life had been turned upside down by the move to Washington, and now her daughters were leaving home, breaking the sacred Wilson family circle. She fretted about her husband’s medical condition and the fact that three presidents in fifty years had been assassinated, one in a theater. A bad fall on the polished floor of her room in February 1914 laid her up in bed. She stopped eating and began to waste away, even as she insisted on carrying on her charity work and directed the White House gardener from a wheelchair.5

June 1914 would bring the Class of 1879’s thirty-fifth reunion. Woodrow Wilson wanted to attend, but he could not bear to see President Hibben and Dean West again. Seeking reconciliation, Hibben asked Wilson’s classmate Robert Bridges to convince him to attend a reception at Prospect after the game, but Wilson told Bobby no, making the excuse that he wanted it “to be absolutely ignored that I am President of the United States. My personal enjoyment of the occasion depends upon that being done.” Wilson would be in Princeton on Saturday from noon until midnight and, by Bridges’s careful planning, was to be protected and insulated the whole time by a phalanx of Seventy-Nine. Classmate Cleve Dodge refused to participate in the reunion, but Wilson assured him that “the thing was so arranged as not to bring me into contact with men whom it would be embarrassing for me to meet.” Hibben aside, Wilson was looking forward to the getaway. When at the White House he ran into John Silliman ’79, a celebrity for having been held captive by the



Mexican government in the revolutionary crisis there, Wilson disarmed him by saying, “Hello, Jack! How are you? Are you going up to Princeton next week? The boys will be glad to see you.”6 Five hundred excited students thronged below Blair Arch to greet the president of the United States a little after noon on June 13—among them, perhaps, a smiling blond freshman with a face “like a daffodil,” F. Scott Fitzgerald. Stepping out of the train car into the sunshine, Woodrow Wilson wore the class uniform of dark blue sack coat, white trousers, white shoes. He smiled broadly as “locomotive” cheers went up for “Wilson, Wilson, Wilson”; then he doffed his hat at the yell for “79.” Class president A. W. Halsey slipped a special band onto his hat, and greetings were offered by a delegation that included Billy Wilder, Bridges, and Cyrus McCormick. How refreshing it was to be called “Woodrow” again! He had always been dignified, but his uncompromising idea of the gravity of a United States president had made him even more so. If anyone could unwind him it would be the Seventy-Nine—the only people, his sisterin-law Madge Axson Elliott thought, who had ever dared slap him on the back.7 Two automobiles were waiting, but the president typically preferred to walk. He and Halsey strode up Blair steps, the crowd falling in line behind, including his traveling companions the McAdoos, Joe Tumulty, and Grayson. Right by his old window in Witherspoon Hall they marched, then down the leaf-dappled shade of McCosh Walk. There was so little fanfare, many onlookers didn’t recognize that it was the President. As he entered the shadowy, brick-groined archway of Seventy-Nine Hall, a band struck up “Hail to the Chief.” Unavoidably, President Hibben walked over from Prospect and had to be greeted, but quickly the schedule called for a private class lunch in the Tower Room upstairs, briefly interrupted by an urgent telephone message for the president from Secretary of State Bryan. (Later the unflattering rumor went around that Wilson had refused to meet Hibben at all and had ignored his calling card.) Dr. Grayson was formally inducted into the class and given a hatband. Then the group filed down the stairs and assembled for the march. “Get in step, Tommy!” Halsey playfully shouted, and he, Wilson, and Grayson followed the band.8 The Class of 1879 fell in behind Nassau Hall for the P-Rade to University Field, as deafening cheers for Woodrow Wilson went up from the crowd of 12,700, especially from the younger classes. Winding its way



“Get in step, Tommy!” President Wilson (in dark jacket, left) marches in the P-Rade with the Class of 1879. Immediately behind him are Dr. Grayson (light-colored tie) and bearded Robert Bridges.

around the sunny track, the P-Rade was colorful as always: 1904 wore kilts; the Arabs of 1907 rode a camel; 1909 were dressed as playing cards. Ninety-Four had allowed wives and daughters to march, which scandalized many alumni, one wondering if this was “the first insidious step (God forbid!) towards turning Princeton into a co-educational institution.” The president climbed into the wooden west stands to watch the customary antics. Carrying Japanese parasols, the boys of the Class of 1914 lined up before him and, at a pistol crack, sprinted across the field and vaulted a fence into their seats. A pirate ship sailed into view, drawn by three mules. Two waiters sweltered inside a canvas steer for a zany bullfight. The baseball game, a 3–0 defeat at the hands of Yale, came as anticlimax.9 Some classmates grumbled when the group picture on the steps of Seventy-Nine Hall had to be postponed, as President Wilson, overcome by exhaustion and the secret strain of seeing old foes, said he needed a nap. As he would later tell Cleve Dodge, the decision to return to campus that day had been difficult, and “it cost me a great deal to be there.” Din-



ner was served at seven in the Tower Room, heavy tables arrayed in front of the huge stone fireplace, the noise of talk and laughter echoing off the brown oak beams of the lofty ceiling. During the meal, Wilson forgot for a few minutes his worries about world affairs, the Mexican crisis, and Ellen’s sickness. He was given a gift, a small-scale replica of one of the class’s bronze tiger statues in front of Nassau Hall. Then the conviviality gave way to hushed silence as the president of the United States rose to speak.10 He would not make a formal speech to them, he said, for “I cannot put up a bluff before you fellows.” And bluff he did not, instead lashing out stingingly at old adversaries. “There are some pretty grim things I have learned in life. For one thing, I hope never again to be fool enough to make believe that a man is my friend who I know to be my enemy. . . . We ought not to deceive ourselves. Men are tested. They do make their records. Their records are to be read. If a man has proved himself a coward, he is a coward. If he has proved himself unfaithful, he is unfaithful; and in performing public duties you should not associate yourself with him.” It was an obvious reference to Hibben. Never before had Wilson unburdened himself so frankly in public, but he felt that he was among trusted friends: “It is a privilege to blot out the years that have intervened since we graduated and to see the masks fall from your faces as they do readily if I look long enough and see the boys behind.” These were companions he had known in his innocent youth, before he could have imagined anyone could possibly betray him, when “we opened our hearts and minds to everybody.” What a contrast between them and the people who had come into his life later on! In the P-Rade “I knew the sheep from the goats, but I like the goats just about as much as I do the sheep. I did not have the slightest feeling of distaste toward the fellows who I knew were no sort of good whatever. There were such men in the P-Rade; and some of them were not as young as others were. Some were mature; and they have come to that goathood which precedes dissolution. They always were goats; they are goats now; and I will not make any predictions except to remind you that there will be an arrangement for goats in the next world.”11 He spoke as if to buddies, but his candor stunned and infuriated many in the room that night who were longtime associates of certain “goats.” Already they were embarrassed at how Wilson had earlier refused to shake the hand of classmate Parker Handy, one of the trustees



who had helped elect President Hibben. “Well, Billy, I guess we’re goats,” Bob McCarter later said in exasperation to Professor Magie. In Magie’s disgusted opinion, “The class wouldn’t have voted for Wilson for poundmaster at the end of that evening.” And he had not even thanked them for the tiger.12

Woodrow Wilson was at a turning point in his life as he stepped on board the train for Washington below Blair Hall at 11:04 that warm June night. He did not know it yet, but Ellen was dying. And in two weeks a telegram would land on his desk from Vienna: Regret advise assassination today at Sarajevo, Capitol Province of Bosnia, of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir thrones Austria Hungary, and wife Duchess Hohenberg by pistol shots.

The remainder of his presidency would be swallowed up by the greatest war yet seen in history. He thought ironically of his Princeton predecessor of a century before, James Madison, who watched America get dragged into the Napoleonic conflict as the War of 1812. Current events ran eerily parallel, Wilson told Colonel House, and “I sincerely hope they will not go further.” The anxiety and strain were tremendous, especially when Ellen’s health rapidly deteriorated just as the European situation sharply worsened. Deliberately she was not told of the war.13 In early August she died of Bright’s disease. At the end she begged Grayson, “Doctor, if I go away, promise me that you will take good care of Woodrow.” She was right to worry, as her husband was soon plunged into the greatest depression of his life, blaming his foolish aspirations toward greatness for having caused her to sicken in the first place. Standing forlornly in the White House garden she had designed, he said to her sister Madge, “If I hadn’t gone into politics, she would probably be alive now. The strain of it killed her.” He told Dr. Grayson, “I sometimes feel that the Presidency has had to be paid for with Ellen’s life; that she would be living today if we had continued in the old simple life at Princeton.” He added, “I would gladly give up everything if I could be back in Library Place as in the old days.” With a heavy heart and wearing a black armband, Wilson visited the town again in the fall to vote, accompanied by Ellen’s siblings Stockton and Madge as well as Grayson. Few paid them any attention as they walked out to see the nearly finished



football stadium, then through their old neighborhood. At the depot, Madge thought of Ellen, imagining her little figure hurrying along—she had always been so afraid of missing the train. Just at that moment, an awkward scene unfolded: Woodrow Wilson stood talking to friends when suddenly Jack Hibben rushed up, breathless. “Mr. President, one of the students told me that you were asking for me,” he said eagerly. Here at last, Jack thought, was the reconciliation he had longed for with his old friend and a belated blessing on his Princeton administration from the president of the United States. Madge saw instantly what had happened . . . a student prank. Perfectly courteous and unbelievably remote, Woodrow Wilson said only one word: “No.”14 Each of these visits to Princeton seemed to offer some striking episode. In October 1915 Wilson was met by cheering students and escorted to the Chambers Street firehouse, where he voted “yes” for the state women’s suffrage amendment, having finally changed his mind on this controversial subject. (Although the amendment was defeated that day, historian Victoria Bissell Brown calls Wilson’s decision to support it the most important male conversion ever to the suffrage cause.) He bowed and smiled to college yells as he came out but declined to be photographed: “This is too serious a matter to make a spectacle of it.” Suffragettes thanked him for his support. He walked though the sunny campus with Stockton Axson and Dr. Grayson and to the home of Professor Will Vreeland, then down Lover’s Lane to Dean Fine’s, an ardent antisuffragist. Approaching the depot at the end of the day, Wilson narrowly avoided injury when a runaway grocery wagon crashed into the cheering crowd as the boy driver frantically tugged the reins.15

Woodrow Wilson was a fighter, and with iron self-discipline he found a way to pull through the dark depression that followed Ellen’s death. “I am not going to give way,” he told Dr. Grayson. To general astonishment, within months he met another Southern lady, Edith Bolling Galt, and fell in love. He was fifty-eight; she was forty-two. A widow, Edith was a very different kind of woman from Ellen, being tall and buxom, blue-eyed, assertive, with a ready grin, fond of gaudy orchids and feather boas. Many thought Wilson was moving too fast. A scandalized White House staff, still loyal to Ellen, sneered at “The President and Pocahontas,” with reference to Edith’s pretentious Virginia genealogy. She had first glimpsed



Woodrow Wilson years before at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia, peeking into the ballroom to watch him address an audience of Tiger alumni. After knowing her less than two months, he proposed to her by moonlight on the South Portico of the White House.16 Fearing that this sudden and unseemly remarriage would ruin Wilson politically, Secretary of the Treasury McAdoo undertook a desperate expedient, lying to him that Mary Peck, now living in California, was threatening to sell all the gushing letters Wilson had written her. McAdoo, Tumulty, and other advisers secretly hoped that this roadblock would delay the wedding, maybe forever. It was a cruel trick. An agonized President Wilson went groveling to Edith Galt to tell her the truth about the Peck relationship: they had long been close friends and constant letter-writers; for a brief time he had written her too ardently; it was a folly that he had later rued, and Ellen had forgiven him. The relationship was not physical, he apparently insisted. Edith believed him, and their marriage remained on schedule. “I have, I hope, at last learned a lesson,” Woodrow told her, “to love less selfishly, and particularly to guard myself when I am tired and forlorn—wounded, as at Princeton.” The real loser was Mary Peck, who had hoped against hope that Wilson might marry her someday, notwithstanding the fact that she was a penniless divorcee temperamentally unsuited to living under a roof with a Schoolmaster. Once she poignantly told a visitor that Woodrow would have proposed to her, only “Tumulty and McAdoo wouldn’t let him.”17 President Wilson’s marriage in the White House—historically a rare occurrence—provided yet another parallel in his life to the Democrat Grover Cleveland, who likewise had wed a much younger woman there. As Woodrow and Edith talked of their pasts, the president had much to say about Princeton, and she soothed him concerning “the Princeton disappointment.” “Some day we will go there together,” he promised her. “I will be your guide to the nooks and corners and try to make the old place live in your thoughts as it lives in mine.” Their first chance came at election time in April 1916, four months after the wedding. It was the last election before women were granted the vote nationally, so Edith had to wait outside the firehouse in the sunny glare of an unseasonably cold day. The president was standing at the head of the line when the polls opened at one o’clock. “I’m the first man to vote for myself,” he joked. Later he introduced Edith to old faculty allies and planted an elm in honor of the new Lincoln Highway system in the triangle where Mercer



Street divides from Nassau Street, saying that such roads would bring all sections into closer sympathy. The current governor planted an elm for Woodrow Wilson, too, and the president promised to watch it grow.18 Princeton was struggling now that Cleve Dodge and other Wilson backers had quit giving money, and the university was $150,000 in debt. A gleeful line went around the Wilson family table: “It has lost five million by its change of Presidents!” Dodge could not contain his joy at the bad news delivered one day over lunch by trustees McCormick and Jacobus: the Wyman bequest was not producing much income for Dean West’s Graduate College after all—just $2,500 a year—and no one knew when the supposed three million dollars would come, if ever. “Most of the equity is being eaten up in taxes and expense. . . . They also told me that Hibben seems to have aged ten years since he became President, and is terribly depressed at the lack of support which his friends have given him,” Dodge wrote Wilson. “I know you will think it very wicked in me to chuckle over the misfortunes of old time friends, but . . . I must confess that, horrible as it seems, I came away from the luncheon with quite cheerful spirits.” The three trustees had talked at length about how splendidly Woodrow Wilson was handling the European war. “The Wyman Bequest served one great purpose,” Dodge concluded, “namely to give you to the World in this awful crisis.”19

As blood flowed in the trenches of Europe, President Wilson was determined to keep America out of the world war. But Jack Hibben wanted America in, thinking the defeat of German aggression a righteous cause that just might help usher in the Kingdom of God on Earth. “A timid little man,” muckraker Upton Sinclair branded Hibben, “who compensates for his own sheltered life by being in his imaginings a ferocious militarist, clamoring for all kinds of slaughter.” Hibben now used his public clout as university president to push for “preparedness.” A week after the president gave his famous “too proud to fight” speech in May 1915, his old rival condemned pacifism in an address at Lake Mohonk, New York, that was reprinted in the Princeton Alumni Weekly. “I take no stock at all in the Alumni Weekly,” Wilson said in a fury as he canceled his subscription— symbolically cutting ties with Hibben’s Princeton once and for all. “It has been full of falseness from the first.” Having Hibben in the national news kept memories raw. When Thomas Whipple ’13 wrote an Outlook essay in



July, “Confessions of an Undergraduate,” attacking club life and campus conformity, Wilson “read it with a painful sort of interest. It carries my thoughts back to the distress which constantly comes over me about the University and its whole tendency. Unfortunately, almost all of the article is true. I wish that it were not.”20 Happier recollections surfaced when he hosted a gala dinner for the Class of 1879 in the East Room of the White House. After his controversial Tower Room speech in Princeton, the class was deeply split concerning the president, and much was now made of how he failed to invite certain enemies. But the Witherspoon Gang remained steadfast. Edith told him, “You and I hope the seven will cheer you up and take you back to college days when there were no responsibilities. Play hard.” The protocols of a state dinner ran contrary to the traditional informality of class gatherings, and Wilson stayed up until eleven trying to figure out the seating arrangements: Mahlon Pitney on his right “by rank (as if ’79 cared anything about that!)”; Bridges on his left; Halsey opposite him, with Dodge on his right and Dr. Edward Davis on his left. “The table will be a big crescent, opening towards the west (the Army and Navy building) and there will be fifty-eight of us. The table flowers will be yellow chrysanthemums, the Princeton flower.” The Gang would spend the night: “Bridges and Lee will be in the pink rooms, Woods and Webster in the yellow room, Mitchell and Talcott in Helen’s room, and Henderson in the Blue Mountain room.” When the day finally came, Woodrow wrote Edith, who was then away, “It’s nearly half past five now. The seven are beginning to arrive, and I must go to welcome them.” As the classmates milled about before going down to dinner, Wilson said to Jim Webster, “Dan’l, let us lean back!”—remembering a remark Webster had made to him in 10 East Witherspoon Hall forty years earlier when Hiram Woods had launched into a long, dull reading in Latin. Robert Bridges was astounded that Princeton of the 1870s remained so near and vital to his friend. The dinner was a relief as Wilson opened up to his old chums again, complaining to one that he could not even leave Washington for a vacation nowadays for all the “diabolical plotting” by Republicans against him.21 The 1916 campaign was ugly, with rumors rife about the Mary Peck affair—stories of great cruelty that, Wilson told Frank Glass ’77, unquestionably originated around the Princeton Club of New York. These tales were still current in the town of Princeton a quarter-century later: that Peck had blackmailed the president with his love letters; that he sent



lawyer Louis Brandeis to her with a hundred thousand dollars in hush money; that he was then forced to appoint Brandeis to the Supreme Court or else the story would be told. (The kernel of truth was that President Wilson had chivalrously loaned Peck $7,500 to bail her out of a financial pinch.) He never escaped these slanders, which grew into ever-wilder stories of his peccadilloes, and when he died, rumor said that syphilis had done him in. The lies were so threatening to his chances in the 1916 election, supporters countered by writing newspaper articles playing up his affectionate family life and love for the late Ellen. Nor can Wilson escape calumny today, when biographers seem surprisingly comfortable arguing (in spite of slim evidence indeed) that this staunch moralist who moved on such a lofty plane actually stooped to committing adultery against poor Ellen, which he then confessed to her and she forgave. Such a charge runs up against a serious objection: had he confessed to something so awful as fornication and adultery—among Calvinists, nearly the vilest of evils—surely this elder of the Presbyterian Church would not have been so persistently cruel and shameless as to have continued to correspond blithely with Peck for years to come in full view of Ellen . . . nor to have chosen Peck’s cottage in Bermuda as the perfect place to take Ellen on vacation . . . nor to have repeatedly welcomed the visiting Peck to their home. That all of this could have happened after a confession of a full sexual affair flies in the face of common sense. Apparently the sin that Wilson confessed to Ellen and later to Edith—as well as to House and Grayson—went no further than the writing of love letters, which crossed the proper boundaries of friendship: “I did not have the moral right to offer her the ardent affection which they express.” In the context of a bygone Victorian code of morals, this transgression alone was sufficient to leave him feeling deeply shamed, “stained and unworthy.” This is, at least, a more charitable reading of the slender evidence that survives. But biographers will continue to debate these issues as they try to make sense of Wilson’s strange behavior and “mirror” friendships—his fervent declarations of love to Ellen even as he was writing passionately to another woman; his selfish continuance of the correspondence even though he knew it hurt his wife deeply.22

His policies concerning the European war were endlessly controversial, and some Princeton friends lost admiration on those grounds. His onetime fan the architect Ralph Adams Cram now went so far as to condemn



him as “the most evil influence in American public life.” And Edmund Wilson, who had once called Wilson his “great hero,” came to disrespect him for the cruelty he showed to his adversaries, finding him marred by “bigotry and suspiciousness.” On campus, Professor Corwin was one of many who voted for Wilson in 1912 but not four years later. Professor William S. Myers, although an avid Republican, backed his old boss— until Wilson did too little following the torpedoing of the Lusitania. Even Wilson’s stalwart trustee ally, the Reverend Melancthon Jacobus, stayed home from the polls in 1916, thinking that his friend should have helped England sooner. “Can you tell me why it is the good people of Princeton . . . denounce so bitterly Woodrow Wilson, their former president?” asked a letter to the Republican editor of the Chicago Tribune. The headline gave an answer: “THEY KNOW HIM.”23 Criticisms of Wilson’s character eerily echoed those that had circulated in Princeton a decade before. Former president Taft privately called him “a ruthless hypocrite” and “an opportunist,” exactly as West and Pyne had once done. Taft’s fellow Republican Henry Cabot Lodge—appalled that Wilson did not come quickly to the aid of the Allied cause— gradually came to distrust, then despise the man. “When the President is approaching a new subject the first thing he does is to make up his mind,” Lodge seethed. He was “the most dangerous man that ever sat in the White House, except Buchanan, who was dangerous from weakness, while this man is dangerous from his determination to have his own way, no matter what it costs the country.” Lodge told Teddy Roosevelt that he “never expected to hate any one in politics with the hatred I feel towards Wilson.” This was portentous, for it was Lodge who would eventually wreck Wilson’s plans for American membership in the League of Nations.24 As at Princeton, Wilson’s closest friends huddled in private to bewail his shortcomings. Unable to convince the commander in chief to take action against Germany, House complained in his diary, “Grayson thinks the President is a man of unusually narrow prejudices and is intolerant of advice. I did not argue the matter with him as I feel [his] general characterization of him is correct. Grayson says if one urges Wilson to do something contrary to his own conviction, he ceases to have any liking for that person. He does not like to meet people and isolates himself as much as anyone I have ever known.” These grumblings came not from Wilson’s enemies but from his staunchest confederates. In analyzing his



mistakes in the White House, biographer Patrick Devlin points to the same character flaws that hurt him at Princeton: a tendency toward selfdeception and emotionality, a willingness to set honor aside and deceive others when he felt thwarted, his habit of making decisions in isolation without seeking advice or consensus, the narrowness of his “single-track mind,” his withdrawal into the family circle and overreliance on intimate friends (Hibben, Peck, House). On top of this, there was a touch of megalomania—the Princeton president who thought he was reforming all of American education; the U.S. president who finally intervened in Europe in order to save the world. In 1917, Ambassador Walter Hines Page would make note of the “error” Wilson made “in thinking he could play a great part as a peacemaker—come and give a blessing to these erring children. This was strong in his hopes and ambitions. There was a condescension in this attitude that was offensive.”25 As loyal Princetonians bankrolled Wilson’s second campaign—Dodge topping the list with a fitting seventy-nine thousand dollars and Thomas and David Jones following with $12,500 each—Princeton University remained sharply divided. His old supporters Fine and Capps reassured the press that alumni would support him two to one; Professor Conklin helped undergraduates found a section of the Woodrow Wilson Club; and 61 percent of the faculty was expected to vote for him. But his opponents were shrill, including Professor Frank Mather of the art museum, who published “twenty reasons for voting against Wilson,” including his “ridicule” of military preparedness advocates, especially President Hibben. In a campaign trick, alumni were polled on how they would vote, the question being phrased to make Wilson seem highly undesirable. Although they were overwhelmingly Republican, Princeton undergraduates still felt a certain loyalty. When a pacifist spoke at First Presbyterian Church, the students, though strongly pro-war, refrained from responding until the man finally dared criticize President Wilson. Then they deluged him with whistling and hisses.26 The president and first lady spent the weekend before the election at an opulent Victorian mansion, Shadow Lawn, on the New Jersey shore at Long Branch, where 250 loyal Princetonians took tea with them. On Tuesday they were driven to Princeton to vote, Edith laughing and chatting outside the firehouse with students. She cheerfully assumed they would lose this hard-fought election. Preliminary results were so bad, when Professors Fine and McAlpin came to visit they spoke with em-



barrassment of how bleak the poll numbers looked. At this Woodrow Wilson laughed and said their friendly presence cheered him “like old Princeton days” again. They need not have worried: the Wilson miracle was destined to continue, and he was victorious after all.27 Following his second inaugural, the Gang attended a celebratory White House luncheon. The next day they reconvened in Baltimore, minus Wilson, enjoying, as Robert Bridges later told the president, “The usual chaff. All the old jokes are good jokes—particularly when they are on Hiram!” Merriment aside, there was no escaping the fact that the Class of 1879 was growing older. “Death is required not elective,” Billy Isham joked wryly. Four of them died that fall, including one of the Gang, Charlie Mitchell, the doctor who had worried about Woodrow’s health in Baltimore many years before. Attending physician Hiram Woods struggled to save Mitchell. After the funeral, attended by numerous classmates, an upset Bridges wrote Wilson, “We had had so many good times together that I could almost hear his cheering voice with some remark about Hiram or the rest of us.” The president replied, “His death has affected me very deeply. My thought, like yours, goes back to the old days of our delightful comradeship. . . . I grieve with all my heart.” But his enemies in the class spoke of how cold the man was to skip his loyal friend’s last rites.28 Of the Seventy-Nine, Cleve Dodge was of course the most generous, the single largest contributor of anybody to both of Wilson’s presidential campaigns, but Robert Bridges was perhaps dearest to Wilson’s heart. This bookish man who had gotten Wilson his job teaching at Princeton in 1890 was now at the height of his influence in the literary scene as editor of Scribner’s. On the streets of New York he was instantly recognizable for his lavender ties, batwing collars, pince-nez, and goatee. A confirmed bachelor, Bridges lived at the Century Club and loved to relax at the movies. “I can’t recall a single film I’ve ever seen which I’d call indecent,” he said. “Trivial? Yes. But indecent? No.” In the midst of the war, Bridges watched proudly as his friend led the Free World. “Who shall show us the way?” the young professor had asked a generation before in his sesquicentennial address, a question now resoundingly answered— Wilson would. A John Singer Sargent portrait of the president hung at the Metropolitan Museum in January 1918. (Artist and subject were temperamentally unlike; Wilson remarked that of all his business in the White House, nothing was so difficult as getting the humorless Sargent



to laugh at his jokes.) Bridges went four times to see the portrait and reported to his friend that he admired it hugely. “I can see you getting ready to tell a story, with the quirk to the right side of your mouth. None of the art critics seem to like it—but for me it’s you—and the real human you that they could not see if they tried! I’d stand on that! What they want is a stern-looking Covenanter with a jaw like a pike. Damn ’em!”29 Bridges was troubled by the mischaracterizations of Wilson in the press, summed up by a contemporary as “the popular idea that he was a relentless thinking machine with the intellectual and moral austerity of a mid-Victorian schoolmaster.” As his oldest friend, Bridges was in a good position to see how erroneous these reports were—Wilson was vitally, feistily, passionately alive. When the president gave a speech in New York, Bridges rejoiced at how it gave the people a glimpse of his true personality. He had often “resented the misinterpretations of a man who has always seemed to me intensely human.” He spent an evening with his old pal in July 1918: “It did my heart good to see you so well—and to know that the terrible questions put up to you are in your able hands.” Wilson deeply valued their friendship. “These are certainly times that try the soul, try indeed everything that is in a man; but I believe that what is fair and right will prevail so long as those who are partisans of what is fair and right do not lose heart or let their lines be broken at all.” The White House usher noticed that the remote and dignified Wilson called his closest associates “Mr. House” or “Mr. Tumulty,” but Bridges was always “Bob.”30

