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Woodrow Wilson | Timeline

The Life and Times of Wilson

Wilson's inauguration day. 1913. Courtesy: Library of Congres

December: Thomas Woodrow Wilson is born in Staunton, Virginia, the third of Jessie Janet Woodrow and Joseph Ruggles Wilson’s four children.

October 16: John Brown raids the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry to obtain arms for a slave insurrection.

Abraham Lincoln is elected president.

April 12: The Civil War begins as Confederate forces open fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina.

August 22: At the Geneva Convention, 12 governments pledge to respect humanitarian rules of war regarding wounded on the field of battle.

After the Civil War ends, an eight-year old Wilson watches Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy, brought through town in chains on his way to a Union prison.

April 14: President Abraham Lincoln is assassinated by John Wilkes Booth.

The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, outlawing slavery, is ratified. Later in the year, the Ku Klux Klan forms to reestablish white authority and intimidate African Americans and other ethnic and religious minorities throughout the South.

Suffering from dyslexia, Wilson remains unable to read at the age of 10.

Karl Marx publishes Das Kapital, the economic and political treatise that will become founding document of the international socialist movement.

November 17: The Suez Canal opens in Egypt, linking the Mediterranean and Red Seas.

February 3: The Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution, guaranteeing African Americans the right to vote, is ratified.

Wilson’s family moves to Columbia, South Carolina after his father is appointed a professor in the Columbia Theological Seminary.

Susan B. Anthony and 12 other women are arrested for trying to vote in the presidential election.

The New York gun manufacturing company Remington & Sons begins to mass produce the typewriter, one of the nineteenth century’s many remarkable technological innovations

Wilson’s family moves to Wilmington, North Carolina.

April 15: French painters Claude Monet, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne, Camille Pissarro, Berthe Morisot, Alfred Sisley, Armand Guillaumin and Edgar Degas hold an exhibit of their own work featuring a new style of painting - Impressionism.

Wilson enrolls in Princeton University.

February 14: Alexander Graham Bell patents the telephone.

Post-Civil War Reconstruction ends in the South with the departure of the last Federal troops from South Carolina.

A Constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote is introduced in Congress. The wording will remain unchanged during the 41 years it takes for the amendment to finally pass in both houses.

Wilson graduates from Princeton University.

Thomas Edison invents the incandescent light bulb.

Wilson graduates from law school at the University of Virginia.

Wilson opens a law practice with Edward Renick in Atlanta, but discontinues their partnership the following year, determined to follow his ambitions in politics and government.

Germany, Austria, and Italy form a secret Triple Alliance, agreeing to come to each other’s aid should any of the countries be attacked by France. The alliance will define European diplomatic relations until the outbreak of World War I.

Wilson meets Ellen Axson and becomes engaged to her later that year.

Hiram Maxim, an English engineer, invents the fully automatic machine gun. The weapon seems to ensure Western military dominance in colonial ventures.

Mark Twain publishes “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

Wilson receives his Ph.D. in politics and history from Johns Hopkins University. His doctoral disseration, on the practical workings of the U.S. Congress, becomes an instant classic in the field.

Wilson marries Ellen Axson in Savannah, Georgia.

Wilson accepts a teaching position at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania.

Woodrow and Ellen Wilson welcome their first child, a daughter named Margaret.

October 28: The Statue of Liberty is dedicated.

The Wilsons’ second daughter, Jessie, is born.

Wilson’s mother, Jessie Janet Woodrow, dies.

Wilson begins teaching at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.

Jane Addams opens Hull-House in Chicago as part of a movement to help immigrants adjust to life in America.

The Eiffel Tower is built for the Paris exposition.

The Wilsons’ youngest child, Eleanor, is born.

Wilson is appointed full professor at Princeton University.

Jacob Riis publishes “How the Other Half Lives,” a startling book of photographs and essays exploring the social conditions of those living in poverty.

James Naismith introduces the game of basketball.

Colonel Edward House, who will later become Wilson’s closest advisor, helps re-elect Texas governor James Hogg. Governor Hogg gives House the title “Colonel.”

May 10: Pullman Palace Car Company workers go on strike, and American Railroad Union leader Eugene Debs orders his railway workers to boycott trains with Pullman cars, shutting down the railroads.

The Sino-Japanese War begins.

