Two thousand U-M students—and University President James B. Angell— turned out to greet former President Grover S. Cleveland when his train pulled into Ann Arbor on Feb. 22, 1892. Cleveland was three years removed from his first term in the White House, which he would occupy again from 1893–97.
Following a campus lunch with Angell at the President’s House, Cleveland spoke to a standing-room-only crowd at University Hall that gathered for the Law School’s annual Washington’s Birthday address. The crowd was so thick that student Pearl Colby recalled being literally swept off her feet as she stood on her tiptoes to see Cleveland. “My feet got off the ground and couldn’t get back for ten or fifteen minutes.”
A Democrat, Cleveland encouraged students to be more patriotic and to consider public service as a career. “There is a great need of educated men in our public life,”, he said, “but it is the need of educated men with patriotism.”
The New York Times praised Cleveland for a timely message “excellently performed.”
The editors of the Chicago Daily Tribune were less charitable and chastised the former president for a simplistic speech. “Indeed,” the paper editorialized, “it is not improbable that some of the students who listened to him could have written just as pretty a composition upon that subject and advanced as mature opinions as the gentleman who has been through two political campaigns and preserved his virtue and great moral ideas.”
When he left the White House for good, Cleveland retired to Princeton, N.J. He credited his 1892 visit to U-M and Ann Arbor as his reason for wanting to spend his private life in a college town.
Sources: New York Times, Chicago Daily Tribune; The Reminiscences of James Burrill Angell by James B. Angell; James Burrill Angell: An American Influence, by Shirley W. Smith; Women’s Voices: Early Years at the University of Michigan
Photo: Levi D. Wines photograph collection, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan