The Scoop: Woodrow Wilson served as President of the United States from 1913 to 1921 and led the country through World War I and the women’s suffrage movement. Couples with a shared interest in presidential history can learn more about the 28th president by planning a date to explore the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum in Staunton, Virginia. Guests can find plenty of information on Wilson’s lasting legacy and unearth much more about the Wilson family’s history in the town that dates back to the mid-19th century.
As the adage suggests, if we don’t learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it. More than a century ago, The U.S. elected Woodrow Wilson as its 28th president. In his years in office from 1913 to 1921, he dealt with many issues eerily similar to those we still struggle with today.
The Spanish Flu pandemic and an epidemic of racial inequality ravaged the country. Today’s politicians and citizens could probably learn important lessons from Wilson’s responses to those situations — and some of his mistakes.
The Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum, located in Staunton, Virginia, is a good place to start. History-loving couples can make a date out of a visit to the museum and the city that was Wilson’s birthplace in 1856.
“An updated panel in the museum confronts Woodrow Wilson’s divisive and controversial views on Black civil rights during his presidency, including segregationist policies that are still discussed and debated today,” Hunter Hanger, Special Events Supervisor at the museum, told us.
Wilson’s two-term tenure also saw the emergence of the women’s suffrage movement and the start of World War I. Though America was not quick to enter the war, Wilson eventually sent troops abroad.
“After a policy of neutrality at the outbreak of World War I, Wilson led America into war in order to ‘make the world safe for democracy,’” according to The White House website.
In 1918, Wilson aimed to create peace around the world.
“He later presented to the Senate the Versailles Treaty, containing the Covenant of the League of Nations, and asked, ‘Dare we reject it and break the heart of the world?’” according to The White House website.
Museum visitors can spend a day, or a date, perusing historical artifacts from Wilson’s life and presidency.
“The Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum at his birthplace is perfect for presidential library fans, history buffs, car enthusiasts, and lovers of historic homes,” said Hunter.
Exploring Wilson’s Historic Home
Staunton is a small city of about 25,000 near Charlottesville. The Wilsons’ home, also known as The Manse, was built by the Presbyterian church in 1846 and served as the residence and rectory for the reverend and his family. President Wilson was born in the home just two years after his father, the pastor of Staunton Presbyterian Church, and his young family moved in. In 2021, the building celebrated its 175th anniversary.
“It was quite a showpiece for Staunton at the time. It cost the church $4,000 to build the 4,000-square-foot home with 12 rooms and 12 fireplaces. When the Wilsons lived in The Manse in the 1850s, there would have been three enslaved individuals living and working here,” said Hunter.
President Franklin Roosevelt dedicated the museum and library in 1941. Wilson’s second wife, Edith Bolling Wilson, who supported the museum’s creation, knew that her husband considered himself a Virginian and wanted to memorialize him where he had been born.
Couples who visit the museum noted how much they learned exploring its exhibits.
“Surprised to see how the museum team is dealing with COVID-19 (they did a great job) and controversial subjects. Some display panels were obvious recent adds to deal with the subject of slavery and the Wilson family background. We were also surprised at the frankness of the history — true politics of the day!” one couple wrote in an online testimonial.
“My first presidential library. Not funded federally like many are, so they’ve done a great job creating an exhibit that is true to history and still bears in mind contemporary issues. The staff was outstanding. All five people I interacted with were excited to have us, knowledgeable and accommodating. And not just about the museum, but about the greater Staunton area. Stop in!” another review read.
Offering a Timeless Wedding Venue
Since the museum is not federally funded, one way the staff pays for its operation is by hosting weddings and other events. Couples who visit the museum for dates may decide its classic architecture is what they’re seeking on their special day.
The library and gardens are available for weddings and special events.
Weddings hosted in the library can use two large parlors, a sitting room, a front porch, and a back terrace for the ceremony and reception. Other amenities include a kitchen, restroom, table, chairs, and AV equipment. The space is large enough for 70 guests.
Couples who want to host weddings of up to 75 guests may opt for the terraced gardens on The Manse grounds instead. The lawn, brick path, and two gazebos of the Upper Garden are a common choice for ceremonies, while many couples opt to have dinner, cocktails, or photo sessions on the Lower Terrace. The venue can also accommodate tents in both gardens.
“The spaces are perfect for more intimate gatherings, elopements, family reunions, or business functions. Event organizers also have a site supervisor at the ready, eager to help provide suggestions for local caterers, florists, musicians, and accommodations,” Hunter told us.
Many couples also shared their impressions of hosting their weddings at the Manse online.
“We had our wedding ceremony at the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library Gardens. We’re not from the area and did most of the planning remotely. Karen was extremely helpful. It was the perfect outdoor spot in Staunton for our guests. Everything was stress-free and looked lovely. We’re so happy we got married here,” wrote Heather.
An Afternoon Date Full of Conversation Starters
Couples can immerse themselves in the artifacts of Wilson’s day at the museum, including the last surviving recording from WWI, a BBC recording of the Battle of Verdun in 1916. The museum also includes a replica of a World War I trench and Wilson’s 1919 Pierce Arrow Presidential limousine.
“Woodrow Wilson loved this car. It is painted black and orange in honor of Princeton University, where he was a former president of Princeton. It is the oldest still-functioning presidential limousine in the country,” said Hunter.
In addition to mementos from Wilson’s presidency, the museum also discusses the Wilson family’s history and heritage. Tour guides take visitors through the home explaining the family’s daily routines and the lives of the enslaved individuals who lived and worked there.
Couples looking for at-home dates can also participate in The Manse’s free online virtual programming — History at Home. One of these initiatives, Everyday Heroes, features the stories of people who were directly affected by Wilson’s policies throughout his presidency.
Other virtual programming includes Mourning at The Manse, which explores the elaborate Victorian funeral traditions practiced at the property. Those unable to visit in person can take a virtual 360-degree tour of The Manse on the website.
History lovers around the country can travel to Staunton or go online to appreciate the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum. The staff is looking forward to welcoming guests at its full reopening after the COVID-19 pandemic ends.
“We are excited to plan a spring season of events. Of course, there is always room for growth at any smaller museum, so we are looking forward to further exhibition expansions. Over the upcoming years, the Library campus will also be reconfiguring its departments to better suit the visitors,” said Hunter.