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American Experience - Woodrow Wilson
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graphic version | 1856 - 1900 | 1901 - 1924   


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.

graphic version | 1856 - 1900 | 1901 - 1924   

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