tv American Artifacts World War I Tour of Woodrow Wilson House CSPAN December 25, 2018 9:40am-10:16am EST
in 1979 c-span was created as a public service by america's cable television companies. and today we continue to bring you unfiltered coverage of congress. the white house. the supreme court. and public policy events in washington, d.c. and around the country. c-span is brought to you by your cable or satellite provider. each week american artifacts takes you to museums and historic places. we visited woodrow wilson's house in washington, d.c. retired after leading the nation through world war i and its diplomatic aftermath. he died here three years later. the executive director leads us through the house and provides a -- april 6th, 1917 as an ally of britain, france and russia.
2 million american soldiers saw combat in france. >> i'm robert enholm, the executive director of the president woodrow wilson house here in washington, d.c. this home is the home to which president and mrs. wilson moved the very day they left the white house in 1921. the home itself was built in 1916 and the wilsons acquired it in december of 1920, knowing that they'd be leaving the white house and decided to remain in washington, d.c. this home is a time capsule. it basically takes us back about 100 years ago and allows us to see the way the world was then. we sometimes have the illusion that people in history were very much like us, only they wore, you know, dowdy clothes or something. but actually the wilsons lived in an era when americans thought differently about themselves, about america's role in the world. when society was very different.
and the artifacts in this house, i think, open a door into that world and i'd like to help us do that today by looking at a couple of the artifacts chtsds home that tell the story of america's involvement with world war i. here were now almost a hundred years from the date when the united states entered the war in 1917. i observe often that history is studied in eras and epics, but it's lived in hours and days. and this is very true with the wilsons and world war i. we often associate the sinking of the lucitania with the united states entry into the war. but it was actually sunk in may of 1915 and we didn't enter the war until almost two years later in april of 1917. president wilson had to get up every day in those two years and deal with the fact that we were either going to be in the war or not be in the war and all of the reactions of people his
constituents, other nations, the political figures that he dealt with. some of them felt we would have entered the war at the beginning of the war in europe and others felt strongly that we never should have entered the war. and wilson had to navigate that period of time and those decisions as our president. i think it's fair to say that woodrow wilson is the most consequential president from the time of abraham lincoln until the time of franklin roosevelt. i say that because he was our president during this remarkable event in world history, really at a flexion point in world history and in american history, not only dealing with world war i, but the rise of the united states as a force in the world. by 1900 the united states had the largest economy in the world. but the consequences of that weren't fully appreciated until -- by the end of world war i when america's role as a military power and as a diplomatic power were understood and acknowledged. and it was woodrow wilson who
was our president during that entire time who really brought that change in america's role to the fore. wilson was a remarkable person to execute this activity, to execute this change. he was a deeply religious person. all of us abhor war but wilson as a religious man felt we had a duty to do better than to collapse into war every generation. he was a political scientist, really one of the founders of that discipline of thought, one of the first presidents of the american political science association. and so he thought that we could do better. he believed that we could govern ourselves better as a world. and the combination of those two firmly held principles in his mind and heart led him to conclude, as world war i progressed, that there ought to be a better solution that would resolve not only this war but the wars of the future and even prevent wars in the future. and from that came his idea of a league of nations to which he
devoted not only his political career, but arguably his life and his place in history. so the artifacts we have in this house can tell us the story of wood jo woodrow wilson's involvement with world war i. if i had to pick one artifact to explain that story, it would be this. it looks like a brass vase. but you'll recognize immediately it's an artillery shell casing. this was the casing from the first shot fired by american troops in world war i in europe. and a couple of things about this. it was fired in october of 1917. general pershing who was the commander of the force in europe had the thought that he should save this and send it to president wilson as a memento of america's involvement in the war. it's interesting that we declared war in april and yet the first shot was fired in october. it took us six months to go from the idea of engaging in world