The world war destroyed any residual good feeling there might have been between Woodrow Wilson and Princeton University. Under the leadership of the hawkish Hibben, the school emerged as a center of pro-war sentiment, always trying to frustrate the president’s attempts to keep America neutral. Students petitioned for military training as early as December 1914, and a majority of the faculty signed a protest, sent to the White House, concerning the sinking of the Lusitania. Professor Myers excoriated Wilson’s lack of preparedness. At the military training camps at Plattsburgh, New York, in summer 1915, Princeton was represented in higher percentages than any other school, and Hibben paid a muchpublicized visit. The faculty wrote President Wilson again in January 1916 warning that “the whole fabric of modern civilization” was threatened by



German aggression. Talk of converting a peaceful, old American school into a war machine proved highly controversial, and by March the press was publishing stories critical of the “militarism” of Princeton. This did not stem the tide, however, and the following January undergraduates were polled at five to one in support of military drill. By this time, four alumni had been killed on the Western Front fighting in British or Canadian forces. The United States finally entered the war in April, and within two months, all but thirteen of the university’s fourteen hundred undergrads were in active service or training. Even as Hibben, with government funding, militarized the school entirely in support of the American cause, Woodrow Wilson refused to offer personal support to his old rival, an hostility shared by his secretary, Joseph Tumulty: “My own opinion is that we ought not to help this crowd in any way.” Undaunted, Hibben opened the dormitories to 3,700 student soldiers, including many aviators-in-training. As in the Spanish-American War, soldiers drilled on Brokaw Field. A hangar was erected on Poe Field (named for football star Johnny Poe ’95, killed with the Black Watch in 1915), trenches laced Laughlin Field east of the new football stadium in grim imitation of the scarred landscapes of France and Belgium, and a shooting range crackled downhill in Potter’s Woods. Prospect Avenue clubhouses became officers’ messes. Chemical laboratories were retooled for investigation of poison gas and explosives. Navy cutters plied Lake Carnegie, and Curtis biplanes buzzed the Gothic towers of campus. Liberty Loan drives were conducted, Woodrow Wilson receiving a request for support from young organizer John M. Harlan ’20, later a justice of the United States Supreme Court. By September 1918, when Wilson visited Princeton to vote (and refused Hibben’s conciliatory invitation to lunch), only sixty of the men on campus were nonmilitary, being exempt or under age, the greatest depletion of its students since the American Revolution. In solidarity with the Allies, a British flag flew over Nassau Hall for the first time since 1777. In all, more than six thousand Princetonians served in the war effort from as far back as the Class of 1862, and 151 died. In silent tribute, bronze stars would be affixed to the windowsills of their dorm rooms.31 The tone of campus was dramatically changed. A student scribbled on a bulletin board in the Univee Store, “The old college life is all shot to hell.” Visiting Princeton in April 1917 en route to war, young alumnus



Edmund Wilson, always jokingly called “Woodrow” in his unit, wrote a poem about “the little courtyard dashed with bloom” outside his former dormitory, Hamilton Hall, and dreamed of undergraduate days now irretrievably gone: All order acquiesced in our desires; All history was acted for our sport. Surely the moon was set to light our spires; Surely the stars were shut in Holder Court.

He had felt great passion for beautiful Old Nassau before the war blighted his heart. “I can hardly imagine that any young man could feel anything of the kind nowadays for Princeton or for any other such institution,” he later mused sourly. “All this was a part of the world which, with the war, almost ceased to exist.”32 At the same time, radicalism received a big impetus. The student who invited the pacifist to campus, Henry Strater, was the same one clamoring for abolition of the upperclass eating clubs. Hibben wouldn’t allow the pacifist to speak, which led politics professor Evans Clark to write a New York Times article that dared question the ultimate source of Hibben’s authority, the Princeton board of trustees—“Business Men in Control of American Colleges . . . A Baneful Autocracy in Higher Education.” In words echoing Woodrow Wilson’s of years before, Clark said that schools could not prepare students for citizenship in a democracy if they remained in the clutches of “class interest.” Rich businessmen were the “Kaisers of our educational world” and should “abdicate,” an astonishing attack that never could have been published before the war made such radical opinions commonplace.33 Many at Princeton University were forever estranged from President Wilson over his opposition to Hibben’s preparedness efforts. It was said that Wilson refused an invitation to come see the Princeton soldiers off in 1917 and would not even send an encouraging message, though he did so for Yale. When he and Edith showed up to vote in November 1917, they stayed only an hour, darting onto campus to see the completed dining halls. So vehement was anti-Woodrow sentiment, his former campus secretary Gilbert Close stole Wilson’s correspondence from the files in Nassau Hall lest old foes destroy it—thereby preserving for future historians the story of the Battle of Princeton. At times it seemed that the school was doing everything it could to distance itself from the president,



for example giving Teddy Roosevelt a stage for a vehemently anti-Wilson speech and awarding an honorary degree to the president’s archenemy, Senator Lodge. Once a young army officer and his wife were invited to dine with Momo Pyne at his Princeton mansion, Drumthwacket, where the conversation turned (as it routinely did) to the wickedness of Woodrow Wilson. The officer bit his lip, but finally his wife jumped to her feet: “I am going to express myself here and now about this scandalous talk about the President of the United States by leaving this house.”34 A postwar memorial plaque in Paris listed the names of the Princeton dead and quoted Woodrow Wilson’s declaration of war at the bottom— but only to say, as if to endorse President Hibben, “THE RIGHT IS MORE PRECIOUS THAN PEACE.” Readers of the university’s official account, a sober-looking tome called Princeton in the World War, would hardly have known that Wilson had been associated with the school. The entry for “HIBBEN, JOHN GRIER. Advocate of preparedness” ran on for seventeen lines, Wilson’s for only three: “WILSON, WOODROW. President of the United States; commanderin-chief U. S. Army and U. S. Navy.” That was all. Privates received more notice.


And After That the Dark


OR A BELEAGUERED COMMANDER in chief in wartime, Princeton memories—the happy ones, at least—offered a welcome respite. Many times in cabinet meetings “he regaled us with stories having a Princeton flavor,” Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels remembered. Three weeks after the declaration of war, Woodrow Wilson ate waffles with syrup for lunch and told funny stories about Princeton’s President McCosh. Jimmy’s tactless fundraising style back in the 1870s was to invite a rich alumnus over to Prospect House and unroll the blueprints: “I have all the money except $10,000—what do you say?”1 In challenging times, old friends continued to offer help and guidance. Cleve Dodge directed the United War Work Campaign that raised $170 million for the YMCA and other relief organizations. In 1918 he wrote a check for one million dollars to the Red Cross and gave them fifty-five thousand dollars for a presidential proclamation Wilson had signed on their behalf. Later Dodge and classmate Cyrus McCormick urged Wilson to go to Paris to forge the peace, though many in Washington thought it a terrible idea—the president was needed at home, where, recent elections proved, his political support was waning; moreover, his unprecedented moral authority among the people of Europe would dissipate if he showed up in person and started dickering. Wilson wanted to go, some said, just to satisfy his giant ego. The president met with Professor William B. Scott in the White House under a big map of the Western Front, colored lines showing the



stubborn trenches, and complained about Congress in much the same terms he had as an undergraduate. “The trouble is that our system makes no provision for leadership.” And he was visited by journalist Herbert Brougham, whose New York Times editorial on the Battle of Princeton had first brought Wilson wide notoriety back in 1910. “Well, they didn’t exactly know what they were doing when they kicked me upstairs,” the president said with a smile as he shook Brougham’s hand. “I know they called you off,” he added, referring to how trustee Momo Pyne had muzzled the newspaper. “The same cliques are working today, only more dangerously,” he was convinced, East Coast Republicans trying to prolong the war and rob the United States Treasury.2 When a visitor asked him what was the hardest thing for a president to do, Wilson replied, “Keeping my temper.” His habitual intransigence had not softened since his Princeton days, his opponents thought. Even some of his best friends were grieved and dismayed when Wilson urged Americans to support the war effort by voting for a Democratic Congress and when he excluded Republicans from the peace negotiations. Professor George Harper saw that, as on Quads, “his principles were absolutely right, but he got ahead of his following.” “Like Andrew Jackson, he was a good hater,” Secretary of the Treasury McAdoo was concluding, “and when he saw that a man was capable of duplicity . . . he crossed him off, so to speak, and the crossing-off was final.” Wilson rejected Senator James Reed, for example, as “incapable of sustained allegiance to any person or any cause. . . . I shall never willingly consent to any further association with him.” “Fighting for a principle was a religion for him,” Dr. Grayson concluded. “He was as sensitive as a poet, at times supersensitive. And yet he must keep fighting for those things in which he believed, though the fighting should lead to the alienation of personal friends and to the crucifixion of some of his strongest affections.” Crucified, too, were his enemies, as Wilson pushed through wartime acts that prosecuted thousands of protesters, throwing many in jail—“If anybody disagreed he was a crook or a red,” the radical John Dos Passos would put it in his novel 1919. “Woodrow Wilson effectively succeeded in crushing all dissent against the First World War,” says historian Geoffrey Stone, who adds that his hysterical crackdown on those who disagreed with him comprises a shocking episode in presidential history.3 With larger causes to fight for than ever, the burdens of the presi-



dency were taking a toll on Wilson, who had turned sixty in 1916. The White House usher noticed how he seemed ever more serious, selfconscious about his personal influence, egotistical concerning his world stature—and clearly unwell, nervous from overwork. John Milton Cooper, Jr., points out that as early as summer 1918, Wilson’s personality showed a marked hardening. He withdrew from casual contacts and became excessively self-reliant, showing irritability, suspicion, and rigidity. It seemed to echo the pattern of 1906, when his untreated high blood pressure had led to his apparent small stroke. Things grew even worse when he sailed for the peace conference on the George Washington, the first president to cross the Atlantic while in office. Pushing himself to the limit, he suffered a physical breakdown in Paris and for a time experienced paranoid delusions, obsessed, for example, with the idea that the French servants were spies. As they worked with him, some world leaders came to describe Woodrow Wilson in terms that his old Princeton foes might have used: aloof, superior, egotistical, unbending, disastrously incapable of conciliating or compromising. “Tactless, obstinate and vain,” Britain’s Lloyd George thought. Wilson’s great, geniuslike abilities were often canceled out by these faults. In one meeting he lashed out at a young adviser who cautioned him that his proposals lacked logic. “Logic! Logic! I don’t give a damn for logic,” Wilson exploded. The adviser took this in stride, for he was a keen admirer who had first been inspired to enter public life by taking Wilson’s course at Princeton. In later decades, John Foster Dulles ’08 would help carry the torch of Woodrow Wilson’s internationalist ideals through a changed world.4 The visionary who had summoned Princeton to national service now led America into the uncharted waters of global leadership, dedicating the nation to serve humankind. Matters of vast import faced him daily, and yet, to a strange degree, old thoughts about university broils continued to haunt his mind. On shipboard to Paris he set aside a halfwritten message to a recalcitrant Congress in order to lunch in his private apartment with his wife, Dr. Grayson, and journalist Ray Stannard Baker (later his biographer). The talk turned to American universities. Woodrow Wilson flayed them as “conservative to the utmost degree.” Why was this so, Baker wondered . . . they were hotbeds of revolution in Europe! As so often before, the president explained that Princeton undergraduates did not care about the school but rather the eating



clubs, the social sideshow having overshadowed the circus. And over dinner in Paris he brought up the subject of eating clubs once more. To those around him, Wilson explained that students debased themselves to gain admittance and were grievously wounded if they failed. Foolish parents then withdrew their sons from college. He had “fought resolutely” against the clubs, trying to convert them into Quads like Balliol and New College at Oxford. Undergraduates favored the change, he said, but “the alumni, who looked upon the clubs as places for spending the weekends and putting up friends, were dead against it and killed it.”5 All eyes were on him in the flickering candlelight as he talked at length of what a university should be and argued that the Oxford system of college life was far better than the American, because students of all classes ate meals with the tutors, then retired to a common room for conversation. “He spoke very sadly of the small hold the intellectual life had on a student,” one of the guests told her diary. He said that he had hardly ever been told in after years that his lectures made a personal difference. Pupils thanked him for his aid in spiritual and mental crises but never for his classroom discourses, prepared with such pains. It was a struggle to obtain their attention and then hold it. How different at Oxford, where one tutor told him he “ruled England”—four of his former charges, now senior politicians, came down regularly to consult with him on matters of state.6 Warming to his subject, Wilson spoke of his dream that some wealthy man—Henry Ford, say—would give twenty million dollars to Princeton for the implementation at last of the Quad Scheme. Wilson “would guarantee it would be the most successful university in the country. He would not be the president, but he would be the directing head and advisor.” How strange these thoughts were! As the leader of the victorious United States of America, Woodrow Wilson was now the most powerful and respected man in the world. Few individuals in history have enjoyed a position of such exalted influence . . . and yet his mind kept wandering off to the educational policies of a small school in central New Jersey, some unrequited part of him longing to resume an old fight. “He spoke very sadly of Hibben, the present President of Princeton, and said he could never speak of that incident without pain for he had been his best friend, and he had betrayed him.” How extraordinary that he could not let it all go, could not stand the thought of Pyne and Hibben and West having won.7



Princeton haunted him, even as he was paraded through the streets of Paris and feted by King George V at Buckingham Palace, what the longtime Anglophile called “the greatest day of my life.” (He did not know that the king privately found him “an entirely cold academical professor—an odious man.”) Wilson had achieved his childhood dreams of statesmanship—and then some—and yet he told a friend that his deepest interest now was education and that he hoped to write a book someday on American schools. When a correspondent told him in August 1919 that anti-Wilson slanders constantly swirled in Princeton, the president replied, “Even here in Washington I have never known more venomous intrigue than sprang out of the Princeton fight. That fight, by the way, is not over. I hope there will be enough of me left after the Presidential term is over to make a vigorous presentation to the country of what it is necessary to do to our universities, in order to render them truly American. I can then, if it seems necessary, pay my compliments to the benighted and malicious gentlemen who were ignominiously prominent in that struggle.”8 He could not foresee the events of the following month, however. Against Dr. Grayson’s orders he undertook a grueling, coast-to-coast speaking tour to rally the American people to the support of his League of Nations. Never for any orator, perhaps, had the stakes been so high. For idealists, the future of humanity seemed to hang in the balance. Without American participation in the league, “I can predict with absolute certainty that within another generation there will be another world war,” Wilson declared gravely. He looked out at little boys waving flags along the railroad tracks and said he could see them as men carrying the Stars and Stripes through the mud of future European battlefields.9 The intensity and exertion proved too much. Partway through the tour, President Wilson collapsed and was rushed back to Washington, where he suffered a massive stroke days later. The rest is history—the disinformation put out by Grayson about the seriousness of his condition, the extraordinary role played by Edith Wilson and his advisers in running the country as he lay immobilized in the Lincoln Bed, the ultimate Senate rejection of United States membership in the League of Nations as Woodrow Wilson refused to compromise one inch. It was one of the greatest debacles in American political history. If Wilson had not suffered the stroke, perhaps he would have been a bit more flexible, and the Senate might have approved a modified treaty. If he had died,



perhaps public opinion would have shifted to favor the league. But to be half-alive, as it were, was disastrous. The invalid Wilson was utterly inflexible now, apotheosized as the true Indomitable Individual at last. Responding to urgent pleas from political advisers, Edith herself tried to get him to overcome his personal animosity to the Republican senators and accept their revisions to the treaty so that it could be passed. But her bedridden husband declared that it was “better a thousand times to go down fighting than to dip your colors to dishonorable compromise.” As he had once done to Professor Magie in Princeton in the Quad Fight, he begged her, “Don’t you desert me.”10 His personality and political positions now frozen after the stroke, all his fondest dreams were wrecked. To his maligners, this was Wilson’s crowning act of self-righteousness and self-destruction. He seemed “the wickedest man in the world,” a British journalist spoke for many in saying, “because he was so unable to forget himself that he brought the peace of the world down in a common smash with his own personal fortunes.” And as biographer Henry Bragdon later saw, Woodrow Wilson’s eight years in the White House appeared to be an uncanny reprise of his eight years at Princeton. Four good years of cooperation, bold visions, and strong leadership yielded historic reforms. Progress exceeded anyone’s expectations. But then came four years of wrangling, withdrawal, breaks with supporters, furious attacks on the opposition, bouts of rigidity and fury stimulated by cardiovascular illness. His starryeyed idealism shattered itself against the hard realities of modern life. Hard-boiled pragmatists were quick to condemn his romantic crusades. Pet projects were exalted and other affairs neglected: the Quads and the League of Nations became obsessions, perfect visions that could not be altered in the slightest. “In both cases it seemed as though he was driven by some fatal Icarus complex,” Bragdon mused, “flying higher and higher and more and more alone until his downfall acquired a quality of tragic inevitability.”11

The stroke—culmination of years of overwork, stress, and untreated high blood pressure—decimated Woodrow Wilson. The White House servants were aghast at the change, the illness leaving him a shadow of his former self, a half-paralyzed wreck painful to see. Lying in his bed



the first day, he appeared dead. Later he improved only enough to be wheeled around in a special chair for a few hours, sitting in Ellen’s sunny garden or watching a film at noon in the East Room—the staff scoured the country to find enough for him. His speech was mumbled, his personality hardened, now “unreasonable, unnatural, simply impossible.” And he was deeply suspicious. As he had once obsessed about Jack Hibben, now the target was Colonel House, whom he suddenly loathed—another Gabriel had morphed into a Beelzebub. A Washington observer was reminded of Princeton days by these “swift, pitiless, unexplained changes from friendly relations to cold dismissal.” House himself had previously observed Wilson’s habitual “prejudices against people. He likes very few and is very loyal to them, but his prejudices are many and often unjust.” A sure way to ingratiate oneself with him was to “discover a common hate.” Wilson was, he had long since concluded, “one of the most difficult and complex characters I have ever known. He is so contradictory that it is hard to pass judgment upon him.” Now House was consigned to outer darkness, Cleve Dodge and Cyrus McCormick trying unsuccessfully to intervene on his behalf.12 The greatest devil of all was Senator Lodge, who led the opposition against Wilson’s dream of American participation in the League of Nations. On first meeting him in Washington, Wilson reminded him that Lodge had edited his undergraduate essay on “Congressional Government” for publication back in 1879—“A man never forgets the editor who publishes his first article.” Some thought Lodge’s vendetta against Wilson lay in his jealousy of another “Scholar in Politics.” (“As an English production it does not rank high,” Lodge said scornfully of Wilson’s League of Nations Charter. “It might get by at Princeton but certainly not at Harvard.”) Just as Wilson at times seemed willing to let his cherished Princeton run aground rather than grant West anything, so did his animosity toward Henry Cabot Lodge lead to disaster for the League. When an adviser begged the president to give in to certain Lodge proposals, Wilson cried, “Never! Never! I’ll never consent to adopt any policy with which that impossible name is so prominently identified,” an echo of his old stance concerning West and the Graduate College.13 When word came of the league defeat, Wilson told Dr. Grayson he wanted to lie in bed until he died. But later the depressed man improved enough to show flashes of puckish humor, as his father had when lying



ill at Prospect years before. He plagued Grayson with limericks, drawing him close to whisper, A wonderful bird is the pelican His bill will hold more than his bellican. He can take in his beak enough food for a week I wonder how in the hellhecan.

