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Northwestern No Stranger to American Presidents

A Presidents Day retrospective on University links with the nation’s chief executives

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University has a rich history when it comes to hosting presidents of the United States. Three sitting presidents have visited campus, while many more have visited Northwestern either prior to assuming or after leaving office.

As Northwestern celebrates Presidents Day, its history with America’s chief executives dates back to not long after the University’s 1851 founding, when Abraham Lincoln visited Evanston prior to his election.

“He did not make it to campus, but he was supposedly serenaded by Northwestern students,” University Archivist Kevin Leonard said.

Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and Barack Obama all have visited the University while occupying the White House. Roosevelt spoke from a platform erected just east of University Hall and also visited what was then called Lunt Library in April 1903. Eisenhower received an honorary law degree in August 1954 while addressing a large crowd at the World Council of Churches on campus. Obama spoke about economic policy to a packed Cahn Auditorium in October 2014.

Other presidential connections include:

  • Herbert Hoover visited campus several times after leaving office.
  • John F. Kennedy received some of his naval training on Northwestern’s Chicago campus during World War II.
  • Gerald Ford, a linebacker and center for the University of Michigan’s football team, visited campus in 1933 when the Wolverines took on the Wildcats.
  • Jimmy Carter made a campaign stop at Willard Hall in 1976. He also visited campus several times after leaving office.
  • Ronald Reagan visited the University long before embarking on a political career. He took part in a collegiate drama festival on campus in 1930 while he was attending Eureka College.
  • Bill Clinton spoke to an audience at the Kellogg School of Management in 2006.
  • Obama, in addition to his visit while in office, received an honorary degree from Northwestern in 2006 while serving as a U.S. Senator.

In addition to the presidents who have visited Northwestern, countless numbers of presidential candidates have come to the University over the years, including alumni George McGovern and Richard Gephardt, among others.

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