William Edwards Stevenson (1900-1985), lawyer, educator and diplomat, served as the eighth president of Oberlin College from 1946 to 1959. The eldest son of J. Ross (1866-1939) and Florence Day Stevenson (1874-1956), he was reared in a Christian, patrician and higher education environment. He graduated from Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts in 1918, when he enlisted in the Marine Corps. Upon his discharge he entered Princeton University, graduating in 1922 and winning a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford, where he studied law. While at Oxford he met Eleanor Bumstead (1902-1987) whom he married in 1926.
In 1926, Stevenson returned to the United States and became an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York before entering private practice. In 1931 he founded the prominent New York law partnership of Debevoise, Stevenson, Plimpton and Page. As an attorney for over 20 years he engaged in general practice of law, with special emphasis upon litigation and practice before such administrative bodies as the National Bituminous Coal Commission, National Labor Relations Board, and the National War Labor Board.
Too old for active military service in World War II, Stevenson volunteered to set up Red Cross operations in England. He was accompanied by his wife. After organizing and administering the American Red Cross operations in Great Britain in 1942, they moved to the fighting fronts in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy. Both he and Mrs. Stevenson were awarded the Army's Bronze Star Medal for meritorious achievement in support of military operations. Their popularity with soldiers was chronicled by famed war correspondent Ernie Pyle in a series of articles in 1943.
In 1946 he gave up his lucrative New York law practice to succeed
Ernest Hatch Wilkins as president of Oberlin College. Stevenson
was to be the first president to be appointed who was neither an
Oberlin graduate nor an academician. During his administration
Oberlin College was marked by many academic changes, including
the advent of more foreign students, the addition of East Asian
and Judaic studies, the return of the Department of Religion in
the College, and the reshaping of the Graduate School of Theology.
Faculty salaries were significantly increased for the first time
since the Great Depression, and many important new members were
added to the faculty, including the first black faculty member,
Wade Ellis (b. 1909).
During his administration he commissioned studies by consulting firms, which outlined many of the administrative changes which were enacted during the presidency of his successor, Robert Kenneth Carr (1908-1979). Stevenson also began a major capital campaign which modernized the college's fundraising efforts; a separate office was ultimately created for that purpose. His administration was also notable for the development of the physical facilities of the college: Jones Field House, the Oberlin Inn, and several dormitories were completed; the new conservatory building and Kettering Hall of Science were initiated; and library expansion plans were begun that eventually led to the building of the Seeley G. Mudd Learning Center. He also succeeded in resolving the 35-year-old deadlock with trustees of Charles Martin Hall's estate over the construction of Hall Auditorium.
Stevenson was an active leader in public affairs and American higher education. Included in his activities were: membership on the President's Commission on Equality in the Armed Forces, an educational consultantship to Japan, India, Lebanon, and Egypt for the U.S. State Department, and Chairman of the National Fulbright Selection Committee. He was director of such educational programs as the Institute of International Education, Council for Financial Aid to Education, and the Ford Motor Company Scholarship Fund. His philanthropic affiliations included the Commonwealth Fund, Presbyterian Hospital in New York, and the Big Brother Movement. He was also a trustee of Phillips Academy and Princeton University.
After leaving the college presidency December 31, 1959, Stevenson served as chairman of a study commission on higher education in the Middle East. Following a brief stint as vice president of the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies in Aspen, Colorado he was appointed Ambassador to the Philippines by President John F. Kennedy, remaining there from 1961 until 1964. Upon his return he headed the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies in from 1967 to 1970 before retiring from public service.
In 1969, the Stevensons were awarded the Alumni Medal for distinguished service to Oberlin College. To honor the Stevensons, Oberlin College established an endowed scholarship fund in 1984 in their name to provide financial aid to foreign students at Oberlin. Daughter, Priscilla Stevenson Hunt (Oberlin 1951), and her husband Richard McMaster Hunt provided the funds to make the scholarship possible. The new dining facility was dedicated as the Stevenson Dining Hall in 1990. William E. Stevenson was the recipient of eight honorary degrees from colleges and universities, including Oberlin College, Case Institute of Technology, Colorado College, Princeton University and San Carlos University in the Philippines.