Week 14: Woodrow Wilson House

From the website: The Woodrow Wilson House is a national historic landmark and house museum that focuses on President Woodrow Wilson’s “Washington Years (1912-1924)”. The museum promotes a greater awareness of Wilson’s public life and ideals for future generations through guided tours, exhibitions and educational programs. The museum also serves as a community preservation model and resource, dedicated to the stewardship and presentation of an authentic collection and property.

I visited Woodrow Wilson House on a Sunday afternoon, in the context of having spent the previous couple of hours with my congregation, where we were asked to meditate on the question of what each of us, individually, would need to make this holiday season meaningful and satisfying. For me, the answer is that I must not let everything the season means to me (family, community, charity, stories, working toward a more humane world, recognizing the potential of every adult and child, revisiting old rituals and learning others that are new to me, marking a new beginning with the new year, and being in awe of the way people all over the world have come up with ways to bring light and warmth into the darkest and coldest parts of their respective year) be overshadowed by my tendency toward the obsessive checklists. It’s easy to become fixated on shopping for the perfect gift for everyone all in the Newseum gift shop, completing a multilayered to-do list by the end of the year, baking and decorating, and trying to see every person I care about even though this month seems to be when everyone is busiest. No wonder people find Christmas stressful.

And this year, I became obsessed with finding seven consecutive weeks of Weekly Museum Visits that would be holiday-related. This task becomes challenging when you consider that I’ve already been to so many museums, and this project is based on visiting museums I haven’t been to before. (I realized, after the fact, that I messed up this goal a year ago when I counted the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa in California as a WMV museum. I had already been there when I was two or three.)

It’s often the historic house museums that decorate for the holidays, but as these museums tend to be small, their relatively limited hours combined with my irregular work schedule can make planning a visit a little more difficult. And, just because the historic house advertises a special holiday event with decked halls, can I be certain that the halls will also be decked when I come to visit on another day?

This prologue has been a bit rambling, I know, but my point is that after figuring out exactly where Woodrow Wilson House would fit into my meticulous seven-week-plan, it was nice to finally be there. I could actually enjoy the trimmings and the permanent collection. The tour was recharging.

Christmas tree in Woodrow Wilson House

Our tour guide explained that the many holiday adornments were not part of the museum’s collection, but that the staff had decorated like the Wilsons would have. The gifts were wrapped in plain color paper and seals, rather than the printed store bought wrapping paper and transparent tape we use today. In one room, there were presents not stacked neatly together, but spread around the room: two on a sofa, one each on two chairs, a few more on the small tables. It was easy to imagine people sitting in those chairs and sofas, holding the presents in their laps.

Throughout the house is evidence of a focus on accessibility for President Wilson in the last years of his life. We saw dozens of walking sticks from his collection and the small elevator that was built into the house. Our guide told us about the servant who helped Wilson move around and showed us photographs of the two together.

President Electric exhibit at Woodrow Wilson House

She also alluded frequently to electronic innovations in each room, which segued nicely into the President Electric exhibit I viewed after the tour. The exhibit does a great job posing questions like, What technology exists now that didn’t exist when you were born?, questions that apply as much to 80-year-old visitors as to eight-year-olds. The panel text also asks visitors what they would do if they were president, faced with certain societal problems and technological opportunities.

The Newseum has a section called Be a TV Reporter that is especially popular among kids, and Woodrow Wilson House has the equivalent of this experience from Wilson’s time. Visitors can dress up in period clothes, stand at a podium, speak into a microphone, read from one of Wilson’s radio addresses, and hear themselves on a 1920s radio.

Woodrow Wilson House was the second of my hopefully seven holiday season museum visits. May all my holiday museum visits, and yours, be a source of more joy than stress!


About Laura

Paralegal with Master of Arts in Teaching in Museum Education, frequent museum visitor, based in Washington, DC. I care about what museums can do, both in terms of public offerings and internal practices, to make the world a better place. I blog about museum education ("informed"), the social work of museums ("humane"), and visitor experience ("citizenry").
This entry was posted in Museums and Holidays, Photos, Weekly Museum Visits Part II and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Week 14: Woodrow Wilson House

  1. Betsy says:


    I found your blog via Emerging Museum Professionals. I’m GWU student, and I actually interned at Wilson House while the content development for President Electric was going on. It was fun to learn about technology in the 1920s, especially about how ‘radios’ and ‘electric appliances’ were so new and exciting (and expensive!). I also recently visited the house and saw the Christmas decorations. 🙂 They do a good job.

    Cool blog!

    • disciullo says:

      Hi Betsy, thanks for visiting my blog! Did you help put together President Electric? I really enjoyed Woodrow Wilson House – I had always heard good things and I was not disappointed.

      • Betsy says:

        Yes, I did – I visited local archives and searched for assets – images and audio/visual files. It had some fun History Detective style adventures. It was also my first exposure to Museum Education, since I worked closely with a GW Museum Education program intern, who came up with the idea for the shorthand game on the kiosk and on the website: http://presidentelectric.org/kiosk/code/.

      • disciullo says:

        Is Tim the intern you worked with?

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