We’re delighted to announce that the Woodrow Wilson Papers are now online. Held in the Library of Congress Manuscript Division, these papers constitute the largest collection of original Wilson documents in the world, and provide teachers and students with many opportunities for discovery.
Born in Virginia before the start of the Civil War, during his lifetime Wilson saw the passage of amendments to prohibit denying the right to vote based on race (1870) and sex (1919). He served as president of Princeton University, governor of New Jersey, and president of the United States during its entry into the Great War. He was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to secure a lasting peace after that war. The collection, including personal, family, and official correspondence; speeches, memorabilia, and scrapbooks, reflects the breadth of his experiences.
To explore the collection and gain a sense of the scope of Wilson’s life and accomplishments, students might first examine the documents highlighted on the collection’s Featured Content page. They might discover:
- A letter from Carrie Chapman Catt to Woodrow Wilson, September 29, 1918, urging the president to support national women’s suffrage. Encourage them to identify what she is asking Wilson to do and why.
- A letter from John J. Pershing to Woodrow Wilson, October 8, 1917, accepting command of the American Expeditionary Forces. They might compare it to Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan’s letter, June 3, 1915, recommending measures to avoid war with Germany after the Lusitania sinking.
- A love letter, Woodrow Wilson to Edith Boling Galt, July 19, 1915. How does reading this intimate correspondence change how they view Wilson?
- A letter, Secretary of the Treasure William G. McAdoo to Woodrow Wilson, May 20, 1914, advising the president on the new Federal Reserve Board. What recommendations does he make? Students might also compare the tone of the letter’s opening and closing to the tone of the bulk of the letter.
The collection is arranged in series, both online and in the physical archive. Just as one might page through a physical folder, a user can browse forward or back from an online item to understand context or reveal other items of interest. (Change to “Gallery View” at upper right of the page to see multiple images at one time.) For example, paging back from a picture of Wilson, a student might pause on this note “Number of Mrs. Wilson’s favorite photograph [sic] of Mr. Wilson,” and then revisit the pictures for a closer look. Groups of students might explore a particular folder and select a few objects to construct a narrative.
The collection includes a timeline of key events in Wilson’s life. Students might select a few crucial dates and construct a parallel timeline of national or world events to gain a more complete understanding of his life and accomplishments. The Library’s American Memory Timeline offers a starting place. Searching the historic newspapers in Chronicling America will yield even more primary sources to offer context for the collection. For example, Catt names a few senators – Benet, Drew, and Lodge – whom students might research. Click here for an expert’s discussion of Wilson’s draft of a speech on Armistice Day. This video is featured in the Teaching World War I with Primary Sources Idea Book for Educators from HISTORY.
Let us know in the comments what your students discover as they browse and search this new online collection!