When a doctor said he need to look into his eyes to examine his pupils, Wilson quipped, “You have a large order, as I have had a great many in my day.” He was still very human. But from the ashes of Wilson the stricken man rose the phoenix of Wilson the myth, a harsh and unflattering caricature that stressed his icy egotism, selfishness, and spite. In ruin and defeat he was widely condemned. Some Princeton friends were included among the wholesale defectors. Alumnus Isaac H. Lionberger, for example, had been a staunch supporter of Wilson ever since he had known him as university president. Back then he had seemed cultured, charming, and refined. Lionberger threw himself into the local political machine in St. Louis in 1912 just for Woodrow and gave thousands of dollars. But he watched in dismay as Wilson the chief executive dropped many of the men who had tried to help him, cutting off in turn his hardworking political backers Harvey and McCombs, his Secretary of War Lindley Garrison, and finally Secretary of State Robert Lansing—the last of these triggering a huge public outcry at its unfairness. In Paris, Wilson finally seemed overcome by his gigantic egomania. “I could not forgive his vanity, his insane, vaulting, intolerable vanity, his unashamed pretension to the spiritual leadership of the world,” Lionberger said. “And now I must count myself among his enemies and be one of a majority to regard him with contempt. He preferred flattery to friendship. He was a vain, obstinate, brilliant and stupid man.”14 Wilson’s very sanity was debated. The question economist John Maynard Keynes once asked of him—“Was Hamlet mad or feigning; was the President sick or cunning?”—repeated the one some had asked during the Battle of Princeton and that Wilson biographers must grapple with to this day. And as his political career was reassessed in light of his spectacular failures, Princeton University would come up again and again as a precursor to the presidency. It was, of course, a somewhat simplistic analysis (as historian John Milton Cooper, Jr., has warned), but many were convinced. Writing in 1927, literary critic Edmund Wil-



son summed up the argument: “As President of the United States, he repeated after the War his whole tragedy as president of Princeton—with Lodge in the role of West, the League of Nations in the place of the quad system, and the Senate in the place of the Princeton trustees.” “There are few to praise him today,” he added. Indeed, hatred of Woodrow Wilson seemed bottomless as a postwar conservative mood took over nationwide. In his 1921 biography, Wilson’s former political adviser, McCombs, savaged the man he had helped make president and who in return cast him off ruthlessly: “I have said, and repeat, that Wilson is the most remorseless, the most tyrannical man when he gets the smell of power.”15 And yet, Edmund Wilson noted, some liberals would miss Woodrow Wilson terribly after his political immolation. In Washington as in Princeton there followed a palpable bankruptcy of idealism, a triumph of conservative Hibbens and Hardings, a “dreary timidity and stodginess” that made some long for Wilson’s fiery idealism and “heroic audacity.” He still had many admirers, especially among types ancestral to today’s liberal progressives. Wilson’s harsh critic Robert Annin ’80 described these colorful followers as passionate in their Democratic advocacy, as being more at home in the realm of ideas and visions than in the practical or business world, and fervently and blindly loyal to Wilson even as his mainstream popularity collapsed. They were “‘intellectuals,’ literary folk, educators, publishers, clergymen, professors and students. . . . Wilson was relatively stronger in the colleges and universities, than with almost any other well defined class of citizens.” Not that all liberals lauded him; the radical Upton Sinclair condemned him as a hypocrite who had talked peace but made war. To Sinclair, Princeton University itself was the epitome of “college stupidity and corruption,” a place of platitudinous talk about democracy that was actually a bastion of hidebound conservativism and special interests, as Woodrow Wilson himself had proved by capitulating at last to Andrew West and the Wyman gift of millions in cash. The election of 1912 had been “a colossal volcanic eruption, whereby Princeton culture, Princeton ideals and Princeton pieties were exploded over the entire globe,” Sinclair said, and humanity would not recover from the damage for a hundred years.16

On March 4, 1921, Woodrow Wilson left the White House. A few diehard admirers aside, he was being called the most generally hated outgoing



Ignominy. A stroke-ravaged Wilson, sixty-four, leaves the White House with his detested successor, Harding.

president since Andrew Johnson. (Here, too, the shadow of the unpopular Cleveland seemed to dog him.) Attendants lifted his legs in turn so he could descend the steps and enter the automobile. As Presidentelect Warren G. Harding came around to get in next to him, the old Southerner gallantly raised his hat. Onlookers were shocked by Wilson’s appearance. He was “waxen, drawn and stooped”; “stricken, almost pathetic.” As the car passed through the crowds, Harding signaled to them to stop cheering, in deference to the defeated man beside him. It appeared the two politicians were conversing, Wilson putting in a lastminute plug for the league, some supposed. But in fact Harding was bantering lightly. He joked about wanting a Republican elephant as a pet in the White House, to which Wilson replied tartly, “Well, I hope it won’t be a white elephant, Mr. President.” Harding went on to tell a long



story, but when he looked over at Wilson, it was obvious that his mind was elsewhere. His stroke having robbed him of his precious self-control, he was helplessly crying.17 The invalid Woodrow moved into an expensive brick house on S Street in Washington, making him the only president ever to choose to remain in town after his term ended (Edith was a longtime Washingtonian). The Wilsons paid $150,000 in cash, a huge sum they could never have afforded on their own. Ten “loyal friends” gave ten thousand dollars each, including Princetonians Cleve Dodge, Thomas D. Jones, and McCormick. Wilson wanted to give his home a special name, the Greek word for “thirteen.” “The number thirteen has been associated with some of the most important turning points in my life,” he wrote somewhat oddly to Princeton classics professor Duane Stuart. “I began my thirteenth year of service at Princeton as the thirteenth President of the University, and became President of the United States in 1913.” As he liked to point out, his own name had thirteen letters, like “Geo. Washington”; moreover, for his first inaugural he had arranged to stay in Room 13 on the thirteenth floor of the Shoreham Hotel; thirteen electoral votes in California reelected him; and he landed in Brest, France, on December 13. It was a number he had become fond of, some thought, to the point of eccentricity. Stuart was delighted that Wilson favored a Greek name, especially as Hibben had just dropped the Greek requirement at Princeton. And he expressed his admiration for his former boss from the preceptor era: “I hope that you realize the devotion and the homage that you command from us, youngsters when you knew us. . . . Those stimulating years, I realize, mark the great epoch in my own life.”18 The ex-President would need an automobile, and again Cleve Dodge stepped in, the man between whom and Wilson, a Cabinet member said, “was a lasting love, rarely seen between men, which illuminated their lives.” Dodge arranged with classmates McCormick and Halsey to purchase, for $3,500, the Pierce-Arrow touring car Wilson had been using in the White House. Throughout his administration, the president had been famous for his frequent healthful drives, at Dr. Grayson’s orders, through Rock Creek Park, making history as the first chief executive to use a car extensively. The Seal of the President was painted over, the body and wheel spokes trimmed with orange stripes, and the hood ornament replaced with a tiger. While touring, Wilson would always salute soldiers in uniform. Rumbling over the rickety Hunting Creek Bridge in Virginia



after lunch one day with Dodge, they stopped to talk to an aviator on crutches who said he was hitchhiking home, two hundred miles. The copper magnate Dodge, reputed to be worth a hundred million dollars, offered to pay the veteran’s train fare, interrupting his objections with, “I am just an old gray Santa Claus.”19

After Wilson’s September 1918 visit to vote, there were no more trips to Princeton, for he was physically unable to travel. He retained a technical residence in Stockton Axson’s old one-room apartment at 10 Nassau Street, above the grocery store and across from the newly built underclass dining halls. In 1922 Wilson was late in requesting an absentee ballot, and the Republicans on the Mercer County Board of Elections for a time considered whether he should be disfranchised because he did not live in the state. His townsmen recalled him fondly despite his absence, however. He affectionately signed a photograph for his old barber, Will Durner, who hung it proudly in his Nassau Street shop, where it could still be seen as late as the 1950s.20 Across the street, the campus was rapidly changing. In February 1920, a World War Memorial Hall was dedicated in the atrium of Nassau Hall, a project organized by Momo Pyne and designed by architect Charles Klauder, with an inscription provided by Dean West. In May the chapel caught fire on the night of house parties, a stiff wind fanning the flames, and students in evening clothes charged inside to save what they could as their dates stood shivering on the lawn. The Class of 1879 statue of Jimmy McCosh could not be wrenched free and fell into the basement when the walls collapsed. Only the head could be salvaged. The chapel— scene of so many Woodrow Wilson homilies over the years—was later replaced with one of the great Gothic Revival buildings in America, crown jewel of Princeton’s medievalizing campus. Designed by Ralph Adams Cram, it fulfilled at last his and Wilson’s dream of 1908, when they called for the second largest university chapel in the world (after King’s College, Cambridge). Upon its completion, President Hibben would stand proudly in the gigantic nave, later named for him, and assert how the building stood in stern opposition to the outside world of the flapper era, riddled as it was with decadence and religious decline. It was “the university’s protest against the materialistic philosophy and drift of our age.” Hibben watched the afternoon light streaming through the Great West



Window, dedicated to the man who had proved his personal kingmaker, Momo Pyne. Wilson did not live to see this noble structure, nor was he commemorated inside. There are hundreds of names of Princetonians inscribed on the stone walls, on the pews, in the stained-glass windows— but nowhere appears “Woodrow Wilson.”21 The stricken Wilson also missed the dedication of the long-planned Princeton Battle Monument in June 1922. President Harding came instead. Arriving by automobile, he spoke to the crowd in the blazing sun, then went to campus to receive an honorary degree from Hibben in front of Nassau Hall, where so many famous men had stood before. “It’s a good deal better to be a college youth than to be president,” the Republican told cheering students at the depot, and they laughed. “Oh, it’s lots more fun.” No one imagined this vigorous character who had seemed so hardy beside the pathetic Wilson at the inaugural—he was almost a decade younger—would die the following year.22 The literary man Booth Tarkington ’93, newly famous for his novel The Magnificent Ambersons, had the strange experience of encountering both presidents on the same day in Washington about this time. Harding appeared big, forceful, and handsome when Tarkington visited with him at the White House in the morning on government business. That afternoon, Tarkington ran into Woodrow Wilson at a theater where one of his plays was opening and was horrified by the man’s shattered appearance, so different from when he had last seen him on his League of Nations Western tour. He was bent half over, shuffling along with a cane and held up by a servant. The sight struck the playwright like a blow, and he tried to turn away, but Wilson’s hollow, feeble voice called him over with “Tarkington, Tarkington, I’m so glad to see you.” As he shook his tremulous hand Wilson said quietly, “I’m lame—I’m lame.” Then the servant steered him away. To experience this stunning contrast between two great world leaders, Tarkington thought, was like living a chapter in Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. He mused that what had happened to Woodrow Wilson might just be the greatest tragedy to befall any good man in history.23 Warren G. Harding had come in with the election of 1920, opposing the Wilsonian Democratic team of James Cox and Franklin D. Roosevelt (a Harvard man who had served as Wilson’s assistant secretary of the navy). On the Princeton campus, undergraduate Adlai Stevenson ’22 helped organize a Cox-Roosevelt Club and brought Cox to campus to



speak. Stevenson had just spent a summer touring Europe, picking up rusty hand grenades and bayonets on French battlefields as souvenirs, and he was sure the world was at a crossroads, “the twilight of kings, the dawn of world-wide democracy.” Peace was achievable only if the league treaty were ratified. In senior Richard Halliburton’s speaking class, the League of Nations was the subject of hot debate, but when the election came, “everything here went 99% for Harding.”24 Despite his political meltdown, Woodrow Wilson retained good friends among students and faculty. They founded a Woodrow Wilson Club in May 1921, and when that group sent a little delegation of undergraduates to S Street, he spoke to them of his determination to “keep his ideals actively before the public.” Five years after their graduation, the Class of 1917 voted him “the greatest living American.” At a meeting of a thousand persons at Alexander Hall, speakers raised money for the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, which was to give awards for public service. (One founder was Franklin Roosevelt, he and Wilson having grown closer since both had become disabled, Roosevelt owing to a 1921 attack of polio.) Professor Henry van Dyke alluded to a certain “sharp controversy” in former days, but this paled next to Wilson’s great campus achievement, the preceptorial system, “the envy and the model of other American universities.” Van Dyke tried to smooth over the past, but many Wilson supporters remained intensely unhappy with Hibben’s Princeton. Observing the campus in 1921, Trustee Lionberger Davis told the former president, “I see the same old forces—the same antagonisms. The old issues were never settled.” He hoped the Quad Plan could still be instituted. Even Jack Hibben was overheard lamenting a recurring problem: “Oh, it’s these clubs again.”25 Guests to S Street were invited into Woodrow Wilson’s library, eight thousand books on the shelves all around, to sit in the heavy wooden chair he had used as president of Princeton University and from which, he quipped, he had “rendered very many unwelcome decisions.” His “old Princeton chair,” he called it—plain with a high back, brown leather on arms and seat and the black paint worn off where his elbows had rubbed so long. “This chair stood by me through all my days at Princeton,” he told one visitor. “We have encountered stormy weather.” Visiting him here, Professor Scott would never forget how the ex-president “fairly paralyzed me with astonishment” by saying, “I had hoped that they would call me back to Princeton, to finish the work I had been un-



able to do there.” Indeed, the incapacitated man thought repeatedly of his old struggles. He wrote the college secretary asking for a copy of his report to the board on the Quad Plan, which “still interests me if for no other reason than because it led the trustees in their sagacity to kick me upstairs into the Governorship and Presidency.” His tone was light, but he stressed to former League of Nations official Raymond Fosdick ’05 how important the Princeton struggle now seemed to him, even more significant than all his years in the White House! He summoned Fosdick urgently to S Street late in 1923 for a conference. Fosdick was shocked at the ex-president’s worn and feeble appearance, though he insisted he was in fine shape and ready to take up the fight for Old Nassau again. “It was the best period of my life,” he said of Princeton University, “and I begin to realize that my contribution to my generation, if I have made any, was in connection not so much with my political work as with my activities as a teacher and college administrator.” His life was coming fullcircle, it seems. He was dreaming of “the possibility of another chance in educational work, another opportunity . . . to help American universities to attain the high standards of scholarship which had been reached by Oxford and Cambridge.” He spoke glowingly of his academic creed and Quad Plan and condemned his old foes “in vivid, unforgettable words.” Woodrow Wilson started to cry as he urged Fosdick “to buy him a university”—to fundraise so that he could take over as president somewhere and institute Quads at last. “The sands are running fast. You must get your friends to provide me the opportunity.” He wanted to devote the rest of his life to this. If absolutely necessary he could run the university from S Street. Couldn’t the General Education Board in New York make it happen? Couldn’t he be given Case Western, Dartmouth—or Princeton? “Princeton was bought once with Ivory Soap money,” Wilson told him acidly, “and I suppose it is for sale again.” Fosdick left bewildered. He returned in January and spent two hours trying to put Wilson off, only to be told he must try harder.26 The invalid had been trying to help old Princeton associates when he could, though his political clout was gone. He recommended both former professor Winthrop Daniels—“able, conscientious and fearless”—and Huston Thompson ’97 for the United States Senate. And Cleve Dodge led the way in helping Wilson in return. Wilson credited Dodge with offering financial “relief from anxiety,” which gave him strength to wage “the greatest fight of all,” whatever that might be. For his sixty-seventh



birthday in late 1923, Wilson’s former trustee allies Dodge, the Joneses, and McCormick bought him a thirteen-thousand-dollar Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost with black doors trimmed with a fine orange stripe, a vehicle thoughtfully modified so the disabled man could more easily climb inside. Wilson was overwhelmed when he shuffled outdoors and discovered it. “The Rolls Royce is a joy,” he told Dodge. “If the Democratic party had the perfect coordination and harmonious force which that car has it might alter and dominate the political action of the whole world.” They also provided a ten-thousand-dollar annuity that would alleviate money worries permanently (at that time, presidents were paid no pension). Unlike many chief executives, Woodrow Wilson had come into the White House with little wealth, though he had subsequently earned seventy-five thousand dollars annually and won forty thousand dollars as part of receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. “I want to feel that for the rest of your life you are on ‘Easy Street,’” said Dodge feelingly. Two weeks before he died, Wilson would dictate a letter to Dodge expressing his gratitude for “the finest and most ideal body of friends that ever gave a man reason to believe himself worthwhile.”27 The surviving members of the Witherspoon Gang thought of Wilson constantly, too. In May 1920 and again a year later, James Webster organized a reunion at his estate in Bel Air, Maryland, and urged “my dear Tommy” to come. “We have had pleasant journeying and two days of good comradeship,” the Gang reported. “All the old jokes have been recalled and some new ones devised. Hiram has been consistently late, Daniel has ‘leaned back,’ Chang has hinted that his grandchildren are as good as any of Henderson’s (he has one), and Bob B. has been carefully restrained in his loquacity. . . . We have missed you a lot, and want you to know that we think of you always with affection and admiration. It was fine to have known you all these years.”28 Of all the Gang, Robert Bridges was still closest to Woodrow Wilson. He had carefully studied his friend’s career from the beginning and had stepped in at many critical moments. Wilson’s undying obsession with world peace, he thought, sprang from his undergraduate passion for “comradeship.” It was Bridges who would eventually eulogize Wilson to the Princeton undergraduates in Alexander Hall. “Does any one of you, sitting elbow to elbow with your chum in the seats before me, label him with abstract qualities? You may call him by the most outrageous nicknames, and openly deride him—but he and you know that it is a part



of the game of being friends. There is really nothing like it, as one looks back on it—several hundred boys—fortuitously gathered from the ends of the earth, to be thrown into a close relationship that lasts through life.” During his remaining years, Robert Bridges would talk about his old chum with a mixture of pride and pain. It gave him a sense of pleasure and vindication to see the Quad Plan taken up by Harvard and Yale as the “college system,” but it troubled him that Wilson remained so badly misunderstood by the press and public. “What people cannot see is the humanness of the man,” he would tell an interviewer sadly. “He was my warm friend for fifty years.”29

As Woodrow Wilson lay slumped in his familiar Princeton chair, his mind was active though his body was failing. In June 1923 he followed with interest reports of the firing of Alexander Meiklejohn, reform president of Amherst College, who had dared criticize the idle sons of the rich. Wilson remembered meeting him on the Furnessia going to England, years earlier. Meiklejohn was pushing too hard at conservative Amherst and ran afoul of the financiers on the board. Wilson wrote to encourage him to keep fighting the wicked men who had ousted him. “I have dealt with similar trustees myself and the experience enhances my contempt,” he said. “I had myself the unhappy experience of having to deal with one of the most ignorant and prejudiced groups in the country, and am saddened by my every thought of the present situation of my alma mater.”30 When Meiklejohn spoke at Princeton’s Nassau Club, he discomfited Hibben with sharp remarks about alumni and trustees. Word of this interested Wilson greatly. Princeton faculty “are allowed no freedom of thought,” the ex-president bitterly observed. “If I had a son I wouldn’t know where to send him for a liberal education in America.” Meiklejohn was lobbying for a liberal studies ideal similar to Woodrow Wilson’s, and a student of his later established the Great Books curriculum at St. John’s College, Annapolis, a generalist, reading-centered approach that Wilson might have applauded.31 As his health ebbed, Wilson’s world continued to contract. When future biographer Baker came by, he found his hero “inconceivably old, gray, worn, tired,” propped up in bed with a book of detective stories and a worn Bible lying beside two electric flashlights on the bed table. Wilson



said he particularly loved to read the sternest passages from the Psalms and Job before going to sleep. And the Indomitable Individual seemed fiercer than ever now, railing against nearly everyone. The great humanitarian Herbert Hoover was a “fakir” whom he would never assist “in any undertaking whatsoever,” Britain’s Lloyd George was “slippery,” Raymond Poincaré of France was “a cheat and a liar,” a certain journalist habitually critical of him was a “skunk.” Tragically, he even broke ties with his devoted secretary Joe Tumulty, to punish him for disobeying an order. Here, too, there would be no reconciliation, though Tumulty was anguished by the loss, and newspaper editors again blasted Wilson for his ruthlessness and ingratitude. “He had the stern sense of duty,” a Washington insider observed, “that would lead him to send his best friend to the scaffold, though it would break his heart to do it.” In Baltimore, a contemptuous H. L. Mencken called Wilson “a pedagogue gone mashugga” and marveled at his “strange incapacity for keeping his friends.” “He always threw his friends into the dog-house if they disagreed with him,” Professor Henry Duffield would similarly comment in Princeton. In his damaging 1924 biography, Robert Annin found a pattern snaking throughout Wilson’s life: his leaving Bryn Mawr College full of harshness against the administration there; his eventual alienation of most of his friends among the Princeton faculty, trustees, and alumni; “his ruthless methods” as governor and president in ousting loyal supporters. Something was fundamentally wrong with him. Admiration for Woodrow Wilson, Annin believed, proved exactly inverse to how well people actually knew the man.32 In the end, hardly anyone but 1879 classmates would remain as friends. But Ellen’s brother Stockton Axson was still welcome, and he secretly reported on Wilson’s condition to Jack Hibben, with whom Axson remained close and who often expressed concern for his former friend. (How furious Wilson would have been to know that Axson was doing this!) After one visit, Axson remarked to Hibben that Wilson’s face showed no sign of his strokes, but he remained sluggish, refusing to walk in street or garden. Axson hoped he would keep his mind busy with writing—but in fact Wilson was physiologically incapable of that now, though he received offers of large sums for his memoirs. Like Lincoln, he would leave no autobiography and would be the subject of “centuries” of biographical speculation, Axson thought, with “That Pittsburgh Speech” studied like the Gettysburg Address. Axson felt that ornery old Joseph



Wilson “was monthly becoming reincarnated in Woodrow,” and he remembered also Joseph’s comment, “I never had a friend who was faithful to me.”33 “Did Woodrow think of his life as a failure?” mused Axson’s sister Madge as she studied the pale, white-haired old man who crept around the house at S Street. “I don’t know!” Perhaps he did, given that “it was a failure in that he failed in the two things he most wanted—the adoption of the League of Nations, and the chance to convert Princeton into an instrument for the nation’s service.” These were great blows, as was his betrayal by Hibben. “The two major tragedies in Father’s life,” one of Wilson’s daughters was sure, “were his failure to carry over the League of Nations and the break with Mr. Hibben.”34 As Woodrow Wilson languished at S Street, Hibben’s star was steadily rising as he pulled Princeton University out of the disruptive war years and garnered acclaim for enlarging and modernizing the school even as he healed old wounds. A born conciliator, he renounced Woodrow Wilson’s autocratic style and handed authority over to the faculty—ironic, some said, that it was Hibben who at last democratized Princeton! Hibben wrote the young F. Scott Fitzgerald gently chiding him for depicting the university as a country club in This Side of Paradise. He spoke German in introducing the visiting physicist Albert Einstein to an audience in Alexander Hall, years before Einstein fled Nazi persecution and settled in the town. Hibben would eventually befriend aviator Charles Lindbergh, who likewise moved near Princeton and conducted some scientific research in the Princeton labs (when the Lindbergh baby was kidnapped, Hibben offered to have the entire student body scour the woods). As the U.S. economy improved, Hibben boosted the endowment by millions, doubled the size of campus, built many new Gothic structures, including war memorial dormitories and homes for the “sideshows” Wilson had spurned: a football stadium, a hockey rink, a boathouse, a theater. Hibben turned out to be a popular and respected president, although, historian James Axtell argues, “Nearly everything that the faculty and the university accomplished academically” under his regime came as a result of his continuing certain policies of Woodrow Wilson and treating proWilson faculty with respect.35 But for all his successes, Hibben felt no joy when he thought about the old friend who stubbornly refused to reconcile with him. Hibben looked grim and exhausted when he had to meet with Wilson biographer



Baker on the porch at Prospect—an inquisitor he tried subtly to evade. “I know how hurt and humiliated Hibben has been all through his administration by this ghost of the past,” Baker heard from fellow writer Jesse Lynch Williams ’92. Hibben desperately wanted to heal the embarrassing breach with Woodrow Wilson before the ex-president died, no doubt as much for Princeton as himself. Finally Stockton Axson had to sit down with Jack and explain it was impossible. “Mr. Wilson is irreconcilable,” he said. “These wounds have gone too deep for any healing.”36 And although Hibben had tried to mend fences, it would be years before Princeton University made peace with Wilson’s memory. As late as 1939, when Henry Bragdon came to town researching his Wilson biography, he found a Pyne dormitory, Hibben scholarships, and a statue of West but almost nothing that recalled Wilson—apparently a deliberate damnatio memoriae. Around the same time, wealthy Wilson admirers offered to give a brand-new library to the school in the depths of the Depression if only it could be named as a memorial to their hero. This offer was deemed too controversial to accept. Princeton would go without a modern library until after World War II just because of two hated words—Woodrow Wilson.37

Outside the windows at S Street, the twentieth century caromed onward. Wilson asked a visitor what he thought of this Mussolini fellow in Italy. For his part, he did not trust him, nor any of the “fascisti,” which he typically made a point of pronouncing slowly and carefully in the “correct” way, fas-cheese-ti. Told that there were now a Be Kind to Animals Week, a National Air Week, and a Better Homes Week, the curmudgeon grumbled that there should be a Mind Your Own Business Week. When a supporter suggested he ought to be in the Senate, Wilson replied, “You know and I know that I have a temper, and if I was to go to the Senate I should get into a row with that old Lodge.”38 He spoke once on the radio in November 1923, that extraordinary new invention that had come too late to help him enlist a mass audience to his League of Nations cause. He stood in his second-floor library in a dressing gown, leaning unsteadily on a cane—the orator would never deign to sit while giving a speech! Sets in his old hometown of Princeton were tuned to WEAF in New York at 8:28 that evening. “Mr. Woodrow



Indomitable. In his last months, Wilson greeted a crowd at the doorway to S Street.

