Biographer of Chester Arthur to speak at Founders Day

Publication Date

Journalist Scott Greenberger, author of “The Unexpected President: The Life and Times of Chester A. Arthur,” will deliver the keynote address at Founders Day Thursday, Feb. 22, at 1 p.m. in Memorial Chapel.

The event commemorates the 223rd anniversary of the College’s charter.

Greenberger’s talk is free and open to the public.

Arthur was a member of the Class of 1848. Greenberger said he was drawn to his story because little has been written about the man who rose to become the country’s 21st president. He was also interested in exploring his presidency amid the backdrop of the Gilded Age.

Greenberg in front of the Nott

The book, which was released in September, has generated positive reviews, with the Wall Street Journal describing it as an “entertaining, illuminating biography of Arthur and the political world in which he lived.”

The son of a Baptist minister, Arthur grew up in Union Village, N.Y. (Greenwich). In 1845 he entered Union, where he was a member of Psi Upsilon and the Delphian Institute debating society. He was elected into Phi Beta Kappa his senior year.

A Republican, Arthur held several positions in New York state government and was nominated to be James Garfield’s vice president in 1880. He was sworn in as president on Sept. 20, 1881, a day after Garfield was assassinated.

Known as the “The Gentleman Boss” and the “Dude President” for his sense of style, Arthur died from a kidney ailment at his home in New York City on Nov. 18, 1886, a year-and-a-half after leaving office. He is buried near his wife in Albany Rural Cemetery, some 20 miles from campus. His grave site remains the most visited spot in the cemetery.

The College houses a number of artifacts and other memorabilia from Arthur’s days as a student, along with other items such as a walnut and leather writing desk used by President Stephen C. Ainlay.

The Chester Arthur statue stands outside the gate of Jackson’s Garden.

Greenberger is the executive editor of Stateline, the daily news service of The Pew Charitable Trusts. Greenberger guides a team of veteran journalists who report on state politics and policy in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Before joining Pew, Greenberger was a staff writer at The Boston Globe, where he covered education, served as City Hall bureau chief and was the primary policy reporter in the Globe’s State House bureau.

He graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in history from Yale University and earned a master’s degree in international relations from the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University.

Also at Founders Day, the College will present the Gideon Hawley Teacher Recognition Award. Named for the 1809 graduate of Union who was New York State’s first superintendent of public education, the award is given to secondary school teachers who have had a continuing influence on the academic life of Union students.

Past Founders Day speakers have included Frederick M. Lawrence, secretary and CEO of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Richard Russo and James M. McPherson, Paul LeClerc, retired president and chief executive officer of the New York Public Library and a former professor at Union, and Alfred Sommer ’63, a global leader in public health whose pioneering work in studying vitamin A deficiency has helped to save millions of children’s lives and eyesight.