The contested legacy of Woodrow Wilson is the focus of a new exhibition at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
Opening April 4, the show, “In the Nation’s Service? Woodrow Wilson Revisited,” documents both the positive and negative aspects of Wilson’s tenure as the 13th president of Princeton University and the 28th president of the United States.
The exhibit, which runs through Oct. 28, will be located in the Bernstein Gallery in Robertson Hall. An online version of the exhibit will also be available starting April 4. Exhibit hours are Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Wilson is consistently ranked as one of the country’s great presidents because of his successful domestic legislative agenda in his first term and international achievements in his second. At Princeton, buildings, departments and programs bear his name, honoring his contributions to both the institution and the nation.
But Wilson was also a racist. A southern-born president, he lamented the period of reconstruction that followed the Civil War. “Self-preservation (forced whites) to rid themselves, by fair means or foul, of the intolerable burden of governments sustained by the votes of ignorant negroes,” he wrote. He excused the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, calling it understandable in view of the “lawless” situation that victimized whites in the South after 1865. He also discouraged black from applying to the university, refused to confirm the hiring of blacks in his administration as governor, and segregated the civil service as president of the United States.
Last November, a student group at Princeton demanded that Wilson’s name be removed from school buildings. The group held a sit in for about 36 hours until the president of the university agreed to various demands and promised that the school would discuss Wilson’s legacy.
The school’s exhibition on Woodrow Wilson draws on modern scholarship and Princeton’s special collections and includes correspondence, writings, photographs, newspapers and other documents that place Wilson in historical context.
Sponsors include the University’s Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library and the University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
To complement the exhibit, the Woodrow Wilson School will host a panel discussion at 4:30 p.m. on April 8 focused on Wilson’s legacy on race. The forum will be held in the Dodds Auditorium at Robertson Hall.