The Election for Woodrow Wilson’s America

The 1912 U.S. presidential election was a turning point for progressivism, both for the nation and for Woodrow Wilson.  An exhibition now open at the Princeton University Library illustrates this remarkable election and the life of the man who won it.

Drawn from the University Archives and the Public Policy Collection at the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, the exhibition follows Wilson’s career as scholar, university president, governor of New Jersey, and newly elected president of the United States to tell the story of how his ideas were formed and changed in service of the nation. In addition, the exhibition features rare Wilson memorabilia loaned by Anthony W. Atkiss, a member of Princeton’s class of 1961.

“The Election for Woodrow Wilson’s America”  is free and open to the public, and is on display in Firestone Library’s Milberg Gallery now through the end of December 2012.

The 1912 election was a four-way race between a conservative incumbent, William Howard Taft, a socialist, Eugene Debs, and two progressives, former president Theodore Roosevelt and Wilson. Growing concern about the concentration of wealth and influence among the power elite and pressing questions about taxation, the welfare of farmers, banking regulation, and labor rights made it almost inevitable that a progressive candidate would take the White House.

“The exhibition is filled with some exceptional items, including love letters Wilson wrote to his first wife, the complete text of Wilson’s first inaugural address, the top hat he wore while campaigning for the presidency, a good number of original political cartoons from the era, and a tremendous variety of pins, buttons, pennants, and other campaign memorabilia, generously loaned to us by Mr. Atkiss,” said Dan Linke, the head of Mudd Library, who co-curated the exhibition with Maureen Callahan, a project archivist at Mudd.

According to Callahan, Wilson represented the model citizen-scholar that Princeton strove to produce throughout the 20th century. Cosmopolitan, serious, and reformist, he had studied the structures that make political change happen and was willing to leverage his influence to affect them. As Princeton’s president from 1902 to 1910, Wilson transformed the university into a far more scholarly place than it had been when he was a student. Motivated by ambition and a sincere desire to serve, Wilson took on the political party system and local monopolies as governor of New Jersey from 1911 to 1913, and this work helped catapult him to the presidency.

“The Election for Woodrow Wilson’s America” is currently open from 8:45 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. Monday through Friday.  Starting Sept. 4, it will be open from 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Monday through Friday until Dec. 28, 2012.  The exhibition is open from noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays. A curator’s tour of the exhibition will be held Oct. 28, 2012, at 3 p.m.

The Milberg Gallery is located within Firestone Library at 1 Washington Road (#5 on map). For more information, call 609-258-6345 or email mudd@princeton.edu.