Five may not seem like a staggering number at first brush. But when stacked against the 44 presidents the United States has had since its founding more than 200 years ago, the number five holds more significance. Taken another way, approximately one out of every 10 presidents will have graduated from Yale University.
This is a statistic that no other institution of higher learning can stake claim to. That’s indisputable. What isn’t so clear is why. What is it about Yale that attracts the leaders of our free world?
Taking a stab at this question, David Valone, associate professor and chair of history at Quinnipiac University, says, “It’s [the office of the presidency] generally a position of the intelligencia and elite. And Yale is among the intellectual elite so its not surprising to see that number.”
Kathy Cooke, professor of history at Quinnipiac, looks at it from a different angle. “Yale has a superior law school. And often the path to politics is through law school,” she says.
Indeed, two U.S. Presidents, Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton, graduated from Yale Law School, in 1941 an 1973, respectively.
Still, both Cooke and Valone concede that other factors come into play, such as familial connections and social standing. In the Yale equation, they were referring to the Bush family.
George H. W. Bush, a World War II veteran who captained the university’s baseball team, graduated from Yale in 1948. Twenty years later, his son George W. Bush graduated from the Ivy League institution.
Following in the political steps of his father, Prescott Bush, who was elected a senator from Connecticut in 1952, H. W. Bush served as the 41st president, from 1989 to 1993. The younger Bush served two terms, from 2001 to 2009, and was the 43rd President of the United States. George W. was born in New Haven.
The fifth Yale graduate who went on to become president takes us back to the 19th century. William Howard Taft, the 27th president of the country, graduated from Yale in 1878. He served as president from 1909-1913. According to his biography on the White House web page for presidents, Taft served as professor of law at Yale until President Harding made him Chief Justice of the United States, a position he held until just before his death in 1930.
Yale did not respond to repeated requests for comment for this article.
While the reasons behind the storied history may remain somewhat of a mystery, the number of Yale graduates who went on to hold the highest office in the country is cause for a great sense of pride for the university and the surrounding communities.
Learn more about the U.S. presidents by visiting http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/.