Campus History

Campaign Roadshow

UW–Madison Archives S08042

UW–Madison loves politics and, from time to time, politicians even return that love.

During this campaign year, we look back to one of the first occasions when a presidential candidate visited campus.

In October 1911, Woodrow Wilson (seated at right with blanket) came to Madison while testing the waters for a White House run. He was then the newly sworn-in governor of New Jersey and former president of Princeton University. UW president Charles Van Hise 1879, 1880, MS1882, PhD1892 is in the driver’s seat, and presumably they’re on their way to or from the Red Gym, where Wilson addressed a crowd of Wisconsin Democrats.

Wilson had come to the UW to speak at a national conference called Civic and Social Center Development.

“The best treatment for bad politics is the same as that for tuberculosis,” he told the assembled crowd, “and that is exposure in the open air.”

We’ve since learned that the best treatment for tuberculosis is antibiotics, but as politics seems to be a drug-resistant disease, open air is the best we can do.

As Princeton’s leader, Wilson had developed a relationship with UW administrators and faculty. He’d corresponded with Thomas Chamberlin when the latter was UW president in the 1890s. And Van Hise sought Wilson’s advice when the Wisconsin Union was first proposed at the beginning of the twentieth century.

When it came to politics, however, Wilson and Van Hise were less mutually supportive. Van Hise was a friend and adviser to Theodore Roosevelt, who would become Wilson’s chief rival in the election of 1912. Wilson ended up winning the vote in Wisconsin and across the country, but he didn’t visit campus again.

Published in the Summer 2016 issue


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