Today, October 14, is Dwight D. Eisenhower’s birthday! Let’s take a moment to learn about his connections to Columbia University.
Former commanding general of the American forces in Europe and supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force during World War II, Dwight D. Eisenhower succeeded Nicholas Murray Butler as Columbia University’s thirteenth president, serving the University from 1948-1953.
Eisenhower’s short tenure as University president contributed immensely to the University’s reputation, despite the fact he was absent from the University for long stretches of time. Most significantly, in 1950, he took a leave of absence to become the first supreme commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Even though these absences, combined with his official duties, made impossible his expressed wish for closer contact with students, he managed to regularly attend Columbia football games at Baker Field. He was also responsible for retaining the services of famed Columbia football coach Lou Little who was being lured away by Yale at the time of Eisenhower’s appointment.
Eisenhower’s presidency saw a number of developments at the University, including the founding of the Columbia Center for Oral History (1948), the creation of the Institute for War and Peace Studies (1951), as well as the Lamont Geological Observatory (1949), later known as the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. He is also responsible for the creation of the American Assembly (1950) an organization which was intended to foster non-partisan, public-policy discussions through convenings, research and issuing authoritative books and reports. The organization still continues its important work today and recently donated its historical meeting materials to the University Archives.
Following his election as the 34th president of the United States, Eisenhower resigned as Columbia University president effective January 1953. He returned to campus just a handful of times after he resigned. Most significantly, in November 1963 he came back to accept the Alexander Hamilton Medal awarded by the Columbia College Alumni Association “for distinguished service and accomplishment in any field of human endeavor.”
When Eisenhower died in 1969 – due to limits on tickets – there were only two Columbians at his funeral: CU president Grayson Kirk and former CU treasurer Joseph Campbell.
Dwight D. Eisenhower will forever be linked to our Alma Mater.
-University Archives Staff