East wall of Johnson Chapel with portraits numbered
portrait of Richard Wilbur holding a book

1. Richard Wilbur, Class of 1942

Artist: Sarah Belchetz-Swenson

The Poet Laureate of 1987, and winner of Pulitzer prizes in 1957 and 1989, Richard Wilbur was the John Woodruff Simpson Lecturer at Amherst — the same post once held by Robert Frost. Wilbur was a regular speaker on campus, most recently reading his poem “Altitudes” at President Biddy Martin’s inauguration ceremony in 2011.

painted portrait of Charles Hamilton Houston

2. Charles Hamilton Houston, Class of 1915

Artist: Richard Yarde

A prominent lawyer, educator, and civil rights activist, Charles Hamilton Houston graduated magna cum laude from Amherst College in 1915. Best known for his work as legal counsel for the NAACP, Houston was considered a chief architect of the legal strategy that challenged the principle of “separate but equal,” and he argued several famous civil rights cases. Houston mentored a generation of African American lawyers, most notably William H. Hastie ’25 and Thurgood Marshall.

William H. Hastie

3. William H. Hastie, Class of 1925

Artist: Sarah Belchetz-Swenson

Hastie graduated from Amherst College first in his class, magna cum laude, and Phi Beta Kappa. A lawyer, judge, educator, public official, and civil rights advocate, Hastie was the first African American to serve as governor of the United States Virgin Islands, as a federal judge, and as a federal appellate judge. 

painted portrait of Calvin Coolidge

4. Calvin Coolidge, Class of 1895

Artist: Hermann Hanatschek

Born in Vermont in 1872, Coolidge was the son of a village storekeeper. He graduated from Amherst College with honors and entered law and politics in Massachusetts, becoming the state’s 48th governor. In 1923, he became the 30th president of the United States. 

painting of Emily Dickinson sitting at her writing desk by a window

5. Evening Reflections: Portrait of Emily Dickinson


How do you paint a portrait of someone who spent much of her life not wishing to be seen, and whose only likeness was captured in a daguerreotype at the age of sixteen? The artist, Robert T. Sweeney, the William R. Mead Professor of Art, accepted the challenge, painting two unconventional portraits of the poet Emily Dickinson. 

painting of Emily Dickinson writing viewed through her window

6. Internal Light: Portrait of Emily Dickinson


Despite a scarcity of images of Dickinson, artist Robert Sweeney had ample material to draw upon: her poems, her home, a dress she wore, and a lock of her chestnut-red hair kept in the College’s archives. The portraits serve as a reminder not only of the Dickinson family’s contributions to the College—the poet’s grandfather was a founding funder of the College and her father and brother each served long terms as treasurer—but as a reflection of Amherst’s reputation as a “writing college.”

portrait of Rose Olver wearing academic regalia

7. Rose Olver

Artist: Sarah Belchetz-Swenson

Rose Olver, Professor and Faculty Marshall, came to Amherst in 1962 as the first woman to hold a tenure-track position on the faculty. More than 50 years later, she was the first woman to have her portrait hung in Johnson Chapel. 

painted portrait of Joseph Hardy Neesima

8. Joseph Hardy Neesima, Class of 1870

Artist: Alfred Everett Smith

The first Japanese student to graduate from a Western institution of higher learning, Joseph Neesima founded Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan — with which Amherst College maintains close ties to this day.