war i to actually being on the ground and engaging with the enemy. most remarkable about this is that not only is this an artillery shell casing from the first shot fired by american troops in europe in world war i, it's the first shot fired by american troops in europe, full stop, ever. you know, in my lifetime, america has always had an army in europe. but in woodrow wilson's lifetime the exact pop sit was true. we'd never had an army in europe. at the beginning of world war i the united states was tied for the 13th largest military in the world, tied with serbia and greece. by the end of world war i. we had 4 million men in uniform, having gone from 200,000 to 4 million. and fully half of them, 2 million service personnel were in europe at the end of world war i. so just the logistics of that are astounding. realize that when world war i
erupted the combatants weren't even concerned about america's role. and yet today we think of america as an indispensable power in world politics. but at the beginning of world war i we really were an afterthought. and it was woodrow wilson who achieved that transition. i've heard presidents of both political parties say in my lifetime that the united states doesn't go to war, basically to build an empire or to acquire territory, that we go to war for principle, for right. and it was really woodrow wilson who was the first american president to enunciate that proposition. and i need only guide you back 20 years earlier to the beginnings of the spanish/american war which was avowedly about taking over the colonies of a dwindling spanish empire. wilson thought that, no, going to war was about securing an enduring peace. and so this artillery shell casing is here on the mantel in
his bedroom where he had it. it was not a triumphilous trophy, it was a reminder of the work yet undone. he was awarded the nobel peace prize for establishing the league of nations. but as americans we should always remember our country never joined the league of nations. the senate declined to ratify the treaty. wilson went on a trip across the country to appeal to the american public to override the will of their senators, but that never happened. the league of nations failed in a series of votes in late -- in 1919 and early 1920. so the united states never joined. interestingly late in life i think wilson had a state of grace about this. he told one of his daughters who reported in her memoirs that he said i realize that great ideas don't rely on their advocates, that they have a logic of their own, a power of their own, and
it would be only 25 years when the u.n. was founded and there was, i think it's fair to say, no nation in the world more intent on founding the united nations at the end of world war ii than the united states. so in 1945 when the u.n. charter was signed in san francisco, in a way that's the conclusion of a conversation that woodrow wilson had begun in american politics in 1918. another artifact that is remarkable in this room, and there are so many, i invite people to come to see what we have, but relating to world war i is this sculpture. this was a gift to woodrow wilson from a young artist. he was a philippine artist in his 20s who was studying in the united states and had a day job, as most of my artist friends had when they were young, as a waiter and wanted his regular patrons was a woman who was the secretary to the first lady, to
edith wilson. the artist had done this project as an art project as a grad student and told the woman he knew who was associated with the white house that he'd done he h inspired by president wilson's efforts to bring peace to the world. it has the word pax inscribed here and he was invited to meet with president wilson. i read the account of coming to the white house with this statute under his arm wrapped in a towel and in those days one didn't encounter the secret service until you rang the doorbell and he was announced where he went into the office and spent time with president wilson and presented this gift. we know when wilson lived in this house he had this sculpture here or on a shelf in his library for the years he was here. the story is amazing. wilson introduced him to bernard, an arts patron,
supporter of president wilson, and baroque helped support getting an education there and going back to the philippines where he became one of the great artists in the history of the philippines. it's interesting to me our 28th president had a role in spurring the career of a philippine artist who went on to live until the 1970s and 1980s and had an impact in his own country vastly beyond that that we have here. it's an amazing work just the draping of the gown on the woman, the figure of the woman, and the child looking off into the middle distance, presumably looking for peace, standing on a rock under which you can see chains and a crown and a world war i helmet. very readily with symbolism but a favorite piece of president wilson. president wilson passed away in this room in 1924.
