Acclaimed Author Dick Lehr in Columbia

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Dick Lehr at the Woodrow Wilson Family Home

September 25

5:30 – 7:00 p.m.

HC Members Only

Free

On September 25, Historic Columbia is pleased to host a members’ only reception for Dick Lehr at the Woodrow Wilson Family Home.  Lehr’s book, The Birth of a Nation:  How a Legendary Filmmaker and Crusading Editor Reignited America’s Civil War, is an outstanding counter-history of the reaction and impact of one of early cinema’s most famous films.

Attendees will be invited to tour the Wilson Home to better understand the connection between the 28th president and the incendiary film.  The author will sign books, which will be available for purchase on site. Please contact reservations@historiccolumbia.org to confirm your attendance.

In addition to the September 25 event, Historic Columbia and the History Center at USC are co-sponsoring a public talk on the book, with film clips from The Birth of a Nation, at the Nickelodeon Theater on September 26 at 7 p.m. This is a free event, but there is limited seating and reservations are required.

Woodrow Wilson and the Birth of a Nation

As a college professor, Woodrow Wilson wrote, “Reconstruction is still a revolutionary matter…..those who delve into it find it like a banked fire.” Reconstruction in South Carolina ended with the election of Wade Hampton as governor in 1876, just two years after Wilson, then known as Tommy, left his family home here in Columbia. Wilson still felt the heat of that “banked fire” in the White House, almost 40 years later. The first sitting president to view films in the White House, in 1915 Wilson viewed The Birth of a Nation, an epic silent film based on a book written by one of his college acquaintances. The Birth of a Nation, set in South Carolina with some scenes in Wilson’s former hometown of Columbia, offered a racist interpretation of the Civil War and Reconstruction.

While watching The Birth of a Nation, would Wilson have recalled his years in Columbia?  What he thought of the film he did not say, leaving historians to interpret the event in a variety of ways. However, by his viewing it the movie’s producers capitalized on the White House connection, claiming the president endorsed it.

Today, the  Woodrow Wilson Family Home, operated by Historic Columbia, is a physical connection to Reconstruction and a window into how this era has been represented historically and how it is remembered to today.  It also allows 21st century visitors to ask important questions about how Reconstruction shaped a boy who would be president. Visit historiccolumbia.org for information on taking a house tour of the Woodrow Wilson Family Home.

More on Mr. Lehr’s book The Birth of a Nation:  How a Legendary Filmmaker and Crusading Editor Reignited America’s Civil War

In 1915, two men-one a journalist agitator, the other a technically brilliant filmmaker-incited a public confrontation that roiled America, pitting black against white, Hollywood against Boston, and free speech against civil rights. William Monroe Trotter and D. W. Griffith were fighting over a film that dramatized the Civil War and Reconstruction in a post-Confederate South. Almost fifty years earlier, Monroe’s father, James, was a sergeant in an all-black Union regiment that marched into Charleston, South Carolina, just as the Kentucky cavalry-including “Roaring Jake” Griffith, D. W.’s father-fled for their lives. Griffith’s film, The Birth of a Nation, included actors in blackface, heroic portraits of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, and a depiction of Lincoln’s assassination. Freed slaves were portrayed as villainous, vengeful, slovenly, and dangerous to the sanctity of American values. It was tremendously successful, eventually seen by 25 million Americans. But violent protests against the film flared up across the country.

Monroe Trotter’s titanic crusade to have the film censored became a blueprint for dissent during the 1950s and 1960s. This is the fiery story of a revolutionary moment for mass media and the nascent civil rights movement, and the men clashing over the cultural and political soul of a still-young America standing at the cusp of its greatest days.

“D. W. Griffiths’ 1915 film, The Birth of a Nation, may have been billed as the ‘Most Wonderful Motion Picture Ever,’ but to African Americans of the Jim Crow era, it was a grotesque reminder of how invisible their true lives-their history and their dreams-were across the color line. Speaking out against the white-hooded nostalgia the film inflamed, William Monroe Trotter, Harvard’s first black Phi Beta Kappa graduate and a leading newspaper editor, revived a protest tradition that would set the stage for the civil rights movement to follow. Distinguished journalist Dick Lehr’s account of this racial debate is not only enthralling to read; it reminds us of the singular importance of ‘the birth of’ Monroe Trotter.”

