A hundred-and-fifty years ago today, an obscure Presbyterian minister named Joseph Wilson welcomed the arrival of his third child, Thomas Woodrow. As he cradled the infant in his arms, Reverend Wilson must have wondered what his son would be when he grew up. Of course, he could have scarcely imagined the impact young Woodrow would have on both the country and the world, for better and worse, during the early twentieth century. Most of us are familiar with Woodrow Wilson’s major accomplishments—the governorship of New Jersey, the presidencies of Princeton and the United States, the creation of the Federal Reserve Act, and the development of the League of Nations. But how many of us knew he was once president of the AHA?
Unfortunately, Wilson’s term in office was neither lengthy nor glorious. When the Association’s governing council offered him the position in January of 1924, the response came not from the former president, who had been incapacitated by a stroke five years earlier, but from his wife Edith. Dr. Wilson would be honored to serve as AHA president, she wrote. A month later, her husband was dead.
Wilson’s ignominious decline, however, is a footnote in a larger story of an extraordinary life. We encourage you to spend a few moments today grappling with his legacy. What would the world look like if Woodrow Wilson had never been born?