“Beyond the Log: Williams Presidents in the Gentleman’s Era” (pdf) is a product of the Williams Oral History Project, led by Bob Stegeman ’60. It features a discussion with Professors Fred Rudolph ’42 and John Hyde ’52, along with former President John Chandler about Williams presidents from Paul Ansel Chadbourne (1872-81) to Tyler Dennett (1934-37). Each day for the next two weeks at noon, I will quote selected portions of the interview and provide comments. What do you want to know about Williams history? Ask your questions in the comments.

John Chandler: We all know that Dennett’s presidency from 1934 to 1937 was stormy and brief. What happened?

Fred Rudolph: Well, as you know, in 1937 Dennett gave a speech to the Boston alumni saying there were too many “nice boys” at Williams. My sense is that he meant there were just too many graduates of private schools and not enough diversity. Williams had the highest percent of private school graduates of any college in the country. A big reason was the four-year Latin admission requirement, and Garfield was adamant about keeping it. He’d gone to St. Paul’s School, and that had something to do with the kind of college that he wanted to be president of.

But by the time Dennett was made president, even in the prep schools there were many students who did not take four years of Latin. And remember that Harvard, Yale, and Dartmouth were also competing for the prep school graduates. The result was that the Williams applicant pool was damn small. Williams was probably taking one out of every two applicants, and it was accepting applications from weak students, just as long as they’d taken four years of Latin. (Interestingly, the trustees reduced the Latin requirement to three years just as Garfield left and Dennett arrived.)

1) For more on the “nice boys” speech, see Guy Creese’s ’75 senior thesis: “The Concept of the Gentleman at Williams College: 1929-1939.” Guy wrote a series of three posts about his thesis starting here. Highly recommended. But I really want to read the whole thing. Why isn’t it on-line?

2) Do you think that Williams gets too many or too few nice boys (and girls) today? If you could change one thing about Williams admissions, what would it be?

I would go to more of a Caltech or Olin model in which race, athletic ability and socio-economic status play much less of a role in admissions. Bring the most academically talented and ambitious students to Williams regardless of the color of their skin, the strength of their backhand or the educational credentials of their parents.

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