Henry Louis Gates, Jr.  Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, Harvard University

CLICK HERE to become a member of Historic Columbia and enjoy the opportunity to attend events like these in the future!

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Free Times Responds to Wilson Controversy

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Following the national media coverage of the controversy surrounding Woodrow Wilson’s legacy, Rodney Welch recently visited the Woodrow Wilson Family Home and spoke with Historic Columbia staff about how this unique museum addresses these dynamic and difficult conversations. This article originally appeared in the December 23, 2015 issue of Free Times

Wilson and Howe Families

As U.S. Reconsiders Woodrow Wilson, Columbia Leads the Way

Nationally and locally, Woodrow Wilson’s past has been catching up to him.

Last month, students at Wilson’s alma mater, Princeton University, staged a sit-in at the president’s office and demanded Wilson’s name be removed from all campus buildings.

Here in Columbia, the divided legacy of the 28th president has been a topic of conversation ever since the newly renovated Woodrow Wilson Family Home at 1705 Hampton St. reopened in February of 2014.

Although long known as a champion of liberal reform who led the country during World War I, Wilson was also the president who re-introduced segregation into federal offices in Washington, D.C., treated black leaders with contempt, and screened D.W. Griffith’s racist epic The Birth of a Nation in the White House.

Far from avoiding the issue of Wilson’s racial views, exhibits in Columbia’s Woodrow Wilson Family Home tackle them upfront, partly because it’s unavoidable. This is the home where Wilson lived from 1870 to 1874, from the ages of 14 to 18, when a defeated South was still licking its wounds.

“One of the key things we want to do here is we want to talk about Reconstruction,” says John Sherrer, cultural resources director at Historic Columbia, which manages the home. “We want to be able to create the scenario of ‘This is Columbia and this is South Carolina after the Civil War.’”

For Jennifer Taylor, who wrote the docent script and is currently writing her Ph.D. thesis on the home, the willingness of the museum staff to approach sensitive topics makes it rare.

“The way that they’re talking about race and political power, those are important subjects that aren’t generally covered in these spaces,” she says.

“I think we actually are unique among the Wilson sites in the way that we interpret this Wilson house,” says Historic Columbia Executive Director Robin Waites.

The Columbia home is one of four Wilson museums in the country. There’s also the presidential library in Staunton, Virginia, a boyhood home in Augusta — where the family lived before moving to Columbia — and the retirement home in Washington, D.C.

“Looking at communications from folks in D.C. and folks in Augusta, they certainly now are saying that Wilson was a complex guy, but it’s not something that they talk about necessarily at the historic sites, whereas we do that at this site,” Waites says. “So I’m not sure that there is, honestly, the expectation out there that a house that deals with Wilson would do this.”

Throughout the house, displays contrast Wilson’s placid domestic world with the political corruption and terrorism going on in the streets of Columbia.

In video presentations, Wilson is assessed by speakers as diverse as biographer A. Scott Berg and hop-hop artist DJ Spooky.

Historic Columbia co-hosted a screening of the latter’s film Rebirth of a Nation — a remixed, rescored and re-narrated version which examines Griffith’s compositional techniques and ideology — in January at the Nickelodeon Theatre.

“What we try to do here is look at the myths surrounding Reconstruction and break those down and tease those apart and put human faces on a lot of the events,” says Fielding Freed, Director of Historic House Museums with Historic Columbia. “As our guests go around the house, they’re starting to get a real idea that this was about human beings really renegotiating the majority of what was taken for granted for so many years and so [much] American life and that was slavery, and that’s no longer part of the social fabric of the country.”

Jasper Lawson of Massachusetts, who grew up in Columbia and graduated from the University of South Carolina, stopped by the home during a visit to his 50th reunion at C.A. Johnson High School.

“It’s a lot more informative than when I was a 14-year-old teenager popping in here,” he said. “Now I say, well, Wilson is not an exceptional president in terms of his racial views or anything like that. He’s no exception.”

For Lawson’s partner, Jay Landers, Wilson’s views were likely a matter of his environment.

“How you’re brought up is how you’re brought up,” he said. “He’s no different. We will be criticized in 20 or 30 years for what we’re doing now.”

