8 Things You Might Not Know About Woodrow Wilson

Tony Essex, Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Tony Essex, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In his lifetime, Woodrow Wilson (1856 to 1924) bore witness to some of the most tumultuous times in American history. The Civil War raged during his childhood; as the nation’s 28th president, he led America into a world war. Unfortunately, Wilson was often on the wrong side of history when it came to race relations. Check out some of the lesser-known facts about one of the more controversial occupants of higher office.

1. He was an eyewitness to the Civil War.

Born and raised in the south, Wilson was the son of a Presbyterian minister Joseph Wilson and his wife, Janet Wilson. His parents were Confederate supporters, and as a child, Woodrow watched Janet nurse wounded soldiers in his father’s church. Later, he witnessed Confederate president Jefferson Davis marched in chains through Augusta, Georgia.

2. He arrived at his inauguration in a horse drawn carriage.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Following a brief law career, Wilson made his way into academia, arriving at Princeton (then the College of New Jersey) in 1890 as a professor of jurisprudence and political economy. By 1902, he was the university’s president, a position he held until 1910. That year, he was elected governor of New Jersey and then set his sights on higher office. Owing to a Republican split over support between incumbent William Howard Taft and former president Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson captured the electoral vote for the 1912 election and was re-elected in 1916. With the advent of automobiles imminent, Wilson became the last American president to arrive to his inauguration while being transported by horse-drawn carriage.

3. He was against integration.

During Wilson’s term, many governmental departments began to segregate employees. Wilson allowed his cabinet to maintain white-only bathrooms and once threw civil rights activist William Monroe Trotter out of the White House for growing too confrontational over their conflicting views. A century later, students at Princeton staged a sit-in to protest Wilson's name being kept on various campus institutions, citing his frequent roadblocks in the work of civil rights activity. (While he was president of Princeton, the school did not admit any black students.) The university ultimately decided to let the dedications remain.

4. He advocated for a woman's right to vote.

Paul Thompson, Getty Images

While Wilson would find himself less progressive in other civil rights matters, he did manage to get one thing right. After initially feeling indifferent about allowing women the right to vote, his attitude changed as a result the women’s suffrage movement. Activists picketing outside the White House in 1917 were hauled away by police; Wilson was horrified to learn they were being force-fed following a hunger strike. In January 1918, Wilson advocated for men and women to have an equal voice in elections, and would later make written and verbal arguments to members of Congress. His lobbying undoubtedly helped states ratify the 19th Amendment in August 1920, finally granting women the right to cast their ballot.

5. He ushered in the White House screening room.

His poor taste in film aside (Wilson famously screened The Birth of a Nation in 1915), Wilson was the first president to routinely screen movies in the White House. Actor Douglas Fairbanks gifted him with a projector in 1918, allowing Wilson to enjoy movies with regularity. He sometimes watched up to five hours a day. While cruising the Atlantic following the Allied victory in World War I, Wilson set up the projector so troops could enjoy Charlie Chaplin films.

6. He kept a flock of sheep on the White House lawn.

Harris Ewing, Wikimedia Commons via the Library of Congress

While presidents have often had a curious history with animals—Thomas Jefferson famously harbored two bear cubs for a brief time on White House grounds—Wilson’s flock of sheep might be the most puzzling. The rationale behind it, however, made perfect sense. In 1918, with World War I raging, Wilson wanted to be a model for Americans in supporting troops. Allowing sheep to roam the grounds and eat grass cut down on the manpower needed to maintain the lawn, an example of rationing manpower; their wool was auctioned off and raised $52,823 for Red Cross relief efforts.

7. He got caught up in an unseemly love triangle.

Despite his cool exterior, Wilson could apparently soften around the right company. He had married Ellen Louise Axson in 1885 but sometimes took trips alone to Bermuda, where he fraternized and flirted with a woman named Mary Peck. Wilson and Peck continued a pen-pal dialogue through his first term, which would later prove troublesome. When Ellen died in 1914, Wilson turned his attention to the widowed Edith Galt. Fearing that remarrying so soon after his first wife’s death could harm his chances for re-election, Wilson’s handlers lied and said Peck planned on selling off his love letters. They hoped Wilson would be frightened of the ensuing scandal and call off the wedding. Instead, Wilson confessed his involvement with Peck to Edith. She married him anyway. Peck was said to be devastated that Wilson hadn’t married her instead.

