Section: Features

A 1946 conference put Kenyon in the international spotlight

A 1946 conference put Kenyon in the international spotlight

Harold Laski, President Gordon Chalmers and Robert A. Taft chat. | Courtesy of Greenslade Special Collections and archives

In October of 1946, Kenyon College hosted “The Heritage of the English-Speaking Peoples and Their Responsibility,” a conference organized by then-President Gordon K. Chalmers. The conference, which attracted scholars, senators, professors and poets from across the globe, garnered national attention on a scale Kenyon had never before experienced.

The three-day conference was split into various sections of debate, with some of the topics including “The Press,” “Palestine and the East,” “Government” and “Address and Reading,” the last of which was led by poet Robert Frost. People flocked from all across Ohio to attend.

Other notable speakers included Senator Robert A. Taft, former Chairman of the English Labor Party Harold Laski and historian Denis Brogan.

However, this conference has existed in Kenyon lore due to the controversy that arose during a debate between Senator Taft and Brogan which garnered international press coverage. Near the end of his formal address, Taft asserted that the verdict of the Nuremberg Trials—which had concluded less than week earlier and resulted in the execution of 11 Nazis—was, according to The New York Times, “a blot on the American record that we shall long regret.”

Taft, who was a strong advocate for life imprisonment over the death sentence, was quoted as saying, “[The Nuremberg Trials] violate that fundamental principle of American law that a man cannot be tried under an ex-post facto statute.” He is also reported to have stated that throughout the entire trial there was an air of vengeance, and that “vengeance is seldom justice.”

Taft’s criticism of the trials’ verdict received an instant rebuke from Laski, who, according to The New York Times, asserted that “if it were proper judicial procedure to send a man to prison for life in an ex post-facto proceeding, it was equally proper to impose a more severe penalty.”

Another notable feature of the conference was Robert Frost’s speech. According to Oct. 18, 1946 edition of the Kenyon Collegian, Frost shied away from debate and led a “charming, humorous session,” where he “asked men to maintain the ‘Separateness of the Parts.’”

Apart from the actual scheduled programming of the conference, there were two guests whose appearance on the Hill had a special historical significance: Lady Kenyon and Lord Kenyon V. According to Kenyon College: Its Third Half Century by former College archivist Thomas Boardman Greenslade ’31, Lord Kenyon V was the “direct descendant of the second Lord Kenyon, who helped to found the College and whose name was given to the college by Bishop Chase.”

While debate and commotion were plentiful throughout the weekend, the Lord and Lady took a calmer approach to the conference. Charles McKinley ’40, who acted as their guide during the conference, noted in the Alumni Bulletin that, “on Saturday afternoon, Lord and Lady Kenyon…received some five hundred guests at Cromwell House, found time for a glass of punch, dressed, and made it to Peirce Hall in time for sherry and a formal dinner.”

The conference turned out to be a huge success for both President Chalmers and Kenyon as a whole.

Chalmers took advantage of the attention the conference received and decided to use it as an avenue to publicize his new endowment drive, which aimed to raise over $2 million to fund a new library, athletic facility and higher salaries for professors.

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