He didn’t have to look far for a contemporary example.

“We experience that all the time, being an interracial married couple,” he said. “We’ve been married for 11 years, coming from Massachusetts, which was the first one with same sex marriage — we get to experience it. And there are places in today’s world where we won’t go right now.”

 

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The Impact of Columbia on Woodrow Wilson

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[The following was written by our Executive Director, Robin Waites, and published in The State on December 14, 2015 as an Opinion Extra. Richland and Lexington County residents are invited to take a guided tour of the Woodrow Wilson Family Home for only $1 on Sunday, Dec. 20.]

Recent student protests at Princeton regarding President Woodrow Wilson may seem far removed from Columbia, but Wilson’s views on race are part of our everyday conversations at the Woodrow Wilson Family Home.   Since reopening the historic site in February 2014, Richland County and Historic Columbia have operated the museum as a place that explores the Reconstruction era, considers its impact on Wilson, and promotes open dialogue on all aspects of Wilson’s Presidency.

Woodrow Wilson Family Home

 

The Wilson’s moved to their home at the corner of Hampton and Henderson streets in 1871 when the future President was 14 years old.  This was in the middle of the Reconstruction era, a tumultuous period between the conclusion of the Civil War and the beginning of legally sanctioned segregation across the South.  Race, inextricably interwoven into politics and power, was central to the experience of Blacks and Whites in Columbia in 1871.  Racial matters structured lives in ways codified by law and negotiated through generations-old social customs. It was within this context that a white, privileged southern teenager began to form his impressions of the world and grow intellectually.

Woodrow Wilson is considered a successful, two-term President, who led America to victory in the First World War.  He is perhaps best known for laying the groundwork for the League of Nations, a precursor to the United Nations.  He is often held out as one of America’s most effective Presidents.   But, missing from the usual narrative on Wilson’s legacy is a discussion of his domestic policies, particularly those involving racial segregation.

Wilson campaigned in 1912 on a platform of racial inclusion, but went in the opposite direction once in office.  His actions to re-segregate federal offices that had been at least partially integrated took racial reconciliation backwards.  His association with public figures who championed legal segregation of the races sent a message to white and black alike that he eschewed policies that would bring about more equal treatment of blacks and whites.

The mindset behind these policies had its foundation within the very era in which Wilson grew into an adult in Columbia. Exhibits and guides at the Woodrow Wilson Family Home tackle these challenging issues and discuss the structural segregation in the post-Civil War era, as well as political terrorism carried out against blacks by the Red Shirts, and the apparent endorsement of Birth of a Nation in 1915 by then President Wilson.  Discussion of these issues has long been avoided but needs to be addressed in today’s world if we are going to be honest in our assessment of history and how it has shaped the world we live in today.

As the country is engaged in dynamic and difficult conversations about race and specifically the legacy of Woodrow Wilson, Historic Columbia offers a unique environment to consider how this national leader’s experiences and opinions shaped his later actions.   More broadly, in opening the door to discussion about our complex past, we all may thoughtfully shape our shared future.

Robin Waites is the Executive Director of Historic Columbia, which manages the Woodrow Wilson Family Home.  Waites oversaw the multi-year rehabilitation and re-interpretation of the site, which is the only museum of Reconstruction in the country.

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Historic Columbia Receives 2015 SC Historic Preservation Heritage Tourism Award for Woodrow Wilson Family Home

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Heritage Tourism Award

Lt. Governor Henry McMaster presented Historic Columbia with the 2015 Historic Preservation Heritage Tourism Award during the 2015 Historic Preservation Awards ceremony at the South Carolina Statehouse on Friday, June 5.

The S.C. Historic Preservation Heritage Tourism Award recognizes those who best use South Carolina’s cultural and historic resources in the promotion and development of tourism or use tourism to directly benefit the preservation of the state’s heritage. The awards are sponsored by the Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation, the S.C. Department of Archives & History and the Office of the Governor.

“We are proud to have developed exhibits and tours at the Woodrow Wilson Family Home that resonate with so many visitors from South Carolina and far beyond,” said Historic Columbia Executive Director Robin Waites. “The story of the Reconstruction Era needs to be told, and it is clear from our numbers that it is one people across the country are eager to understand.”