his widow edith wilson lived here until remarkably 1961, 37 years after he passed, and she left this house to the national trust for historic preservation to be a memorial to president wilson. over his bed we can see a work of art. it's a textile painted on wood frame and was presented to wilson during world war i by an italian artist when wilson was visiting new york city. it was a favorite piece of wilson's and he had it hanging over his bed in the white house and then over his bed here at the house. on the bed here is also an interesting artifact. it's a pillow which the pillowcase has been woven into the likeness of president wilson, which, you know, was a little unusual, but the story explains it. during world war i, the united states sent food aid to belgium, partially occupied by germany during the war, and the aid,
part of it came in the substance of flour in sacks, cotton sacks. the belgiums who have a tradition of weaving lace didn't have fine threads to weave during the war. they would take the flour sacks and undo them and re-weave them into designs and this one was a gift to president wilson and is a likeness of wilson together with cutwork around the edge to decorate. it's an amazing example of what people will do in war when they're limited in the materials that are available to them and yet they have a skill and want to exercise that skill. this is the drawing room in the house. every room has stories to tell but one of the important stories in this room is the high regard
with which the american president was held by the leaders of the world, certainly by the end of world war i and so there are many gifts of state in this ro room which are an acknowledgement of wilson's important role in bringing ability the end of world war i and then securing the peace and the ver sigh treaty and establishing the league of nations. today we probably rightly think so much more of world war ii than world war i. world war ii is closer to us in time. my own father was in the navy in world war ii. it also was a more disastrous war, more damage just on casualties, let's say. about 18 million people died in world war i. about 60 million, 65 million people died in world war ii. but for the contemporaries of world war i, there had never been a cataclysm on the scale that they were enduring. it's hard for us, i think, today to put ourselves back in the minds and passions of people in the early 20th century and
realize what a tragedy world war i was to them and how hopeless things must have seemed in the middle of that war from november of 1917 to november of 1918. so into that, president wilson brought the united states. not only did american troops lead to a decisive victory for the parties, the allies at the end of the war, but his enunciation of the 14 points which we may remember from high school, but at that time were really important. what his 14 points said, among other things, was that this war could be terminated, could be ended on principle. it didn't have to be a fight to the death. this was an innovation coming from a senior leader of an important country. additionally, his 14 points can be seen as a response to the revolution in russia which had occurred two or three months earlier in october
of 1917. the 14 points announced in january of 1918. so wilson was basically saying, we can maintain the western europe and the world that we all know, we can still have the forms of government that we're comfortable with and we can end this war without a fight to the death. it would take another better part of a year, another nine or ten months, until the german empire accepted wilson's 14 points as the basis for peace and the date of that acceptance was known as armistice day. today we call it veterans day. that's how important that day was. we still honor it as a national holiday even 100 years later. so in that time, wilson was the world leader who was bringing the hope for peace to the world. when he went to europe to negotiate the versailles treaty at the end of world war i, he ended up staying for six months. some will say to me, well, it was hard to travel in those days. it wasn't that hard. it took him ten days in an american war ship to go across the atlantic. but there was nothing more
important than ending the great war. wilson stayed to do whatever it took to do. while he was there, he had time to visit four countries. paris, france, of course, so he was in france, he visited italy, belgium and great britain. while in italy, he went there to rome and met with the pope, pope benedict xiv. this is a mosaic a gift to president wilson. it's such a fine mosaic that if you think from a distance it's an oil painting. scholars of art will recognize it's a detail from a painting by a renaissance painter, an italian painter. this was a work of the vatty van workshop and a gift of the pope, presented to president wilson as a way to wish him well in bringing peace to the world at the paris peace conference. here is another amazingly beautiful work of art. this is a painting called les perance.
by a fellow who was an armene yan, later an armenian-american. one of the consequences of world war i was that the ottoman empire, which had governed what we think of today as the middle east, near east asia, turkey and that region, the ottoman empire collapsed after having controlled that area for eight or nine centuries. in that transition transition, the armenian people suffered grievously. who was our president? well, it was woodrow wilson. in that time, he responded to that crisis by sending food aid to armenia. it's one of the first examples of international humanitarian relief. one can think of america's role in international humanitarian relief today and see this as really the precursor to that. the armenian people are very grateful. a group of armenian women touring the united states were here in 1917 just after we
declared war, and presented this painting to president wilson. the artist's wife who is among the women, it depicts their niece who is wearing traditional armenian costume and holding the armenian national flower which symbolizes hope and thus the title of the work "hope" in french. it shows the role of america in bringing human relief and being a player, if you will, on the humanitarian stage. another gift we have in the home are three plates here. these i'll point out these gold, handpainted plates are three of 15 plates that were a gift to president wilson from the king and queen of belgium who wilson visited when he was in europe and they reciprocated by coming to the united states in the fall of 1919. this was the first trip to
