2020 Election Campus News News

Looking back at William Howard Taft’s visit to Springfield College

William Howard Taft. People may or may not recognize the name, depending on their knowledge of American history. He was the 27th President of the United States. Taft was elected in 1908 and served one term, and he remains the last U.S. President to sport facial hair.

But to Springfield College, Taft was not just a one-term president sandwiched between Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. This U.S. president was a key part of the building of the Marsh Memorial at Springfield College. On October 18, 1913, the Springfield Union put out this statement:

“Beginning what future historians will note as a new era in the course of the development of the International Young Men’s Christian Association College, the dedication of the new library building of the institution yesterday was an occasion for a notable gathering of influential leaders of the Young Men’s Christian Association, representatives of several leading universities, the College alumni, prominent men of this and other cities and Honorable William Howard Taft, former President, and Mrs. Taft.”

The former president was there to dedicate the new library to the college. It was named after Edward Williams Marsh, who gave over half the funds for the building. But, what was perhaps more memorable than his efforts was the 27th President of the United States showing up to the campus people today know and love.

However, his route there was not the easiest. This is an excerpt from Springfield College journalism professor, Marty Dobrow:

“Long before the days of the GPS, Taft got lost. He had a flat tire. Ultimately, with what he described as a ‘certain dizziness,’ he arrived. He alluded that day to driving a bit faster than speed limits of the day permitted. ‘And today I made 120 miles, but was not arrested,’ said Taft. ‘Whether I should have been I won’t say, for under the Constitution one cannot be compelled to incriminate himself.’”

It was not an easy route to Springfield, but it did not stop the last mustachioed commander-in-chief from delivering an address that would leave a stamp in Springfield College history for over a century to come. He had a lot of praise for the YMCA that was involved with the project. He believed that organizations like these were essential for the future of the country.

“The Y.M.C.A. by those who know how. There are so many charities that are managed by those who don’t know how to manage. I hate to reflect on the waste of money in benevolence because of this. Your secretaries know how to direct the work. They are supported by gifts and general contributions, and in a way it seems to be a mere charity. But everyone seems himself a guest coming into the Y.M.C.A. The secretaries know how to make the money go, they administer economically. They understand young men and know how to form a good Christian club. It is because of this feeling I came.”

One could only wonder if Taft would have made the sojourn to Alden Street without Springfield’s connection to the YMCA. No matter the reason, Springfield College is forever grateful to share a moment with such an important historical figure. 

Photo: Springfield College Archives

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