From the Special Collections and Argives: An Awesome Picture of Richard Nixon at Wesleyan in 1956

Yes, the same Richard Nixon.

Do you keep up with the library’s Special Collections and Archives blog? If that’s a no, you may have missed archivist Leith Johnson’s “Pick of the Week,” which depicts then-Vice President Richard Nixon’s momentous visit to Wesleyan on October 18, 1956. Here’s your bi-weekly reminder that an institution of higher learning can change a lot in 50 years or less, and that Martin Benjamin ’57 once looked like this.

Shot by Fraser M. Lyle ’58, the above photo finds Tricky Dick on a Connecticut campaign stop less than a month before Eisenhower securely won reelection:

The Argus reported that Nixon spoke to about 400 students who crowded around him on High St. Suzy Taraba included this photograph, taken by Frazer M. Lyle ’58, in her recent presentation on alumni gifts of archival materials to the University Relations major gifts team. This photograph is particularly remarkable because it’s a color print, something that is rare among our photographs from this time period.

You’ll note that every sign that’s visible in the photo is in support of the Republican ticket. No word on whether any Stevenson supporters were silenced and assaulted in the crowd, which is what happened to a crew of Republicans 36 years later, when a certain other vice-presidential candidate made a campaign stop at Wesleyan.

Martin Benjamin ’57 did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Tag: Wes History

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6 thoughts on “From the Special Collections and Argives: An Awesome Picture of Richard Nixon at Wesleyan in 1956

  1. Zach

    UPDATE: Martin Benjamin ’57 has finally replied to my request for comment, and here’s what he has to say:

    “Zach, that photo is in my ’57 yearbook, and I have no recollection of Nixon and Pat having been here. Shows how apolitical Wes was back then. The student body still was right-leaning and the faculty left-leaning, but politics rarely reared its ugly head.

    One big exception: the VFW parade onto campus, which turned into a Keystone Kops film, starring the paraders, in the first week of May, 1954.

    The Argus had already shut up shop, but the Middletown Press and Hartford Courant each ran a piece about Wes’ being a hotbed of commies and pinkos. I think the Argus ran pieces on it in September, in which the frat guys, largely patriotic, nonetheless defended their fellow Wesmen: “They’re OUR commies, and who invited you to come marching onto OUR campus in the middle of exam week?”

    Of course it was the Butterfield Administration which, without informing the students, had allowed the local VFW to stage a counter-May Day, Loyalty Day Celebration. Vic Butterfield, like Arthur Schlesinger, was anti-Communist left: liberal, small “L.”

    But that was then.”

  2. Think before you speak

    To be fair, Ike did a good job as President and even Wes students would have been enthusiastic about another four years of him. No one knew how bad Nixon would be yet.

    1. Zach

      Ike was likable (pun intended), but I think it’s a bit more nuanced than “good job” or “bad job.” His reelection campaign (with or without Nixon) signified a pretty socially conservative postwar status quo, which makes for a fun contrast with the countercultural impulse that shook Wesleyan (and dozens of other campuses) in the following 15 years or so. That’s all.

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