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President Benjamin Fletcher Wright

President Benjamin Fletcher Wright

Benjamin Fletcher Wright, president of Smith College 1949-1959, was born February 8, 1900, in Austin, Texas. He was the son of Benjamin F. and Mary (Blanford) Wright. His lifelong interest in political science, especially government, became evident early in life with his fascination for Thomas Jefferson in grammar school. He followed that passion through the University of Texas, where he earned his BA and MA degrees in 1921 and to Harvard, where, in 1925, he earned his Ph.D.

He was a member of the University of Texas faculty from 1922 to 1926. In 1926, he married Alexa Rhea, and they had two children. Wright taught at Harvard from 1926 until coming to Smith in 1949. While at Harvard, he served as chairman of the Government department and served on the special Harvard Committee on General Education. He was one of the authors of the renowned report published by the Committee titled, “General Education in a Free Society” (1945).

During his decade as the fifth president of Smith College (1949-1959), Wright made notable contributions to the honors program and the interdepartmental majors program. He consistently fought for the value of intellectual and educational freedom in the face of McCarthyism and widespread anti-Communist propaganda. Under his administration, the college’s endowment was substantially increased, faculty salaries raised and college plant and facilities enlarged. In 1961, Wright Hall was dedicated in his honor.

After leaving Smith, Wright spent a year as a fellow at the center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Science, at Stanford University in California. The following year he returned to the University of Texas as a professor of government where he taught until the year before his death on November 28, 1976.

Wright maintained his scholarship throughout his administrative career. His publications are numerous. These are but a few: The Merit System in the American States (1923), Source Book of the American Political Theory (1928), American Interpretations of Natural Law (1942), General Education in a Free Society (with others 1945), Consensus and Continuity 1777-1787 (1958), editor: The Federalist (1961).

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