College shows no sign of Wilson

Historian-president was a professor at Bryn Mawr at start of career

April 14, 2002|By Marc Schogol | Marc Schogol,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

BRYN MAWR, Pa. - You'd think that if a president once taught at your college, you'd glorify his name.

But at Bryn Mawr College, there's now no sign that Woodrow Wilson was ever there.

The only sign was a plaque the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission erected on the fringe of the campus in 1958.

When that sign was taken down in the fall, almost nobody at the prestigious women's college noticed.

At Princeton University, where Wilson later taught and became college president before being elected governor of New Jersey and then president of the United States, he is an icon.

"Well, of course, the presidency of Princeton launched his political career," Sharon Ullman, a Bryn Mawr American history professor, said. "He was just a short-term, lowly professor at Bryn Mawr who moved on to better things.

"Trust me. We're ever so much more thrilled that Katharine Hepburn graduated from our august institution."

Removed for repairs

When asked what had happened to the Wilson marker, Bryn Mawr media relations manager Carol Gifford initially had no idea, and she couldn't find anyone who did until she checked with building services personnel. They said the state had removed the sign for repairs.

That was in September. The next month, a new marker was erected not far away that commemorates the Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers in Industry, "a pioneering liberal arts school for working women [that] was held here on the campus of Bryn Mawr College from 1927-38."

Though there was no connection between its installation and the removal of Wilson's - it's the state, not the college, that decides what events and personages to honor - the change seemed in keeping with Bryn Mawr's progressive self-image.

Unlike the Wilson marker, Gifford knew a great deal about the new one: "That is an incredible story! We actually have a video about that at the college."

Wilson was one of the first seven professors, teaching 42 students, when the Quaker-founded college opened 117 years ago, but there is little at Bryn Mawr about him.

`First teaching position'

His marker noted that he was an "educator, statesman, President" and said, "here, at Bryn Mawr College, Wilson held his first teaching position."

Wilson briefly taught at the college from 1885, when the school opened, until 1888.

While Woodrow Wilson was progressive in many ways, he was a Virginia Presbyterian minister's son who grew up during the Civil War, and he remained a traditionalist in matters of race and gender.

When she mentions Wilson's career at Bryn Mawr, Ullman said, "Sometimes I add a few wry remarks about how he was a terrible racist and how perfect this was for Bryn Mawr, since, for the longest time, Bryn Mawr refused to admit black women."

Wilson apparently wasn't pleased that Bryn Mawr had women at all. As the Encyclopedia Americana notes: "He accepted a professorship at Wesleyan University in Connecticut in 1888 with an alacrity that betrayed his yearning for a `class of men.'"

Yet for Wilson, president from 1913 to 1921, women were a central part of his life.

He and his first wife, Ellen, had three daughters. After his wife died in 1914, Wilson took time out from running the country and dealing with the approach of World War I to woo, win and wed Edith Bolling Galt.

Many historians believe she became, in effect, the first woman president after Wilson suffered a disabling stroke while campaigning for U.S. entry into the League of Nations.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.