The Archives of Phi Kappa Psi

(The following was published in the 1924 issue of The Shield of Phi Kappa Psi following the death in retirement of President Woodrow Wilson, Virginia Alpha 1879, on Feb. 3 of that year. The author was George M. Winwood, Jr., Ohio Delta 1906.) It is a high privilege to have even a small part in the preparation of an article to appear in The Shield and dedicated to the memory of the life of Woodrow Wilson. Memories are our choice possessions and chief among these are the impressions with a rich and rare spirit. But into the magic tapestry of memory are woven threads of judgment. At a time like this, when estimates are made and opinions pass current, it is difficult to disentangle those threads of judgment from the rest of the fabric which memory has woven, the colors of which have perhaps grown softer and more mellow with the passing of the years. In the magic weave of my memory are the golden threads of friendship, forming a picture of the man who has gone, as he moved in the small college world. Woodrow Wilson, Virginia Alpha 1879

He was not then president of the university*, but a teacher of great subjects which he taught in a great way. There are visions of his comradeship with little groups of college boys, of an open door to anyone with an unsolved problem. His classroom was a forum for high thoughts, and back of the thoughts was the force of the most compelling personality I have ever known. The subjects he taught, whether constitutional or public law, international law or jurisprudence, were but scaffolds which he used to build the greater structure of the temple – his ideals. He was never satisfied to leave the law as he found it. Unlike many minds with legal training, he was far less interested in what the law was than what it ought to be. His early book on Congressional government proved that he would never be classified as one who had so well learned the rules of life that he was unwilling to change them, for to him all law, all international relationships, all the old standards of procedure, were but means to an end, and not the end itself, mere tools to work with in the building of a better world. In that softly blended fabric of memory is a glimpse of great penetrating eyes, looking through horn spectacles, the nose of a Roman patrician, a mouth firm and strong but one which could ripple into a smile, perhaps in kindly sympathy with the ingenuousness of the college editor of the little daily journal, who sat, cap in hand, waiting for his decision on some small matter of undergraduate policy. How little the matter seems now, how large the man! No one who ever knew Woodrow Wilson ever doubted his high integrity and his single-minded devotion to those he loved and in whom he trusted. No one who knew him doubts it now. But the great devotion of his life, the loyalty which cost him friends and fellowship, which led him across hard and lonely trails, the loyalty which at last cost him his life, was a devotion to certain ideals which he had set before him. His Princeton experience was but a picture in miniature of his later and great contests on broader fields. He found the college, when he became its President, a pleasant place to live, too pleasant perhaps, with lagging standards of scholarship and many avenues of escape for the intellectually inactive.


As everyone now knows, he reformed the course of study, introduced the preceptorial system, tried to make more simple, more uniform, more democratic the social life of those undergraduate days. Much he achieved. In part he failed, if we measure failure by the immediate realization of his ideals in fact and method, but he succeeded in forever stamping those same ideals and his compelling personality upon the consciousness of the Princeton men. Where he sowed and walked a lonely pathway, others will reap the harvest. Just before the GAC at Pittsburgh**, the writer had occasion to talk with Woodrow Wilson and afterward to take luncheon with him. The subjects of our conversation were scholarship, morality, and democracy of our Fraternity. He was intensely interested in our work of this Committee***, for he had concerned himself very vitally with all three of the subjects while at Princeton, and I shall never forget the forcefulness with which he impressed upon me the fact that we should ever strive to raise higher the standard of scholarship in every chapter of our Fraternity, should exact in all its chapters a certain rigid standard of morality if we were to be known as clean and able men in after life. His fraternity days while an undergraduate were referred to time and again as he attempted to impress upon me the influence that Phi Kappa Psi had made on his life for good, and how concerned he was that this same influence should be exerted now as heretofore on every undergraduate who was fortunate enough to wear the badge of the Fraternity. Finally, I recall his parting words, as I was taking my leave from the White House: “Tell them for me, George, how sorry I am that I cannot be in Pittsburgh, and try to impress upon them how vital it is that our Fraternity should give to each man more than he ever anticipated in care, in morality, and in the ability to do better classroom work so that his life will be richer for having become a member of the Fraternity that has meant so much to me.” How shall we appraise his life? We are too close to him for that, too near to his days which were his and are our own, too near to the raging fire of political controversy, the embers of which still smolder while the smoke clouds our vision. But some day the verdict will be written, the appraisal made. I can see the jury as it sits in the panel to render a final judgment. Political opponents or zealous partisans will not be there. The diplomats of the world, who are special pleaders for their own petty little causes, will not be there. The great “captains with their guns and drums” will not be there. But in that panel will sit quiet, impartial men who will write the final verdict of history. Before them will lie open the secret archives of the chancelleries of the world. They will sort and sift and measure facts. They will appraise ideas and ideals not by the rod of Congressional majorities, or the confusing cries of the disillusioned, or by the selfish clamor of an intense nationalism. In that jury box will be the Grotes****, the Motleys, the Gibbons of that future day. Woodrow Wilson can await that verdict. Like another great American – He knew to bide his time and can his fame abide, Still patient in his simple faith sublime, Till the wise years decide


* Princeton University, where Wilson served as President from 1902-1910 and as a professor from 1890-1902. ** The 1916 Grand Arch Council. Then President, Wilson had been invited to attend the GAC but had sent “very warm cordial greetings” in a letter in which he also noted “Unhappily it is literally impossible for me to be present….” He added: “I wish that I could join with them (the delegates) in developing plans which I know they have very much at heart for making the lives of the young men of the country real examples of true American fidelity to ideals, whether those ideals lead to sacrifice or to success.” As a side note, Wilson’s was a delegate to the 1880 GAC in Washington, D.C. having just been initiated at Virginia Beta, and was one of four members of the first-ever GAC Committee on Extension. *** The 1916 GAC Standing Committee on Scholarship, Morality, and Democracy. *** Historians George Grote, John Lothrop Motley, and Edward Gibbon

The Archives of Phi Kappa Psi, 5395 Emerson Way, Indianapolis, Indiana 46226