The modern holiday of Mother’s Day was first celebrated in 1908, when Anna Jarvis held a memorial for her mother at St. Andrew’s Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia. Her campaign to make “Mother’s Day” a recognized holiday in the United States began in 1905, the year her mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, died. Ann Jarvis had been a peace activist who cared for wounded soldiers on both sides of the American Civil War, and created Mother’s Day Work Clubs to address public health issues. Anna Jarvis wanted to honor her mother by continuing the work she started and to set aside a day to honor all mothers, because she believed that (they) mothers were “the person who has done more for you than anyone in the world.”
Sitting atop the crest of a hill in downtown Staunton’s Gospel Hill historic district is the birthplace of President Woodrow Wilson. The house is often referred to as a manse which is the term the Presbyterian Church used to identify the residence of their minister.
Way back in 1855, the Reverend Joseph Ruggles Wilson, a professor at Hampden-Sydney College, accepted a call to be pastor of Staunton Presbyterian Church. Mr. Wilson, his wife, Jessie Woodrow Wilson, and their daughters Marion and Annie moved into the Staunton manse in March 1855.
One year and nine months later on December 28, 1856 the third Wilson child was born “at 12¾ o’clock at night” as his proud father recorded in the family Bible. The child was named Thomas Woodrow Wilson for his maternal grandfather. The family called him “Tommy.”
Have you visited the Birthplace and Museum of Woodrow Wilson? Many of us might be shy to say that we drive by it every day and have never been inside.
The handsome Manse erected on the lot may have been designed by the Reverend Rufus W. Bailey, founder of Augusta Female Seminary in 1842 (now Mary Baldwin College), and designer of its classical main building (1844), for he served on the church’s building committee. The manse and the college’s old building are strikingly similar in style.
Builder of the manse was John Fifer of Augusta County. His son, later Governor of Illinois, recalled that the bricks were fired just west of Staunton along the Parkersburg Turnpike, and that some of the construction workers left the job to become soldiers in the Mexican War. Church records indicate that the total cost of constructing the 12-room Greek Revival style brick house with its center halls and four chimneys was about $4,000.
Only four ministers’ families occupied the manse following the Wilson family. To cover debts from construction of a new church, the Presbyterian trustees sold two sections of the large lot surrounding the manse in 1874. Woodrow Wilson returned to Staunton many times during his childhood. His Aunt, Marion Woodrow Bones, and her family lived here, and his sisters and several cousins attended Augusta Female Seminary under its principal, Miss Mary Julia Baldwin, a friend of his mother. But Woodrow Wilson did not visit the manse again until the year 1912 when, as President-elect of the United States, he returned to Staunton to celebrate his 56th birthday on December 28th in the house in which he was born.
Following President Wilson’s death in 1924, the trustees of Mary Baldwin College determined to raise funds for a memorial building to the President. The congregation of First Presbyterian Church gave its approval in 1925 to the sale of the manse to the college for $30,000 and the college held it until a group could be formed to preserve and interpret the home as a Birthplace museum for the late President of the United States. The Woodrow Wilson Birthplace Foundation was established in 1938. The first restoration of the manse started in 1940 and was completed in 1941 bringing the Presbyterian Manse back to its appearance of 1856 when Thomas Woodrow Wilson was born. In May 1941 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt came to Staunton to dedicate the restored Woodrow Wilson Birthplace as a “shrine to freedom.”
A child was born and Jesse Wilson became a mother for the third time. Wilson, his two older sisters, and a younger brother experienced a comfortable childhood, enjoying the affection of a warm, attentive mother and the instruction of a gregarious yet demanding Presbyterian minister father. That child, who struggled and did not learn to read until he was 10, received the love and support of his parents. It is said in the history books that he may have suffered a learning disability. Woodrow Wilson went from these early beginnings to become a graduate of Princeton University and Johns Hopkins University and the only President to hold an earned doctoral degree.
He later grew up to become the 28th President of the United States.
During his tenure as U. S. President, in 1914, Woodrow Wilson, as President, signed a proclamation designating Mother’s Day, held on the second Sunday in May, as a national holiday to honor mothers.
On this Mother’s Day, as you drive by the birthplace, give a nod to “Tommy.”
He “done good.”
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!
And, Happy Mother’s Day to all our Mothers and Grandmothers and Moms-In-Waiting and those who might someday become a mom and most especially, to the dear women far and wide, who long to become a mother, may this day be one of hope and promise for you.
Living the Dream,