Wilson, speaking from his residence in Washington, is about to say a few words.” Those words emerged with difficulty as he denounced his Republican foes for “a sullen and selfish isolation which is deeply ignoble because manifestly cowardly and dishonorable.” That night, Wilson made history again, reaching as many as three million people in an instant in an address that survives today at the National Archives as the oldest



extant radio recording. It stirred him, turning his thoughts again to his first and greatest gift, oratory, as taught long ago by Joseph Wilson and polished in Whig Hall.39 The next day he summoned the strength briefly to address a crowd outside and feistily predicted “the triumph of the principles I have stood for. I have seen fools resist Providence before, and I have seen their destruction.” Then a band struck up “Onward, Christian Soldiers” and “Dixie.” It was, biographer Jan Nordholt says, “the last speech made by a man who had learned nothing from life” but remained proud and indomitable to the end.40 In the days following, the patient sat on the upper sun porch in a steamer chair draped in a blanket and mused on how the pendulum was swinging “back in his direction,” with the liberals of the world again looking to him for leadership—or so he imagined. He would fight his greatest fight next, he constantly predicted. Pathetically, the broken man who could barely make his way around the house began planning an oratorical and political comeback and even drafted his third inaugural address. He told Cyrus McCormick he might attend his forty-fifth class reunion in 1924. When Raymond Fosdick visited that last time, Wilson mused that his greatest error had been his failure to run for president against the worthless Harding. Europe was a mess, he said, with another Bismarck surely coming soon to wipe France off the face of the earth—as he hoped would happen. He cried when he spoke of the league and his idealism: he would surely win in the end, as “you cannot fight God.” “A grim, determined jaw,” Fosdick thought, “a tear-stained face,” a modern Isaiah, the kind of man who leads the world but at the same time is “terribly dangerous.” At the end Wilson faintly whispered, “God bless you.”41 Now sixty-seven, he had thought about the way great men die. Years before in his hagiographical biography he had imagined himself at the bedside of George Washington, sixty-seven himself then: “Steady, noble, a warrior figure to the last; and he died as those who loved him might have wished to see him die.” Even in death, there was duty, plus a little of the actor’s art. Watching the blaring Harding funeral, Wilson had vowed a simple, private ceremony for himself. Perhaps Edith was already thinking about arrangements, severely plain to suit her husband’s wishes—no public show, no military display, no lying in state at the U.S. Capitol. It would all follow the Democratic plainness of Grover Cleveland’s burial in



Princeton years before. For the private service at home, she would invite down the Reverend Sylvester Beach ’76 of First Presbyterian Church (his daughter, Sylvia, would soon become famous for her Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris, haunt of Lost Generation writers). There would need to be honorary pallbearers—members of his cabinet, political allies, and of course his classmates of Seventy-Nine: Bridges, Lee, Dodge, McCormick, Dr. Davis. Edith would decide to inter the staunch Presbyterian in the Episcopal cathedral in Washington. That surprised many, but Woodrow Wilson, lover of English church architecture, had taken a keen interest in the Gothic edifice then under construction on a nearby hilltop. In fall 1923 the bishop-to-be asked for a few remarks to support his fundraising campaign, and Wilson wrote glowingly that the building would contribute to “the uplift of the community and stimulation of the nation.” In the back of his mind, no doubt, were the towers of Princeton University that he had helped raise in an identical spirit of community-building and pious devotion to a noble cause. At the funeral for Wilson, that most devoted of readers of English Romantic poetry, the same bishop would recite Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “Crossing the Bar”: “Twilight and evening bell, / And after that the dark.” And at Edith’s request, architect Ralph Adams Cram would design Wilson’s thoroughly Gothic tomb, which lies bathed in colored light from the stained-glass windows above. Here the Anglophile would sleep through the ages.42

At Princeton University on February 1, 1924, during the stress of midyear exams, word spread that the former president was gravely ill. Hibben issued a statement: “We are all much disturbed. I am very sorry to hear it and am trying to get in direct communication with Washington.” Soon alumnus Huston Thompson was sending hourly reports by telephone. Hibben drafted an offer that Woodrow Wilson be buried in the Presidents’ Lot in the local cemetery, where ten of his twelve predecessors lay, and he picked a posthumous deputation to go to Washington, including himself, Professors Fine, Magie, Capps, Conklin, van Dyke, and Christian Gauss. In the late morning of a chilly Sunday, February 3, the students gathered for chapel in Alexander Hall, where they had assembled ever since the regular sanctuary had burned. Jack Hibben stood on the stage exactly where Woodrow Wilson had delivered his “Princeton in the Nation’s Service” address almost thirty years before and where he had re-



ceived an eight-minute ovation on the day of his inaugural, when all had seemed so bright and promising. So much had changed since then! There had been plenty of grumbling lately about the long-standing tradition of mandatory religious services—during which these young bohemians of the Jazz Age casually read newspapers and talked. As part of the older generation, Hibben remained quaintly devout, and this fateful day he began with a prayer for the dying Woodrow Wilson. The two men would never make up now, of course. All he could do was to commend Wilson to the God they had worshiped here together in boyhood, in the days of President McCosh, who had seemed to know the deity personally. Funny old Jimmy McCosh—how long ago and how irrelevant all that seemed now, from the vantage point of a twentieth-century world transformed by technology and upheaval and a horrendous war. Now 151 Princetonians lay in soldiers’ graves, the McCosh generation was growing old and disappearing, and Tommy Wilson’s idealistic visions for campus and nation and world had mostly been eclipsed.43 What was Woodrow Wilson’s legacy, from the vantage point of that hour in 1924? To many observers he seemed as remote and pointless as the now-debunked Victorian world his stiff and proper bearing personified. He had created the preceptorial system, it was true, but even this had proven imperfect, and he had been driven from the scene before he could see it fully developed. Regarding the Quad Plan and the Graduate College, he had been roundly defeated. Students spent evenings not in mind-and-mind in Gothic Quads but laughing at Charlie Chaplin in movie theaters on Nassau Street. And the forces of wealth and privilege were more potent on campuses in the 1920s than ever before, as they were in America as a whole in the age of the Calvin Coolidge Republican and his mantra, “The Business of America Is Business.” The burning questions Wilson had raised about low intellectual expectations, the decline of reading, pedantic faculty, and multiplying extracurriculars— all these were deferred for another day, his old allies lamented. Indeed, some critics of higher education say that they are unresolved even now: a depressing 2006 report funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that more than half of American college graduates lack “the skills to perform complex literacy tasks” in spite of four or more expensive years spent on campus. It seems we could use some Wilsonian reforms about now.44 But even with his shortcomings and his perplexing, self-defeating character flaws, Woodrow Wilson would survive in the minds of many as



a symbol of an inspiring moral struggle for higher standards in education and dreams loftier than getting rich. Ever the Indomitable Individual, he followed his creeds doggedly, although they isolated him from mainstream thought and earned him many enemies. To the point of rousing violent hatreds, he demanded that others heed him, understand, and follow. He often failed, it is true. And yet his lifelong call for personal striving and advancement went out through the world like the sound of a tolling bell, steady and insistent . . . like the bell that abruptly began to ring just before noon as the students came out of chapel that February morning in 1924, honoring a lonely man who had just died in Washington.

“That old nasal slightly peevish or priggish college bell,” Edmund Wilson ’16 would think as he walked past Nassau Hall in October 1952 and heard the familiar sound again. He had come to campus to deliver a series of lectures given in memory of his former preceptor, Christian Gauss. The puritanical bell, he mused, “jars with the country club aspect. Woodrow Wilson sometimes sounded this note.” The echoes of that note, insistent and sometimes unwelcome, can still be heard even today on the campus of Princeton University. “Invoking the spirit of Woodrow Wilson, I urged our graduates to use the lessons of their time at Princeton to find the common ground that will allow their generation to meet the fundamental challenges that we have failed to overcome,” President Shirley Tilghman said, summarizing a speech she gave to the black-gowned seniors in front of Nassau Hall on a sunny June 6, 2006. “His educational initiatives, considered by some to be the most significant curricular reform in American higher education of the twentieth century, had enormous impact,” she told the ranks of smiling young faces. Particularly enduring, she said, was “his call to define our lives in terms of service to causes that are larger than ourselves.” When students anywhere meet in small-group sections or choose an upperclass departmental major, they owe something to the vision of Woodrow Wilson. When the frustrated faculty member fights for a return to a traditional, liberal arts curriculum in lieu of trivial fads and “theory,” he or she speaks the Wilsonian language. (In her address, Tilghman called on the students “to shun the superficial trends of popular culture in favor of careful analysis,” as Wilson would surely have approved.) And when administrators try to limit extracurricular sideshows or em-



phasize the importance of training students broadly so that they can sympathize with their fellow Americans and serve the nation, they, too, follow the path that Wilson marked out. With the opening of Whitman College in 2007, Princeton University itself has finally come around to the blueprint that Wilson put forward one hundred years ago: students of all ages living and dining under one roof, with some graduate students and faculty mixed in. Tilghman told the seniors, “I think he would be pleased.”45 At Whitman College, “mind and mind” will be tried at last—Wilson’s core educational idea, the one that fired his passionate heart. Shirley Tilghman praised Wilson’s “deep commitment to the importance of discourse,” which to her seems more important today than ever, when “the nature and quality of public discourse has been impoverished” and Americans are increasingly “separated by a deep and bitter divide. Never has the world seemed so adamantly polarized to me.” Free and open conversation in the spirit of mind and mind offers hope, she believes. For the cause of mind and mind, her predecessor Woodrow Wilson fought the Battle of Princeton a century ago, first for Quads and then for a central Graduate College. It was for mind and mind that he ultimately wrecked his administration. He never stopped believing in it, though, even after his enemies had declared victory and old friends had fallen away. In pursuit of his principles, he was prepared to soldier on, indomitable and alone. For Woodrow Wilson was certain of one thing—in the end, history would prove him right.


To save space, brief accounts from contemporary newspapers and periodicals are listed in the notes but not in the bibliography. The following abbreviations are used: Baker Papers/Mudd

Ray Stannard Baker Papers. MC004, Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, Princeton, N.J.

Bridges Papers

Robert Bridges Papers. C0209, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library, Princeton, N.J.


Stockton Axson, Brother Woodrow


Henry W. Bragdon Papers. Woodrow Wilson Collection, Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, Princeton, N.J.


Ray Stannard Baker, Woodrow Wilson, Life and Letters: Princeton


Margaret Elliott, My Aunt Louisa and Woodrow Wilson


New York Times


Princeton Alumni Weekly


Princeton University


Princeton University Library Chronicle


Papers of Woodrow Wilson, ed. Arthur S. Link et al.


Ray Stannard Baker


Ray Stannard Baker Papers. Microfilm edition. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.


Eleanor McAdoo, The Woodrow Wilsons


Woodrow Wilson

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Chapter 1. The Debater 1. Fifty Years . . . ’Seventy-Nine, 212. 2. Fifty Years . . . ’Seventy-Nine, 4. 3. PWW, 5:483, 12:470. Wilson admirer Robert Cullinane in the development office at PU tells me that Wilson’s room—where Cullinane himself successfully bid to live as an undergraduate in the 1960s, after he proved its location—was on the west side of Witherspoon about halfway down, second floor, facing the depot. The building having been remodeled inside, the space is no longer a habitable room. 4. NYT, Dec. 12, 1929; Baker, WW . . . Youth, 99. 5. Mulder, WW, 16. 6. PWW, 5:719; Weinstein, WW, 15–19; birdshot: PWW, 18:488, and Baker, WW . . . Youth, 38; PAW, Feb. 13, 1924, 381. 7. Margaret Wilson interview, Mar. 12, 1925, RSBP, reel 84; Cary Grayson interview, February 1926, RSBP, reel 76. 8. Reid, WW, 22; recited speeches: PWW, 1:157; Jessie Brower to RSB, Oct. 5, 1925, RSBP, reel 72. 9. PWW, 1:227–28 (Reconstruction), 346 (asses), 149 (miserable delusion); Daniels, Wilson Era . . . War, 614; Jessie Sayre interview, Dec. 1, 1925, RSBP, reel 82; WW, Washington, 51; PWW, 9:288–89. 10. PWW, 1:664–65 (Civil War), 19:271, 5:768, 18:635 (Lee), 9:290; Knight: Bragdon, WW, 4; Baker, WW . . . Youth, 79. 11. Henry B. Kennedy interview, 1925, RSBP, reel 82; elements of greatness: PWW, 1:153. 12. Baker, WW . . . Youth, 84. There were 976 ministers out of 4,586 graduates by 1872.



13. Joseph and Tommy Wilson stayed with Professor Duffield the first night they arrived in Princeton: Henry G. Duffield interview, June 15, 1939, HWBP, box 62. 14. NYT, June 19, 1879; Bragdon, WW, 21; PWW, 21:131–32. 15. NYT, June 20, 1878. 16. Alexander, Princeton. 17. NYT, June 28, 1870; Sloane, McCosh, 196. McCosh’s love of ornamental trees is apparent in his Typical Forms, 107. 18. Baker, WW . . . Youth, 83; Fifty Years . . . ’Seventy-Nine, 212; Hoeveler, McCosh, 292; Princeton Book, 29. Giving totaled nearly three million dollars over McCosh’s twenty-year term: Wertenbaker, Princeton, 294. 19. Osborn, Fifty Years, 255, 237, 22. 20. Looney, Nurseries, 5; public stage: PWW, 10:18. 21. PWW, 2:499 (reserved), 1:215 (begun speaking); Beam, American Whig, 189. 22. PWW, 1:540 (miss our library), 137 (went over to the Lit); Bragdon, WW, 31. 23. Fifty Years . . . ’Seventy-Nine, 1; PWW, 12:469. 24. PWW, 1:265 (sister), 332 (Joseph). 25. NYT, Feb. 10, 1924; PWW, 1:286 (Talcott), 23:608. 26. PWW, 12:470. 27. NYT, Feb. 10, 1924; PWW, 12:469; 1:255–56 (Liberal Debating Club). 28. PWW, 1:655 (most valuable single element), 2:500; Fifty Years . . . ’SeventyNine, 6; Princeton Book, 31. 29. NYT, Nov. 26, 1875. Link puts Mrs. Wright’s (“Wright Bower”) on the southeast corner of Washington Road and Nassau Street, but old maps show boardinghouses on the southwest corner instead (at the corner of today’s Firestone Library). The Alligators was on the north side of Nassau Street. 30. NYT, Nov. 24, 29, 1875. 31. PWW, 1:402 (Hayes), 336 (loafer); NYT, Feb. 10, 1924. 32. PWW, 1:267 (enthusiastic), 12:468; NYT, Feb. 10, 1924. 33. Yearbook: PWW, 1:473; William Magie interview, 1941, HWBP, box 63, folder 9; Bragdon, WW, 25; Fifty Years . . . ’Seventy-Nine, 4.

Chapter 2. The Study of Books and Men 1. BW, 15. 2. Bragdon, WW, 43. 3. Fifty Years . . . ’Seventy-Nine, 4; Baker, WW . . . Youth, 86–87; PWW, 1:201 (so many things), 236 (Hazlett), 128 (give anything). 4. PWW, 1:195 (Jeffrey), 203 (3/4 of an hour), 139 (noon hour), 255 (Joseph). 5. Macaulay: PWW, 1:133–35; Baker, WW . . . Youth, 96–97; McCosh, Typical Forms, 446–47. 6. Baker, WW . . . Youth, 87–88; Hale, “WW Biography,” pt. 2:68. On the history of Princeton libraries, see Axtell, Making of PU, ch. 8.



7. PWW, 1:192–93 (Cameron), 541 (gems); Scott, Memories, 27; Henry Fine interview, June 18, 1925, RSBP, reel 74. 8. Baker, WW . . . Youth, 81; PWW, 1:141 (Xenophon), 133 (silly). 9. PWW, 12:469 (Bridges), 9:97; Baker, WW . . . Youth, 93. 10. Earnest: PWW, 2:499. 11. PWW, 1:575 (Talcott), 545 (Magie); Fine: NYT, Feb. 10, 1924. 12. McCosh; NYT, June 16, 1879; PWW, 1:492 (“Our Kinship”), 675 (Bridges), 487 (struck in), 20:521. 13. Fifty Years . . . ’Seventy-Nine, 201. The largest classes in Princeton history before 1890 were 1879 (122 graduates), 1876 (110), 1883 (102), and 1877 (101): General Catalogue. 14. Nordholt, WW, 19. 15. My end: PWW, 2:10; Harper’s Weekly, July 20, 1889. 16. PWW, 3:378–79, 417; BW, 55. 17. PWW, 2:586 (superficial), 15:489–91. 18. Bragdon, WW, 117. 19. PWW, 2:344 (Hamerton), 573 (plot), 3:430 (Cicero); 4:263, 5:482 (individuality), 2:502 (1883), 4:298. 20. PWW, 5:619. 21. PWW, 6:411, 523. 22. R. T. H. Halsey interview, May 30, 1941, HWBP, box 62, folder 52; on the ground: PWW, 7:62–63; congressmen: Veysey, Emergence, 4; PWW, 6:623–25. 23. PWW, 8:220 (ass), 7:620, 624; NYT, Oct. 8, 1916. 24. Bragdon, WW, 215; Wordsworth: G. M. Harper interview, Nov. 12, 1925, RSBP, reel 76; Stockton Axson notes on Baker manuscript, RSBP, reel 70. 25. Delaware: PWW, 8:57–58. 26. Forum: PWW, 8:593–96, 587. 27. “Princeton,” in Fitzgerald, Afternoon, 75; pledge my honor: PWW, 8:79; Charles H. McIlwain interview, Jan. 2, 1940, HWBP, box 63, folder 11. 28. Wallace, Sketches; Ellen: LLP, 16; BW, 68. My conclusions about the origins of the honor code differ from those of Tenner, “Honor Code.” 29. Tenner, “Honor Code,” 432n14; NYT, Feb. 10, 1924. Also crediting Wilson with having created the code is Dodd, WW, 45. 30. Harper’s Weekly, June 1, 1895; NYT, Aug. 12, 1905. 31. Sloane, McCosh, 226. The honor code built, too, on the McCosh-era tradition of a select student committee being allowed input in discipline cases. 32. McIlwain interview; PWW, 19:524, 8:120–21, 9:240. 33. Perry, Gladly Teach, 129–30. 34. Wertenbaker, Princeton, 364; NYT, Aug. 12, 1905; PAW, Jan. 29, 1907, 274. 35. Vulgar-rich: PWW, 9:348; Mencken, “Archangel,” 249. 36. Henrietta G. Ricketts interview, July 31, 1943, HWBP, box 63, folder 39; BW, 80; Perry, Gladly Teach, 157; TWW, 20. 37. Bragdon, WW, 49; Baltimore: LLP, 31.



38. PWW, 9:417 (Hunt), 480 (literary man); BW, 39. Susan Dod Brown gave two dormitories to Princeton, Dod Hall (1889–90) and Brown Hall (1890–92), part of a planned South Quadrangle. 39. Weinstein, WW, ch. 9. Opposed to the stroke hypothesis is George et al., “Research Note” (they suggest pinched nerves in the neck). 40. Oxford: PWW, 9:537–38.

Chapter 3. Who Shall Show Us the Way? 1. William Magie interviews, 1939–40, HWBP, box 63, folder 9. 2. PWW, 9:305 (West), 11:357; George M. Harper interview, Nov. 12, 1925, RSBP, reel 76. 3. PWW, 10:29–31; Milton: BW, 97. 4. Baldwin, Between Two Wars, 1:59–60; Ellen: PWW, 10:37. 5. PWW, 10:32. 6. TWW, 12; NYT, Feb. 22, 1897. 7. Ducks: NYT, May 9, 1897. 8. PWW, 6:88, 109, 118. 9. PWW, 10:41 (spirit), 52 (cost of living), 80 (four thousand dollars). 10. PWW, 10:73 (happiness), 120 (prejudice), 123 (fight). 11. PWW, 10:134–35. 12. W. M. Daniels, reminiscences of WW, RSBP, reel 73; Baldwin, Between Two Wars 1:61; Williamson U. Vreeland interviews, Nov. 12, 1925, RSBP, reel 83, Mar. 24, 1940, HWBP, box 63, folder 57. 13. BW, 116. 14. PWW, 10:192 (dinner), 189 (speech). 15. Cuyler: PWW, 11:91. 16. Nine books: Hogan, Western Tour, 38; longing: PWW, 10:375; BW, 76; ditches: PWW, 11:299. 17. Perry, Gladly Teach, 149; Collins, Princeton Past and Present, n.p.; Imbrie, Fiftieth, 216. 18. President: PWW, 11:570; Axson in NYT (Feb. 4, 1924); PWW, 10:581 (book man), 11:88 (nothing ever happens). 19. PWW, 11:93 (Chicago), 119 (Princeton). 20. Poole, Bridge, 66. 21. PAW, Nov. 7, 1977; Fosdick, Chronicle, 46–47; Chicago Daily Tribune, Dec. 9, 1956; Edward S. Corwin interview, June 9, 1939, HWBP, box 62, folder 22. More anecdotes of Wilson lecturing appear in Lewis, WW, ch. 2. 22. Daniels, Life, 52; Jenny: PWW, 11:136. 23. Lucy and Mary Smith interview, March 1927, RSBP, reel 83; Jacob N. Beam interview, June 23, 1943, HWBP, box 62, folder 9. 24. PWW, 11:102 ( forced), 214–18 (trip abroad); TWW, 53. 25. Cambridge: PWW, 11:184–89. 26. Cambridge: PWW, 11:189.



27. Stockton Axson notes on RSB manuscript, RSBP, reel 70; PWW, 38:681, 11:207 (Oxford), 186 (all that is beautiful). 28. Handkerchief: Dennis, Gods and Little Fishes, 336; BW, 118; Scott, Some Memories, 218. 29. PWW, 12:316 (disturbed), 348 (Chicago); catfish: “Insider,” “Politics,” 10. 30. Hoeveler, McCosh, 346; cleverest: PWW, 12:373. 31. Fine: PWW, 12:380; Bragdon, WW, 277. 32. PWW, 12:385. 33. PWW, 12:390–91, 457 (Providence). 34. Chicago Daily Tribune, June 10, 1902; John G. Hibben interview, Oct. 27, 1926, RSBP, reel 77. 35. MAL, 166; BW, 104. 36. TWW, 59–60; Magie interviews. 37. PWW, 12:420–24; Stockton Axson notes on RSB manuscript, RSBP, reel 70. Wilson was made to speak on the Nassau Hall steps and then put into the Class of 1892 Tenth Reunion photograph right after. 38. PWW, 12:404, 407, 441, 445. 39. Reid, WW, 85; Perry, Gladly Teach, 157; McCormick: PWW, 10:490; Prentiss: R. T. H. Halsey interview, May 30, 1941, HWBP, box 62, folder 52. 40. My opinion: PWW, 10:499. 41. PWW, 12:464.

