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On this third Monday of February, a day commonly, but mistakenly, called President’s Day, Stu Levitan welcomes UW Professor Emeritus John Milton Cooper, Jr., for a discussion of one of the most important presidents in American history – Thomas Woodrow Wilson, whose legacy is as complex and controversial as any of our Chief Magistrates.
He amassed one of the most impressive records of progressive legislation of any president, yet left the worst record on race relations of any president in the 20th century, allowed egregious violations of civil liberties, and was slow to endorse a constitutional amendment for women’s suffrage. He kept us out of war in Mexico, but took us into war in Europe. A great student and thinker about good government, he was sloppy in appointing his cabinet officials and negligent in supervising them. A devout Presbyterian, he appointed the first Jew to the US Supreme Court, was the first president to visit the Roman Catholic Pope, and was buried in an Episcopal cathedral. And he’s the man after whom Woody Guthrie is named. It’s a record so rich for discussion we’re taking two hours to cover it, with out second segment set for early April.
There’s no better guide to the life and times of our 28th President than JMC Jr, whom the Boston Globe called “the preeminent living historian of Wilson and his era.” We take for our primary text his 2009 volume Woodrow Wilson: A Biography, which the NYTimes called “monumental,” and which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. And we also note his earlier work, The Warrior and the Priest: Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt.
It seems Professor Cooper has spent his life in the world of Woodrow Wilson. He even graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington D.C., and received his bachelor′s degree summa cum laude from Wilson’s alma mater, Princeton University, where Wilson later taught and served as president. Prof Cooper took his advanced degrees at Columbia University, and after a few years at Wellesley College, came to the University of Wisconsin, where he rose to hold two named chairs in History and American Institutions, and chair the famed Department of History before taking Emeritus status in 2009. And that’s even another Wilson connection – when Wilson was a graduate student at Johns Hopkins, one of his favorite professors was Richard T. Ely, and one of his favorite students was Frederick Jackson Turner, both of whom would become famed members of the Wisconsin faculty. He has written half a dozen books, dozens of articles, and received numerous honors. He was the honorary president of the Woodrow Wilson Birthplace Foundation, and the chief historian on the 2002 American Experience biography of Wilson produced for PBS.
It is a pleasure to welcome to Madison BookBeat my friend, UW Professor Emeritus John Milton Cooper, Jr.