Tuesday, June 2, 2020

That Time Princeton Came to Marion, Alabama

Before he became Governor of New Jersey and then President of the U.S., Woodrow Wilson served as President of Princeton University from 1902 until 1910. He had graduated from the school in 1879 and received a PhD from Johns Hopkins in 1886. For the next sixteen years he taught at the college level and wrote books on history and political science. 

Wilson was a southerner by birth; born in Virginia, his family spent his early years in Augusta, Georgia, and South Carolina. That background may be why Wilson accepted an invitation that brought him to Marion, Alabama, in 1902. A Marion Military Institute web page tells us

"Woodrow Wilson is responsible for the current MMI colors and mascot. Wilson, then president of Princeton University, was the Government Day Speaker at the Institute in 1905. Following his speech, MMI’s colors were changed to orange and black and the athletic teams were called the “Tigers” in honor of Wilson and Princeton University."

At the time Marion was not the Perry County seat; that change from Perry Ridge  happened in 1909. At the time Wilson spoke the town had a population of about 1700. Marion Military Institute is one of only five military junior colleges in the U.S. and the oldest, founded in 1887. Over 200 graduates have become generals or admirals.

I did not find any more information about Wilson's visit; i assume the Institute's archive might have further information. Local or other newspapers in the state may have covered it. As far as I could determine, Wilson did not visit the state another time. Wilson Dam near Muscle Shoals is named after him, and what is now Linn Park in downtown Birmingham was previously known as Woodrow Wilson Park.

At one point William Howard Taft served as President of the MMI Board of Trustees. Maybe one day I'll cover his visit to Birmingham

Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924), Class of 1879.
Sidney Edward Dickinson (American, 1890-1980). Oil on canvas, 1929,  Princeton University, gift of William Church Osborn, Class of 1883, and friends. Photo: Bruce M. White

Marion Military Institute in 1907

Marion Military Institute postcard from the 1930's showing another view of the administration building

Football team at Marion Military Institute in 1912

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