Presidents' Day

Introduction

Georgia has deep connections to three U.S. presidents who served in the twentieth century: Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Jimmy Carter.

Wilson, who moved to Georgia while still a baby, and Carter, a Georgian, each married a Georgia native. Roosevelt, a New Yorker, considered Georgia to be his adopted home, and his wife’s family also had ties to the state.

Each president led the country through difficult times—Wilson during World War I (1917-18); Roosevelt during the Great Depression of the 1930s and World War II (1941-45); and Carter during the energy crisis and the Iran hostage situation (1979-81). In addition, Carter and Wilson each received the Nobel Peace Prize, two of only four American presidents to win the award. (The other two recipients were Theodore Roosevelt and Barack Obama.)

Woodrow and Ellen Axson Wilson

Woodrow Wilson moved to Georgia as a child in 1858, and many of the important events of his life before he entered politics took place there, including practicing law in Atlanta, his wedding in Savannah, and the births of two children in Gainesville. Around 1883, while living in Rome, he met Ellen Axson, a Savannah native related to both Augustus Baldwin Longstreet and Confederate general James Longstreet. The two married in 1885 and moved away from Georgia; Wilson entered politics in 1910, when he was elected governor of New Jersey.

Ellen, though at first reluctant to be in the spotlight, proved to be an invaluable asset to her husband’s presidential campaign in 1912. During his first term, Wilson signed an impressive amount of legislation from the Democratic Congress, including the Federal Reserve Act, the Federal Farm Loan Act, and the Adamson Act. Meanwhile Ellen, concerned about the uncleanliness of Washington, D.C., set into motion a bill to clean up the streets, one of the earliest attempts at urban renewal. When she died shortly thereafter, in 1914, her dying wish was that the bill be passed, and Congress obliged.

During Wilson’s second term he involved America in World War I and eventually developed the Fourteen Points plan, which included the proposal for the League of Nations that became part of the Treaty of Versailles. 

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Although Franklin Roosevelt was a native New Yorker, he had very strong ties with Georgia through his numerous visits to Warm Springs, where he took treatments in the healing waters to combat the debilitating effects of polio. Later, he built a home there known as the “Little White House,” his respite from the stresses of handling the Great Depression.

His firsthand experience of the Georgia countryside, which had been devastated by the boll weevil and plummeting cotton prices, gave him inspiration for dealing with the difficult agricultural conditions and the social and educational problems of the state, as well as the nation, when structuring the New Deal. The New Deal brought to Georgia, where state aid had previously been negligible, advances in rural electrification, education, health care, housing, and highway construction.

To a generation of west Georgians, he was both the president and a trusted friend who could be seen waving as he passed by in his convertible or on a train while traveling to and from the nation’s capital. Roosevelt was mourned by many Georgians when he passed away at Warm Springs in 1945.

Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter

Born in Plains in 1924, Jimmy Carter was heavily involved in Georgia politics, serving two senate terms in the Georgia General Assembly and one term as governor, before setting his sights on the presidency.

Carter won the race for governor by marketing himself as a traditional southern conservative, then surprised the state, as well as the country, by delivering an anti-segregation speech after his victory.

As president, Carter emphasized high moral standards, ethical behavior, and democratic principles, and he reduced the amount of pomp and ceremony previously associated with the presidency. During his single term, Carter created the departments of education and energy and developed a national energy policy, in addition to pushing the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act through Congress, which more than doubled the acreage in the national park and wildlife system.

As first lady, Rosalynn Carter continued the work she had begun as a governor’s wife, working to create “a more caring society” by fostering programs and services for the mentally ill, senior citizens, women, and other disenfranchised groups. Dubbed a “steel magnolia” by the media after they took notice of her singular tenacity as well as her southern refinement, she helped to shape the modern view of the first lady as the president’s partner. 

Legacies

Though the terms of these presidents ended long ago, they have left a lasting impact on the state of Georgia. Their legacies live on through the Boyhood Home of President Woodrow Wilson in Augusta; the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation and the Little White House in Warm Springs; the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site in Plains, and the Carter Center and the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum, both in Atlanta.

Wilson’s boyhood home is open to the public for tours and provides information about his life and political career.

The Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation continues Roosevelt’s mission of treating patients with post-polio symptoms, spinal cord injuries, and other disabilities, and the Little White House has remained open to the public since 1948 under the management of Georgia’s Parks, Recreation and Historic Sites division.

The Carter Center was created to advance global health and peace, and its humanitarian efforts build upon Carter’s diplomatic legacy as president, particularly his role as negotiator for the Camp David peace talks between Israel and Egypt and for arms talks with the Soviet Union. The Jimmy Carter Library and Museum and the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site help visitors understand Carter’s achievements.

Explore the Collection
  • Introduction
  • Woodrow and Ellen Axson Wilson
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt
  • Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter
  • Legacies
Cite This Article
Foley, Kayla. "Presidents' Day." New Georgia Encyclopedia. 17 February 2014. Web. 21 December 2014.
From Our Home Page
Alliance Theatre

The Alliance Theatre, the largest regional theater in the Southeast, is recognized nationwide as a great critical and commercial success.

Read more...
Albany Movement

According to traditional accounts the Albany Movement began in fall 1961 and ended in summer 1962.

Read more...
Georgia Ornithological Society

The Georgia Ornithological Society (GOS) was founded in Atlanta on December 13, 1936, to promote interest in and appreciation of the i

Read more...
Gone With the Wind (Film)

Few films are so closely identified with a geographical region as Gone With the Wind is identified with Georgia and the Old South.

Read more...