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The President and the Poet:
John F. Kennedy at Amherst, October 26, 1963

Few college libraries have as auspicious a beginning as the Robert Frost Library at Amherst College. On October 26, 1963, President John F. Kennedy came to campus to receive an honorary degree and participate in the ground breaking ceremony for the new library building. At an Amherst Capital Program dinner on September 28, 1962, Amherst College President Calvin Plimpton had announced the anonymous donation of 3.5 million dollars to build a new library to be named in honor of Robert Frost. After Robert Frost’s death in January 1963, John J. McCloy (AC 1916) invited President Kennedy to Amherst, a fitting tribute to the poet who read at Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961.

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This web exhibition documents the events of that day, from President Kennedy's arrival, to the Convocation ceremony at which he and poet Archibald MacLeish were awarded Honorary Doctor of Laws degrees, to the Frost Library groundbreaking and beyond. Both Kennedy and MacLeish spoke at the Convocation, and Kennedy also spoke later in the day at the groundbreaking; the texts of their speeches can be found here. On both occasions, the President's remarks were addressed to the significance of Robert Frost and of art and artists generally for the United States and for the world.

The event turned out to be one of President Kennedy's last public appearances before he was assassinated in November 1963. An estimated 10,000 people were on campus that day to witness the events.

See a related article on the Kennedy visit in Amherst magazine online (Fall-Winter 2003-04).

 

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