Booker T. Washington makes his Atlanta Compromise speech, in which he accepts Jim Crow laws and the exclusion of African Americans from political power in return for education and job training.

Russian Marxist Vladimir Ilyich Lenin is arrested after distributing illegal literature.

May 18: The Supreme Court decides in Plessy v. Ferguson that the treatment of African Americans as “separate but equal” meets Fourteenth Amendment guarantees, giving legal sanction to Jim Crow segregation laws.

William Jennings Bryan receives the presidential nomination from both the Democrats and the Populists, but loses the election to Republican William McKinley.

April 25:The Spanish-American War begins two months after the U.S. battleship Maine is blown up in Cuba’s Havana harbor, killing 258 soldiers and two officers.

Susan B. Anthony chooses Carrie Chapman Catt to succeed her as president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association.

Sigmund Freud publishes “The Interpretation of Dreams.”

The Boxer Rebellion breaks out in China.

August: Race riots erupt in New York City following a murderous confrontation between a young African American man and a white policeman.

Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist, assassinates President William McKinley. Theodore Roosevelt becomes president.

William Monroe Trotter establishes The Guardian, a Boston newspaper dedicated to fighting racial discrimination and fostering political action among African Americans.

Wilson becomes president of Princeton University.

Wilson’s father, Joseph Ruggles Wilson, dies.

December 17: Wilbur and Orville Wright fly the first plane capable of controlled flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

January 9: Revolution breaks out in Russia after Bloody Sunday when czarist troops fire on marchers in St. Petersburg. The unrest ends three centuries of autocratic rule by the House of Romanov.

Albert Einstein proposes his special theory of relativity (E=mc2).

Wilson wakes up one morning with loss of vision in one eye because of high blood pressure. Doctors advise him to retire and lead a quiet life.

As president of Princeton, Wilson proposes “quad” reform, which would eliminate undergraduates’ elite social clubs.

April 18: An earthquake levels San Francisco.

Record numbers of immigrants continue to enter the United States.

The Triple Entente is formed after Great Britain joins the defense pact between France and Russia.


Henry Ford produces the first Model T car.

Wilson accepts the nomination of the Democratic Party and is elected governor of New Jersey.

As governor, Wilson enacts many progressive reforms during his tenure, which will last until 1912.

The first issue of The Crisis, a publication sponsored by the NAACP and edited by W. E. B. Du Bois, appears.

November 20: Following unfair elections, Mexican politician Francisco Madero calls for insurrection against President Porfirio Diaz, launching a period of violent revolutionary struggle.

In China, revolutionaries overthrow the Manchu dynasty. A Chinese Republic is proclaimed with Sun Yat-sen named its president.

May 15: In the biggest antitrust decision in history, the U.S. Supreme Court orders the dismantling of John D. Rockefeller’s monopolistic Standard Oil Company.

April 14-15: The Titanic sinks.

In the Presidential Election of 1912, Wilson runs as the Democratic candidate and defeats William Howard Taft (Republican), Theodore Roosevelt (Progressive), and Eugene Debs (Socialist). Wilson’s running mate is Thomas Marshall.

March 3: Alice Paul and Lucy Burns organize a suffrage parade, carefully scheduling it for the day before President Wilson’s inauguration.

Under the Wilson administration, several major reform laws are passed, including the Underwood-Simmons Tariff Act, the Federal Reserve Act, and legislation establishing income taxes.

The Wilson administration begins government-wide segregation of workplaces, restrooms and lunchrooms.

The Armory Show in New York introduces the artistic movement of Cubism to the United States. Among the works shown is Marcel Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase,” which shocks viewers.

April 20: Striking miners and their families are killed in the Ludlow Massacre at a Rockefeller-controlled mining operation in Colorado. Ten days later, Wilson will send troops to curb another outbreak of violence.

June 28: Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria is assassinated, catapulting Europe into World War I. President Wilson declares U. S. neutrality.

August 6: Wilson’s wife, Ellen Axson Wilson, dies of Bright’s Disease, a kidney disorder. Wilson is devastated.

The Wilson administration continues to pass major reforms, including the establishment of the Federal Trade Commission and the Clayton Antitrust Act.

William Monroe Trotter is ordered out of the White House when he protests to President Wilson the segregation of African American federal employees in the workplace.

D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation premieres. Although groundbreaking in its use of film techniques, the film is condemned by African Americans for promoting racial hatred.

