Hail to the Chief
A current president visits campus for the first time since the Truman administration.
For the first time in more than sixty years, a current U.S. president visited campus when Barack Obama spoke before an estimated crowd of 17,500 that filled Library Mall and a further 9,500 on Bascom Hill and beyond in September. Obama’s speech came as part of an effort to drum up support for Democrats during the November election.
The UW has only had four previous visits from presidents who were then in office, including Rutherford B. Hayes, who stopped in at Ladies Hall during a Madison visit in 1878; Herbert Hoover, who made a campaign speech at the Field House in November 1932; Harry Truman, who made a campaign stop at the Stock Pavilion in October 1948; and, most recently, Truman again in May 1950 for a speech at the Field House.
In the intervening years, many presidential candidates have spoken on campus, including Obama in February 2008 and John F. Kennedy in October 1960. And former presidents have visited, including Jimmy Carter in March 1994 and Bill Clinton in February 2008. But none of them were still drawing a White House paycheck when they came to the UW.
The Obama visit caused a flurry in the area surrounding Library Mall, as security measures required that some nearby buildings be shut down for several hours before and during the speech.
Sections of Lake, Langdon, and Park Streets were closed to traffic, and the line waiting to enter the area wound westward through campus for more than a mile. The university attempted to continue with classes as usual, though several buildings — including Humanities, Science Hall, and the Memorial Union — had access restricted to entrances facing away from Library Mall.
Published in the Winter 2010 issue