8. His wife helped run the country.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Toward the end of his second term, Wilson was overworked, traveling too often, and plagued by various illnesses including influenza. On October 2, 1919, he suffered a stroke, which impaired his mobility and left him partially paralyzed. Fearing the implications of having an infirm president and with the Constitution unclear as to whether vice-president Thomas Marshall should assume his duties, the Wilson regime went on as usual. Owing to his diminished state, however, his wife Edith began to take on a much more prominent role in his affairs. She curated matters for him to address personally and helped him prioritize his duties through the end of his presidency in March 1921. He died in 1924.

A New Ruth Bader Ginsburg Bobblehead Is Available for Pre-Order

The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum
The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum

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The late Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a devout champion for feminism and civil rights, and her influence stretched from the halls of the Supreme Court to the forefront of popular culture, where she affectionately became known as the Notorious RBG. Though there are plenty of public tributes planned for Ginsburg in the wake of her passing, the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum has a new RBG bobblehead ($25) available for pre-order so you can honor her in your own home.

There are two versions of the bobblehead available, one of Ginsburg smiling and another with a more serious expression. Not only do the bobbleheads feature her in her Supreme Court black robe, but eagle-eyed fans will see she is wearing one for her iconic coded collars and her classic earrings.

RBG is far from the only American icon bobblehead that the Hall of Fame store has produced in such minute detail. They also have bobbleheads of Abraham Lincoln ($30), Theodore Roosevelt ($30), Alexander Hamilton ($30), and dozens of others.

For more information on the RBG bobblehead, head here. Shipments will hopefully be sent out by December 2020 while supplies last.

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25 Offbeat Holidays You Can Celebrate in December

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ivanastar/iStock via Getty Images

Whether you're a holiday fanatic who wants even more to celebrate, or a Scrooge with a burning desire to buck tradition, we've got plenty of offbeat observances to put on your calendar.

1. December 1: Giving Tuesday

After indulging on Thanksgiving, and shopping on Friday, Monday, and probably the whole weekend in between, Giving Tuesday—which occurs annually on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving—encourages people to engage in charitable activities.

2. December 4: National Cookie Day

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December isn’t exactly lacking in opportunities to indulge in sweet treats, but today it’s your offbeat-holiday-given right to mix, bake, and/or eat as many cookies as you can handle.

3. December 5: Bathtub Party Day

There's a lot to be done between now and the end of the year. Take a minute to breathe, relax, and take in a soak.

4. December 5: International Ninja Day

The official website of Ninja Day alleges this holiday not only honors all things stealth and nunchucks, but also combats the more nautical offbeat holiday Talk Like a Pirate Day, which takes place in September. Creep, sneak, or redirect all of your URLs to Ninja activity—as long as you forgo the “arrrr matey’s” and eye patches for ominous silence and masks, you’re correctly celebrating this international holiday.

5. December 6: National Pawnbrokers Day

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If you thought good ol' St. Nicholas was the patron saint of reindeer and stockings, think again: The actual Nikolaos of Myra was the patron of things like the falsely accused and pawnbrokers, and on this day we acknowledge the latter.

6. December 9: Weary Willie Day

Professional clown Emmett Kelly created one of the more memorable clown characters of the 20th century: “Weary Willie.” Unlike many of his clown predecessors, Weary Willie opted out of white face paint and broad slapstick for the “tramp” look popular among Depression-era derelicts. One of his signature routines involved attempting to sweep up after circus acts, and failing in spite of himself—to the delight and empathy of the audience.