america by reigning monarchs from europe. it's amazing to think we had been a country all this time, but because of travel and the role of america in the world, british kings and queens, french kings and queens, had not visited the united states. but the belgium king came to the united states and presented president wilson with 15 plates in a lacquered velvet lined box with a shelf for each plate. wilson had, about a month before, suffered the stroke that really devastated his health and presidency. but one could hardly say to european monarchs, it's not a convenient time to come. so wilson had an audience with him. he was actually in bed recuperating from the stroke. edith wilson, the first lady, took the king and queen on a tour of the white house. before they left, they returned to wilson's bedroom and found him with a magnifying glass looking at the plates and wilson quickly realized that each plate depicted a building in belgium
that had been destroyed in world war i. so these plates really were a reflection of the damage that had been done in europe and a thank you to wilson for bringing the war to a conclusion and for re-establishing the normal society that would lead to the rebuilding of europe following world war i. when president wilson went to paris for the paris peace conference, he became the first american president to go to europe while in office. while he was in europe, he went to great britain and was actually at a reception hosted by the king and queen of england at buckingham palace. wilson then became, if you think about it for a moment, the first american president to meet a king of england. these are the photographs which were presented to wilson. they're in silver frames with their initials on them. these are their official portraits and both are autographed by the american
-- by the royal family. americans always ask. these are queen elizabeth's grandparents. and i think if you look closely, she bears quite a resemblance to her grandmother, queen mary. here outside the library is a statue that deserves note. wood tro and edith wilson were both supporters of the american red cross. this is one way the united states was involved in world war even before we declared war and became involved militarily. the red cross did great work in world war i, and was supported by many americans, including prominently the president and first lady. this sculpture was based on a popular poster of the time. it's called the greatest mother in the world and depicts a red cross nurse kneeling and cradling in her arms what you might initially think is a baby, but actually it's a small
soldier who has, obviously, been grievously wounded. it's an amazingly empathetic work. i can imagine why the american public was so taken with this image, the idea of the nurses tending to those soldiers who were wounded in this horrible conflict that was sweeping first europe and then much of the rest of the world. it must have spoken to americans to be involved to do right, to do well. so the wilsons, this was presented to president wilson we think by the artist some time during world war i. here in woodrow wilson's library, as you might expect in a 100-year-old home, we have a whole range of artifacts that tell the story. this cabinet is full of gifts and mementos of wilson's presidency, but maybe the most amazing and the one that relates most clearly to world war i is
this pin and pen stand. the pen is the pen that woodrow wilson used to sign the declaration of war in april 1917. the way this would have worked, wilson earlier that week had given a speech before a joint session of congress. the house voted, the senate vote and had they brought him the declaration of war three or four days later. at the resident in the white house hp he and his wife edith were having a lunch and it's like where is the pen? this is in an era before pal point pens. edith said, oh, here, use mine. it's a pearl handled pen. it was a gift from president wilson to edith wilson. it sits on a pen stand that has a whole story of its own. if you look closely, it's a walrus tusk that's been carved in the shape of a walrus with inlaid gold and it was a gift from the inuit tribes in alaska to president wilson. this is before alaska was a
state, when it was a territory of the united states. over here is a statue that was a gift to the first lady, edith wilson, from the city of rome. i mentioned earlier president wilson was the first american president to go to europe while in office. interestingly, edith wilson was the first american first lady to go to europe, while in office, if you want to think of it that way. she had to answer a bunch of questions about how does a first lady conduct herself, how does she dress, all the sorts of formalities of being the wife of a head of state and going to another country. so when the wilsons visited italy, president wilson was in rome and was given honorary citizenship by the city of rome. roam was given honorary citizenship by the city of rome, but edith was given this statue, which for those who are aware of the history of italy would know this is the statue of romulus and remus, and on it are the
initials that stand for the senate and the people of rome. it's really a very touching gift. it also fits into the theme of that era of the growing role of women in society. edith's accompanying president wilson raised the questions that were in the mines of americans and others around the world in that time of what role were women to have in our society. it would be about that same time, during the wilson administration that the 19th amendment was finally confirmed and that women received the federal constitutional right to vote in the united states. in her own way, edith was forging a path for women that continues to this day of the first lady accompanying the president on state visits and having a formal role. this is a radio microphone from the 1920s. it was from this room that president wilson made the first nationwide radio broadcast on the occasion of the fifth