May 7: A German U-boat sinks the passenger ship Lusitania, killing 1,198 passengers and crew members, including 128 Americans.

December 18: Wilson marries Edith Bolling Galt.

Wilson orders American troops to pursue Mexican guerrillas who raid U.S. territory. General John J. Pershing fails to capture rebel leader Pancho Villa.

Wilson is re-elected president over Republican candidate Charles Evans Hughes.

Montana’s Jeannette Rankin becomes the first woman elected to Congress.

July 6: James Montgomery Flagg’s famous lithograph of Uncle Sam declaring “I Want You” is first published on the cover of Leslie’s Weekly. Wilson’s Committee on Public Information will enlist Flagg and other illustrators to design posters for the American War effort.

January: British intelligence intercepts the Zimmermann Telegram announcing German plans for unrestricted submarine warfare and an alliance with Mexico should the U.S. enter World War I.

Wilson seeks “Peace Without Victory”, but after Germany institutes unrestricted submarine warfare in the Atlantic, Wilson signs a proclamation of war against Germany. America mobilizes for war.

Members of the Woman’s Party, known as the Silent Sentinels, picket the White House to publicize the suffrage cause.

Wilson appoints a committee of distinguished experts -- later known as The Inquiry -- to develop ideas for a future of world peace based on democracy.

January 8: In his Fourteen Points speech, Wilson puts forth his vision for a new world order, including the establishment of an organization to settle future conflicts between nations.

March 11: A soldier at Fort Riley, Kansas, reports to the infirmary complaining of fever, sore throat, and headache. His illness is one of the first in the flu epidemic that will kill more than 600,000 Americans in just eight months -- and travel to Europe with American “doughboys.”

May 16: Congress passes the Sedition and Espionage Acts. In violation of these acts, Eugene Debs is charged with making an anti-war speech in Canton, Ohio.

July 16: Less than a year after seizing power in Russia, the Bolsheviks execute ex-Czar Nicholas II and the rest of Russia’s royal Romanov family.

Leading his Rainbow Division through fierce fighting in France, Brigadier General Douglas MacArthur becomes the most decorated soldier of the war.

November 11: World War I ends when Germany signs an armistice with the Allies. Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicates.

January: At the Paris Peace Conference, Georges Clemenceau and David Lloyd George clash with Wilson about how the defeated powers should be treated.

American troops return from Europe. African American soldiers of the 369th Infantry are welcomed home with a parade from Fifth Avenue to Harlem. Nearly a million people turn out for the celebration.

June 28: After months of negotiations in Paris, the Treaty of Versailles is signed. While the treaty no longer includes most of Wilson’s Fourteen Points, his plan for the League of Nations remains intact.

Senator Henry Cabot Lodge leads the fight against the League of Nations. Wilson suffers a stroke while campaigning across the nation to gain public support for the treaty and its provision of the League The president is seriously incapacitated, and his wife Edith, along with his doctor, keep his condition secret. Edith begins to control access to Wilson, determining which governmental matters receive his limited attention.

August 1: Controversial African American leader Marcus Garvey and his Universal Negro Improvement Association hold the first International Convention of the Negro Peoples of the World in Madison Square Garden, New York.

August 18: The Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, guaranteeing women the right to vote, is ratified.

Wilson receives the Nobel Peace Prize.

The League of Nations meets for the first time in Geneva. The Senate’s rejection of the Treaty of Versailles, however, means the League meets without the United States as a member nation.

Wilson rides with President-elect Warren G. Harding to the Capitol and signs the last acts of the 66th Congress before departing for his new home on S Street in Washington, D.C.

July 14: Italian-born anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti are convicted of murder. Their case will stir protests around the world before their eventual execution in 1927.

President Harding orders Eugene Debs’ release from prison, despite opposition from organizations that wage a “Keep Debs in Jail” campaign.

Benito Mussolini marches on Rome and forms a fascist government.

After delivering a radio address on the significance of Armistice Day, Wilson speaks on American ideals to an enormous crowd outside of his residence.

January 31: The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.) adopts its first constitution, based on a dictatorship of the proletariat.

February 3: After suffering a collapse, Wilson dies at his S Street home. Thousands line the streets of Washington, D.C., as the funeral procession passes. Wilson is buried at Washington’s National Cathedral.

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