by Heidi Butler, College Archivist
During its 176-year history Kalamazoo College has attracted a range of social and political leaders, renowned arts performers, and world-class athletes. Here are the stories of a few, drawn from records in the Kalamazoo College Archives. Know the details of others? Contact Heidi Butler.
1860 Ralph Waldo Emerson
According to an article Lucinda Hinsdale Stone (head of the College's female department, wife of College president James Stone, and progressive educator and activist) wrote for the Kalamazoo Daily News in 1894, Emerson first came to Kalamazoo in the mid-1850s, on a stagecoach from Grand Rapids. He returned in February 1860 to give a lecture on campus, and made an unannounced appearance in James Stone's philosophy class. He remarked to the Stones that he appreciated men and women being educated together in the same classroom - not by any means the norm of the day but common practice at Kalamazoo College, thanks to the Stones. Emerson's remarks here were incorporated into the essays that compose his book The Conduct of Life.
1921 Former U.S. President William Howard Taft
Little is recorded regarding the campus visit of the country's 27th president (1909-1913). As president, he was more renowned for his size (he weighed more than 300 pounds) than the success of his one-term agenda (which focused on trust busting, civil service reform, and economic development of Latin American and Asian countries). After leaving office Taft became a professor of law and legal history at Yale Law School. The year he visited "K" was the year he became Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. He remained in that position until his death in 1930, the only person in U.S. history to serve as both president and chief justice.
1937 J. Edgar Hoover
Federal Bureau of Investigation founder J. Edgar Hoover was invited to give the commencement address at Kalamazoo College in 1937. The FBI had only been in existence for two years at that time, and was meeting with popular approval from most Americans. Novel tools implemented under Hoover such as a centralized fingerprint database and forensic laboratories drew praise for success in solving major crimes. Hoover's address to the College can be read here.
1957 Margaret Mead
The first female to give a commencement address in the history of Kalamazoo College, Margaret Mead spoke in 1957 on the responsibility to surmount complacency and self-centered interests. She was one of three recipients of an honorary degree that year; the others were Dr. Paul V. Sangren and Rev. Richard Cummings. Mead's fieldwork studying many cultures, her roles as Associate Curator of Ethnology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, Adjunct Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University, and International President of the Mental Health Association made her a natural choice for a Doctor of Humane Letters degree.
1967 Alexander Kerensky
Kerensky, the Russian Prime Minister prior to the Bolshevik Revolution, gave his last public lecture at Kalamazoo College in October 1967. Fifty years earlier, Kerensky had narrowly escaped fighting in Russia, and eventually made his way to France. He lived there in exile for many years, moving to Australia in 1940 and to New York City in 1946. He taught at Stanford University, wrote and lectured extensively on Russian politics and history. A draft version of a lecture that is likely the one given by Kerensky at "K" is on file in the College Archives. You can read his lecture here.
You can also read a short essay by Professor Emeritus of English Hal Harris on his encounter with Kerensky, and his spirit, in Leningrad.
1970 Karl Malden
Best known for his roles in several Marlon Brando films (he received an Oscar for his portrayal of Mitch in A Streetcar Named Desire and an Oscar nomination for the role of Father Barry in On the Waterfront), and as Lt. Mike Stone on the 1970s TV drama "The Streets of San Francisco," Malden came to Kalamazoo College in 1970 on the invitation of Chaplain Robert Dewey. Students were able to work closely with the actor on a production he titled The Divine Hypocrites, which included abstracts from a number of classic American plays such as The Glass Menagerie and The Death of a Salesman. Click here to read a 1970 Index article on Malden's work.
1972 Gloria Steinem and Margaret Sloan
As part of Kalamazoo's "Emphasis Women" speaker series, feminist leader Gloria Steinem and her civil rights activist colleague Margaret Sloan paid a visit to campus. The Kalamazoo Gazette noted that the two, based in New York, had come to reach out to the women of "Middle America" in their work to end discrimination and raise consciousness. More than 2,000 people attended their lecture in Tredway Gymnasium on February 15, 1972.
1973 Pauline Kael
Noted film critic for The New Yorker magazine, Pauline Kael visited the campus in June, 1973, to serve as commencement speaker and to receive an honorary degree. She was most well-known at the time of her visit for her review of the film "Last Tango in Paris" that went contrary to the popular sentiments of most other critics. Throughout her career she was known for opinions that were different than most, and often she was credited
He led a group of students around campus to forage for edible plants.for the success of films that otherwise may not have reached an audience as widespread. Kael's commencement speech focused, appropriately, on films, and what they told us of ourselves in the decades of the '50s, '60s, and '70s. Professor of English Herb Bogart delivered her honorary citation speech, which can be read here.
1975 Euell Gibbons
Edible wild plant "stalker" and star of Post's Grape-Nuts cereal commercials, Euell Gibbons came to "K" for Homecoming 1975. He led a group of students and local residents around campus to forage for edible plants, charming them with his humor and knowledge. Later the same day, he sat on a panel with Dr. Lewis Batts to discuss issues of environmental conservation.
1976 B. F. Skinner
The College Forum, the Sigma Xi club, and the Science and Society Seminar brought well-known psychologist (innovator of radical behaviorism and author of Walden Two) B. F. Skinner to the Kalamazoo campus in March 1976. During his visit he gave a lecture titled "Freedom and Dignity," based on a book he would soon publish.
1976 Linus Pauling
The only person to have received two individual Nobel Prizes (for chemistry in 1954, and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1962), Linus Pauling delivered the commencement address for the Class of 1976. His research resulted in important discoveries in physics, biochemistry, and protein biology. He also was a great teacher, lecturing throughout the world. His concern for peace, human dignity, and the responsible use of scientific discoveries was evident in his book No More War. You can read his honorary degree citation here.
1992 Arthur Ashe
Only weeks after the news broke that tennis star Arthur Ashe had contracted the HIV virus as a result of blood transfusions in the early 1980s, he came to Kalamazoo to receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree. He had first come to Kalamazoo in 1958 to compete in the USTA Boys' National Tennis Tournament, and was champion of both tennis and human rights for many years. Ashe received his degree at a private College dinner on April 30, 1992. You can read his degree citation here.
Former President William Howard Taft (back seat, right) at the Kalamazoo train depot
Alexander Kerensky visits with a "K" student.
Actor Karl Malden with theatre arts students
President Larry Bryan speaks with tennis great and activist Arthur Ashe.
Presentations by Margaret Sloan (left) and Gloria Steinem ...
... packed Tredway Gymnasium