Before he was the country’s 28th president, Woodrow Wilson was president of Princeton University—a position that brought him to U-M in 1903 and one that made him an attractive candidate for the U-M presidency several years later.
Wilson’s visit to campus on April 21, 1903, was part of a three-week lecture tour through the Midwest. He visited campus again on March 31, 1905.
As the leader of Princeton, Wilson’s name surfaced as a candidate for the U-M presidency when James B. Angell retired in 1909. Over the course of several months, U-M regents conferred amongst themselves and with academic and business leaders throughout the country about Wilson’s qualifications.
Wrote Regent Arthur Hill to fellow Regent Walter Sawyer: “Whether he would come and whether we are in a financial shape to pay him what he would ask and whether he would be over-contentious are all questions we would have to thrash out, as to him or any other candidate.”
Some felt Wilson, a Democrat, would not fit in politically at Michigan. In the end, the Board of Regents selected Law School Dean Harry B. Hutchins as president.
As governor of New Jersey and a contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, Wilson came to Ann Arbor on Jan. 19, 1912, and spoke at the city Opera House on “Opportunity and Democracy.”
U-M faculty had planned a campus reception for Wilson, but when his train was late much of the gathering broke up. Still, Wilson came to campus and called upon President Emeritus James B. Angell.
“I was delighted with the spirit and sympathy displayed by the student body during my address,” Wilson told The Michigan Daily. “I only regret that my stay is so brief and that I cannot become better acquainted with Michigan and Michigan men.”
Sources: Michigan Alumnus; The Michigan Daily; New York Times; The Making of the University of Michigan by Howard H. Peckham; Walter H. Sawyer papers, Bentley Historical Library
Letter: Walter Sawyer papers, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan