A Presidential Breakfast

Artifacts at the History Museum of Mobile recall President Woodrow Wilson’s morning meal at the Battle House Hotel in 1913.

A SECURITY DETAIL Even in 1913, Secret Service routines appear to have been quite thorough: The Battle House was carefully inspected days in advance and each of the 180 attendees vetted.

Called “Mobile’s Living Room” since the early 20th century, the Battle House Hotel was, for some Mobilians, an extension of their homes, and with the exception of a few unfortunate decades toward the end of the century, was Mobile’s premier space for entertaining. Behind the scenes at the History Museum of Mobile are rarely-displayed Battle House artifacts that tell more than 150 years’ worth of stories about Mardi Gras revelers, murders and presidential visits.

One such notable visit was the October 27, 1913, breakfast honoring sitting President Woodrow Wilson. Members of the Southern Commercial Congress sat down to a traditional breakfast of grapefruit, squad (pigeon) on toast, hominy grits, cornpones and coffee. Fortified by the hearty breakfast, the 28th president departed the Battle House for the Lyric Theater (once located on the southwest corner of Conti and Joachim streets), where he made one of the most oft-cited policy announcements of the century: “The United States will never again seek one added foot of territory by conquest” —  a welcome assurance to the Latin American delegations in attendance. 

Items from The Battle House Presidential Breakfast

These two silver pieces salvaged from the original Battle House, which burned in 1905, may well have still been used in the so-called “New Battle House” and during President Wilson’s visit to Mobile. 

Several collections in Mobile contain matching sugar bowls and tureens. Each engraved with “BH,” they would have graced every table. 

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The French knot and the manufacturer’s stamp suggest this spoon dates to the late 1880s, when it was common to mark hotel and restaurant flatware with a name or monogram.

A Seat at the Table
Descriptions of the event in the Mobile Register describe the president as occupying “a handsomely carved armchair, the finest selected from the Battle House furniture.” This photograph from the breakfast confirms that the chair is, in fact, the one now in the collection of the History Museum of Mobile. 

Visiting with a Purpose
Although the Panama Canal was not officially opened until 1914, President Wilson’s trip was meant to smooth over diplomatic relations and reassure the country’s Latin American partners of smooth sailing.

Meg McCrummen Fowler is director of the History Museum of Mobile. She earned her M.A. in History of Art at Tulane University, where she is currently completing a Ph.D. in Art History & Society.

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