Ernest Hatch Wilkins was born in Newton Centre, MA on September 14, 1880. He was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Amherst College in 1900 and also received his M.A. in 1903. After a year at Johns Hopkins, he received his doctorate in 1910 from Harvard University. His teaching career began at Amherst as an instructor of Romance languages from 1900 to 1904, and continued at Harvard, where he taught from 1906 to 1912 and again from 1947 to 1950 as a visiting lecturer on Italian literature. In 1912 he went to the University of Chicago where he was successively Associate Professor and Professor of Romance languages until his move to Oberlin in 1927. From 1923 to 1926 he served the University as Dean of its College of Arts, Literature and Science.
Wilkins served as Oberlin College's seventh president from 1927 until his retirement in 1946. In 1906 Wilkins married and had two children.
His published works include DantePoet and the Apostle; The Changing College; A Platform for Life; The Prose Letters of Petrarch; The Making of the Canzoniere and other Petrarchan Studies; and A History of Italian Literature. He was co-author of Concordance to Latin Works of Dante and translator of Papini's Four and Twenty Minds. He also wrote many articles on Italian Literature, college education and peace.
Wilkins was a former president of the Association of American Colleges, Ohio College Association, Modern Language Association, Dante Society of America, and Medieval Academy of America; and a fellow, also, of the AAAS and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
He was a corresponding member of the Accademia Della Crusca in Florence, Italy, and a member of the American Association of University Professors and of Delta Kappa Epsilon.
His decorations include the Cavaliere della Corona d'Italia in 1920 and the Blue Grand Cordon of the Order of Jade in 1938. He was an honorary citizen of Arqua, Italy.
Wilkins was an authority on the works of Petrarch and Dante and had resumed his scholarly pursuits in retirement. He died in Newton, MA on January 2, 1966.