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An Extraordinary History

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New exhibition highlights the Wright years

From his childhood in the shadow of the Galena, Ill., lead mines to his 11 years leading Dartmouth, President James Wright's life and work at the College are the subject of a new exhibition. On display May 6 through June in Baker Library's main corridor, the exhibition features stories, photographs, and items from Wright's early years and his four decades at Dartmouth. He will step down as president at the end of June 2009.


President James Wright and Susan DeBevoise Wright cheer on the Big Green at a football game. (Photo courtesy of James Wright)

The display includes personal photographs such as Wright as a child, as a young Marine recruit, and as a producer on the set of a 1970s Great Plains television series with Lakota Sioux leader Frank Fools Crow.
knifeSome items from the exhibition (all photos by Joseph Mehling ’69): A chunk of lead and the knife Wright used to remove paraffin wrappers from sticks of dynamite-mementos from one of his early jobs in the zinc mines in his hometown of Gallena, Ill.
baseballLegendary player Hank Aaron autographed this baseball for Wright when he visited Dartmouth to receive an honorary degree in 2000.
semper fidelisThe Semper Fidelis award that Wright received in 2008 from the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation in recognition of his efforts to promote educational opportunities for wounded veterans. Wright served in the Marines for three years after high school.
"Wright is well known as the president of Dartmouth, but he's also had an extraordinary range of experiences," says exhibition curator Susan Warner, director of communications for Computing Services. "This display highlights the milestones on his path." Additional support was provided by co-curator and designer Dennis Grady; Laura Barrett, the library's director of education and outreach; and Joseph Mehling '69, college photographer.

The exhibition recounts Wright's career beginning as an assistant professor of history—his "History of the American West" course was one of Dartmouth's most popular for 15 years—and as a scholar of the American West. Outside the classroom, he served as associate dean of the faculty (1981–1985), dean of the faculty (1989–1997), and provost (1997–1998).

Under his leadership as president, financial aid has more than doubled, the student-to-faculty ratio has fallen from 10-to-1 to 8-to-1, and the Campaign for the Dartmouth Experience has raised more than $1.1 billion. The physical campus has also seen extensive improvements, including several new academic buildings, residence halls, and extensive renovations and additions to the College's athletic facilities.

The exhibition also covers the civic causes supported by President Wright and Susan DeBevoise Wright. President Wright has advocated for veterans' access to education and has made numerous visits to military hospitals. Susan Wright has been dedicated to causes including the Upper Valley United Way and the Norris Cotton Cancer Center. She has also served on campus as a class dean, academic and career advisor to students, and as director of the Montgomery Endowment.


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Last Updated: 5/14/09