His paternal grand father migrated to the United States from User in 1807. His maternal grand father Thomas Woodrow, brought up in Paisley, near Glasgow and a graduate of Glasgow University gave distinguished service as pastor at Carlisle, Eng, before moving to the United States in 1835.
The stern Presbyterianism of Woodrow’s father, Joseph Ruggles Willson, a minister of indomitable character and theological distinction, left an indelible impression upon the character of the future president.
After a brief experience at Davidson College in North Carolina, he entered Princeton University in 1875 and graduated four years later.
His scholastic record placed him high in his class but not at the top. He took a prominent part in debating and literary activities and also participated in the administration of student athletics. His most notable achievement as an under graduate was the publication in International Review during his senior year of an article which analysed critically and skilfully the Committee System of the U.S. Congress. In this essay may be discovered the basis of his mature political principles.
After graduating from Princeton, be studied law at the University of Virginia following unsuccessful attempt at legal practice at Atlanta, he pursued advanced studies in Government College in history at John Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md. There, in 1886, he received the .Ph. D. degree.
Wilson started teaching at Bryn Mawr College in 1885, the same year that he published ,his doctoral dissertation on ‘Congressional Government’ a highly acclaimed work that compared the American System of government unfavourably with the British System. It was the first of several books to win him an international reputation as an authority on American Government and history.
In 1888 Wilson become professor of history and political economy at Weskyan University. In 1890 he joined the faculty of Princeton as professor of Jurisprudence and political economy In 1902 he was unanimously elected president of the University. He had never lost his desire for a political career, which influenced his decision to accept the democratic nomination for governor of New Jersey in 1910.