Chapter 4. Like a New Prime Minister 1. Daniels, Life, 239; heartbreaking: PWW, 14:3. 2. TWW, 65. 3. PWW, 14:27. 4. TWW, 67. 5. Inaugural address: PWW, 14:183–84, 171. 6. Fleischman, Thomas, 37; Seidler, Thomas, 10–11. 7. Eliot: Creel, Rebel, 240; PWW, 30:104. 8. NYT, Dec. 12, 1902. 9. NYT, July 29, 1902; PAW, May 12, 1909, 489; damned: Bragdon, WW, 289; deadwood: Edmund Wilson, “WW at Princeton,” 311; MAL, 182; Axtell, Making of PU, 49–50. 10. Gabriel: LLP, 151; Princeton Book, 127; Craig, WW, 66; Harvard: Baldwin, Between Two Wars 1:25; premed: Reynolds, “WW.” Opposed to Wilson on the subject of electives, Charles Eliot privately called him a “little archaic in educational theories”; Veysey, “Academic Mind,” 614. 11. Karabel, Chosen, 71; three dollars: Gauss, Nothing a Year. On admissions at Princeton, see Axtell, Making of PU, 7–11, ch. 3. 12. Inaugural address: PWW, 14:176; PAW, Jan. 12, 1907, 239. 13. Axtell, Making of PU, 8–9; Sullivan: PWW, 19:529; Robeson, Here I Stand, 11.



14. Gerstle, “Race.” It has been said that Booker T. Washington was “the only one of the visiting dignitaries not housed with a family of a Princeton faculty member” and that he was forced to reside in a black boardinghouse: Harlan and Smock, Washington Papers, 6:548. 15. Bragdon, WW, 289; Slosson, Great American Universities, 104–5; PWW, 21:171; Robeson, Here I Stand, 11. 16. PWW, 22:218; shortcut: TWW, 81; Edward Elliott, reminiscences of WW, 1926, RSBP, reel 74; PWW, 29:515; Carroll, Real WW, 14. 17. Kemeny, Princeton, 149–50. Marquand Chapel by architect Richard Morris Hunt dated to 1880–82; it burned in 1920. 18. William Magie interviews, 1939–40, HWBP, box 63, folder 9; BW, 133; awe: Beam, Whig, 183; Magie interviews. 19. Robert McElroy interview, Nov. 20, 1940, HWBP, box 63, folder 13. 20. Daniels, Life, 53; Craig, WW, 17; Perry, Gladly Teach, 157–58; PWW, 34:335. 21. Scott, Memories, 256; BW, 122–23. 22. Magie interviews; Radcliffe Heermance interview, Mar. 25, 1940, HWBP, box 62, folder 58; Baldwin, Between Two Wars, 1:60, 98–99. 23. Myers, WW, 44; McClellan, Gentleman, 314; hard talk: PWW, 15:432. 24. BW, 24–25, 152; leadership: PWW, 24:148–49. 25. PWW, 12:357–58. 26. Myers, WW, 87; MAL, 223. Wilson and T. R. entered University Field through Osborn Clubhouse (1895–96). 27. PAW, June 1, 1956, 3–8. Around 1950, McMillan Lewis ’26 corresponded with four hundred former Princeton students who had known Wilson (Lewis, WW). Lewis recorded many unique glimpses of President Wilson: his agreeing to be towed behind a student’s motorcycle at the end of a fatiguing bike ride back from Lawrenceville; his walking down the path between Witherspoon and Edwards Halls to catch a train, carrying a suitcase, as seen from a dormitory window; his long, thin fingers writing a note; an impromptu speech at midnight from the upstairs porch at Prospect to a student P-Rade when Halley’s Comet appeared; his coming through the west arch of the library into the courtyard in time to stop some sophomores from making freshmen climb into the statue niches on the further arch; an interview by two Press Club students in his dining room the morning after he was elected governor. 28. Bliss Perry interview, Jan. 27, 1940, HWBP, box 63, folder 26; beer: Roland S. Morris, Feb. 27, 1942, HWBP, box 63, folder 21; NYT, Feb. 10, 1924; Reynolds, “WW”; Chicago Daily Tribune, Dec. 9, 1956. 29. Stockton Axson, notes on RSB manuscript, RSBP, reel 70; PWW, 18:299 (lunatic), 61:361. 30. BW, 64–65. 31. BW, 271–72nn12–13. On the firing of Cameron, see Axtell, Making of PU, 55–57. 32. TWW, 78. On the fence episode, see Weinstein, WW, 160–61. The fence was erected in summer 1904. Norman Thomas recalled that vandalized pieces were hid-



den in the woods while WW was out of town. For photographs of the senior parade costumes, see PAW, Feb. 17, 1956, 3–6. 33. Fleischman, Thomas, 37; Wilson, Shores, 324. 34. MAL, 216–20; Margaret Elliott interview, June 11, 1939, HWBP, box 63, folder 20. Wilson may have been thinking of his old Johns Hopkins professor G. Stanley Hall’s lectures on kindergarten.

Chapter 5. Adding a Thousand Years of History 1. Donaldson, “Fitzgerald,” 145. 2. Alexander Hall dated to 1891–94, Brokaw Memorial to 1892–93. The identical Whig and Clio Halls were designed in 1887–88 by architect Page Brown (erected 1890–92). McCosh Walk: Harper’s Weekly, Apr. 11, 1891. 3. Osborn, Fifty Years, 255; Harper’s Weekly, June 12, 1897. 4. Richardson, “Library.” The library dates to 1896–97. 5. West: Egbert, “Architecture,” 90; Sloane: Scott, Memories, 229; Cram, Life, 119. Pembroke Hall, Bryn Mawr College, dates to 1894. Blair Hall dates to 1896– 97 and opened in February 1898. Blair Extension was designed in 1896 and built 1906–7. 6. “Princeton’s Blair Hall,” New York Herald, Dec. 27, 1896. 7. Cram in Williams, Handbook, 76. Little Hall was designed in 1896, erected 1898–99, and extended 1901–2. 8. Eleanor McAdoo and Jessie Sayre interview, May 30, 1926, RSBP, reel 79; two in the morning: Fletcher Durell, “Recollections of WW,” HWBP, box 62, folder 33; Fitzgerald, Paradise, 42. 1879 Hall dates to 1902–4. 9. LLP, 174–75. The gymnasium dated to 1901–3; Patton Hall, 1905–6; Hamilton, 1909–10. Holder is discussed in ch. 11. 10. Breese, PU Land, 131; Wilson backed: LLP, 176; Schuyler, “Architecture,” 154. 11. Cram, “Architectural Development,” 168; Cram, Life, 119–21; Witherspoon: PWW, 17:119. 12. Cram, “Architectural Development,” 169. 13. Architectural entity: PWW, 18:254; Thompson: LLP, 175–76; Cram: PAW, May 6, 1908, 504; Bliss Perry interview, May 15, 1940, HWBP, box 63, folder 26; Ralph Adams Cram interview, May 8, 1940, HWBP, box 62, folder 23; Thomas M. Parrott interview, Sept. 15, 1942, HWBP, box 63, folder 25. 14. PAW, Dec. 9, 1908, 172; Bridges: PWW, 18:307. 15. PAW, Apr. 1, 1908, 419; Apr. 29, 1908, 486; Apr. 14, 1909, 424–25; imagination: LLP, 174; Edmund Wilson, Prelude, 54. Campbell Hall dates to 1907–9. 16. Battle: PWW, 17:126; NYT, Nov. 1, 1907; Fitzgerald, Paradise, 53. Mather Sundial (1906–7) was sculpted in Britain by Farmer and Brindley and set on a base designed by British architect Henry Inigo Triggs. 17. Edwin G. Conklin interview, Mar. 24, 1943, HWBP, box 62, folder 21. Palmer Lab dates to 1907–8, Guyot to 1907–9.



18. All persons: PWW, 19:680; PAW, Dec. 9, 1908, 170; Thompson: LLP, 175; Cram interview. 19. Mulder, WW, 163. 20. PAW, Dec. 8, 1906, 185; Breese, PU Land, 237–38. Lake Carnegie was dug in 1903–6. 21. Breese, PU Land, 243. 22. NYT, Dec. 6, 1906, Nov. 9, 1907. 23. MAL, 190.

Chapter 6. Fifty Stiffs to Make Us Wise 1. Twelve million dollars: LLP, 146; Mulder, WW, 163. On the preceptorial system, see Axtell, Making of PU, 63–71, and Grafton, “Precept System.” 2. R. Carpenter Farrington, “WW as I Knew Him,” HWBP, box 62, folder 17. 3. PWW, 1:464–65; greatest lecturer: Myers, WW, 38; disruptive: Craig, WW at Princeton, 34; riot: Osborn, Fifty Years, 22; Slosson, Universities, 102; Poole, Harbor, 51–53. 4. PWW, 46:508, 18:503, 36:394. 5. “Preceptor” at Johns Hopkins: PWW, 3:36; Mulder, WW, 171; Slosson, Universities, 80; Hibben: PWW, 15:421; Osgood, “WW,” 292; Jacob N. Beam interview, Mar. 29, 1941, HWBP, box 62, folder 9. 6. Reading guides: PWW, 14:414; passive half: Margaret Wilson interview, Mar. 12, 1925, RSBP, reel 84; PAW, Mar. 23, 1910, 394–95; Wightman: Daniels, Life, 236; “Probable Collegiate Revolution.” 7. BW, 9; PWW, 30:106; Frank Glass, reminiscences of WW, c. 1926, RSBP, reel 76; PWW, 3:293. 8. Flayed: PWW, 18:33; W. M. Daniels, reminiscences of WW, RSBP, reel 73. 9. McCleery, Conversations, 22; Madison: PWW, 14:414. 10. PWW, 17:325–33. 11. Guides: PWW, 18:303; boyish: Slosson, Universities, 101; West, Short Papers, 23, 17. 12. West, Short Papers, 18–20. 13. George M. Harper interviews, July 1–3, 1939, HWBP, box 62, folder 56; Myers, WW, 19, 14. 14. Slosson, Universities, 84; favorites: Gauss, Nothing a Year, 42. The preceptorial system was never “laid before the Faculty for its consideration”: West, “Narrative,” 20. 15. “President Hibben”; PWW, 18:19. 16. Edmund Wilson, Prelude, 85–86; Shores, 8, 23; Stauffer, “Gauss,” 182. 17. Edmund Wilson, “WW at Princeton,” 311–12; Myers, WW, 74; Edmund Wilson interview, November 1961, HWBP, box 63, folder 63; see also Gauss, Papers, 249. 18. Robert McElroy interview, Nov. 20, 1940, HWBP, box 63, folder 13. 19. Bragdon, WW, 360; Henry B. Fine interview, June 18, 1925, RSBP, reel 74; Grafton, “Precept System”; Axtell, Making of PU, 26.



20. Tigers: PWW, 19:66–67. The Nassau Hall tigers were designed in 1909 and installed 1911. 21. Edmund Wilson, “WW at Princeton,” 313; confusing: PWW, 18:639. 22. Harper’s Weekly, Jan. 26, 1895; Imbrie, Fiftieth, 7–10; Indian summer: Christian Gauss in 1900 Quadragesimal, 18. 23. Turnbull, Fitzgerald, 13. 24. PAW, May 12, 1909, 491; Evening Post: PWW, 17:35. 25. PWW, 18:30 (dead wall), 548 (serious study); sacrifice: LLP, 194. 26. BW, 124.

Chapter 7. The Pleasantest Country Club in America 1. Sons: PWW, 19:337. 2. PWW, 18:462 (swallowed), 17:184. 3. PAW, Jan. 12, 1907, 238; Slosson, Universities, 103. 4. Cap and Gown’s subsequent clubhouse was by Raleigh Gildersleeve (1907– 8). Colonial Club dates to 1906–7. In 1906, the thirteen clubs had about 350 members. 5. Rich, Ivy, 68, 106–7. 6. Sinclair, Goose-Step, 111; PWW, 65:572–73; William Magie interviews, 1939– 40, HWBP, box 63, folder 9. 7. Edmund Wilson, Prelude, 105, 115; Edmund Wilson, “WW at Princeton,” 314– 15. 8. PAW, Apr. 22, 1908, 471; BW, 112–13; Tower Room: R. Carpenter Farrington, “WW as I Knew Him,” HWBP, box 62, folder 17. 9. Fitzgerald, Paradise, 71–72. 10. Hemingway, Sun, 3; Levy: PWW, 17:222–24. 11. Rich, Ivy, 117. 12. Wallace, Princeton Sketches, 184; wherein: PWW, 19:537. 13. Hoeveler, McCosh, 348. 14. TWW, 24, 55–56; Daniels, Life, 50; canning: Philip Rollins interview, June 25, 1943, HWBP, box 63, folder 41. 15. Walworth, “Three Interviews”; Erie: Alexander J. Kerr interview, Aug. 7, 1940, HWBP, box 63, folder 2; Reid, WW, 95. 16. PAW, Oct. 2, 1907, 22; sobbed: Craig, WW at Princeton, 113; Rich, Ivy, 117; born leaders: PWW, 19:344; Fitzgerald, Paradise, 71; PWW, 18:463 (run the college), 19:530. 17. Edmund Wilson, Prelude, 113–14; Gelb and Gelb, O’Neill, 229. 18. PWW, 20:537; Poole, Bridge, 61; R. Carpenter Farrington interview, June 28, 1967, HWBP, box 62, folder 17; Medina: PAW, June 15, 1988, 22–25. 19. NYT, June 25, 1907; Wertenbaker, Princeton, 359; disgust: LLP, 166; only legitimate: PWW, 18:20; Chicago Daily Tribune, Mar. 13, 1908. 20. PWW, 9:97, 16:203; John Williams, Handbook, 50–51. 21. First principle: PWW, 19:580; free society: PAW, Oct. 28, 1908, 72; queered: PWW, 18:28.



22. NYT, May 26, 1907. 23. I sometimes wish: PWW, 18:505; Lambert, All Out, 48. 24. PWW, 18:22–23 (Chicago), 14:183 (inaugural address). 25. Henry Garfield interview, Feb. 14, 1940, HWBP, box 62, folder 46; speeches: LLP, 194–201. 26. PWW, 29:377; done too much: LLP, 203; Ellen: PWW, 16:423; BW, 45. 27. PWW, 58:639. 28. Garfield interview. 29. Cary Grayson interview, Feb. 1926, RSBP, reel 76; songs: LLP, 205; Reid, WW, 100–101.

Chapter 8. The Quad Plan 1. Mulder, WW, 193. 2. PAW, Mar. 23, 1910, 395. 3. PWW, 17:185, 18:548. 4. Circle: PWW, 19:285. 5. Osgood, “WW,” 294. 6. PWW, 20:162, 169–70; Mulder, WW, 171. 7. PWW, 17:268. 8. Duke, Oxbridge, 47; Harper’s Weekly, May 21, 1904; Corbin, American, 272– 73, 276, 306, 309. 9. Linn, “Harper,” 7013. 10. Craig, WW at Princeton, 110; Looney, Nursery, 16. 11. UVA: PWW, 18:31. 12. PWW, 20:168–69, 30:107; atmospheric: PAW, Mar. 23, 1910, 395; Apr. 27, 1910, 479. 13. PWW, 17:118–21; Ralph Adams Cram interview, May 8, 1940, HWBP, box 62, folder 23. Wilson’s sketch map (PWW, 16:447, September 1906) shows what appear to be residential and academic quadrangles, numbered I to V, to be designed by architects Cope and Stewardson, Raleigh Gildersleeve, and Benjamin W. Morris. 14. PWW, 14:185 (inaugural address), 19:334–36. 15. Thickening: PWW, 14:417; Fine: LLP, 245. 16. Bragdon, WW, 326. 17. Cooper, Warrior, 96; Weinstein, WW, 176; Bragdon, WW, 322. 18. PWW, 40:569; New York American, Oct. 13, 1907. 19. LLP, 223 (friction), 226–27 (twenty-five years); Reid, WW, 103; go down and speak: William Magie interviews, 1939–40, HWBP, box 63, folder 9; five years: PWW, 17:342–43; Mulder, WW, 192–93. 20. Devlin, Too Proud, 89; LLP, 222.

Chapter 9. Aristocracy of the Stomach 1. Edmund Wilson, “WW at Princeton,” 316; Rich, Ivy, 93–94. 2. “Insider,” “Politics,” 10.



3. Myers, WW, 81. 4. LLP, 246 (class spirit), 251 (West); PAW, May 12, 1909, 489; Van Dyke: PAW, Sept. 25, 1907, 5; PAW, Oct. 9, 1907, 41. 5. Rich, Ivy, 95. 6. McClellan, Gentleman, 320; PAW, Oct. 2, 1907, 21; Oct. 16, 1907, 53; Oct. 9, 1907, 39; undemocratic, un-American: PWW, 17:279. 7. PAW, Mar. 9, 1910, 352; Edmund Wilson, “WW at Princeton,” 316–17; Booth Tarkington interview, Nov. 27, 1940, HWBP, box 63, folder 50. 8. PAW, Nov. 4, 1908, 90; May 12, 1909, 491; Oct. 9, 1907, 37. 9. Rich, Ivy, 200, 97; aristocracy of the stomach: PWW, 17:230; dictation: Daniels, Life, 79; Hale, “WW,” pt. 4:300; Henry: PWW, 17:305. 10. PAW, Oct. 16, 1907, 55 (original in dialect). 11. PAW, Oct. 16, 1907, 52–53; Henry van Dyke: PWW, 17:273; confiscation: LLP, 246; Osborn, Fifty Years, 282–83; Paul van Dyke: Rich, Ivy, 95; Dodge: PWW, 17:243. 12. Osborn: PWW, 17:266–67; PAW, Apr. 10, 1908, 469–71; Oct. 9, 1907, 36–37. 13. Hale, “WW,” pt. 4:300; son of a mucker: Hancock, Freshman; New York American, Oct. 13, 1907. 14. Sinclair, Goose Step, 112. 15. NYT, Jan. 21, 1912. 16. PAW, Nov. 4, 1908, 89. With the recently granted privilege of direct election of five trustees by the alumni, the old grads had grown even more influential. 17. David Magie interview, June 6, 1939, HWBP, box 63, folder 8; PWW, 40:570. 18. MAL, 230. 19. MAL, 231–32; BW, 128. 20. PWW, 17:240; Bragdon, WW, 330, 335. 21. R. Carpenter Farrington interview, June 28, 1967, HWBP, box 62, folder 17; R. Carpenter Farrington, “WW as I Knew Him,” HWBP, box 62, folder 17; Bragdon, WW, 330–31. 22. MAL, 234. 23. Stockton Axson notes on RSB manuscript, RSBP, reel 70; PWW, 17:263–64. 24. PWW, 17:264, 269. 25. PWW, 17:264; McClellan, Gentleman, 320–21 (he says this vote referred to the Graduate College, but he often confuses the various Princeton controversies). 26. Parliament: LLP, 256; PWW, 17:403. 27. Reid, WW, 108; MAL, 237.

Chapter 10. The Brutus of the Conspiracy 1. MAL, 237, 141. 2. PWW, 40:567–68. 3. Our friendship: PWW, 17:269; William S. Myers diary, in Reid, WW, 104–6; Myers, WW, 47; adventure: Bragdon, WW, 325. 4. NYT, June 28, 1908. 5. Craig, WW at Princeton, 124; mortification: LLP, 262. 6. NYT, Oct. 18, 1907; Jacobus: LLP, 263; PWW, 40:568–69.



7. PWW, 40:569; Mulder, WW, 200. 8. McClellan, Gentleman, 309; mendacity: Perry, Gladly Teach, 146; Dodge: LLP, 222; PWW, 24:3. 9. PAW, Oct. 7, 1908, 22; Fosdick, Chronicle, 65. 10. PWW, 24:4; Nevins, Cleveland, 734; PAW, Mar. 9, 1910, 351; Oct. 7, 1908, 22. 11. Failed: PWW, 18:346; Reid, WW, 111–12; poor old man: McClellan, Gentleman, 313; Nevins, Cleveland, 735; what does Cleveland know: LLP, 286. 12. Robert McElroy interview, Nov. 20, 1940, HWBP, box 63, folder 13. 13. Scott, Memories, 282; Thorp, Graduate School, 112; Nevins, Cleveland, 735. 14. Edmund Wilson, “WW at Princeton,” 319. 15. Happy Warrior: LLP, 285; boycott: McClellan, Gentleman, 312; William Magie interviews, 1939–40, HWBP, box 63, folder 9. 16. Bliss Perry interview, Jan. 27, 1940, HWBP, box 63, folder 26; Sinclair, Goose Step, 114; McClellan, Gentleman, 321–28; W. M. Daniels interview, Mar. 30, 1940, HWBP, box 62, folder 28. 17. NYT, Sept. 18, 1898; Wilson, Prelude, 120. 18. BW, 133–34; MAL, 234. 19. Reid, WW, 108–9; Axson: LLP, 252; Charles H. McIlwain interview, Jan. 2, 1940, HWBP, box 63, folder 11; bitter hurt: MAL, 235. 20. Hibben, Defence, 172–77. 21. John G. Hibben interviews, June 18, 1925, Oct. 27, 1926, RSBP, reel 77; A. Lawrence Lowell interview, May 23, 1939, HWBP, box 63, folder 6. 22. PWW, 23:139; expediency: Stockton Axson notes on RSB manuscript, RSBP, reel 70; malady: PWW, 18:327–31. 23. Myers, WW, 76. 24. PWW, 18:417 (Yates), 22:426; Magie interviews. The artist Yates painted Wilson’s portrait for Nassau Hall in 1908. 25. Reid, WW, 109; Jessie Sayre to RSB, Oct. 20, 1928, RSBP, reel 82. 26. Nabokov, Opinions, 215; Freud and Bullitt, WW, 123–24; Paul Thilly to RSB, Mar. 3, 1927, RSBP, reel 83; Cooper, Warrior, 57. 27. PWW, 4:437, 594, 18:326. 28. Van Dyke, Henry van Dyke, 229; TWW, 145. 29. Dodge: PWW, 18:337–38, 449; MAL, 214, 237–38; Nordholt, WW, 60; McClellan, Gentleman, 320. 30. Scott, Memories, 283; Axson: LLP, 252; William McAdoo, Crowded, 513–14.