anniversary of armistice day, which was november 11th, 1923. and it was a microphone like this that wilson used to give a four-minute speech on this occasion. he was quite anxious about it, spent the day fretting and napping off and on. no one had ever spoken on radio like this before. as the former president and at that point having endured a stroke and still somewhat recovering, he was somewhat sick, a person who still spoke as much as wilson still felt some anxiety about going on radio. so he gave his speech at about 8:00 this evening. it was very well received, so we have this microphone here to commemorate that remarkable event. wilson used the occasion to appeal to the american people to reconsider the united states' rejection of the league of nations. the united states never did join the league of nations. and wilson at this time appealed
to americans remembering both that it was consistent with the principles of our nation's founding and also consistent with the sacrifices made by our troops in world war i that we join the league of nations. he was -- wilson was to pass away about three months later in this house, so it was really his last public address. and so, really, to his last days, wilson was appealing to america to really conclude world war i by joining the league of nations, a final step that we never took. we're now on the first floor in what president wilson called the dugout. he was a big fan of baseball which became popular in america when he was a teenager. this was the room in which his secretary would do correspondence and whatnot. but one of the world war i related artifacts that we have here, people often ask what is that? it looks like dryer lint that
might have been collected. in a funny way it is. it's wool. but before it's been woven into clothing, the story here is that as the united states got more and more involved in world war i, the white house decided they ought to free the workmen who were otherwise doing mowing and landscaping at the white house, free them to support the war effort. the wilsons got a flock of sheep, it started out as six or eight sheep and by the end it became 12 sheep or more, but they would munch on the grass and every spring, the sheep would be shorn and the wilsons would divide the sheep wool into 50 different parcels, one for each state, there were 48 state, one for the district of columbia and one for puerto rico, and then these would be auctioned in the states to raise money for the american red cross. this is an example of wool that was actually auctioned on the boston common during world war i to help support the american red cross from sheeps that tended, let's say, to the white house
lawn. another artifact in this room is this platter. it's a pewter platter. let me put on my gloves here so i can handle it without staining it. this was a gift to president wilson from the people of belgium. as you can see, it's in horrible condition. that's not because we neglect the platter. it's because it was actually pulled from the rubble of a burned building in belgium. this was presented to wilson at the end of the negotiations of the paris peace conference, the versailles treaty. in a way, i think this artifact is so poignant and tells the story of the beginning of the war and also the end of the war. so i'd like to read what is inscribed on it here. it says to the imminent president of usa, woodrow wilson, and i'm going to read exactly as it is. i think the person who wrote
this probably spoke french as their first language and not english. in any event, it says, in remembrance of his visit in belgium june 1919. this dish has been drawn out of the ruins of hotel dela renaissance grand plus 30 tremond belgium, entirely destroyed by the fire which has been systematically inflamed in the town by the german soldiers on 4-5 september, 1914. so this is an artifact of the german invasion of belgium that really started world war i. and students of history will remember germany's plan was to sweep through the lowlands of belgium, take paris before anyone could respond and wheel and turn to russia and defeat them. that plan, of course, didn't
work because in large part belgium resisted the german invasion. so this fire, september 4th and 5th, was set about a month after germany invaded. i don't remember detail, but the german plan had the german army going through belgium in about a week, not a month. and so the hostility of that time, the violation of the neutrality of belgium, these were very intense issues in woodrow wilson's time. i think in a way the belgians were presenting this plate to him to demonstrate the passions that were felt in that time, the intensity of the negotiations that he had conducted in versailles. remember, there were 26 combatant nations that participated in this world conference. nations including india, japan, who were also involved in the hostilities during that war. they had lost among them 18 million people.
think how excruciating these negotiations must have been compared to the international negotiations that we have today over things like climate change or trade treaties. wilson brought all of those parties together to sign the versailles treaty, to establish the league of nations that he thought was so important to maintaining an enduring peace. here's where wilson's life almost takes on the dimensions of a greek tragedy. as someone who thought he knew as a political scientist knew what ought to be done, he brought the treaty back to the united states and there his political opponents weren't of the same view as he. they have a legitimate view. we can certainly debate it. in fact, we do debate today the role of america in the world. but wilson, 100 years ago, saw beyond the verizon of history and imagined that the world would need something like the
you nigunited nations. and he founded it in 1919. while the u.n. doesn't work perfectly today, i think it's an amazing legacy of our 28th president to have seen so clearly what the world would need to minimize the risk of war in the future. >> you can watch this and other american artifacts programs any time by visiting our website, cspan.org/history. c-span, where history unfolds daily. in 1979, c-span was created as a public service by america's cable television companies. today, we continue to bring you unfiltered coverage of congress, the white house, the supreme court and public policy events in washington, d.c., and around the country. c-span is brought to you by your cable or satellite provider. on october 8th, 1919, alvin
york fought in the meuse-argonne offensive and single handedly killed 25 men and helped to capture over 130. he received a medal of honor for his actions an was one of the most decorated soldiers of world war i. 23 years later warner brothers made a film called "sergeant york" about the man from ten sisi -- tennessee, his life and war time actions. ♪ >> i ain't going to war. war is killing. the book is against killing. war