Charles Wilbert Snow

Charles Wilbert Snow
Charles Wilbert Snow
75th Governor of Connecticut
In office
December 27, 1946 – January 8, 1947
Lieutenant Vacant
Preceded by Raymond E. Baldwin
Succeeded by James L. McConaughy
Personal details
Born April 6, 1884(1884-04-06)
Penobscot Bay, Maine
Died September 28, 1977(1977-09-28) (aged 93)
Nationality American
Political party Democratic

Charles Wilbert Snow (April 6, 1884 – September 28, 1977) was an American poet, educator and politician and, very briefly, the 75th Governor of Connecticut. He generally went by Wilbert or Bill Snow, formally C. Wilbert Snow.

Contents

Biography

Snow was born on White Head Island, located in St. George Township on Penobscot Bay, Maine, April 6, 1884. He grew up there and in neighboring Spruce Head Village. At the age of 14, he quit school to become a lobster fisherman and returned to school three years later, after moving to Thomaston, Maine. After graduation, he began teaching at a one-room elementary school and continued to do so after enrolling at Bowdoin College. Bowdoin's President, William Dewitt Hyde personally intervened to get him the scholarship that permitted him to remain at Bowdoin where he was on the debate team and editor of The Quill, campus literary magazine.

He completed his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin in 1907 as one of the Commencement Speakers, receiving Phi Beta Kappa honors. Through a lucky break he obtained a one year replacement appointment teaching debate and public speaking at New York University and enrolled at Columbia University where he obtained his master's degree from in 1910, using Bowdoin's first Longfellow Fellowship. One of his fellow students was Carl Van Doren, to whom he introduced the works of Herman Melville, then in total obscurity. Van Doren, in turn, became responsible for the national rediscovery of Melville. But Snow rebelled at the rigid academic degree progression and told Ashley Horace Thorndike head of Columbia's English Department that the PhD "was a German invention designed to turn an art into a science." He never took his doctorate.

Snow returned to Bowdoin as temporary instructor of debating and English. From there it was on to Williams College for another one year temporary appointment. One of his favorite students was James Phinney Baxter III who shared Snow's disdain for the academic rigamarole and nearly got tossed out as a result. Some 25 years later, Baxter returned to Williams as President. At the end of that year he was hired to teach debate and English at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Snow's political views were very far left for the period. It took the President of Miami only ten days to decide he talked "too plainly with undergraduates about politics and religion" and ask him to leave.

He was saved at that point by an invitation by a former Bowdoin friend to become an Eskimo teacher and reindeer agent in Alaska, which he did from 1911 to 1912. He spent the following six months campaigning for Woodrow Wilson in Maine and then the next six giving lectures on Alaska. At that point he received an appointment to the faculty at the University of Utah where he spent two stormy years because of his political views (opposing the reelection of Mormon Apostle Reed Smoot as United States Senator) and support of Academic Freedom more generally. While at Utah, he induced future historian Bernard DeVoto to transfer to Harvard University. From there, after six months of writing, he went on to another temporary appointment to the faculty of Indiana University.

With the opening of World War I, Snow enthusiastically signed up with the Army and eventually became an artillery captain at the Army's artillery training center at Louisville, Kentucky. He was never sent overseas and worked to get a quick release after the Armistice to accept a temporary position at Reed College.

Educator

Snow's friend Homer Woodbridge was then teaching at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut and managed to get Snow an offer to take charge of the debating program and teach freshman English. It nearly didn't happen when someone wrote President William Arnold Shanklin that Snow was too far to the left of center for his aggressive support of the League of Nations. Snow was called east by Shanklin, but "survived the interrogation."

With a new appointment firmly in hand, Snow married Jeannette Simmons and planned a delayed honeymoon in Europe for the summer of 1922. When they returned, he had a copy of James Joyce's newly released Ulysses hidden in his luggage. Hidden because Ulysses had been "banned" in America ahead of its actual publication. Snow always asserted, with some logic because of the dates involved, that he had "smuggled the first copy of Ulysses into the United States."

While Snow "survived" at Wesleyan, the early years were a tough go for the same reason previous positions had; his leftist politics. The things that really saved him was Wesleyan having two presidents and two acting presidents during his first three years. That and the impression Snow made on students both as debating coach and as founder of The Cardinal, still Wesleyan's literary magazine. He was also aided with the administration by attracting two campus visits by his friend Carl Sandburg (whom he always claimed to have "taught" the difference between poetry and the ballads Sandburg was already expert at) and by the publication of his first book of poetry, Maine Coast, which so impressed Acting President Stephen H. Olin that he said to the Wesleyan trustees "The man who wrote these poems cannot be evil." Ultimately Wesleyan's new President, James L. McConaughy, who had been a friend of Snow's since they taught together at Williams, faced down the Chairman of the Board who threatened to resign if Snow wasn't fired for his stumping for Presidential Candidate Robert LaFollette, and eventually made peace.

On March 26, 1925, Snow was asked to be a speaker at a public dinner for the 50th birthday of poet Robert Frost, whom he had never met before. The two became fast friends and Frost spent several long sojourns at Wesleyan, conversing with students around the dinner table and fireplace in Snow's home. One of these was Lawrence Thompson who later became Frost's principal biographer. Following Snow's retirement from Wesleyan in 1952, he was a Visiting Professor at Spelman and Morehouse Colleges and induced Frost to come South to work with the student there. Frost and Snow continued to meet regularly and to share private critiques of each others' poetry up until Frost's death in 1963, only a couple of weeks after their last meeting.

Politician

Soon after settling in Middletown, Snow became involved in local Democratic Party politics and eventually state politics as an ally of Governor Wilbur Cross, retired Dean of Yale University. In 1944 there was a move to nominate Snow for governor, but it came apart at the convention and he was nominated for lieutenant governor on a ticket headed by former Governor Robert Hurley. Hurley lost badly to Wesleyan graduate Raymond E. Baldwin, but Snow took the post of lieutenant governor. Two years later he took the gubernatorial nomination from Chester Bowles and Thomas Dodd in a last minute surprise that left The Hartford Courant with a first page headline that read: "Bowles Nominated. The Professor Slinks Back to the Cloistered Halls of Wesleyan." He ended up losing to then Wesleyan President James L. McConaughy in an unusually gentlemanly race. Governor Baldwin had won the race for the U.S. Senate over former Governor Cross, and resigned as governor on December 27, 1946. That gave Snow thirteen days to serve as governor before McConaughey's inauguration on January 8, 1947. His last effort in state politics was a run for the U.S. Senate in 1950.

Later life

He also became president on the Connecticut Association Board of Education in 1940. In 1947 the Wesleyan University class of 1927 as their 20th reunion gift to their university provided the funds to their then aged professor to write his autobiography. After much work and effort he completed his autobiography published as "Codline's Child" named after the midwife who had birthed him, his parents being unable to afford bringing a doctor out to White Head Island. Wesleyan University also published Snow's "Collected Poems" in 1963.

Snow served as educational commissioner and chairman of the Middletown Board of Education for over 30 years. An elementary school in Middletown is named for Wilbert Snow. He also played a major role in founding the Middlesex Community College. He died on September 28, 1977, aged 93.

Books

  • Maine Coast, 1923
  • The Inner Harbor, 1926
  • Down East, 1932
  • Selected Poems, 1935
  • Collected Poems, 1963
  • Codline's Child, 1974

Sources

  • Sobel, Robert and John Raimo. Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978. Greenwood Press, 1988. ISBN 0-313-28093-2

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