Chapter 11. I Am a Good Fighter, Gentlemen 1. Ivy: W. M. Daniels interview, Mar. 30, 1940, HWBP, box 62, folder 28; no substitute: PWW, 18:338; PAW, Mar. 25, 1908, 405. 2. LLP, 265 (no matter at what cost), 194 (sacrifice); Joline: PAW, Oct. 9, 1907, 38; PAW, Mar. 25, 1908, 404. 3. Devlin, Proud, 39. 4. “Imperfect Sympathies,” Lamb, Elia, 2:136–38; Weinstein, WW, 178; my



Scotch-Irish temper: PWW, 14:401; hot temper: Creel, Rebel, 239; Tommy dear: PWW, 1:228; Negro: Edward Capps interview, Mar. 23, 1943, HWBP, box 62, folder 16; breaches: PWW, 19:443. 5. Magie: Karl Compton interview, May 22, 1939, HWBP, box 62, folder 20; also William Magie interviews, 1939–40, HWBP, box 63, folder 9; PWW, 58:628. 6. Weinstein, WW, 177–78. 7. Schorer, World, 233; Harper’s Weekly, Dec. 1, 1894; Bismarck: PWW, 1:325– 28; Kraig, WW, 30–31; Lee: Baker, Chronicle, 460; PWW, 15:69 (Southerner), 174 (Washington); WW, Washington, 313. 8. PAW, Oct. 30, 1907, 89. 9. Mulder, WW, 213, 176, 242; PWW, 20:255; 30:177. 10. Bragdon, WW, 367; Henry B. Fine interview, June 18, 1925, RSBP, reel 74. 11. Mulder, WW, 242–44; PWW, 20:255. 12. Lewis, WW, 66–67. 13. Mulder, WW, 49, 270–71; Hardin Craig to RSB, July 5, 1927, RSBP, reel 73; Dodge: PWW, 17:240–41; Jacobus: LLP, 263–64; Fosdick, Chronicle, 44. “God defend us against compromise,” Governor Wilson told audiences: Hosford, WW, 39. 14. Baccalaureate address: PWW, 18:325–31; Mulder, WW, 186, 170; Dean Mathey interview, July 14, 1940, HWBP, box 63, folder 10. 15. Stockton Axson notes on RSB manuscript, RSBP, reel 70; BW, 28–29; Mulder, WW, 16. 16. Myers, WW, 35; Edward S. Corwin interview, June 9, 1939, HWBP, box 62, folder 22; legitimately mine: LLP, 254. 17. Garfield: LLP, 255; McClellan, Gentleman, 328–29; TWW, 68. 18. PAW, May 13, 1908, 521; hotter: Myers, WW, 29; PWW, 19:103 (world more seriously), 237 (put into this world), 18:23. 19. BW, 106; Stockton Axson notes on RSB manuscript, RSBP, reel 70; PWW, 40:570, 17:263. 20. BW, 151; NYT, Apr. 14, 1907. 21. BW, 128; PAW, Nov. 20, 1907, 138. 22. Mulder, WW, 200; Scott, Memories, 255–57; Jacobus: PWW, 19:275; Fine interview. 23. Edwin G. Conklin to RSB, June 19, 1925, RSBP, reel 72; Edwin G. Conklin interview, Mar. 24, 1943, HWBP, box 62, folder 21; David Jones: PWW, 17:275; Thomas D. Jones to RSB, Oct. 17, 1927, RSBP, reel 78. 24. MAL, 224; Myers, WW, 76, 44; Dodge: PWW, 17:379–80. 25. Magie interviews; MAL, 224; PWW, 68:590–91. 26. Charles H. McIlwain interview, Jan. 2, 1940, HWBP, box 63, folder 11; dog: Chicago Daily Tribune, Dec. 9, 1956; banquet: TWW, 100–101; BW, 139–41; Stockton Axson notes on RSB manuscript, RSBP, reel 70. 27. Compton interview; Osborn, Fifty Years, 282–83; MAL, 223. 28. PAW, June 9, 1909, 551; Saint Paul’s address: PWW, 19:227–28; Pirates: Chicago Daily Tribune, June 5, 1909. 29. Rich, Ivy, 90; Kemeny, Princeton, 202; Leitch, Companion, 280.



30. Poole, Bridge, 61–62. 31. Dabney, Wilson, 45, xii; Wilson, Letters, 335; so happy: Rich, Ivy, 120; Strater: PAW, June 19, 1985, 10. 32. Turning point: PWW, 19:19. 33. Wilson, Prelude, 142; 1960: NYT, Jan. 5, 1913; any other man: PWW, 18:302; high water: PAW, Dec. 9, 1908, 170; in sympathy: PWW, 18:589. Frank Miles Day, who had designed a home for his friend Henry B. Thompson in Delaware, nominated Ralph Adams Cram for supervising architect. Sage Dormitory, renamed Holder Hall, dates to 1908–10 (tower, 1908–11; cloister, 1911–12). Nearby Hamilton Hall dates to 1909–10. Scott Fitzgerald called his Princeton literary friends “the Holder group”: letter to Edmund Wilson, Aug. 15, 1920, in Fitzgerald, Crack-Up, 254. 34. Tower: PWW, 19:127; Henry B. Thompson memo on WW, RSBP, reel 83. 35. Halliburton, Halliburton, 10. The Madison dining halls were built in 1915– 17. 36. Fitzgerald, Paradise, 121; Fitzgerald, Crack-Up, 265–66. 37. Donaldson, “Fitzgerald,” 133, 137; Bruccoli, Grandeur, 126; PAW, May 11, 2005, 33. 38. Twenty-Five . . . 1912, 89; “Princeton President Looks to Expansion,” Wall Street Journal, July 17, 2006; PAW, Sept. 27, 2006, 28.

Chapter 12. We Must See Who Is Master 1. MAL, 210. 2. Axson: LLP, 266; TWW, 102; MAL, 197. 3. Hulbert, Peck, 167; PWW, 22:330. 4. PWW, 22:325, 440; Hulbert, Peck, 217, 179, 143, 172, 164–65; PWW, 25:616. 5. Lace: PWW, 23:174; Mary Peck interviews, March 1925, June 1928, RSBP, reel 77. MAL, 200, has Mary Peck at Prospect House “fairly often.” 6. Hulbert, Peck, 231; BW, 103; doctor: PWW, 68:527; Andrew West interview, July 1, 1939, HWBP, box 63, folder 60. Weinstein, WW, 207–9, and Heckscher, WW, 185–86, conclude that Wilson and Peck had a sexual relationship in late 1909–early 1910 at her apartment in New York. As I reiterate in ch. 18, this is speculative. 7. Kant: Scott, Memories, 72 (for a detailed account, see Thorp, Graduate School, ch. 2); on Wilson, West, and the Graduate College, see Axtell, Making of PU, 373–410. 8. Axtell, “Dilettante”; BW, 71; TWW, 100. 9. McClellan, Gentleman, 308; implacable: LLP, 180; Raymond Fosdick interview, May 18, 1926, RSBP, reel 75; Edmund Wilson, Prelude, 76–77. 10. Effective: MAL, 240; bear hugs: Mrs. Bradford Locke interview, June 13, 1939, HWBP, box 63, folder 5. 11. Thompson: PWW, 19:673; Perry, Gladly Teach, 158–59. 12. TWW, 100–101; McClellan, Gentleman, 314; remarkable memory: Nevins, Cleveland, 733–34. 13. Edwin G. Conklin interview, Mar. 24, 1943, HWBP, box 62, folder 21; Nassau



Street: William Magie interviews, 1939–40, HWBP, box 63, folder 9; W. M. Daniels interview, Mar. 30, 1940, HWBP, box 62, folder 28. 14. PAW, May 8, 1907, 512–14. 15. Diversions: PWW, 17:144–45. 16. Gentleman: Stockton Axson, “The Princeton Controversy,” February 1925, RSBP, reel 70; candlelight: PWW, 19:755n2. 17. Magie interviews; PAW, May 26, 1909, 519. 18. Axtell, “Dilettante,” 248; quiet: West, “Peril,” 36; separation: PWW, 17:143. 19. Inaugural address: LLP, 183; naturalness: PAW, Mar. 23, 1910, 395; PAW, Apr. 13, 1910, 451. 20. Karl Compton interview, May 22, 1939, HWBP, box 62, folder 20; clubs: PWW, 17:144. 21. Mulder, WW, 213. 22. BW, 135; Mulder, WW, 214; Scott, Memories, 284. 23. PWW, 18:293 (Cram gushed), 254 (Prospect site), 19:114 (great big upperclass club); Thorp, Graduate School, 120; Bragdon, WW, 368. 24. PWW, 20:74 (Harper), 125 (father); PAW, Feb. 9, 1910, 276–77. 25. PWW, 17:271 (morally wrong), 309 (vindictive); Fosdick, Chronicle, 64. 26. Nevins, Cleveland, 734.

Chapter 13. The Owl, the Eel, and the Soap-Fat Man 1. LLP, 294. 2. PWW, 19:696 (saddle), 453 (Dodge); BW, 136. 3. Accept golf links: LLP, 296; Ralph Adams Cram interview, May 8, 1940, HWBP, box 62, folder 23. 4. MAL, 240. 5. Osborn, Fifty Years, 73. 6. McClellan, Gentleman, 316; made up my mind: PWW, 18:504. 7. Motorists: PWW, 19:312. 8. PWW, 19:631 (eliminated), 442–43 (arch-intriguer), 458 (concession); Chicago: LLP, 307. 9. PWW, 19:621 (beer), 654 (Procter to West). 10. PWW, 19:620 (note to Pyne), 630–31 (letter to Pyne; Dodge). 11. West describes a committee meeting earlier that morning in the Faculty Room where West asked Wilson if he now renounced West’s Graduate College plans entirely. “I do, and I have no time to talk with you any further,” Wilson said before storming out: West, “Narrative,” 77. 12. PWW, 20:14 (bomb), 8 (description of the meeting); [West,] Proposed Graduate College; anywhere in Mercer County: LLP, 322. 13. Mulder, WW, 217; Annin, WW. 14. Duel: PWW, 20:74; LLP, 369; PAW, Mar. 23, 1910, 400. 15. Thompson: PWW, 20:14–15. 16. Baker, WW . . . Governor, 40–41, 46.



17. PWW, 20:18–20. 18. PWW, 20:30, 57, 65. 19. PAW, Mar. 9, 1910, 355–56. 20. PWW, 20:62–68. 21. PWW, 20:74–75. 22. Bragdon, WW, 372. 23. Jesse Lynch Williams to RSB, May 3, 1929, RSBP, reel 84; Herbert Brougham to RSB, Sept. 14, 1924, RSBP, reel 72. 24. Thorp, Graduate School, 142–45. 25. Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, Feb. 7, 1910; Bragdon, WW, 372; PWW, 20:82– 87. 26. PWW, 20:83–84, 121. 27. PAW, Mar. 9, 1910, 354. 28. West: PAW, Dec. 22, 1909, 196; Booth Tarkington interview, Nov. 27, 1940, HWBP, box 63, folder 50. 29. William Magie interviews, 1939–40, HWBP, box 63, folder 9; Henry G. Duffield interview, June 15, 1939, HWBP, box 62; Annin, WW, 334–35. 30. Wall Street Journal, Mar. 7, 1910; PAW, Mar. 9, 1910, 352; Mar. 23, 1910, 390. Pamphlets included “Alumnus,” Phantom Ship, and Harper, Viewed from Afar. 31. PWW, 20:213; PAW, Apr. 13, 1910, 453; Mar. 23, 1910, 397–400 (trustee); Mar. 9, 1910, 350. 32. PWW, 20:189 (Ellen), 250 (Paul van Dyke); PAW, Apr. 20, 1910, 465; Apr. 7, 1910, 452; Wall Street Journal, Mar. 7, 1910. 33. PWW, 20:133 (struggle), 146 (no compromises), 289 (Elizabeth); Mulder, WW, 219.

Chapter 14. Licked by Ten Millions 1. Poisoned: LLP, 329; sets you free: PWW, 20:189. 2. PWW, 20:325. 3. PWW, 20:291–92. 4. Procter Gift; Mulder, WW, 220; PAW, Apr. 13, 1910, 452–53. 5. Alumni: PWW, 20:310–11; PAW, Apr. 6, 1910, 428. 6. Philip Rollins interview, June 25, 1943, HWBP, box 63, folder 41; PAW, Apr. 20, 1910, 468. 7. PWW, 20:373. 8. Pittsburgh speech: PWW, 20:375, 364–65; see also PAW, Apr. 20, 1910, 470– 71. 9. Mulder, WW, 221; BW, 157; Edward A. Woods to RSB, May 25, 1926, RSBP, reel 84; failure: Baker, WW . . . Governor, 51; throwing away: LLP, 341–42. 10. Baker, WW . . . Governor, 50; PWW, 20:370, 379, 399. 11. Bragdon, WW, 377–78; PAW, Apr. 20, 1910, 470; coeducation: PAW, Apr. 27, 1910, 481–82; May 10, 1911, 496; PAW, May 4, 1910, 499; May 11, 1910, 516. 12. Cooper, Warrior, 107; Mulder, WW, 251; Williams College: PWW, 19:30–31.



13. Mulder, WW, 253; audience: PWW, 20:242. 14. PAW, Apr. 20, 1910, 471. 15. PWW, 20:297, 325; Baker, WW . . . Governor, 47. 16. PWW, 20:314, 256–60. 17. Bragdon, WW, 381–82. 18. PWW, 20:459–60. 19. MAL, 241–42; TWW, 101. 20. PWW, 20:465; Lane, Pictorial History, 62. For a vivid account of West’s courting of Wyman, see West, “Narrative.” 21. William Magie interviews, 1939–40, HWBP, box 63, folder 9; Booth Tarkington interview, Nov. 27, 1940, HWBP, box 63, folder 50; Thorp, Graduate School, 162. 22. BW, 142; PWW, 20:470, 476. 23. Thorp, Graduate School, 158; PWW, 20:536. 24. Stockton Axson, “The Princeton Controversy,” February 1925, RSBP, reel 70; Stockton Axson, notes on RSB manuscript, RSBP, reel 70; McCormick: PWW, 20:472. 25. PWW, 20:479, 482. 26. PWW, 20:484–90. 27. Deep waters: LLP, 349; PWW, 20:485, 492, 501, 535. 28. PWW, 20:500, 531, 535; tears: LLP, 351. 29. PWW, 20:543–45 (Sheldon, Jones), 21:3, 82, 544, 39, 25. 30. Jones: PWW, 20:541; the W. G. McAdoos and Margaret Wilson interview, May 9, 1928, RSBP, reel 79. 31. No reactionary: PWW, 20:544; Melancthon Jacobus interview, May 8, 1925, RSBP, reel 77; PWW, 21:3; 20:576. 32. MAL, 248; Baker, WW . . . Governor, 60. 33. PWW, 20:566–70, 581.

Chapter 15. Kicked Upstairs 1. PWW, 21:82, 139; PAW, Feb. 28, 1912, 337. 2. Chicago Daily Tribune, Sept. 16, 1910; BW, 155. 3. Baker, WW . . . Governor, 76; BW, 159. 4. NYT, Sept. 16, 1910; Link, Wilson: The Road, 167; PWW, 21:108–9; “Insider,” “Politics,” 23. 5. PWW, 21:134–35. 6. Baker, WW . . . Governor, 82, 20; TWW, 110; “Political Transformation.” 7. Annin, WW, 80; myth: Creel, Rebel, 231; BW, 134; games: PWW, 24:309; McClellan, Gentleman, 319. 8. PWW, 21:421; BW, 159–63; PAW, Oct. 5, 1910, 21. 9. Walworth, “Three Interviews”; MAL, 258; TWW, 113; Grayson, WW, 9. 10. PAW, Oct. 5, 1910, 21. 11. PWW, 21:289; PAW, Jan. 23, 1991, 17–18. 12. PWW, 21:353, 363



13. PWW, 21:434–35, 385. 14. PWW, 21:444, 24:148. 15. NYT, Feb. 10, 1924; PWW, 21:130, 555. 16. PWW, 21:591, 600–605, 618. 17. PWW, 22:218; Fifty Years . . . ’Seventy-Nine, 4. 18. PWW, 22:160, 150–51; Bragdon, WW, 404. 19. PWW, 22:572, 152, 176. 20. MAL, 259; PWW, 22:329. 21. Myers, WW, 73 (an episode of 1910). 22. Chace, 1912, 126; Charles H. McIlwain interview, Jan. 2, 1940, HWBP, box 63, folder 11; Gaskill: PAW, Mar. 11, 1960, 3. 23. PWW, 22:324, 407–8. 24. PWW, 22:425–26. 25. Roosevelt: McClellan, Gentleman, 325; PWW, 23:31, 139. 26. McClellan, Gentleman, 325; absent: William K. Prentice interview, June 6, 1939, HWBP, box 63, folder 31; Bragdon, WW, 405. 27. PWW, 24:43, 67, 149–50; TWW, 144. 28. PAW, Jan. 17, 1912, 234; Jan. 24, 1912, 252–54. 29. Edward Elliott interview, June 11, 1939, HWBP, box 62, folder 35A; MAL, 261; Van Dyke, Henry van Dyke, 231; PWW, 21:166–67. 30. TWW, 46; Edmund Wilson, Prelude, 91–93; PWW, 23:82, 21:116–17. Axson’s apartment occupied the second floor, rear, at 10 Nassau St. 31. PAW, Feb. 8, 1911, 288. 32. Best thing: PAW, Mar. 11, 1914, 456; Collins, Guide, 81–84. 33. Thorp, Graduate School, 166. 34. Scott, Memories, 301; Wilson, Letters, 13–14, and Prelude, 76. Wilson was invited but declined: West, “Narrative.” 35. Leitch, Companion, 174. 36. Booth Tarkington interview, No. 27, 1940, HWBP, box 63, folder 50; Ralph Adams Cram interview, May 8, 1940, HWBP, box 62, folder 23; Dean Mathey interview, July 14, 1940, HWBP, box 63, folder 10; Tarkington interview; Bliss Perry interview, Jan. 27, 1940, HWBP, box 63, folder 26. Like West, Cooper Procter badmouthed Wilson for decades, as in his assertion to an interviewer in 1933 that the man had been “a liar”: George W. Watt to Robert Bridges, May 11, 1933, Bridges Papers, box 3. As late as 1920 (with 1929–30 revisions), the embittered West wrote a long account of the Graduate College fight, intending to shape the historical record: West, “Narrative.” 37. PWW, 28:280, 203; Thorp, Graduate School, 190. 38. Leitch, Companion, 506; Bragdon, WW, 408, 355.

Chapter 16. Big Three Election 1. PWW, 22:501, 503n2; TWW, 123. 2. TWW, 124, 126–27.



3. Link, Wilson: The Road, 392–93; Roland S. Morris interview, Mar. 7–8, 1926, RSBP, reel 80; Chicago Daily Tribune, Nov. 10, 1912; PWW, 22:519, 24:369. 4. PWW, 40:568; TWW, 127; PWW, 24:572; godsend: W. G. McAdoo, Crowded, 117; PWW, 23:128. 5. BW, 168; detectives: Charles Browne interview, July 14, 1941, HWBP, box 62, folder 13; Scott, Memories, 298; William Magie interviews, 1939–40, HWBP, box 63, folder 9. 6. Williamson U. Vreeland interview, Nov. 12, 1925, RSBP, reel 83; MAL, 202; former student: Raymond Fosdick interview, May 18, 1926, RSBP, reel 75; Chace, 1912, 206. Vacationing in Massachusetts, Professor William B. Scott was asked by a neighbor what he knew of Wilson’s morals, which he had heard were infamous. Scott replied that no one could lead a double life in tiny Princeton, and having known Wilson thirty years he could declare him completely irreproachable: Scott, Memories, 298. 7. Park: Startt, WW, 214–16; R. T. H. Halsey interview, May 30, 1941, HWBP, box 62, folder 52; BW, 169. 8. Baker, WW . . . Governor, 246; PWW, 23:302–3, 600, 25:232. Another such letter was Cleveland’s to Prentiss Bailey of the Utica Observer, which according to one account accused Wilson of being “without a vestige of intellectual honesty”: Villard, Fighting Years, 228n10. 9. PWW, 23:595; Bragdon, WW, 21; PWW, 62:479–80. For a variant of the McCarter/Bible story, see Reynolds, “WW.” 10. PWW, 24:6; Myers, WW, 67; Jessie Sayre to RSB, Oct. 20, 1928, RSBP, reel 82; PWW, 25:232; BW, 170–71. On the role of the New York Sun, see Startt, WW, 139–41. 11. PWW, 23:424, 438, 24:77; TWW, 149. 12. McClellan, Gentleman, 321; PWW, 23:425. 13. TWW, 141. 14. PWW, 24:93, 76. 15. BW, 168; Chicago Daily Tribune, Nov. 10, 1912; PWW, 24:189–90, 573; TWW, 119. 16. PWW, 24:309–10, 22:598 17. TWW, 144; PWW, 24:391–92. 18. Morris interview; Butler, Busy Years 1:334; Henry G. Duffield interview, June 15, 1939, HWBP, box 62. 19. NYT, May 12, 1912; PAW, May 15, 1912, 512. 20. Myers, WW, 43; PWW, 24:448. 21. Robert H. McCarter interview, July 15, 1940, HWBP, box 63, folder 12; Leitch, Companion, 451. 22. TWW, 156–58; BW, 157–58. 23. PWW, 24:516–18. 24. PWW, 24:524. 25. “Insider,” “Politics,” 4, 23. 26. Cooper, Warrior, 140–41, 196–97, 199. Wilson made six campaign recordings (Startt, WW, 201–2), which can be heard on Marston and Kessler, Voices.



27. PWW, 25:459, 110–11. Donations were as follows: Dodge ($51,300), the Joneses (a total of $21,000), McCormick ($12,500), and Sheldon ($1,000). 28. TWW, 172; Stoddard, As I Knew Them, 485–86; PWW, 25:273; NYT, Sept. 25, 1912; Edmund Wilson, Reader, 26; NYT, Sept. 25, 1912. 29. PWW, 25:509, 518; Dudley F. Malone interview, Nov. 1, 1927, RSBP, reel 79. 30. TWW, 180–81; PWW, 25:518–20; NYT, Oct. 8, 1916. 31. Malone interview; TWW, 181; PWW, 25:520.

Chapter 17. The Loneliest Place in the World 1. PWW, 25:525–26; Grayson, WW, 13. TWW says Dudley Malone also went along. 2. TWW, 175 (for a different version, see William McAdoo, Crowded, 175); Fifty Years . . . ’Seventy-Nine, 100–101. 3. PWW, 27:94; Oliver P. Newman interview, Jan. 13, 1928, RSBP, reel 80. Wilson said, “You’re no gentleman! If you try it again I will thrash you. I can do it”: NYT, Nov. 23, 1912. 4. Fyfe, “Some Possible”; PWW, 27:164–65. 5. Creel, Rebel, 234; Baker, WW . . . President, 1913–1914, 233; Newman interview. 6. NYT, Dec. 23, 1912; TWW, 180. 7. Fifty Years . . . ’Seventy-Nine, 5; Carroll, Real WW, 67; PWW, 25:641–43, 27:20. 8. PWW, 27:71–72. 9. PWW, 27:125; PAW, Apr. 26, 1929, 865; McCombs, Making WW, 17, 255. 10. Houston, Eight Years 1:18. 11. Stoddard, As I Knew Them, 484; McClellan, Gentleman, 324; Bragdon, WW, 492n4. 12. Mrs. Bradford Locke interview, June 13, 1939, HWBP, box 63, folder 5; PWW, 27:290; 25:560. 13. NYT, Jan. 5, Dec. 28, 1913. History seminar room: Lewis, WW, 96. 14. PWW, 27:28, 116, 128. 15. NYT, Feb. 10, 1924, Mar. 2, 1913; PAW, Mar. 5, 1913. 16. PWW, 27:143. 17. PWW, 27:146. 18. PWW, 29:554; PAW, Mar. 5, 1913, 418–21. 19. TWW, 201; PAW, Mar. 12, 1913; PWW, 27:147. 20. NYT, Mar. 5, 1913; Irwin Hoover, Forty-Two Years, 50; Baker, WW . . . President, 1913–1914, 55. 21. TWW, 208, 202; Link, “Dr. Grayson’s Predicament,” 489. 22. MAL, 263; Edmund Wilson interview, November 1961, HWBP, box 63, folder 63; Stockton Axson, notes on RSB manuscript, RSBP, reel 70. 23. Alfred J. P. McClure, “Notes,” May 14, 1914, RSBP, reel 79; Charles Presbery interview, Sept. 14, 1942, HWBP, box 63, folder 32.



24. Irwin Hoover, Forty-Two Years, 59. 25. PWW, 27:284. 26. Stoddard, As I Knew Them, 486 (a reference to 1917); Chicago Daily Tribune, Dec. 21, 1913, original in dialect; NYT, July 20, 1913. 27. Morris: Grayson, WW, 109; Breckinridge Long interview, Jan. 4, 1926, RSBP, reel 79; MacMurray: PWW, 36:175; Edmund Wilson, Reader, 27; Fifty Years . . . 1903, 30. Close was Wilson’s campus secretary from November 1906 to June 1910. 28. Van Dyke, Henry van Dyke, 313; TWW, 243; Henry Garfield interview, Feb. 14, 1940, HWBP, box 62, folder 46; Herbert Hoover, Memoirs, 201–4. When van Dyke resigned he was replaced by John Work Garrett ’95 of Baltimore. 29. PWW, 30:179, 191–92. 30. PWW, 36:261, 35:337, 30:278, 281, 288; Page: Daniel, “Friendship,” 194–95; Roland S. Morris interview, Mar. 7–8, 1926, RSBP, reel 80. 31. NYT, July 5, 1913; PWW, 28:337. 32. NYT, Sept. 24, 1913; PWW, 28:335; Devlin, Too Proud, 39–40; Edmund Wilson, “WW at Princeton,” 322. A photograph of Wilson walking through 1879 Hall arch appeared in a student publication, Princeton Pictorial Review (“The Pic”). 33. [Gilbert,] Mirrors, 30–33. 34. Baker, WW . . . President, 1913–1914, 85; Daniel, “Friendship,” 190; Chicago Daily Tribune, Apr. 27, 1914. 35. PWW, 29:163, 33–34. 36. Daniel, “Friendship,” 196; PWW, 44:237, 29:58, 273n2; TWW, 245.

