James Phinney Baxter III

Phinney Baxter headshot
Born in Portland, Maine, James Phinney Baxter III (1893-1975), grandson of historian and mayor of Portland James Phinney Baxter, attended Portland High School and Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. He graduated from Williams College as valedictorian with Phi Beta Kappa honors and earned M.A. degrees from Williams and Harvard University. Contracting tuberculosis while working in Wall Street, he went to recuperate in Colorado where he did graduate work in history and taught at Colorado College before joining the Harvard faculty in 1925; he received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1926. Baxter taught diplomatic history, naval history and international relations at Harvard from 1925 to 1937, progressing from instructor to full professor in 10 years, and for six years was master of Adams House.

Popular at Harvard, Baxter left reluctantly in 1937 to become the 10th President of Williams College, a position he held until 1961. Baxter transformed Williams into a school that put a premium on intellectual accomplishment, increased scholarships and student aid more than sixfold, cut way down on admissions from prep schools and quadrupled the college's budget for instruction. Williams enrollments increased during Baxter's presidency from 820 to 1,100, and the number of seniors entering graduate school rose from 25 to 50 percent.

Baxter took leave in World War II to recruit academic personnel for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and to serve as historian for the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD).

Baxter’s books are
The Introduction of the Ironclad Warship (1933) and Scientists Against Time (1946). He wrote extensively for history and law journals and received 17 honorary degrees, including from Harvard and Columbia, for his contributions to education and history. He was a senior fellow of the Council on Foreign Affairs and was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1928. In the 1950s, he was a member of the Gaither Commission, which studied the cold war.

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