October 1, 2020

Crawley Pens Commentary on Woodrow Wilson for Great Presidential Lives

Professor Emeritus of History William B. Crawley offered commentary in The Free Lance-Star on the tragic life and presidency of Woodrow Wilson.


WOODROW WILSON, born in Staunton, Va., in 1856, became the first Southern-born president elected since the Civil War. He was the most highly educated, holding both a law degree and a doctorate in political science. He was the most overtly religious, save perhaps Jimmy Carter.

And he was also one of the most tragic.

In truth, Wilson was an unlikely candidate for the White House. Shy by nature and coddled as an only child by his mother, he did not attend formal school until he was 13. But despite his reserve and lack of popular rapport, he was highly ambitious.

The central and determining influence on Wilson’s life was, unarguably, religion. He came by it naturally, particularly through his Presbyterian minister father. From him, he imbibed not only religious conviction, but a penchant for eloquence of expression, both oral and written.

For Wilson, religion was his constant guide. He prayed daily and gave thanks before every meal. He read the Bible every day, wearing out several in the course of his lifetime. All of this had both positive and, to the minds of many observers, negative effects.

On the one hand, it sustained him in times of travail; on the other hand, it gave him an unbecoming (and often ineffective) sense of self-righteousness. Read more.

C-SPAN Airs ‘Great Lives’ Lecture on Joanne Freeman’s ‘Field of Blood’

Missing UMW’s celebrated Great Lives lecture series? Coronavirus cut this season short, but you can catch pre-recorded episodes on C-SPAN. Acclaimed author Joanne Freeman kicks off the three-part series by discussing her book, Field of Blood, which recovers the long-lost story of physical violence on the floor of the U.S. Congress.

View the C-SPAN coverage of Freeman’s lecture, based on her acclaimed 2018 work, The Field of Blood. Drawing on an extraordinary range of sources, she shows that the Capitol was rife with conflict in the decades before the Civil War. Legislative sessions were often punctuated by mortal threats, canings, flipped desks, and all-out slugfests. When debate broke down, congressmen drew pistols and waved Bowie knives. One representative even killed another in a duel. Many were beaten and bullied in an attempt to intimidate them into compliance, particularly on the issue of slavery.

These fights didn’t happen in a vacuum. Freeman’s dramatic accounts of brawls and thrashings tell a larger story of how fisticuffs and journalism, and the powerful emotions they elicited, raised tensions between North and South and led toward war. In the process, she brings the antebellum Congress to life, revealing its rough realities―the feel, sense, and sound of it―as well as its nation-shaping import. Funny, tragic, and rivetingly told, The Field of Blood offers a front-row view of congressional mayhem and sheds new light on the careers of John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, and other luminaries, as well as introducing a host of lesser-known but no less fascinating men. The result is a fresh understanding of the workings of American democracy and the bonds of Union on the eve of their greatest peril.

UMW’s Great Lives Lecture Series Announces 17th Season

Professor Emeritus William Crawley, founder and director of Great Lives, announces the 17th season of the biographical lecture series to a packed reception at the Jepson Alumni Executive Center. Photo by Karen Pearlman.

Professor Emeritus William Crawley, founder and director of Great Lives, announces the 17th season of the biographical lecture series to a packed reception at the Jepson Alumni Executive Center. Photo by Karen Pearlman.

Abolitionist Frederick Douglass, Hollywood actress-turned-inventor Hedy Lamarr and children’s author Theodor Geisel – better known as Dr. Seuss – are among the prominent individuals to be featured in this year’s William B. Crawley Great Lives lecture series.

Now in its 17th year, the stellar season was revealed to a packed reception Wednesday evening at the Jepson Alumni Executive Center. Lectures will take place at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, from Jan. 21 to April 14, at the University of Mary Washington’s Dodd Auditorium on the Fredericksburg campus. They are free and open to the public without admission tickets.

Bestselling biographers – many of whom are distinguished historians and award-winning journalists – have spent countless hours chronicling the fascinating lives of their iconic subjects. At UMW, they’ll showcase these celebrated historical figures – notorious, in some cases – and provide illuminating insight into their lives and loves, successes and failures, strengths and struggles.

“I always say this, but this season is probably the most impressive lineup ever,” said Professor Emeritus William Crawley, Great Lives founder and director, who added he is confident that audiences will find multiple topics of interest. Read more. 

C-SPAN to Broadcast Great Lives Lecture, March 2

Don’t despair if you missed the Feb. 5 Great Lives lecture about Benedict Arnold at Dodd Auditorium. C-SPAN will air the show on Saturday, March 2, on C-SPAN3. The segment also can be seen online at https://www.c-span.org/video/?457569-1/benedict-arnold. The lecture was presented by George Washington Professor Joyce Lee Malcolm, author of The Tragedy of Benedict Arnold: An American Life.

C-SPAN also plans to be on the Fredericksburg campus next month to cover the upcoming lectures:  Radium Girls, presented by New York bestselling author Kate Moore on Thursday, March 14, and Rocket Girls, presented by science writer and author Nathalia Holt on Tuesday, March 19.