Chapter 18. The Old College Life Is All Shot to Hell 1. Parks, Thirty Years, 133–35. 2. Grayson, WW, 12; George M. Harper to RSB, Feb. 11, 1929, RSBP, reel 76; George M. Harper interviews, July 1–3, 1939, HWBP, box 62, folder 56; maids: Parks, Thirty Years, 135; NYT, Dec. 23, 1913. 3. Daniels, Wilson Era . . . Peace, 488–89; W. G. McAdoo interview, Nov. 4, 1927, RSBP, reel 79. 4. Daniels, Wilson Era . . . Peace, 485–87; Hulbert, Mrs. Peck, 236. 5. Grayson, WW, 37. 6. PWW, 29:186; 30:189; Fifty Years . . . ’Seventy-Nine, 145. 7. MAL, 280. 8. McClellan, Gentleman, 321. 9. PAW, June 17, 1914, 730. A photograph of Wilson and Grayson marching appears in Fifty Year Book . . . 1907. 10. PWW, 30:189. 11. PWW, 30:176–80. 12. McClellan, Gentleman, 321; Robert H. McCarter interview, July 15, 1940, HWBP, box 63, folder 12; William Magie interview, 1941, HWBP, box 63, folder 9. 13. PWW, 30:222; Cooper, Warrior, 274. 14. Weinstein, WW, 256; MAL, 267–70; Grayson, WW, 36; Cary Grayson inter-



view, February 1926, RSBP, reel 76; NYT, Sept. 22, 1914. Visiting campus on Nov. 3, Wilson went to see the graduate college: Princeton Pictorial Review, Nov. 14, 1914, 82. 15. NYT, Oct. 20, 1915; Brown, “Gender Politics.” 16. Grayson interview; Edith Wilson, My Memoir, 35. 17. Lesson: PWW, 34:544; Dean Mathey interview, July 21, 1940, HWBP, box 63, folder 10. 18. PWW, 34:545, 304; NYT, Apr. 26, 1916; Collins, Princeton Past, n.p. 19. PWW, 29:554, 31:204–5. 20. Sinclair, Goose Step, 114; PWW, 45:335, 33:432–33, 34:470. 21. PWW, 35:262, 274–75, 41:321; Bridges in Fifty Years . . . ’Seventy-Nine, 2. 22. Frank Glass to RSB, Jan. 13, 1926, RSBP, reel 76; Henry G. Duffield interview, June 15, 1939, HWBP, box 62; PWW, 34:497, 492. Biographer Baker concluded that the idea of an affair between Wilson and Peck was “ridiculous and scandalous”: Baker to William G. McAdoo, Feb. 8, 1929, Baker Papers/Mudd, box 2. 23. Ralph Adams Cram to RSB, Sept. 29, 1926, RSBP, reel 73; Edmund Wilson, Reader, 27; Melancthon Jacobus interview, May 8, 1925, RSBP, reel 77; William S. Myers interview, June 6, 1939, HWBP, box 63, folder 19; Chicago Daily Tribune, Oct. 30, 1916. 24. Widenor, Lodge, 208. 25. Weinstein, WW, 303; Devlin, Proud, 466–70. 26. NYT, Nov. 5, Oct. 20, 28, 1916, Mar. 27, 1917. Dodge gave $108,000 in all to Wilson’s 1916 campaign: Daniel, “Friendship,” 187. 27. Edith Wilson, My Memoir, 112–17. 28. PWW, 41:354, 14:407, 45:411, 423; McCarter interview. 29. NYT, Sept. 3, 1941; Fifty Years . . . ’Seventy-Nine, 7; Sargent: BW, 40; PWW, 46:219 30. William McAdoo, Crowded, 516; PWW, 48:112, 564, 46:239; Irwin Hoover, Forty-Two Years, 238. 31. Collins, Princeton in the World War, xiii; PWW, 42:458, 47:274. 32. Edmund Wilson, Prelude, 162, 179–80. 33. NYT, Mar. 27, June 10, 1917. 34. Edward Capps interview, June 19, 1925, RSBP, reel 72; Gilbert Close to RSB, Sept. 26, 1925, RSBP, reel 72; George W. Watt to Baker, Mar. 5, 1931, RSBP, reel 84; officer: Herbert S. Murch interview, n.d., HWBP, box 63, folder 18.

Chapter 19. And After That the Dark 1. Daniels, Wilson Era . . . War, 615–16. 2. Scott, Memories, 302; Herbert Brougham to RSB, Sept. 14, 1924, RSBP, reel 72. 3. Temper: Lewis, WW, 114; George M. Harper interview, Nov. 12, 1925, RSBP, reel 76; Grayson, WW, 124–25; Dos Passos, U. S. A., 571; Stone, “First Amendment.”



4. Usher: Irwin Hoover, Forty-Two Years, 92, 98; Cooper, Warrior, 339; Levin, Edith and Woodrow, 298–99; Lloyd George: MacMillan, Paris 1919, 7; Dulles: Pruessen, “WW,” 113. 5. PWW, 61:361–62. 6. PWW, 60:118–19. 7. PWW, 60:119. 8. Levin, Edith and Woodrow, 240; Creel, Rebel, 230; PWW, 62:526. 9. Baker, Chronicle, 475. 10. Levin, Edith and Woodrow, 379. 11. [Gilbert,] Mirrors, 26; Bragdon, WW, 382–83. 12. Irwin Hoover, Forty-Two Years, 95–96; Stoddard, As I Knew Them, 480; Chace, 1912, 245; Levin, Edith and Woodrow, 296, 493. 13. NYT, Nov. 10, 1924; Myers, WW, 33; Nordholt, WW, 317; Watson, As I Knew Them, 202. 14. Grayson, WW, 106–9; Isaac H. Lionberger memorandum, Nov. 3, 1920, RSBP, reel 79. 15. Levin, Edith and Woodrow, 517; Cooper, “Alien Eyes,” 361; McCombs, Making WW President, 248. 16. Edmund Wilson, “WW at Princeton,” 322–23; Annin, WW, 365–66; Sinclair, Goose Step, 120–21. 17. PWW, 68:398; NYT, Feb. 10, 1924. 18. PWW, 67:104, 115–16; Daniels, Life, 237; Shoreham: Charles H. McIlwain interview, Jan. 2, 1940, HWBP, box 63, folder 11. 19. Daniels, Wilson Era . . . Peace, 106; PWW, 67:116–17; Grayson, WW, 129. 20. Durner: Lewis, WW, 110. 21. Fifty Years . . . ’Seventy-Nine, 232–33; PAW, Dec. 9, 1908, 17; NYT, Feb. 8, 1926. The new chapel was designed in 1921–23 and built in 1926–28. Fortuitously, an original cast of the destroyed McCosh statue survived at his studio in Cornish, N.H. As arranged by Parker Handy ’79, sculptor Herbert Adams produced a replica, cast at Gorham and placed in the new chapel in a niche designed by Cram. 22. NYT, June 10, 1922. 23. Booth Tarkington interview, Nov. 27, 1940, HWBP, box 63, folder 50. 24. Stevenson, Papers, 1:97; Halliburton, Halliburton, 63, 66. 25. PWW, 67:311; NYT, May 24, 1922; Van Dyke: NYT, Feb. 21, 1922; Davis: LLP, 272–73; John H. Westcott, July 4, 1939, HWBP, box 63, folder 61. 26. PWW, 68:88, 250, 477, 452; Scott, Memories, 283; Mulder, WW, 228; Raymond Fosdick interview, May 18, 1926, RSBP, reel 75; Bragdon, WW, 406. 27. PWW, 68: 592, 459, 302, 445, 509, 513, 441; Edith Wilson, My Memoir, 357; Daniel, “Friendship,” 196. 28. PWW, 67:300. 29. Fifty Years . . . ’Seventy-Nine, 2–3; Baker, WW . . . Youth, 98. 30. PWW, 68:389–90. 31. PWW, 68:595.



32. Baker, Chronicle, 492; fakir: Levin, Edith and Woodrow, 462, 488; Stoddard, As I Knew Them, 485; Mencken, “Archangel,” 249–50; Henry G. Duffield interview, June 15, 1939, HWBP, box 62; Annin, WW, 365. 33. PWW, 67:309–10; Stockton Axson, notes on RSB manuscript, c. 1927, RSBP, reel 70. 34. MAL, 302; Reid, WW, 108. 35. Axtell, Making of PU, 73. 36. Jessie Lynch Williams to RSB, June 17, 1929, RSBP, reel 84; BW, 134. 37. Bragdon, WW, 405–6; library: Axtell, Making of PU, 459. 38. PWW, 68:252; Grayson, WW, 131; Senate: Kerney, “Last Talks.” 39. NYT, Nov. 11, 1923; PWW, 68:466; Edith Wilson, My Memoir, 355. 40. Nordholt, WW, 415. 41. PWW, 68:593; Robert Bridges to RSB, June 12, 1924, RSBP, reel 72; Nordholt, WW, 416; Fosdick interview. 42. Wilson, Washington, 313; PWW, 68:396; Shand-Tucci, Cram, 76. 43. NYT, Feb. 2, 1924. 44. Baer, Literacy. Princeton, by the way, still produces many capitalists. At its Fortieth Reunion in June 2006, a survey showed that 75 percent of the Class of 1966 have become millionaires. And among the members of the Class of 2006 who had secured full-time jobs on graduation, almost half were entering the financial sector, earning an average of sixty-one thousand dollars at age twenty-two. 2006 Career Survey Report, Office of Career Services, PU. 45. Edmund Wilson, Fifties, 50; PAW, July 19, 2006, 2–3.


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Bragdon, Henry W. Woodrow Wilson: The Academic Years. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1967. Breese, Gerald. Princeton University Land, 1752–1984. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1986. Brown, Victoria Bissell. “Did Woodrow Wilson’s Gender Politics Matter?” Lecture, Wilson at 150 National Symposium, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, D.C., Oct. 27, 2006. Bruccoli, Matthew. Some Sort of Epic Grandeur. 2nd rev. ed. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002. Bush, Sara E., and P. C. Kemeny. “The Princeton University Chapels: An Architectural and Religious History.” Princeton University Library Chronicle 60, no. 3 (1999): 317–52. Butler, Nicholas Murray. Across the Busy Years. 2 vols. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1939. Carroll, James R. The Real Woodrow Wilson: An Interview with Arthur S. Link. Bennington, Vt.: Images from the Past, 2001. Chace, James. 1912: Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft and Debs—The Election That Changed the Country. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004. Clarke, Linda Lois. “Woodrow Wilson at Princeton: A Study in Leadership Ideals.” Ph.D. diss., University of Iowa, 1991. Collins, Varnum Lansing. Guide to Princeton. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1920. ———. Princeton in the World War. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1932. ———. Princeton Past and Present. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1946. Cooper, John Milton, Jr. Breaking the Heart of the World: Woodrow Wilson and the Fight for the League of Nations. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001. ———. The Warrior and the Priest: Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1983. ———. “Woodrow Wilson: The Academic Man.” Virginia Quarterly Review 58, no. 1 (1982): 38–53. ———. “Woodrow Wilson through Alien Eyes.” Reviews in American History 3, no. 3 (1975): 359–64. Corbin, John. An American at Oxford. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1902. Craig, Hardin. Woodrow Wilson at Princeton. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1960. Cram, Ralph Adams. “The Architectural Development of the University.” PAW, December 9, 1908, 166–71. ———. My Life in Architecture. Boston: Little, Brown, 1936. Creel, George. Rebel at Large. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1947. Dabney, Lewis M. Edmund Wilson: A Life in Literature. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005.



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In this book I have tried to tell the human story of Woodrow Wilson and Princeton from freshman year until the day he died, which makes it different from two previous, excellent studies by Henry Bragdon in 1967 and John Mulder in 1978—they end with his entry into politics. I have stressed what Wilson was like as a man, what he believed in, and how others responded to his challenging ideas and prickly personality. Readers who wish for additional angles will want to consult those earlier books, which remain invaluable. To make him seem real, I unearthed as many contemporary accounts as I could. Critical in this regard were interviews conducted in the years after his death by Bragdon and Ray Stannard Baker. I hope these accounts, which I have quoted extensively, will allow the reader to draw fresh conclusions about what manner of man Wilson was, according to those who knew him best in the town where he lived for most of four decades. In the end, he remains a profound mystery, one that will tantalize historians for generations to come. In writing this book (2004–7), I relied greatly on the whole community of Woodrow Wilson scholars, past and present. Although Wilson himself never wrote an autobiography, he was subsequently blessed with extraordinarily talented biographers—two of them won the Pulitzer Prize for their efforts—and I have constantly been impressed by their fine writing and insightful analyses, from Baker on down. As a newcomer to the subject of Wilson, I unfortunately never met legendary Prince-



ton professor Arthur S. Link, who died in 1998—but I could never have written this book without him. Anyone researching Wilson turns first to the massive Papers of Woodrow Wilson, assembled in sixty-nine volumes by Link and assistants (published 1966–94). The Papers give us perhaps the fullest picture of the daily life of any major figure in American history. Link generously included in the Papers many documents relating to “The Battle of Princeton,” even when they were not, narrowly speaking, about Wilson. I have also benefited from Link’s shrewd interpretations of Wilson in various publications and from his having published (in 1993) Stockton Axson’s intimate memoir, Brother Woodrow. In this post-Link era, two much-anticipated biographies of Wilson are currently under way, by distinguished authors and Princeton alumni: A. Scott Berg and John Milton Cooper, Jr. Both men offered me helpful advice as I was starting out. I received generous assistance as well from James Axtell, author of The Making of Princeton University: Woodrow Wilson to the Present (2006), which some have called the best history of higher education ever written. It contains lengthy discussions of Wilson and pointed me to numerous primary sources. I am indebted to Dean Peter H. Quimby for my appointment as lecturer at Princeton University. Special thanks also to Hal Foster, Chair of the Department of Art and Archaeology, and to David S. Wilcove in the Woodrow Wilson School. Dean David Stirk and the staff of Butler College welcomed me warmly. Many other friends in Princeton (both town and university) offered their kind assistance: Ronald Berlin, Robert R. Cullinane (who as a boy knew Edith Wilson), Tom Dunne, Connie Greiff, Susanne Hand, William Howarth, Alvin Kernan, Linda F. Knights, Kevin M. Kruse, editor Marilyn Marks of the Princeton Alumni Weekly, Anne Matthews, John McPhee, Julie L. Mellby, Paul Miles, Christopher Moss, Gretchen Oberfranc, Ben Primer, Daniel T. Rodgers, Richard D. Smith, Edward Tenner, John S. Weeren, and John F. Wilson. Dan Linke, Christine Kitto, Jennifer M. Cole, and the whole staff of the Mudd Manuscript Library were extremely helpful. Elyse Graham ’07 read the manuscript. In writing this book, I often thought fondly of the late architectural historian David Coffin. Finally, I have wonderful memories of talks and correspondence in years past with four distinguished Princeton centenarians, Arthur Holden ’12, Ike Grainger ’17, Steve Hirsch ’17, and John K. Jenney ’25. At Reunions 2007 I was honored to meet Malcolm



Warnock ’25, at age 102 almost the last person who remembers Princeton as it was during Woodrow Wilson’s lifetime. For six years, the Johns Hopkins University provided me with an academic home as lecturer, owing to the generosity of Miss Dorothy McIlvain Scott. Thanks as well to Catherine Rogers Arthur, Dean Adam F. Falk, and Dean Winston Tabb; also to Stephen Campbell and my colleagues in the Department of the History of Art (including our late friend Nancy Forgione). At Hopkins and in Baltimore generally—Wilson’s old stomping grounds—I also wish to acknowledge Paul A. Kramer, Brandon Neblett, Jane Dailey, Steven David, editor Catherine Pierre of Johns Hopkins Magazine, Dorothy Ross, James Stimpert, Raymond A. Winbush, Hiram and Ann D. Woodward, and Michael Hill and Larry Williams of the Baltimore Sun. In Virginia, thanks to Melvin Patrick Ely and to Eric Vettel at the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library, Staunton. In Washington, D.C., to James A. Abbott at the Woodrow Wilson House. In Delaware and Pennsylvania: Laura Armstrong, Cindy McGroarty, Rebecca Johnson Melvin, Jonathan Russ, Stanley Weintraub, President Daniel H. Weiss of Lafayette College, and my sister Mims Zabriskie. Morris Library, University of Delaware, is outstanding for its collections and staff. In my native Alabama, thanks to Margaret Brunstad, Ada Long, and John Sledge of the Mobile Register. Elsewhere in the United States: Hunter Drohojowska-Philp, Philip L. Fradkin, Stuart Hibben, Gerard F. McCauley, and Martha McPhee. The manuscript was seen through to publication by my agent, Geri Thoma. At Yale University Press, thanks to my editor, Chris Rogers, and to his assistant, Laura Davulis, who happens to be my former student at Johns Hopkins. James Axtell was tremendously supportive and made invaluable comments on my manuscript, which he read twice. John M. Mulder also read the text and was extremely helpful, as was an anonymous reader for Yale University Press. Special thanks to my parents, Isabel and George Maynard. And as with my previous books, my greatest debt is to my wife, Susan Matsen Maynard.

Illustration Credits

Collection of author: 6, 11, 205, 269, 287, 289, 302 Collection of the Historical Society of Princeton: 277 Library of Congress: 173, 228, 264, 299, 326, 337 Princeton University Library: 17, 23, 26, 33, 43, 68, 73, 86, 98, 118, 131, 154, 186, 213, 239, 246, 275 University of Delaware Library: 36, 55, 92, 133, 159, 179, 197, 259, 297


Abbott, Frank, 255 Adams, Charles Francis, 133–34 Adams, Herbert B., 29 admission standards at Princeton, 69 African Americans, 70–71 Alcuin, 205 Aldrich, Thomas Bailey, 66 alumni East Coast power of, 226 and McCosh, 12–13 in New York, 11, 12–13, 96, 220, 227 and quad plan, 140–51, 155–56 on social fraternities, 17–18 and upperclass eating clubs, 114–15 and Wilson’s presidential campaign, 263, 274 See also specific alumni American Whig Society. See Whig Hall Angell, J. R., 254–55 Annin, Robert, 223, 246, 325, 334 architecture at Princeton, 83–95, 106, 114, 135–36, 187 Areopagitica (Milton), 44 Association of Women Painters and Sculptors, 300 Athletics at Princeton, 10–11 Atwater, Lyman “Dad,” 23, 48 Axson, Edward, 195 Axson, Ellen. See Wilson, Ellen (wife) Axson, Madge, 81, 152, 161–62, 195, 335 Axson, Stockton

on decline of Princeton academics, 108–9, 116 friendship with Wilson, 334 and Hibben, 161, 336 and post-Wilson Princeton, 257 and quad plan, 148 and West, 200 in White House, 290 on Wilson’s father (Joseph), 176 on Wilson’s marriage, 195 on Wilson’s personality, 78–79, 167 on Wilson’s pro-war stance, 50 Axtell, James, 105, 200, 201, 335 Bagehot, Walter, 21 Baker, Hobey, 183 Baker, Ray Stannard, 139, 162, 198, 283 Baldwin, Mark, 45, 48, 75 Ballinger, Moreau, 294 Barr, John, 226, 237–38 Bartholdi, Frédéric-Auguste, 25–26 Battle of Princeton (1908–10), 195–240, 256 Beach, Sylvester, 339 Beerbohm, Max, 291 Bermuda, 196, 225, 264 biographies, Wilson’s study of, 21 Bishop, John Peale, 91, 104, 188 Blair, John, 85 Blair Hall, 85, 86 Bolles, Frank, 133

384 Borglum, Gutzon, 87 Brackett, Cyrus, 42 Bragdon, Henry on Battle of Princeton, 233 on preceptorial system, 105 on West, 158 on Wilson’s leadership style, 322 on Wilson’s legacy at Princeton, 336 on Wilson’s personality, 170 on Wilson’s political ambitions, 230 Brandeis, Louis, 309 Breckinridge, Henry, 292 The Bridge of San Luis Rey (Wilder), 260 Bridges, Robert “Bobby” and friendship with Wilson, 312, 332–33 and gubernatorial campaign, 249 and Hibben, 300 and Princeton architecture, 90, 106 and reunion of Class of 1879, 301 as Scribner’s editor, 214 and Wilson’s career, 30, 31 on Wilson’s destiny, 19 on Wilson’s oratory skills, 15 on Wilson’s study habits, 20–21, 24 as Witherspoon Hall Gang member, 3, 4, 308 British influences in childhood, 8 on educational beliefs, 24 on political beliefs, 4, 16, 29–30 on preceptorial system, 97 See also Cambridge University; Oxford University Brougham, Herbert, 220, 318 Brown, Susan Dod, 40 Brown, Victoria Bissell, 305 Bryan, William Jennings, 66, 248, 262, 267 Bryant, William Cullen, 22 Bryn Mawr College, 31 Burke, Edmund, 21 Burt, Struthers, 230 Butler, Howard, 88, 93–95, 203, 204, 215 Butler, Murray, 265 “Cabinet Government in the United States” (Wilson), 24–25 Calvinism, 175–77 Cambridge University architectural influence of, 84–85, 89

INDEX and quad plan, 129–30, 133 Wilson’s visit to, 54 Cameron, Guyot, 79 Cameron, Henry, 23 Campbell Hall, 90–91 Cannon Club, 281 Cap and Gown, 114 Capps, Edward, 170, 236, 256–57, 292, 311 Carnegie, Andrew, 93–94, 95, 185 Chambers, William, 293 Chancellor Green Library, 21, 22 Chapel Stage, 15 Charlemagne, 205 Charter Club, 121 Civil War, 8 Clark, Evans, 315 Clay, Henry, 172 Cleveland, Grover funeral arrangements for, 338–39 and graduate college, 138 marriage of, 306 and Princeton as haven for rich, 116 and quad plan, 150, 153, 156–60 retires to Princeton, 45–46 as trustee, 68 and West, 56, 209–10 and Wilson, 66, 265–66 Cleveland, Richard, 185, 258 Clio Hall, 13, 37, 84, 123 Close, Gilbert, 292, 315 clubs eating, 107, 109 upperclass, 113–14, 123–24, 188–89 during Wilson’s undergraduate years, 16–19 See also quad plan Cobden, Richard, 15 College of New Jersey. See Princeton Collegiate Gothic architecture. See architecture at Princeton Colonial Club, 115 Columbia University, 9–10 community atmosphere architectural influence on, 89, 91 and quad plan, 135 and upperclass clubs, 123–24 and Wilson’s idealism, 67 Confederacy, 7 congressional addresses, 291 Congressional Government (Wilson), 29–30, 291

