December 18: Woodrow Wilson

A Life of Christian Conviction

How would you react if you discovered that an ancestor of yours had been James Stewart the First, the king of Scotland? That is what Woodrow Wilson found out in growing up in the home of Joseph Ruggles Wilson in the late nineteenth century. And the famous ancestors did not stop there. On his mother’s side, she had descended from Pocahontas of Jamestown fame. What a family ancestry!

His father was a Presbyterian minister who moved to Staunton, Virginia to take a church there. That was where Woodrow Wilson was born on December 28, 1856, the third of four children. Even though Ohio had been their first place of ministry, a Southward trip to Augusta, Georgia, where Woodrow Wilson would spend much of his growing up years, landed them square in the Confederacy in thought, fervor, and commitment. They owned slaves and defended their action on that social issue. For a while, the father was a chaplain in the Confederate army. After the War Between the States, he became a founder of the Southern Presbyterians Church, U.S., becoming its stated clerk and eventual moderator in 1879.

Meanwhile, young Woodrow was being trained privately by his father, attending Presbyterian schools, and eventually Princeton University, from which he graduated. In 1885, he married Ellen Axson, from which marriage three daughters were born. Serving initially as a lawyer in the south, Woodrow eventually became the president of Princeton University between 1902 – 1910. From the university to the governorship of New Jersey, the rise in politics was rapid. Campaigning on the Democratic ticket, Woodrow Wilson would serve for two terms, the latter of which was enveloped by World War I.

It was during the first term that his wife Ellen died. He became one of three presidents who were widowed while in the White House. Soon afterwards, he was married a second time, to Edith Galt on December 18, 1915.

You can read in any history book the accomplishments of his presidency. We are interested in the fact that not only did he have an upbringing in  Presbyterian convictions, he remained deeply religious all of his presidency and for that matter, his life. The Bible was the guide of his life, as he read and studied it daily. God’s guidance was frequently sought and received. He considered the United States a Christian nation. His Calvinistic convictions we’re particularly needed when he suffered a paralysis during the latter part of his presidency.  His wife Edith became the de facto president as she guided him in his duties as the chief executive. Three years after he left the office, he died. His wife survived him, living all the way into the presidency of John Kennedy.

Words to live by:  Too many believers separate their spiritual beliefs from their lives. Woodrow Wilson was different from that common practice. With a solid Calvinistic upbringing, he lived his faith and walked by faith. To him, everything he did was colored by the Christian conviction gleaned from the Word of God which he read and studied every day. You and I are to be no different in this one aspect of his life.  Read the Word, and then, live the Word. No sphere of life is to be divorced from the application of the Bible.

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  1. Erick Montgomery’s avatar

    It was Wilson’s second wife, Edith Bolling Galt, who was a direct descendant of Pocahontas, not his mother. Wilson’s mother was an immigrant from Carlisle, England with Scottish ancestors. If Woodrow Wilson was a direct descendant of James Stewart, First King of Scotland, I would be interested in seeing the documentation. It is true that he was of Scots heritage not only on his mother’s side, but through his Scotch-Irish paternal grandparents, James Wilson and Ann Adams, who immigrated from Ireland to Philadelphia in the late 18th Century. I have done a great deal of research on the early Wilson and Adams Families in America, and have corrected a good deal of incorrect information about them.
    Joseph Ruggles Wilson did not serve as a chaplain in the Confederate Army, but worked as a missionary in the summer of 1863 under the auspices of the Southern Presbyterian Church. He was not employed by the Confederate army, but he did many things to support the Confederate cause, including serving as the President of the Georgia Hospital and Relief Association, serving on the board of the Confederate States Bible Society, and hosting the first assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States (i.e. the Southern Presbyterian Church) in December 1861.
    A visit to the Boyhood Home of President Woodrow Wilson in Augusta, GA will give these and many more interesting insights into the life of the 28th President. See our website at
    Erick Montgomery
    Executive Director
    Historic Augusta, Inc.

  2. archivist’s avatar

    Thank you, Mr. Montgomery, for your helpful reply. This particular post is one that originally appeared on this day one year ago. (from time to time, hopefully in moderation, we do rerun prior posts). The author of the post relates that well over a year later, his sources are no longer at hand and can’t be readily checked. I will try to check some of the materials on hand here in the Archives. Thanks too for the information about Wilson’s boyhood home.


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