Historic Columbia received the Heritage Tourism Award for the reinterpretation of the Woodrow Wilson Family Home: A Museum of Reconstruction in Columbia & Richland County, South Carolina’s only presidential site and the only museum in the United States to focus solely on the Reconstruction era. Closed for nearly nine years, the Wilson home reopened on February 15, 2014 after an unprecedented comprehensive physical rehabilitation and reinterpretation of the content presented in the museum.

During the restoration, Historic Columbia assembled a team of distinguished scholars from the University of South Carolina to create a new interpretive scheme to would showcase the Wilson family in the context of the Reconstruction era, the transformative years when they called Columbia home. The property not only tells the story of the young future president’s life in Columbia; it uses the Wilson family as a springboard to the larger of story of what was happening in South Carolina in the years following the Civil War.

Central to that story is the experience of African Americans, considered citizens for the first time in southern history. Visitors to the Woodrow Wilson Family Home are immersed in the context of Columbia in the 1870s as they explore how Columbia’s 9,297 residents, both black and white, navigated the profound political, social and economic changes of Reconstruction. Through panel exhibits, interactive technologies and guided tours, visitors learn that this was a time when African Americans participated in government, founded churches, claimed access to education and negotiated new terms of labor.

“The sensitive rehabilitation of the Woodrow Wilson Family Home has reaffirmed the site’s position as a vibrant cultural attraction in the capital city and resulted in more successful stewardship of one of South Carolina’s most important properties associated with Reconstruction.,” said John Sherrer, Historic Columbia’s director of cultural resources. “At the Wilson home, Historic Columbia is able share with visitors Columbia’s 19th-century history and deconstruct the history of Reconstruction so prevalent in society today.”

The Woodrow Wilson Family Home: A Museum of Reconstruction in Columbia & Richland County is open for tours Tuesday – Saturday at 11 am, 1 pm and 3 pm, and Sunday at 2 pm and 4 pm. Tour admission can be purchased at the Gift Shop at Robert Mills, and tours are $8 for adults, $5 for youth and free for HC members. For more information, visit historiccolumbia.org.

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Historic Columbia Recieves 2015 Award of Merit from Confederation of SC Local Historical Societies

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CSCSLHS Award

The Confederation of South Carolina Local Historical Societies presented Historic Columbia with the 2015 Award of Merit for its work on the Woodrow Wilson Family Home: A Museum of Reconstruction in Columbia & Richland County at a banquet on April 10 in Walhalla, S.C.

CSCLHS presented Historic Columbia with the Award of Merit to recognize the rehabilitation and reinterpretation of the Woodrow Wilson Family Home. In 2005, HC closed the home, which had operated as a shrine to the 28th president since 1934, due to structural issues.

“Recognition by the Confederation of South Carolina Local Historical Societies for our reinterpretation of the WWFH and the establishment of a museum of Reconstruction marks an important chapter in Historic Columbia’s growth,” said HC Director of Cultural Resources John Sherrer. “By sharing this distinction with others, both the CSLHS and HC may be appreciated more greatly throughout the state and region.”

Between 2005 and 2014, the Wilson home underwent a museum-grade restoration and rehabilitation; at the same time, HC assembled a group of distinguished scholars to lead the reinterpretation, culminating in a 21st-century museum inside a 19th-century house that explores Reconstruction (1865-1876) in Columbia and Richland County and the Wilsons’ lives here during that time. The Woodrow Wilson Family Home is not only South Carolina’s only presidential site, it is also the only museum in the country to focus solely on the Reconstruction era.

The Confederation of South Carolina Local Historical Societies recognizes the special achievements of historical organizations, volunteers in historical organizations, professionals, and other entities that further the programs and projects of historical organizations. The Award of Merit is given to organizations that have created execptional projects that advance local history.

For more information about the Woodrow Wilson Family Home, visit historiccolumbia.org.

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Historic Columbia Recieves 2015 Award of Achievement from SC Federation of Museums

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SCFM HC Award

The South Carolina Federation of Museums presented Historic Columbia with the 2015 Award of Achievement for its work on the Woodrow Wilson Family Home: A Museum of Reconstruction in Columbia & Richland County at the statewide conference on March 12.

