Northwestern knows how to entertain a president. On Oct. 2, 2014, President Barack Obama's helicopter grazed the Lakefill, onlookers lined Sheridan and students streamed his speech online. But this was, by no means, Northwestern's first go. Since its founding, the University has entertained several presidents – current, former and yet undiscovered.
On April 2, 1903, Theodore Roosevelt rolled into Union Station, and Chicago loved him. The Boston Daily Globe headlines read, “Roosevelt Enthusiasm: Chicago Wild With It. Crowds Greet Him Everywhere.” The very first to greet him? Northwestern University. The president met a crowd of 10,000 including students and Evanston residents, who cheered into megaphones, beat drums and “pelted him with flowers,” according to The Globe. In his speech, Roosevelt urged students to cultivate “manly athleticism” in both their physical and educational pursuits, saying, “I welcome all forms of manly, vigorous, rough exercise.” He also thanked the University for his welcome, calling it his “second alma mater,” since he received an honorary degree from Northwestern in 1893.
In 1975, a peanut farmer charmed campus with his Southern style, winning over 150 new student supporters. Jimmy Carter was still relatively unknown at the time of his first campaign stop at Northwestern, says Linda Solomon (CAS '79), then-organizer for Students for Carter. Solomon picked him up from the airport and drove him to campus, where he spoke with students in the basement of Willard. The Daily Northwestern reported Carter criticized then-president Gerald Ford's foreign policy and emphasized the importance of student support for his campaign. Solomon remembers Carter's frank tone and his characteristic Southern drawl. “We were all very inspired by him,” she says. “He was such a contrast for that moment in history.”
The One that Got Away
When President Gerald Ford turned down an invitation to speak at the Medill School of Journalism in the fall of 1975, the ensuing media speculation prompted Ford's press secretary to stop disclosing the president's travel plans for the rest of his term. Chicago papers cited concern over recent assassination attempts as the motive for the cancellation, but White House staff denied these claims. If he had followed through, Ford would have been well protected. According to The Daily, Medill spokesmen presented the White House with an “elaborate security plan,” in which Ford would enter Pick-Staiger Hall through underground tunnels. Then again, maybe not – Pick-Staiger building staff could not confirm the existence of such a tunnel. Good call, Ford.