Virginia is known as the “Mother of Presidents” and its most recent native son to rise to the nation’s highest office has had his birthplace turned into a museum. The Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum is located in the beautiful town of Staunton and is a great place to learn all about the early 20th century.
Thomas Woodrow Wilson was born on December 28, 1856 in the mountain town of Staunton, Virginia. His parents were Rev. Joseph Wilson, the minister of Staunton Presbyterian Church, and Janet “Jessie” Woodrow Wilson. The Wilsons lived in Staunton until 1858 when they moved to Georgia where they lived during the Civil War. Woodrow kept his strong ties to the Commonwealth, attending law school at the University of Virginia and eventually marrying another Virginian, Edith Bolling Galt.
Wilson would go on to become the 28th president of the United States where he had to deal with weighty issues such as women’s suffrage and WWI. He also lost his first wife and married Edith during his presidential years.
His childhood home is now a museum and presidential library dedicated to telling his story. Even though he only lived here for just over a year, it’s still considered his hometown. While Wilson’s legacy is tarnished by his support of segregationist policies, his museum is a good place to learn about the historical events surrounding his presidency.
The Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum is located in the beautiful mountain town of Staunton (about 1 hour west of Charlottesville). His birthplace is open for tours as well as a museum and lovely visitor center. We didn’t get to tour the birthplace since we arrived after its last tour but we spent plenty of time in the museum.
Buy your tickets in the visitor center (be sure to ask for a scavenger hunt for kids!) and explore the great gift shop there. Then head to the next door museum to start your self-guided tour. You’ll want to first head to the room housing President Wilson’s car. Kids will love seeing it!
Then head to the room about Woodrow’s birth here and subsequent moves to Georgia and South Carolina.
Of course, I enjoyed learning about his wife, Ellen, the most.
You’ll walk through the rooms and see artifacts from his time as the Governor of New Jersey.
There are many rooms about his presidency with banners, buttons, and memorabilia galore.
It was sad seeing the reports of Ellen’s death in 1914. I can’t imagine President Wilson’s grief at her death while having to deal with the growing tensions in Europe that would soon explode into war. What a terrible time.
I loved all of the White House memorabilia of Wilson’s wedding with Edith, especially after reading a recent historical fiction about their romance and marriage.
I’m a sucker for White House china!
After visiting the Lucy Burns Museum where women suffragists were taken after their arrest in front of the White House, I found the displays about this history interesting.
When visiting the Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Museum in Wytheville, Virginia two years ago, I learned the amazing story about how Edith had sheep grazing on the White House lawn during WWI to provide wool. This museum has some of the actual wool!
The museum has many newspapers and information on WWI and Wilson’s attempt to create the League of Nations.
As Wilson’s health declined, Edith stepped in and many call her the first acting woman president as she was the only person to talk to President Wilson about affairs of state. Were the orders from him or her? That answer is lost to history!
The final room looks at his legacy, from his groundbreaking work in international politics to his segregationist policies at home. President John F. Kennedy signed the bill that created the Woodrow Wilson Bridge linking Maryland to Alexandria, Virginia at the encouragement of Edith. Sadly, she died on the very day the bridge was dedicated, December 28, 1961, which was also President Wilson’s birthday.
After finishing these rooms, head downstairs to the WWI exhibit which includes a replica trench. It was very atmospheric and would be a great way to show kids how the war was conducted.
Presidential and First Lady history enthusiasts should make plans to stop at the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum. I was glad to check another presidential site off my list!
- Cost: $20/adult; $12/kids 6-17
- Recommended: ages 10 and up
- Tour time: 1-2 hours
- Gift shop located in visitor center and online
- Transportation: Located in Staunton at the intersections of I-64 and I-81, the site is only accessible via car. There is a dedicated parking lot behind the museum.
- Dining options: Staunton is a cute town with lots of restaurants in its downtown pedestrian zone just a few blocks from the museum. Check out the tourism website for recommendations.
- Nearby hotels: Historic Berkeley Place is across the street, and Staunton has many chain hotels and cute boutique inns. Check out the tourism site for more recommendations.
- Nearby attractions include: American Shakespeare Center (along with a recreated Shakespeare-era indoor theatre!), Frontier Culture Museum, and Virginia Scenic Railway
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