National Press Club

National Press Club in History: The "real" Woodrow Wilson reveals himself

June 24, 2018 | By Gilbert Klein |

The image of President Wilson, which survives to today, is of the stern son of a Presbyterian minister; the no-nonsense academic, creator of the 14 Points who ruined his health on a whistle-stop tour of the nation trying to convince the public to support his League of Nations.

Just in the past few years, his public image has been tarnished as his role in re-segregating the federal government has been emphasized.

Wilson, apparently, had a different image of himself, which he revealed to the National Press Club during his appearance on March 20, 1914, at the housewarming of the Club’s new quarters atop the Albee Building directly across 15th Street from the Treasury Department.

Wilson was no stranger to the Club. He became a member long before he was president, while he was writing a book about Congress, and he had appeared as governor of New Jersey. In fact, in the list of members included in the Club’s 1914 yearbook, Wilson is listed first as “author” and then as “President of the United States.”

At the housewarming, Wilson chatted with fellow members about how his public image did not match his self-image. He talked about what he would like to do if he were not president. Wilson’s remarks initially were off the record, but the reporters got him to relent. The story the next day was plastered across front pages nationwide.

The Washington Post headline read:

An Intimate Picture of Woodrow Wilson, the Man, as Drawn by Himself, Chief Executive Says He Longs to Masquerade in Wig and Beard, Free From All Stately Restraint; Revels in Wild Detective Yarns

With the subhead:

Finds it Hard to Hold in Leash His Natural Exuberance – Only Consolation for Being a “National Exhibit,” Like the Monument and Museum, Is His Love for Man in the Street – Does Not Recognize Himself in Some of the Sincerest Pen Pictures Drawn of Him – Hopes to Really See Washington When He Escapes from Leading Strings.

The Club’s 1928 history summed up the event this way:

“Mr. Wilson said that he must be some kind of fraud if people think him a cold and removed person with a thinking machine inside capable of adjustment to circumstances and not subject to the winds of affection and emotion. ‘If I were to interpret myself I would say that my constant embarrassment is to restrain the emotions inside me. You may not believe it, but sometimes I feel like a fire from a far from extinct volcano, and if the lava does not seem to spill over it is because you are not high enough to see into the basin.’”

Wilson concluded that if he could disguise himself, he would leave the White House to mingle with ordinary people.

“I would go out, be a free American citizen once more, and have a jolly good time,” he said. “I then might meet some of you gentlemen and tell you what I actually thought.”

This is another in a series provided by Club historian Gil Klein. Dig down anywhere in the Club’s 110-year history, and you will find some kind of significant event in the history of the world, the nation, Washington and the Club itself. Many of these events were caught in illustrations that tell the stories.