Ranked #16: Wilson lead America during World War 1 and promoted a vision that eventually turned into the United Nations. He could have ranked higher if he not had been a racist.
Summary: Wilson was emotionally complex. He once described himself as a struggle between Irish blood, “quick, generous, impulsive, passionate, anxious always to help and to sympathize with those in distress,” and his Scottish blood, “canny, tenacious, cold, and perhaps a little exclusive.” He also once compared himself to a dormant volcano, placid on the outside yet a boiling caldron within. Wilson required affection and expected unequivocal loyalty. He had very few close confidantes and had a habit of making sure they were not close for very long. The only exception was appreciative, uncritical women. His hand shake was described as “a ten-cent pickled mackerel in brown paper.”
Bio: Wilson considered himself a homely man and once composed a self-deprecating limerick about this that went as follows:
L“For beauty I am not a star / There are others more handsome by far / But my face I don’t mind it / For I am behind it / It’s the people in front that I jar.”
Wilson had a long, drawn face, big ears, a high forehead and a slinging jaw. He stood 5’ 11” and weighed anywhere between 175 and 185 pounds. He had mostly poor health throughout his life brought on, no doubt, by stress. He seemed to have constant indigestion problems. During his presidency, he at times used a stomach pump on himself to remove acid. He typically overworked himself, which would eventually undermine his total health. In 1895 he developed a retinal hemorrhage that caused poor vision in his right eye.
While he was President, his doctors recommended that he play golf regularly although he did not seem to love the game very much, as he once described it as, “an ineffectual attempt to put an elusive ball into an obscure hole with implements ill-adapted to the purpose.” It is no surprise, with an attitude like that, that he averaged a 115 score for 18 holes. His doctors also recommended horseback riding and sailing. Wilson enjoyed theater, especially vaudeville and musical comedies. He was known to be a gifted mimic. He would tell jokes in an English, Scottish, Irish and African American dialects. He also did a good imitation of a drunk. With his daughters he liked to sing or play billiards. He became a professor and eventually president at Princeton University - amazing, if you consider that he did not learn to read until the age of 12, due to what people thought was dyslexia.
Wilson won the election of 1912 largely because it was a three-candidate race between himself and two ex-Presidents, William Howard Taft and Teddy Roosevelt. The GOP vote was split, which allowed Democrat Wilson to win fairly easily. He got plenty done during his first term, because Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. However, the biggest event in his tenure was the looming war that he tried his best to keep America out of, despite the fact that the USA was being provoked by Germany. One such provocation was when a German submarine sank the RMS Lusitania, killing thousands of people including many Americans. Eventually, the final straw was when Wilson found out that Germany was hatching a plan to help Mexico invade Texas. It was then that Wilson asked Congress to enter into World War I.
Another event that effected Wilson was the death of his wife Ellen Louise in 1914 of renal tuberculosis. This loss devastated Wilson, and it showed. However, a little more than a year later, he married Edith Bolling Galt. Wilson did the best he could to not over-publicize this union, since there was already gossip about his lack of respect for his first wife. In fact, there was even a story that suggested he and Miss Galt killed the First Lady.
It is suspected that Wilson had a total of 4 strokes and 5 cerebrovascular events in his life seemingly caused by poor blood circulation. On October 3, 1919, after years of war and fighting for world peace, Wilson had a catastrophic stroke that rendered him unable to function on the left side of his body. This occurrence was actually kept a secret from his Vice President, his Cabinet and the American people by keeping him physically isolated. During this time, his wife Edith acted as the go-between in his official affairs; in essence making her the virtual first female President of the United States, if you consider the tremendous amount of work she had to put into running the country.
After leaving office in 1921, Wilson was rarely seen in public. He died quietly in his Washington DC home on February 3, 1924.
Pros: Signed the 19th amendment, (giving women the right to vote). Created the Federal Reserve system. Supported Immigration rights. Helped negotiate the end of World War 1..
Cons: Jim Crow laws were expanded during his tenure. Prohibition happened during his tenure. Had a stroke during his presidency.
Born: December 28, 1856, Staunton, VA
Died: February 3, 1924 (aged 67) Washington, D.C.
Term: March 4, 1913 to March 3, 1921 (2 terms )
Political Party: Democrat
Education: College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), graduated 1879