Northwestern has never produced a United States president, but the University has come close, says University archivist Kevin Leonard. Leonard, who will discuss Northwestern’s influence on the presidency during Red, Blue, and Purple: Wildcats in Politics as part of Reunion Weekend 2016, will share stories about some key players in American politics with ties to the University.



Since its establishment in 1851, Northwestern has left many marks on state and national politics. In addition to mobilizing students and Evanston residents to vote, Northwestern alumni, faculty, and administrators have always worked in and around presidential politics. President Barack Obama and US Senator John McCain both spoke at commencement ceremonies at Northwestern and received honorary doctorates.



Adlai Stevenson II ’26 stands at the commemoration of the new Lakefill on Northwestern’s Evanston campus.

Going back in time, Adlai Stevenson II ’26 JD is one of a few presidential candidates who earned a Northwestern degree. Stevenson served as the 31st governor of Illinois from 1949 to 1953 and as US ambassador to the United Nations under President John F. Kennedy. Stevenson won the Democratic presidential nomination twice—in 1952 and 1956—but lost both times in the general election to Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower.



William Jennings Bryan 1883 JD addresses a crowd at a rally at Northwestern.

William Jennings Bryan 1883 JD graduated from what was then called the Union College of Law at Northwestern. He served two terms in the US House of Representatives for Nebraska before President Woodrow Wilson appointed him secretary of state at the start of World War I. Bryan ran three times for president as the Democratic nominee in 1896, 1900, and 1908.




George McGovern MA '49, PhD '53 stands on Northwestern’s Evanston campus.

George McGovern ’49 MA, ’53 PhD ran as the Democratic presidential candidate in 1972 against Richard Nixon. McGovern served in the US House of Representatives from 1957 to 1961 and the US Senate from 1963 to 1981 for South Dakota. During his time at Northwestern, McGovern studied history—he was even an assistant professor in the history department. He would later say his training as a historian often shaped his outlook on domestic policy.




Richard Gephardt '62


Another Democratic presidential candidate, Richard Gephardt ’62, ’92 H, ran twice for the Democratic presidential nomination, losing to Michael Dukakis in 1988 and to John Kerry in 2004. Gephardt served 28 years in the US House of Representatives for Missouri, including as majority leader from 1989 to 1995 and minority leader from 1995 to 2003. During his time at Northwestern, Gephardt served as senate president in student government. Today, Gephardt chairs the National Endowment for Democracy, a nonprofit organization aimed at advancing democratic institutions. He is president and CEO of Gephardt Group, a private lobbying firm.



Quite a few Northwestern alumni have influenced the presidency and political scene in other ways. For example:



  • Lee Huebner ’62 served as special assistant to the president and deputy director of the White House writing and research staff under Richard Nixon. Later, Huebner became publisher of the International Herald Tribune in Paris—the world’s first international newspaper—and president of the American Chamber of Commerce in France. Huebner also taught classes as a professor in Northwestern’s School of Communication and the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communication for 12 years.


  • Arthur Goldberg ’30 JD, ’63 H served as US secretary of labor in 1961 and as a Supreme Court justice in 1962 under John F. Kennedy. During his time on the bench, Goldberg was known for his advocacy for repealing the death penalty and increasing the right to privacy. Lyndon B. Johnson nominated Goldberg as US ambassador to the United Nations in 1965 to succeed Adlai Stevenson II. 


  • Phyllis Elliott Oakley ’56 served as US assistant secretary of state and was the first female spokesperson under Secretary of State George Schultz. A senior foreign service officer, Oakley served in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, and was married to US Ambassador Robert Oakley. Oakley has been a visiting professor in Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and will be speaking at “Who Are You Because of NU?” during Reunion Weekend on Friday, October 21.


  • Patti Solis Doyle ’99 MBA is a political strategist who worked on presidential campaigns for both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and on Hillary Clinton’s 2000 senatorial campaign. In 2008, Solis Doyle served as chief of staff for vice presidential operations under Vice President Joseph Biden. She is also a contributor to CNN on politics and a winter 2016 resident fellow at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics.


  • Northwestern alumni have made a considerable impact in state and local government as well. Harold Washington ’52 JD served in the US House of Representative for Illinois and as mayor of Chicago from 1983 to 1987. Washington was a member of the Illinois House of Representatives from 1965 to 1976 and Illinois Senate from 1977 to 1980, where he worked to strengthen the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to protect black Illinoisans from housing discrimination.



For more ways Northwestern has influenced the American presidency, join Kevin Leonard at Red, Blue, and Purple during Reunion Weekend 2016. Can’t make it to the event? Follow along on our Twitter feed by checking #NUReunion.