NAME: Thomas Woodrow Wilson. He was named after his maternal grandfather, the Reverend Thomas Woodrow, a Presbyterian minister. After graduating from Princeton he began going by T. Woodrow Wilson and soon thereafter dropped the first initial.
PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: “For beauty I am not a star / There are others more handsome by far / But my face I don’t mind it / For I am behind it / It’s the people in front that I jar.” Thus in composing this self-deprecatory limerick did Wilson humorously acknowledge his rather homely features. He had a long, drawn face, blue-gray eyes, brown hair, a high forehead, oversized ears, and a thrusting jaw. Wilson had astonishingly bad teeth. He stood about 5 feet 11 inches tall and weighed 175-185 pounds. His health generally was poor. From childhood he was plagued by indigestion; as president he at times used a stomach pump on himself. The strain of overwork severely undermined his health; in college and as a professor at Princeton University he nearly collapsed under the load. Thereafter he learned to pace himself better. He wore glasses from age eight. In 1895 a retinal hemorrhage left him with poor vision in his right eye. He was virtually blind in his last years.
PERSONALITY: Wilson was an emotionally complex man. According to his principal biographer Arthur S. Link, Wilson craved affection and demanded unquestioned loyalty. “He had few intimates,” wrote Link, “and broke sooner of later with most of them…[and] his most enduring friends were admiring, uncritical women.” Wilson once described his own nature as a struggle between his Irish blood, “quick, generous, impulsive, passionate, anxious always to help and sympathize with those in distress,” and his Scotch blood, “canny, tenacious, cold, and perhaps a little exclusive.” In another instance he compared himself to a dormant volcano, placid on the outside, a boiling cauldron within. Before large crowds Wilson was expansive, supremely self-confident, a gifted, moving orator. In small groups of strangers, however, he often appeared shy and awkward.
PRIMARY SOURCES: DeGregorio, William A. The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents. 7th ed. Fort Lee: Barricade Books, 2009; and http://www.doctorzebra.com.
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