In this presidential election year, thoughts turn to the historical occasions of six presidents strolling on Lafayette’s campus, one of whom held the office at the time of his visit. In 1877, Benjamin Harrison attended the graduation of his son, Russell Benjamin Harrison, Class of 1877. A prominent Indianapolis lawyer at the time, he had just lost the Indiana gubernatorial election and was not elected president until 1888.
When Pardee Hall was rebuilt after the fire of 1879, plans for the Nov. 30, 1880 rededication were much grander than the original event. On hand were President Rutherford B. Hayes and several cabinet members— Secretary of War, Alexander Ramsey, Class of 1836, the Postmaster General, and the Commissioner of Education, as well as General William Tecumseh Sherman and the president of Johns Hopkins University. This illustration (left) of President Hayes’ visit appeared in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly.
Another future president, Dwight David Eisenhower (center), visited on Founder’s Day, Nov. 1, 1946 and received an honorary doctorate of laws. Thousands lined the streets in Easton to welcome his motorcade. President Ralph Cooper Hutchison is behind and to the left of Eisenhower.
Gerald Ford, while serving as U.S. Congressman, gave a talk in Colton Chapel on April 1, 1968. He later become Nixon’s vice president and then president in 1974.
Richard Nixon, vice president at the time, gives Commencement address from the rostrum at South College June 7, 1956. The second sitting vice president to visit the campus was Joe Biden on May 2, 2012.
The only former president to visit, George H.W. Bush, came to Lafayette as Commencement speaker on May 23, 1998, and received an honorary degree presented by President Arthur Rothkopf ’55 (right).
Text adapted from a presentation by Diane Windham Shaw, director of special collections and College archivist. Photos courtesy Special Collections and College Archives.