INDEX Conklin, Edward, 180, 236, 311 Constitutional law, Wilson’s study of, 20 Cooke, Harry, 3 Cooke, Jay, 3 Cooper, John Milton, Jr., 137–38, 165, 231, 273, 319, 324 Cope, Walter, 88, 114 Cope and Stewardson, 85, 87 Corbin, John, 133 Cornwall, Henry, 75 Corwin, Edward, 102, 177 Corzine, Jon, 253 Cottage Club, 114, 116, 120, 188 Cox, James, 329 Craig, Hardin, 74, 175 Cram, Ralph Adams on Blair Hall, 85, 87 and graduate college, 208, 212, 235, 257–60 and new Princeton chapel, 328 and quad plan, 135–36, 186–87 as supervising architect for Princeton, 88, 89, 90 on Wilson, 309–10 and Wilson’s tomb design, 339 Cromwell, Oliver, 8 curriculum reform, 69, 333 Cuyler, C. C., 27, 49, 58, 115 Daniels, Josephus, 300, 317 Daniels, Winthrop, 150, 160, 202–3, 292, 331 Davidson College, 9 Davis, Edward, 308 Davis, Jefferson, 7 Davis, John, 221 Davis, Lionberger, 330 Day, Frank, 186–87, 250 debating societies, 7, 13–16. See also Clio Hall; Whig Hall Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Gibbon), 329 Deductive Logic (Hibben), 160 Democratic Party nomination of Wilson by, 272–73 promotion of Wilson by, 76 and quad plan, 146 and Wilson’s gubernatorial campaign, 248 Depew, Chauncey, 292 Devlin, Patrick, 139, 169, 294, 311 Division and Reunion (Wilson), 34

385 Dodds, Harold, 260 Dodge, Cleveland assistance in Wilson’s presidency, 291, 293–94, 308 career of, 27 financial contributions of, 49–50, 96– 97, 263, 274, 311, 312, 327, 332 and financial decline of Princeton, 307 and graduate college, 212, 221 and presidential appointments, 284 and quad plan, 138, 144, 147, 155, 156, 166, 185 and trustees, 255 and United War Work Campaign, 317 on Wilson’s Princeton resignation, 239, 249 Duffield, Henry, 223, 334 Dulles, John Foster, 319 Durner, Will, 328 eating clubs. See Clubs Edwards, George, 115 Edwards, William, 292 Eliot, Charles, 12, 67, 284 Elliott, Edward, 182, 256 Embury, Aymar, 91 Emerson, William, 114 English Constitution (Bagehot), 24 European war (World War I), 304, 307, 309–11, 313–21 Farr, John, 27 Federal Reserve System, 282 Ferrer, José, 184 Fine, Henry B. as dean of faculty, 72 and graduate college, 208, 236 on honor code, 36 and presidential appointments, 284 and presidential campaign, 311 and quad plan, 137, 138 and science program, 92 on social clubs, 115 on Wilson’s leadership style, 180 on Wilson’s oratory skill, 15 on Wilson’s personality, 78, 174 on Wilson’s writing skill, 18, 25 Finney, John M. T., 255 Fitzgerald, F. Scott and Gauss, 104 and Hibben, 335

386 on honor code, 35 on Princeton architecture, 83, 86, 87, 91, 92 on social clubs, 116–17, 121, 188 and Wilson’s visit as president, 301 Fitzgerald, John, 273 football at Princeton, 10–11, 18 Ford, Henry Jones, 292 foreign policy, 295–96, 317–21 Fosdick, Raymond, 176, 201, 209, 331, 338 fraternities, 16–17 Freud, Sigmund, 164, 165 Frothingham, Arthur, 68 Galt, Edith Bolling. See Wilson, Edith Bolling Galt Garfield, Harry A., 126, 177, 292 Garrett, Robert, 238, 239, 255, 266 Garrison, Lindley, 324 Gaskill, Nelson, 253 Gauss, Christian, 74, 104, 341 George, Lloyd, 319, 334 George V, 321 George Washington article series (Wilson), 39 Geran, Elmer, 253 Germanic system of study, 29 Gibbon, Edward, 329 Gilman, Daniel Coit, 133 Gladstone, William, 7, 8 Goodhue, Bertram, 187 Gothic architecture, 83–95 Graduate College battle, 195–240 Grayson, Cary and reunion of Class of 1879, 301 on Wilson’s health, 288 on Wilson’s singlemindedness, 318 and Wilson’s stroke in office, 321 and Wilson’s wife (Ellen), 300, 304 Great Books curriculum, 333 Greek-letter social fraternities, 16–17 Green, J. R., 21 Griswold, Florence, 214, 239 Gummere, William, 252 Guyot, Arnold, 23 Guyot Hall, 93 Hale, Bayard, 256 Halliburton, Richard, 184, 187, 330 Halsey, A. W., 301, 308 Hamerton, Philip, 30, 165

INDEX Handy, Parker, 27, 303–4 “Happy Warrior” (Wordsworth), 159 The Harbor (Poole), 184 Harding, Warren G., 326–27, 329 Harkness, Edward, 189 Harlan, John M., 314 Harper, George, 209, 298, 318 Harper, William R., 134 Harper’s Weekly article series (Wilson), 39 Harvard, 9–10, 119, 133, 148 Harvey, George as Democratic Party kingmaker, 39 and Wilson’s entry into politics, 218 and Wilson’s gubernatorial campaign, 232, 238, 240 and Wilson’s presidential campaign, 126, 178, 214, 268 at Wilson’s Princeton inauguration, 66 hat lines, 118–19 Hayes, Rutherford B., 18 Hemingway, Ernest, 117 Henry, Bayard, 143, 264 Hepburn, James, 59 heroes of Wilson, 7, 20 Hibben, Jack betrayal of Wilson by, 152–67 and death of Wilson, 339–40 elected Princeton president, 255 friendship of, 52–54, 73–74, 81 inauguration of, 270–71 and ouster of Patton, 48, 56–57 and quad plan, 137, 149–51, 160 reconciliation attempts by, 268, 294, 300, 336 and success of Princeton, 335 and Wilson’s presidential election, 277 and World War I, 307 history, Wilson’s study of, 20 A History of the American People (Wilson), 22 Holden, Arthur, 91, 248 Holder Hall, 187 homogeneity of Princeton student body, 69–70 honor code, 35–38 Hoover, Herbert, 293, 334 House, Edward, 164, 279, 282–83, 296, 310, 323 Houston, David, 283

INDEX Howells, William Dean, 66 Hughes High School, 211 Hunt, Theodore, 40, 53, 74 Imbrie, Andy, 293 inaugural address, 284–85, 288, 312 The Intellectual Life (Hamerton), 30, 165 Inter Club Treaty, 120, 121 Intercollegiate Literary Association, 18 International Review, Wilson’s essay published in, 24–25 Irving, Henry, 15 Isham, Billy, 27, 59, 312 Ivy Club alumni in, 115 athletes in, 123 construction of, 114 and prep schools, 119 and quad plan, 140, 183 selection of members by, 117–18 Jacobus, Melancthon and financial decline of Princeton, 307 on Pyne’s media campaign, 219 and quad fight, 149, 153, 154 and Wilson’s Calvinism, 176 on Wilson’s leadership style, 180 on Wilson’s presidential campaign, 310 on Wilson’s Princeton resignation, 239 Jefferson, Thomas, 134 Jews, 71 Johns Hopkins University, 28–30, 201, 206 Joline, Adrian, 115, 143, 145, 168–69, 226, 266–67 Jones, David B. and Battle of Princeton, 238 financial contributions of, 332 and Patton’s ouster, 56, 57 and presidential appointments, 284 on Wilson’s leadership style, 180 and Wilson’s presidential campaign, 266, 274, 311 Jones, Thomas and Federal Reserve Board, 293 financial contributions of, 327, 332 and Patton’s ouster, 56 and presidential campaign, 311

387 resigns as trustee, 255 on Wilson’s leadership style, 180 and Wilson’s presidential campaign, 263, 266, 274 journalists. See media Kane, Francis, 250 Kant, Immanuel, 199 Karge, Joseph, 23 Kennan, George, 189 Kennedy, John F., 184 Keynes, John Maynard, 324 Klauder, Charles, 328 Kraig, Robert, 172 Lake Carnegie, 94 Lamb, Charles, 169 Lambert, Gerard, 125 Lang, Louis Jay, 283 Lansing, Robert, 324 Lawrence, David, 184, 275, 281 Lawrenceville Academy, 119 League of Nations, 310, 321–22, 325 Lee, Robert E., 8, 172 Levy, Leon, 117 Lewis, Vivian, 248 Liberal Debating Club, 15–16 liberal education and McCosh, 45 and preceptorial system, 100 as training for public service, 14 and Wilson’s presidency, 66, 72 library construction of new, 49 and McCosh, 22 McCosh’s meetings in, 12 of Whig Hall, 14 Wilson’s use of, 21 Lincoln, Abraham, 231 Lindbergh, Charles, 335 Link, Arthur S., 170–71, 282 Lionberger, Isaac H., 324 Lodge, Henry Cabot, 25, 310, 316, 323 Long, Breckinridge, 292 Lowell, Lawrence, 162, 244 Lynde Debate, 15 Macaulay, Thomas, 21 MacDonald, Bill, 279–80 MacDonald, Frank, 257 MacMurray, John, 292 Madison, James, 13, 44, 100, 304

388 Magie, David, 147 Magie, William as clerk of faculty, 72 on graduate college battle, 222–23 resentment toward Wilson, 19 and reunion of Class of 1879, 304 on Wilson’s personality, 75, 164, 170, 181 and Wilson’s presidential campaign, 265 on Wilson’s writing skill, 25 The Magnificent Ambersons (Tarkington), 329 Making Woodrow Wilson President (Lang and McCombs), 283 Malone, Dudley, 276, 277 Maresi, Pompeo, 122 Mather, Frank, 311 Mathey, Dean, 176, 260 McAdoo, William, 299, 301, 306, 318 McCarter, Bobby, 15, 266, 304 McCarter, Thomas, 243 McClellan, George, 150, 160, 177, 202 McCombs, William, 244, 263, 283, 325 McCormick, Cyrus and Battle of Princeton, 223 career of, 293 financial contributions of, 49–50, 327, 332 and financial decline of Princeton, 307 and Paris peace talks, 317 and Patton’s ouster, 56 and reunion of Class of 1879, 301 on Wilson’s leadership style, 181 and Wilson’s presidential campaign, 263, 274 McCosh, James and architecture at Princeton, 83 and fraternities, 123 influence of, 9, 12–13 liberal studies vision of, 34 and library, 22 as mentor, 100–101, 171–72 on social fraternities, 16–18 McCosh Hall, 103 McIlwain, Charles, 161, 253 McKim, Charles F., 106 media treatment by, 280–81 use of, 219–20 Medina, Harold, 78, 122

INDEX Meigs, Art, 91 Meiklejohn, Alexander, 333 Mencken, H. L., 39, 334 Miller, Phillipus, 294 Milton, John, 44 mind and mind interaction, 5, 67, 93, 342. See also preceptorial system Mitchell, Charlie, 40, 312 Morgan, J. P., 66, 218 Morgan, Junius, 27, 115, 214 Morris, Roland S., 270, 292 Mosher, Orville, 78 Mulder, John, 174, 175, 176, 231, 233 Myers, Paul, 275, 292 Myers, William S., 153, 310 Nabokov, Vladimir, 164 National Democratic Club of New York, 233 New England, 10, 31 New York alumni, 11, 12–13, 96, 220, 227 Nordholt, Jan, 166, 338 Olmsted, Frederick Law, 84 O’Neill, Eugene, 87, 121–22 “The Orator” essay, 22 oratory skills development of, 13–16 as governor, 251 in gubernatorial campaign, 247 and popularity with crowds, 97–98, 274–75 practicing of speeches, 7 Wilson on Princeton’s neglect of, 18 as Wilson’s greatest gift, 338 Osborn, Arthur, 144 Osborn, Harry, 84 Oxford University architectural influence of, 83, 84–85, 89 and quad plan, 129–30, 133 Wilson’s visit to, 40–41, 54–55 Page, Walter Hines, 221–22, 293, 311 Palmer, Stephen, 249 Palmer Physical Laboratory, 93 Paris peace conference, 317, 319–20 Park, Bert E., 127, 170 Park, Joseph W., 265 Patton, Francis and honor code, 38 leadership of, 52, 84

INDEX ouster of, 48, 56–57 as Princeton president, 32 on Wilson’s gubernatorial campaign, 243 Peck, Mary, 164, 196–99, 264, 306, 309 Perry, Bliss and honor code, 37, 38 support for Wilson, 90 on West, 160, 201–2 on Wilson’s election as Princeton president, 60 on Wilson’s personality, 74 The Philosophy of Politics (Wilson), 65 Pitney, Mahlon, 308 Poe, Edgar Allan, 250 Poe, Johnny, 314 Poincaré, Raymond, 334 politics British influences on Wilson’s, 4, 16, 29–30 and quad fight, 178–80 and quad plan, 144–45, 146 Wilson’s ambitions for, 76–77, 179–80, 230, 232 Wilson’s entry into, 218 Wilson’s study of, 24–25 See also Democratic Party; Republican Party; and specific politicians Poole, Ernest, 51, 122, 184 Potter, William Appleton, 83, 85 prayer meetings, 13 preceptorial system, 7, 12, 96–109 Prentiss, George, 60 prep schools and upperclass clubs, 119 Presbyterians, 9 press conferences, 281 Princeton Alumni Association of Western Pennsylvania, 228–29 Princeton Alumni Wilson League, 243 Princeton Battle Monument, 329 Princeton Club of New York, 147, 308 Princetonian newspaper, 18 Princeton Inn, 182, 251, 252 “Princeton in the Nation’s Service” speech, 44 Princeton University academic standards under Wilson, 67–69, 79 admission standards, 69 architecture at, 83–95, 106, 114, 135– 36, 187 becomes university, 41

389 country club atmosphere of, 113–28 curriculum reform at, 69 in debt, 307 faculty of, 23 Graduate College construction, 257–58 history of, 9–12 homogeneity of student body, 69–70 militarism of, 314 as school for statesmen, 45 sesquicentennial celebration of, 42–45 Wilson on, 33 Wilson’s graduation from, 25–27 See also alumni private property rights and quad plan, 140–41, 145 Procter, Cooper, 211–12, 215–16, 218–19, 225, 237 Procter Hall, 258 Proctor, Phimister, 106 progressivism, 144, 245 Prospect House, 65–66 Pyne, Moses Taylor “Momo” and architecture at Princeton, 84 and graduate college, 203, 208, 212, 213–14, 217–18, 219, 221, 225, 235 and Ivy Club, 115 and Princeton as haven for rich, 116 and quad fight, 168 and quad plan, 137, 138, 150, 153, 155 support for West, 215, 226 support for Wilson, 49, 68, 76 trustee appointment of, 12–13 and Wilson’s presidential campaign, 264, 273 and Wilson’s resignation, 248–49 Pyne, Percy, 49, 60, 115 quad plan development of, 129–39 fight over, 168–91 opposition to, 140–51 and private property rights, 140–41, 145 revival of, 190–91 racial issues, 70–71 radicalism, 315 Reed, James, 318 reform efforts as governor, 253

390 opportunities for, 35–38 and ouster of Patton, 56–57 quad plan, 129–39 of social order at Princeton, 126–28 Reid, Edith, 60, 161, 162, 164 religiosity, 175–77 Republican Party, 144, 273–78 Reynolds, Oliver, 78 Rhodes Scholarships, 97 Ridgway, Thomas, 283 Robeson, Paul, 71 Rockefeller, John D., 185 Rollins, Philip, 227 Roosevelt, Franklin, 329, 330 Roosevelt, Theodore at Cleveland’s funeral, 159 congratulates Woodrow on Princeton presidency, 59–60 and election of 1912, 273–78 as leadership model, 77 presidential campaign of, 265, 271 and Princeton, 316 as Rough Rider, 50 Root, Robert, 102 Roper, William, 292 Russell, Bertrand, 83 Sage, Russell, 185 St. John’s College, 333 Salmon, Lucy, 31 Sargent, John Singer, 312 Sayre, Francis, 299 Schorer, Mark, 171 Schuyler, Montgomery, 88 science, 34, 35, 92–93 Scott, William B. “Wick,” 75, 167, 180, 208, 256, 317 Scottish National Covenant, 175 Scribner, Charles, 182 sesquicentennial celebration, 42–45 Seventy-Nine Hall, 87 Seymour, Charles, 189–90 Seymour, W. A., 144, 146 Shaw, Albert, 32 Shea, Joseph, 137, 243 Sheldon, Edward, 27, 235, 238 Sherman, William Tecumseh, 10 Shields, Charles, 254 Short History of the English People (Green), 21 Silliman, John, 300–301 Sinclair, Upton, 115, 145, 160, 307, 325

INDEX singlemindedness, 172–74 Sloane, William, 85, 199 Smith, Courtland, 52 Smith, Jim, 245, 246–47 Smith, Kemp, 104, 161 social clubs. See clubs socialism, 145, 229, 230 Southern Democratic Party, 46 Spanish-American War, 50–51 speeches. See oratory skills Stafford Little Hall, 86 The State (Wilson), 34 Stevenson, Adlai, 272, 329–30 Stevenson, Lewis, 272 Stewart, Jimmy, 184 Stewart, John, 249 Stone, Geoffrey, 318 Strater, Henry, 185, 315 Stroke, effects of, 321–42 Stuart, Duane, 327 suffrage, 15, 305 Sullivan, McArthur, 70 The Sun also Rises (Hemingway), 117 Swann, Josephine, 207, 212 Taft, William Howard, 258, 271, 273–78, 288 Talcott, Charlie, 15, 16, 25, 290 Tarkington, Booth, 123, 142, 222, 251, 260, 329 Terrace Club, 122 Thacher, John, 50 That Pittsburgh Speech (Wilson), 230– 31, 334 Thilly, Paul, 164 This Side of Paradise (Fitzgerald), 87, 92, 116–17, 142, 186, 188, 335 Thomas, M. Carey, 31 Thomas, Norman, 66–67, 80, 184 Thompson, Henry B. on Battle of Princeton, 201, 217, 226 and graduate college, 218, 232, 236–37 on Princeton architecture, 88, 89–90, 187 on Wilson’s election as Princeton president, 60 on Wilson’s leadership style, 180 and Wilson’s presidency, 291 Thompson, Huston, 331, 339 Thompson, Samuel, 221, 250, 292 Tiger Inn, 114, 204 Tilghman, Shirley, 190, 261, 341, 342

INDEX Tower Club, 122 trustees big business control of, 315 East Coast control of, 226 and graduate college fight, 215, 216–18 opposition to reform by, 33–34 and ouster of Patton, 57 and quad fight, 180 and quad plan, 137, 153–55 and Turner, 48 Wilson’s classmates as, 27 and Wilson’s resignation, 248–50 Tumulty, Joe, 276, 277, 301, 314, 334 Turner, Frederick Jackson, 47–48, 250 Twain, Mark, 66, 196, 225 United War Work Campaign, 317 universal suffrage, 15, 305 University of Chicago, 133, 134 University of Michigan, 148 University of Pennsylvania, 9–10, 117 University of Virginia, 49, 134, 201 University of Wisconsin, 148 “University Training and Citizenship” article (Wilson), 35 upperclass clubs, 113–14, 123–24, 188– 89. See also quad plan Van Dyke, Henry appointed ambassador to Netherlands, 292–93 at Cleveland funeral, 159 and Princeton presidency, 57 and quad fight, 166, 182 and quad plan, 141, 144, 150, 160 resignation of, 256 Van Dyke, Paul, 142, 144, 224, 265 vocational training, 34 Voorhees, Frank, 91 Vreeland, Will, 48, 214, 265 wars Spanish-American, 50–51 World War I, 304, 307, 309–11, 313–21 Washington, Booker T., 71 Washington, George, 8, 28, 172 Webster, Daniel, 172 Weinstein, Edwin, 171 Wesleyan University, 31 West, Andrew and architecture at Princeton, 84, 85 and Cleveland, 46, 157–59, 209–10

391 and graduate college, 59, 158, 170, 202–40, 257–61 and ouster of Patton, 56–57 on Peck, 199 popularity of, 200–201 and quad fight, 182 and quad plan, 134, 138, 141, 143, 147, 150, 153, 157, 160 and sesquicentennial celebration, 42, 43 and Turner, 47–48 on Wilson, 48 and Wilson’s presidential campaign, 265, 267, 273, 277 Whig Hall declining status of, 37, 123 library of, 14 reconstruction of, 84 Wilson in, 14–16 Whipple, Thomas, 307–8 Whitman, Meg, 190 Whitman College, 190, 342 Wightman, McQueen, 99 Wilder, Billy, 219, 301 Wilder, Thornton, 260 Williams, Charles, 76 Williams, Jesse Lynch, 144, 219, 220–21, 222, 336 Wilson, Edith Bolling Galt, 305–6, 321 Wilson, Edmund on bells at Princeton, 341 on Cleveland’s hatred for Wilson, 158 on college life, 315 and Fitzgerald, 188 on Graduate College opening, 259 on Hibben, 161 and inauguration, 289 on MacDonald, 257 and preceptorial system, 103–4 on Princeton architecture, 91 on quad plan, 140 relationship with Wilson, 253 on social clubs, 115, 184–85 and West, 201 on Wilson and League of Nations, 324–25 on Wilson as Princeton president, 107 and Wilson’s presidential campaign, 275 on Wilson’s rude behavior, 295, 310 Wilson, Ellen (wife) artistic career of, 214

392 and Bryan, 262 death of, 304 as fiancée, 28–29 as First Lady, 290, 298–300 on graduate college fight, 212–13 and honor code, 36 and move to Washington, 284–85 and Peck, 199 and presidential campaign, 267 and quad plan, 138 and sesquicentennial speech, 44 support of Woodrow’s individualism, 31 on Woodrow’s election as Princeton president, 60–61 on Woodrow’s election as U.S. president, 276 and Woodrow’s health, 126 on Woodrow’s political stature, 224 Wilson, Jessie (daughter), 80, 299 Wilson, Jessie (mother), 5 Wilson, Joseph Ruggles (father) on ambition vs. industry, 14–15 extremism of, 176–77 personality and worldview of, 5–8 on politicians, 7–8 on studying, 21 on Woodrow’s election to Princeton presidency, 58–59 as Woodrow’s favorite teacher, 99 on Woodrow’s health problems, 40 on Woodrow’s political possibilities, 76 Wilson, Marion (sister), 195 Wilson, Nell (daughter), 80, 166, 202, 267, 288, 299 Wilson, Woodrow (Thomas W.) adoption of “Woodrow” name, 28 and Battle of Princeton (1908–10), 195–240 becomes Princeton president, 58–61 books written by, 22, 29–30, 34, 50, 65 cabinet selections of, 282–84 childhood of, 3–8 death of, 339–41 election of 1912, 273–78 election of 1916, 311–12 father’s influence on, 5–8 funeral arrangements for, 338–39

INDEX gubernatorial campaign of, 243–61 health issues of, 39–40, 53–54, 126– 27, 196, 268–69, 319 and Hibben’s opposition to quad plan, 152–67 idealism of, 224–25, 322 individualism of, 4, 30–31 personality of, 39–40, 48–49, 74–76, 78–79, 167, 170, 172–74, 181, 233, 311 political ambitions of, 76–77, 179–80, 232 popularity of with students, 52 post-presidency life of, 325–42 and preceptorial system, 96–109 as president, 279–316 presidential campaign of, 262–78, 308–12 as professor, 31–41 psychoanalysis of, 171–72 and quad plan fight, 129–51, 168–91 radicalism of, 231–32 resignation as Princeton president, 249 and reunion of Class of 1879, 300–304 as undergraduate, 3–41 Witherspoon, John, 9, 44, 100 Witherspoon Hall Gang, 3, 4, 16, 67, 308 Women’s suffrage movement, 15, 305 Woodrow, James, 28, 100 Woodrow Wilson: A Character Study (Annin), 246 Woodrow Wilson: The Man and His Work (Ford), 292 Woodrow Wilson Foundation, 330 Woodrow Wilson League of College Men, 263 Woods, Hiram, 21, 24, 236, 250, 308 Woods, Lawrence, 230, 272 Wordsworth, William, 28, 159 World War I, 304, 307, 309–11, 313–21 World War Memorial Hall, 328 Wright Bower, 16 Wyckoff, Walter, 200 Wyman, Isaac, 234–35 Wyman Hall, 258 Yale University, 9–10, 119 Yates, Fred, 163