The Long Road to the White House

The Long Road to the White House
Ellen Wilson: Law, Politics and Govt

Skill: Elementary School
Time Required: Four to five class periods


   First Lady Ellen Wilson met Woodrow Wilson when he was a lawyer.  Once married, he was offered a teaching position at a college.  He was able to move up the ladder and eventually became president of Princeton University, his alma mater.  Soon after, he became governor of New Jersey, then ran for the President of the United States and was elected in 1913.    This lesson explores the many ‘hats’ that Presidents wear during the long road to Presidency.  In most cases, the presidents marry long before the election, which automatically causes First Ladies to transition through many work experiences alongside their husbands.  


Students will be able to list the many (common and uncommon) occupations that Presidents (and First Ladies) experienced

 before moving into the White House.  Students will compare and contrast the various occupations of several presidents throughout U.S. history.

Materials Required:

Internet access  Word processor (or paper and writing utensil) Paper for organization of information. Poster board and drawing utensils or computer printer to produce posters A list of all the Presidents and First Ladies


1.  Ask students what they think Presidents did before being elected.  Allow students to work in groups and make a list.  Then have a class discussion about the different occupations.

2.  Introduce students to Woodrow Wilson’s biography by explaining the supplied introduction.

3.  Ask students how the current job that either (or both) of their parents have influenced the other parent or family members.

4.  Instruct students to perform an internet search on five Presidents before Woodrow Wilson and five after, looking for the following information: 

  • President’s name
  • First ladies’ name
  • Date of  presidency
  • the occupations of the President and First ladies’ parents 
  • the occupations of the President and/or First Lady before their time in the White House.

5.  Depending on grade level and ability, have students place the information they gather in chart form using a computer spreadsheet (or paper). 

6.  Have a class discussion where students explain what trends they located.

7.  As a final product, instruct students to submit a poster assignment with images and writing explaining the impact and relevance that prior employment has on a president’s ability to govern.

Extending the Lesson:

  • Have the students do their own family history and discover what their grandparents did or do as an occupation.  Then allow students to compare and contrast the occupations of the presidents and first ladies.
  • Have students imagine they want to be President or First Lady.  What occupations would they choose to do before entering the White House and why?
  • Sources & Resources:


    This lesson was developed by Marian Maxfield, Kent State University