7. December 10: Jane Addams Day

December 10 is the day that the Nobel Prize Award Ceremonies have been held every year since 1901. Consequently, there are a lot of firsts that fall on this date, like the first American woman to be honored. That would be Jane Addams, founder of our current social work industry and prominent women's suffrage leader. On the anniversary of that award, given in 1931, we remember her life and work.

8. December 11: Official Lost And Found Day

Visit a thrift store, see if you can find that book you’ve misplaced, or invest in a memory-boosting regime so you’ll be losing things less frequently.

9. December 12: Poinsettia Day

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This day doesn't just celebrate the festive flower—it also marks the death of its namesake, Joel Roberts Poinsett. The botanist (and first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico) brought clippings of Euphorbia pulcherrima back to the States from southern Mexico, and grew the plant at his South Carolina home.

10. December 12: Gingerbread Decorating Day

Whether you’re a craftsman or an eater, today is the day for you.

11. December 13: National Day Of The Horse

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In 2004, the Senate signed legislation to officially make the second Saturday of December the National Day of the Horse. We really shouldn’t have to explain the reason horses need to be celebrated—just look at them!

12. December 13: National Cocoa Day

The weather outside is starting to get frightful, but what better cure for the temperature blues than a nice cup of hot cocoa? A down coat or a wool hat simply can’t compete in the taste department.

13. December 14: Monkey Day

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Officially, Monkey Day is an “annual celebration of all things simian, a festival of primates, a chance to scream like a monkey and throw feces at whomever you choose.” The origins of the holiday are unknown, though it has been observed since at least 2003.

14. December 15: Cat Herders Day

Technically this day is for all those who work jobs that could be described as like trying to herd cats, but it’s also probably acceptable to celebrate by trying to wrangle a cute feline.

15. December 16: Barbie And Barney Backlash Day

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Doesn’t seem like a coincidence that this holiday occurs in December: It’s the one day a year when you can tell your kids that Barbie and Barney don’t exist.

16. December 17: Wright Brothers Day

Made an official holiday in 1963 by Presidential Proclamation, this holiday marks the day in 1903 when Orville and Wilbur Wright achieved the first ever successful (documented) controlled airplane flight near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

17. December 18: Underdog Day

Observed annually on the third Friday of December since 1976, this is a reminder to honor the little guy. We’re always rooting for them, but there’s a holiday to celebrate, too.

18. December 21: Humbug Day

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Get out all your bahs and scowls and growls now: no one will tolerate them come Christmas.

19. December 21: Phileas Fogg Win A Wager Day

In Jules Verne's 1873 classic novel Around the World in 80 Days, Phileas Fogg bets that he can travel the entire globe, between 8:45 p.m. on October 2, and 8:45 p.m. on December 21. Keep an eye out for him on this day.

20. December 22: Forefathers’ Day

On December 21, 1620 (it was a Monday) the Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and since that basically kick-started our country's history since then, we celebrate it.

21. December 23: Festivus!

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For those who shy away from the more traditional December holidays, there’s always Festivus for the rest of us. Created by a Seinfeld writer's father and popularized by Frank Costanza, this secular holiday that involves gathering around an aluminum pole and airing your grievances has continued to gain a following since its introduction in 1997. If you haven’t seen the episode, there’s an entire website that spells out how to celebrate Festivus from start to finish. (Test your Festivus knowledge with this quiz.)

22. December 25: A’phabet Day

A pun on noel, this offbeat ce'ebration is designed to high'ight the arbitrary nature of many of the year's si''ier ho'idays. Whi'e you're unwrapping presents and eating your Christmas feast, 'eave a'' the Ls out of written and spoken communication for a festive activity that wi'' sure'y infuriate your 'oved ones.

23. December 26: National Whiners Day

Get it all out, whiners. Today is your day.

24. December 29: Tick Tock Day

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In case you needed another reminder of the inevitable passage of time and/or an occasion to reevaluate how those 2019 resolutions are going!

25. December 31: Make Up Your Mind Day

Tomorrow’s a new year! Time to fight that indecisiveness and make a decision—maybe even a resolution, if you will.