SCFM presented Historic Columbia with the Award of Achievement to recognize the rehabilitation and reinterpretation of the Woodrow Wilson Family Home. In 2005, HC closed the home, which had operated as a shrine to the 28th president since 1934, due to structural issues.

“We are proud to be recognized with this award for our work on the Woodrow Wilson Family Home,” said Historic Columbia Executive Director Robin Waites. “Working closely with Richland County, John Milner Associates, and the University of South Carolina, Historic Columbia has gone to great lengths to preserve South Carolina’s only presidential home and shed light on the often-misunderstood Reconstruction era.”

Between 2005 and 2014, the Wilson home underwent a museum-grade restoration and rehabilitation; at the same time, HC assembled a group of distinguished scholars to lead the reinterpretation, culminating in a 21st-century museum inside a 19th-century house that explores Reconstruction (1865-1876) in Columbia and Richland County and the Wilsons’ lives here during that time. The Woodrow Wilson Family Home is not only South Carolina’s only presidential site, it is also the only museum in the country to focus solely on the Reconstruction era.

SCFM’s Award of Achievement is presented to museums in South Carolina that have presented an exhibit, program or publication demonstrating excellent utilization of the resources available to that institution. Since 1970, SCFM has served, represented, advocated and promoted the best interest of South Carolina museums in order to strengthen professional standards and procedures, facilitate communication, foster inclusiveness and increase professionalism and sustainability of institutional resources.

For more information about the Woodrow Wilson Family Home, visit historiccolumbia.org.

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Save the Date: The Palladium Society’s Bluegrass, Bidding & BBQ Returns on Oct. 23

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Enjoy music, food, drinks and The Palladium Society’s 11th annual silent auction at Bluegrass, Bidding & BBQ on Thursday, October 23 at the Woodrow Wilson Family Home.

Admission to Bluegrass, Bidding & BBQ includes delicious food by Bourbon and Oak Table, specialty drinks, live music by The Mustache Brothers, and the opportunity to bid on items ranging from a night out at a local restaurant or performance to a weekend hunting expedition or a trip to Greenville, Mount Pleasant or Pawley’s Island. Proceeds from this year’s auction will benefit Historic Columbia’s Mann-Simons Site.

Tickets are $15 for Palladium Society members, $25 for Historic Columbia members, and $30 for the general public. All tickets sold at the door will be $30, and advance tickets are available now at historiccolumbia.org.

Bluegrass, Bidding & BBQ begins at 7 pm, and bidding in the auction ends at 9 pm. Located at 1705 Hampton Street, the Woodrow Wilson Family Home: A Museum of Reconstruction in Columbia and Richland County will be open for complimentary tours from 7 to 8:30 pm during the event.

The Palladium Society is a dynamic group of young professionals who support the mission of Historic Columbia through education, social and fundraising initiatives. Benefits of Palladium Society membership include:

  • 50% off advance tickets to Palladium-sponsored events, including the annual Bluegrass, Bidding & BBQ Silent Auction in the fall and Chili Cook-Off in the winter.
  • Free admission to the quarterly Renovation Rodeos.
  • Participation in the Southeast Reciprocal Museum Membership Program.
  • Networking opportunities at happy hours and mixers with HC Board of Trustees and Board of Directors & Advocates
  • Education about Columbia’s significant past and involvement in its future.
  • Volunteer opportunities at exciting Palladium events, such as the annual Chili Cook-Off and the Bluegrass, Bidding & BBQ Silent Auction.
  • Leadership possibilities on committees and the Palladium board.
  • Socializing with other young professional groups who are also striving to impact the community during social events such as happy hours, pub-crawls and other activities.

For more information on The Palladium Society or how to join, please visit historiccolumbia.org or contact Caitlin O’Brien at 803.252.7742 x 15 or cobrien@historiccolumbia.org.

Bluegrass, Bidding & BBQ is brought to you by:
Sponsor-Block-for-Web

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Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author to Speak at Historic Columbia

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Pulitzer Prize-winning and #1 New York Times-bestselling author A. Scott Berg will speak about his latest book, Wilson, and sign books at Historic Columbia on Sunday, Sept. 7.

