[Baltimore Sun file photo]
Leonardo DiCaprio announced last fall that he would produce and star in “Wilson,” a biopic that will chronicle the life of the 28th U.S. president, who lived in Baltimore as a young graduate student at the Johns Hopkins University.
The film is to be based on the critically acclaimed recent biography of the same name by Pulitzer Prize-winning author A. Scott Berg, who will also be involved with the project.
Baltimore played a prominent role throughout the life of Thomas Woodrow Wilson, who was born in 1856 in Staunton, Va. His father was a Presbyterian minister and his mother was the daughter of a Presbyterian minister.
After graduating in 1879 from Princeton, Wilson — who never used his first name — studied law at the University of Virginia in 1881. He maintained a law practice in Atlanta for two years before coming to Baltimore in 1883 to earn his doctorate in history at Hopkins.
While at Hopkins, Wilson, who had honed his oratorical skills at Virginia, planned on a career in academia, not politics.
During his student days in Baltimore, Wilson lived in “two quiet, old-fashioned residences numbered 906 and 909 McCulloh Street, where live the Misses M. Jane and Hannah Ashton,” The Baltimore Sun reported in 1912.
He also lived at 1210 Eutaw Place, wrote Frank R. Shivers in his 2010 book, “Bolton Hill: Classic Baltimore Neighborhood.”
Wilson’s years at Hopkins were not the happiest, Wilson biographer W. Barksdale Maynard observed in the Johns Hopkins Magazine.
“He did not want to become an ivory-tower researcher but a political mover-and-shaker. He craved as broad a field of study as possible,” Maynard wrote.
“He was about to get a very nasty shock. Hopkins was for specialists, not generalists — a fact that would make his two years in Baltimore desperately unhappy ones. … But those years would also crystallize his thinking on key educational ideas and turn him into one of the most innovative — and controversial — men in academia.”
While Wilson might have been unhappy at Hopkins, he channeled his energy into writing his dissertation, “Congressional Government: A Study in American Politics,” filling the Ashton sisters’ house with sound as he busily worked the keys of his Caligraph typewriter. The work has remained in print since 1885.
He sought relief as a member of the Johns Hopkins Glee Club. Years later, a member of the glee club from those years, Dr. Eugene L. Crutchfield, recalled in a Sun article that the future president’s voice was “unusually sweet.”
After leaving Hopkins in 1885, Wilson taught at Bryn Mawr College outside Philadelphia for three years and at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., from 1880 to 1890. He joined the faculty at Princeton in 1890 and was named president of the university in 1902.
Wilson kept his connections to Baltimore, and from 1887 to 1898 returned to Hopkins to deliver lectures on political science
In 1902, Wilson’s name had been mentioned as a possible successor to Hopkins’ founding president, Daniel Coit Gilman, who had retired in 1901.
After Wilson resigned the presidency of Princeton in 1910, Charles H. Grasty, then president of the A.S. Abell Co., offered him the editorship of The Baltimore Sun. Wilson politely declined.
He entered politics in the fall of 1910 and was elected governor of New Jersey. He returned to Baltimore for the 1912 Democratic National Convention, held in sweltering heat at the 5th Regiment Armory in Baltimore. He accepted the nomination for president, which came on the 46th ballot.
Baltimore also had romantic associations for Wilson, who was engaged in the city to Ellen Louise Axson of Savannah, Ga. They married in 1885. She died in the White House in 1914.
Two of his three daughters studied at Goucher College. Jessie Woodrow Wilson graduated from the college; Margaret Wilson left after two years and enrolled at the Peabody Conservatory, where she studied vocal and instrumental music.
One day in May 1913, President Wilson, his wife, a daughter and a cousin rolled up to the front door of the Rennert Hotel for lunch.
He was asked if he wanted a private room.
“Oh, no!” Wilson replied. “We’ll take our luncheon in the regular room.”
After dining on Maryland fried chicken, asparagus, spinach, rice, tomato salad, strawberries, ice cream, and coffee and tea, Wilson requested his check.
“The President glanced at it, ran up the total to see that he was paying for all that he had received, and gave the waiter a new yellow bucket bill, received his change in the regular order of things, tipped the waiter, and then he and his party rose and left the dining room,” The Sun reported.
Wilson died in 1924.