President Wilson and some of the Princeton students who escorted him to Washington.
Princeton Alumni Weekly. March 5, 1913.
The ride from the Capitol to the White House at the head of the inaugural parade was a spectacle of color, predominant in it all being the orange and black of Princeton. All along the line, the buildings were fairly hidden with people.

President Wilson – the name sounds as familiar as it did three years ago when he was at the head of the University. And now after a brief period since he left the academic circle of Princeton he is the chief magistrate of the nation, the highest honor that a Princeton man has achieved in just 100 years, since James Madison was President of the United States.

Well, you should have seen it. The newspaper pages have given a dizzy mass of detail and description. But words never will tell the story of the part Princeton played in the inauguration of Woodrow Wilson ’79 as President of the United States. It was a thing to feel and be proud of, a supreme emotion for graduate and undergraduate alike. For running through the two days of celebration there was a distinctive part that was Princeton’s.

Unusual and remarkable was the entire occasion, not only because the weather was favorable and the participants the more numerous, but because a new political sky was spread over the national capital.

It was not distinction enough to have a Princeton man at the head of the government; it was not sufficient that a member of the faculty, indeed the university’s former President, should be occupying the White House as an example of “Princeton for the nation’s service,” but the University came en masse and the graduates too set themselves before the eyes of a great multitude in manner at once so dignified and inspiring that the memory f the 1913 inauguration ever will be linked with the Orange and Black of Princeton and the stirring strains of “Old Nassau.”

It was my good fortune to see every minute of the inauguration from the time Woodrow Wilson left Princeton as President-elect at 11 o’clock on the morning of March 3rd until 11 o’clock on the night of March 4th, when he retired into the White House, his new home.

The departure from Princeton was only the beginning of a series of dramatic scenes which distinguished the inauguration. The students were grouped about the train. It was a morning of sunshine. In front of Blair Hall was stretched a string of seven coaches, and two parlor cars. The students had invited Mr. Wilson to be their guest on the trip to Washington. They provided parlor cars for him and his family and a few Princeton friends. Only 560 students could squeeze into the coaches, and the remainder – for about 1100 in all attended the inauguration – went on later sections. The undergraduates even provided a baggage-car, moving the Wilsons, luggage and all, from their home on Cleveland Lane to the White House.


The cheering and singing at the station was a thing not soon to be forgotten. The locomotive cheer came sharp, solid and clear, in a spontaneous demonstration always characteristic of the undergraduates. The singing of “Old Nassau” as the train pulled out was a fitting climax. Woodrow Wilson stood on the platform of the last car, joining in the song and waving his hat with the rest in the refrain. The emotions which the scene carried can hardly be imagined. The other newspaper correspondents, only a few of them college men, too, were visibly impressed. One of them told me afterwards he had never seen a more affecting sight and that he could hardly repress the lump in his throat. An outsider’s judgment is all the more interesting for that.

On the train, the President-elect and his family were a happy, jubilant set, joyful in anticipation of the big ceremony that awaited them.

On arrival in Washington, the students formed a lane leading from the train to the President’s Room in the Union Station. Mr. Wilson passed between the lines of students, who stood there with heads bared, silent and impressive. In the President’s Room, Mr. Wilson shook hands with the reception committee of fifty. The undergraduates gathered outside as Mr. Wilson got into an automobile, and then they let loose two or three locomotive cheers which echoes and re-echoed and told the capital district that the new President had arrived.

At the Shoreham Hotel, where the Wilsons were taken, escorted in automobiles decorated profusely with the orange and black of Princeton, there were graduates galore about the lobby. It was the headquarters of the visiting alumni and the orange and black rosette distinguished the Princeton men.

Mr. and Mrs. Wilson paid a brief call at the White House about 6 o’clock and had a family dinner, after which came the big Princeton smoker at the New Willard hotel.

It was a wonderful occasion, as every man will tell you who was there. There was no formality, no chairs, no particular programme. Everything was set for a jolly Princeton reunion. On one side of the room was a long table from which was served light refreshments. Streamers from Princeton clubs all over the land adorned the walls. Orange and Black was spread around in great profusion. The graduates moved around in great profusion. The graduates moved around in the big hall from 8 to 9 o’clock, renewing acquaintances and having a general ‘bicker’ session that seemed as good as the tent scenes of the June reunions. A surprisingly big number was on hand. For instance, I saw fully fifty of the class of 1910, and some of the other classes of recent years had scores there too. About 2,000 were there in all.

About 9:20 o’clock, Woodrow Wilson arrived and the ovation he got was about as noisy as if we had just beaten Yale the moment before or somebody like Sam White had made a touchdown on a 100-yard run. And the demonstration was one of prolonged enthusiasm. When Mr. Wilson finally got to the platform, escorted by Associate Justice Mahlon Pitney ’79 of the United States Supreme Court, and Henry Clay Steward ’84 of the Princeton Alumni Association of the District of Columbia, the one-time President of Princeton saw before a hum a happy bunch of graduates. He received with a grateful smile a souvenir package of cigarettes and cigars, and when the cheering subsided, it was announced that Mr. Wilson would be glad to shake hands with everybody in the room. In a long line, they passed by. And Mr. Wilson said afterwards he was delighted that there were so many whom he remembered by name.

It had been the intention of Mr. Wilson to make no speech. On the eve of the inauguration he did not want to be tempted to make any public utterance in advance of his inaugural address. But the enthusiasm was so great and the calls for a speech were so insistent, that he finally made a brief response which was greeted by another outburst of locomotives.

