Happy Presidents’ Day, Wellesley: A short history lesson

George Washington visits Wellesley MA

Wellesley has a long and storied association with Presidents of the United States, starting with George Washington himself.

* As you may know, Washington Street running through the center of town is named after old George, who visited town in in November of 1789 on his Presidential Tour of New England. A plaque mounted on a stone (shown above) marks this historic occasion at Washington Park along the Charles River on River Street.

* President Ulysses Grant visited and stayed over at his cousin’s home  at 50 Woodlawn Ave. in 1875 when he was president as well as in 1868 while campaigning (during his earlier visit he addressed a meeting in a park that went on to become Wellesley Hills station).

* President Grover Cleveland, he of the two separated terms as President, stayed at the home of Stephen Simons in the late 1800s on land that is now home to the Wellesley Free Library. As far as I know, neither Grove Street or Cleveland Road in Wellesley are named after him.


Roger Babson, Babson College* Business and finance whiz Roger Babson, who founded Babson College in 1919 as the Babson Institute, ran for President of the United State in 1940 as the candidate for the National Prohibition Party. According to the Babson College biography of its founder: “Although the church-affiliated party was best known for wanting to outlaw vices such as alcohol, gambling, and narcotics, as well as indecent movies and publications, the party also advocated reducing debt and taxation, conserving natural resources, aiding farmers, and ‘assuring workers and consumers a fair share of industry’s products and profits.’ Although Roger Babson knew his party would not win the election, he felt it was his duty to bring its moral and religious agenda to the nation. Out of a field of eight candidates, Roger Babson followed fourth behind Franklin Roosevelt, Wendell Willkie, and Norman Thomas.”

Hillary Rodham, Wellesley College

* In 1969, Hillary D. Rodham, later Clinton, delivered the student commencement speech. Clinton, who was First Lady from 1993 to 2001 and a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination for the 2008 election, was at the time of her commencement speech the President of the Wellesley College Government Association. She paid a visit to Wellesley College in 2007 while on the presidential nominee campaign trail, as seen in this video.

* In 1980, the last debate before the Massachusetts Republican Primary (which was held on March 4th) was at Dana Hall’s Bardwell Auditorium. Wellesley historian Beth Hinchliffe, who attended,  says the event  wasn’t sponsored by the school, but just happened to be held there.  “Two of the participants were Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush — so we got two Presidents in one night then,” she says.

* In 1990, then-First Lady Barbara Bush gave the commencement address at Wellesley College, and brought as her special guest visiting Soviet First Lady Raisa Gorbachev (read the former First Lady’s remarks here).

A couple of other tidbits:

* In 2010, the Babson Executive Conference Center named John Mills as its executive chef. One of his claims to fame: Having cooked for both Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush.

* Nearby in Natick, on Rte. 135 west just past the Natick Roche Bros., stands the Henry Wilson Shoe Shop, commemorating the former Massachusetts senator who served as vice president under Ulysses Grant in the 1870s.

*Wellesley’s Beth Hinchliffe wrote speeches for George H.W. Bush and Wellesley High grad Aneesh Raman wrote speeches for President Barack Obama. Also from Wellesley High, Nick Burns worked for the State Department, most recently under George W. Bush’s administration.

(Thanks to Beth Hinchliffe, Josh Dorin as well as Wellesley College and Babson College media relations and archivists for their assistance. Originally posted in 2011.)

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