Historic Columbia will provide two opportunities on Sept. 7 to see and hear from the author:

Wilson is available for purchase at the Gift Shop at Robert Mills for $40. The Gift Shop will have copies available for purchase on-site at both of the day’s events.

Wilson, published in September 2013, is a personal and penetrating biography about the 28th President of the United States, the product of more than a decade of research and writing. One hundred years after his inauguration, Woodrow Wilson still stands as one of the most influential figures of the twentieth century, and one of the most enigmatic. From the scholar-President who ushered the country through its first great world war to the man of intense passion and turbulence, from the idealist determined to make the world “safe for democracy” to the stroke-crippled leader whose incapacity and the subterfuges around it were among the century’s greatest secrets, the result is an intimate portrait written with a particularly contemporary point of view – a book at once magisterial and deeply emotional about the whole of Wilson’s life, accomplishments, and failings. This is not just Wilson the icon – but Wilson the man.

A. Scott Berg graduated from Princeton University in 1971 and is the author of Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, Goldwyn: A Biography, and Lindbergh, for which he received the National Book Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Pulitzer Prize respectively.

The Robert Mills Carriage House is located at 1616 Blanding Street, Columbia, SC 29201. The Woodrow Wilson Family Home is located at 1705 Hampton Street, Columbia, SC 29201. To register for the 3 p.m. talk, visit historiccolumbia.org, call 803.252.1770 x 23 or email reservations@historiccolumbia.org.

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We Need Your Help! Gov. Haley’s Vetos Target Woodrow Wilson Family Home Funding

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This Wednesday, the day before announcing her vetoes, Gov. Haley presented Historic Columbia with the 2014 SC Historic Preservation Award for our work restoring the Woodrow Wilson Family Home.

This Wednesday, the day before announcing her vetoes, Gov. Haley presented Historic Columbia with the 2014 SC Historic Preservation Award for our work restoring and rehabilitating the Woodrow Wilson Family Home.

Since December Historic Columbia has been working with members of the General Assembly to secure funding for the Woodrow Wilson Family Home, South Carolina’s only presidential site. This funding would allow us to complete the capital and exhibit work at the site, as well as to market the site to a national audience. $250,000 was included in the budget to address these needs. The Governor vetoed this item earlier this week.

If you have a few minutes, please send a quick email or make a phone call over the weekend or Monday your South Carolina legislators asking them to override veto #35. You can search for your legislators’ names and contact information here, and we’ve created a message for you to use when you contact them:

Subject line:  Override Veto #35 – Woodrow Wilson Family Home

As a supporter of Historic Columbia, I am writing to ask you to override the veto of funding for the Woodrow Wilson Family Home (#35).

South Carolina’s only presidential site and the nation’s only museum of Reconstruction has the potential to be an extraordinary draw to tourists as well as a unique resource for students throughout the state. Your support is critical to ensuring that we reach broad audiences across the region and give SC something for which we can all be proud.

Thank you,

[insert your name]

We greatly appreciate your assistance and support – let’s pull together to make sure that this historic treasure, unique in the state of South Carolina, receives the support it deserves!

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Woodrow Wilson Wednesday: Meet the Family

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Though Tommy Wilson and his family didn’t stay in Columbia for a long time, their family has strong ties to the capital city. For example, Tommy’s sister Annie married Columbian George Howe, she and Tommy’s parents are buried at First Presbyterian, and Tommy’s maternal relatives, the Woodrows, were a prominent family in well-known name in Columbia.

On display in the Woodrow Wilson Family Home, you will find a family photo album donated by Mrs. A. Wadley Kirkland, a family member and long-time supporter of the Woodrow Wilson Family Home. This album contains twenty-four likenesses of Wilson and Woodrow family members, preserved for generations. The album features examples of two styles of early pictures, carte de visit and cabinet cards, and the photos include Tommy’s parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles. In the picture above, you can see Dr. James Woodrow, who taught at the Columbia Theological Seminary (today’s Robert Mills House) with Dr. Joseph Ruggles Wilson, the future president’s father.

When you tour the Woodrow Wilson Family Home, we encourage you to use this album to get to know the Wilson and Woodrow families. Of course, you won’t be able to actually flip through its pages, but you will be able to see Tommy’s family tree as well as pictures from the family photo album by using the interactive screen to the right of its case.

 

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