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.

 

Political cartoon exhibition reveals common themes of American presidential elections

Through Sunday, Jan. 4, 2009 · Milberg Gallery, Firestone Library

Curator’s tours of the exhibit on Sept. 28 and Nov. 2. at 3 p.m.

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An exhibition on view at Princeton University’s Firestone Library confirms through paper and ink what many American voters already suspect: Although the political candidates may change, many issues remain the same.

Titled “Sketching Their Characters: 150 Years of Political Cartoons From Andrew Jackson to George H.W. Bush,” the exhibition features primarily original pen and ink editorial cartoons dating from 1828 to 1992 focusing on presidential elections. Works of Thomas Nast, among other notable political cartoonists, are on display in the library’s Milberg Gallery until Sunday, Jan. 4.

Questions about qualifications, the service or burden of past actions, the influence of money on the political process, backroom deals that subvert the will of the people and aspersions on the candidates themselves have tickled and outraged generations of cartoonists and their readers. Curators Jennifer Cole, Daniel Linke and Daniel Santamaria have selected items from three collections held at the Mudd Manuscript Library as well as the holdings of the Graphic Arts Division.

“This was the most entertaining exhibition I have ever done,” said Linke, who has curated more than a dozen. “Reviewing political cartoons from over the decades was like an illustrated political history lesson — or a graphic novel.”

“Some of the cartoons are downright funny, but others will make you wonder if anything at all has really changed with American politics,” Linke said. He noted two from 1904 in which both parties pursue independent voters and accuse the other of being in the pockets of “big money,” which certainly could apply to today’s political landscape.

The ferocity of the attacks also has not changed, he said, pointing out those that attacked Franklin D. Roosevelt and his decision to run for a third term. “We think of FDR as a revered president, but these cartoons show that in his time, he had plenty of detractors,” Linke said.

A lecture by Rutgers history and journalism professor David Greenberg at 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 19, in 101 McCormick Hall will precede a reception for the exhibition. Greenberg’s first book, “Nixon’s Shadow: The History of an Image” won the Washington Monthly Political Book Award and the American Journalism History Book Award. He is the recipient of the 2008 Hiett Prize in the Humanities. Awarded by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, the prize recognizes a young scholar whose work shows exceptional promise.

Hours for the exhibition are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday and noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

You may also see 11 of the 37 images on display at the Princeton Alumni Weekly’s website.