Mr. Wilson said:

“Fellows, I had not expected to say anything tonight, because the only appropriate thing to say I can’t say because there are no words for it. There are some emotions that are very much deeper than a man’s vocabulary can reach and I have a feeling tonight that moves me very much indeed.

“We hve often spoken of our comradeship together at Princeton, and I have spoken so often that I am ashamed to repeat it, almost, of the part that Princeton has played in public life an the part that she ought to play in public life, and I have spoken so often of that sense of having a great invisible brotherhood that binds a man by uncommon standards of honor and of service.

“Now I stand here upon the eve of attempting a great task, a profoundly great one, and know that there are so many men in the United States who know me and understand me and to whom I do not have to explain anything. Members of the family do not have to be told what is going to happen. And therefore it is not necessary to make a speech to the family. I have only to say that my feeling tonight is a family feeling, of being among men trained as I was trained, looking out upon life as I look out upon it, and ready to give me that sympathy which buoys up a man more than anything else in the world. I thank God that it is so and thank you profoundly for this evidence of it.”

“Old Nassau” again rang through the building, and people on the lower floors of the New Willard, which was crowded with inauguration folk, stopped and listened as the strains floated down to them. Mr. Wilson left at 10 o’clock, but the graduates kept up a merry celebration afterward. William F. McCombs ’98, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, was called on to make a speech. Rolla Wells ’76, the treasurer of the Democratic National Committee, stood beside him, both men honored and applauded for their conspicuous part in the Wilson triumph.

The morning of March 4th, however, saw the greatest sight from a Princeton viewpoint which Washington has ever seen. More than 1,000 undergraduates formed in two lines on opposite sides of the streets leading from the Shoreham Hotel to the White House. They wore orange and black sashes diagonally across their coats, and white gloves. President Taft had sent his carriage to the Shoreham to get the President-elect. The latter’s appearance was the signal for a loud cheer. The line of Princeton students stretched most of the way to the White House, and the remainder of the distance was occupied by students from the University of Virginia, where Mr. Wilson studied law. The Virginia students also had orange and black sashes. The first thing the Princeton cheerleader did when they saw Virginia lined up, was to give a cheer for “Virginia.” It was returned. As the presidential carriage passed through the lines of Princeton students, the latter fell in behind, five abreast. Their band struck up Ken Clark’s “Jungle Song”, and to the tune of “Wow-wow-wow-wow-wow”, Mr. Wilson rode into the White House grounds. The Princeton students alone followed him to the White House steps, the Essex Cavalry troop and the Virginia students waiting outside. When Mr. Wilson reappeared on the White House verandah with Mr. Taft, the Princeton undergraduates gave a locomotive cheer and sang “Old Nassau.” The song seemed to fill the entire atmosphere of the grounds. Mr. Wilson paused under the White House portico his head bared. Beside him stood President Taft, reverently observant. Military and naval aides stood at attention. A mass of uplifted hands moved back and forth with precision in the chorus of “Old Nassau.” Then came a cheer for “Taft” and another for “Wilson,” and finally a thundering one for “Princeton.” Then the presidential carriage started for the capitol building. The Princeton students had thus escorted Mr. Wilson from his old home in Princeton to his new home in Washington.

Of the ceremonies in the Senate chamber, where the Vice-President was inaugurated, and the scenes on the East Front of the Capitol, where Mr. Wilson took the oath of office, enough has been written. It was much like other inaugurations, except that the weather was ideal and auspicious. Mr. Wilson read his inaugural address, which was 1705 words long. He was frequently interrupted by applause. When he had finished, ex-President Taft congratulated him and wished him well. William Jennings Bryna, the new Secretary of State, also stepped forward and shook the new President’s hand warmly. The writer was standing, at the moment, just beside Mr. Wilson, and happened to be the first Princetonian to congratulate him, and he did so in behalf of the Class of 1910.

The ride from the Capitol to the White House at the head of the inaugural parade was a spectacle of color, predominant in it all being the orange and black of Princeton. All along the line, the buildings were fairly hidden with people. Every story had its layers of men and women; every roof its fringe of humanity. The side streets were choked with crowds. And the specially built stands overflowed. The cheering was continuous. It never lapsed for a moment. It seemed, indeed, to increase in volume as the procession neared the White House, where the crowds were thickest.

The President had a brief luncheon and reappeared in the presidential reviewing stand. Many members of the faculty had been invited by Mr. Wilson to seats in this stand. It was a long parade – almost too long for those who had to stand, and of course the President and Vice-President were among these.

It was nearly 7 o’clock when the last of the parade hove in sight. Through some hitch in arrangements, the collegiate section of the parade did not get in before the other civic organizations, and so a part of the crowd had left the stands when the college men passed by. When Princeton finally came up at the head of the colleges, she presented an inspiring mass of undergraduates. They marched like trained regulars, and when they passed the presidential stand, they gave a locomotive cheer that rivalled anything in the way of spontaneous cheers which Washington has heard in a long time. President Hibben’s boys looked fine. They were a credit to the University, indeed. In fact, the undergraduates demeaned themselves in a manner absolutely unimpeachable throughout the inauguration ceremonies. President Wilson bowed to the boys as they went by and Mrs. Wilson and her daughters waved their handkerchiefs in delight. It was indeed a pretty sight. The other colleges followed on behind, several thousand students being in line.

President Wilson was somewhat tired after the long parade, but he dressed hurriedly and went to the dinner given him by his Class, 1879, at the Shoreham. It was a private affair, so the writer knows nothing about it except that there was a lot of cheering, a speech from the new President, which wasn’t reported, and a final “Old Nassau.” Then at 11 o’clock, President Wilson returned to the White House and went to bed.

This was originally published in the March 5, 1913 issue of PAW.