Benton, William, 1900-1973Alternative names
From the description of Reminiscences of William Benton : oral history, 1967. (Columbia University In the City of New York). WorldCat record id: 122481066
From the description of Reminiscences of William Benton : oral history, 1968. (Columbia University In the City of New York). WorldCat record id: 309721364
Art collector, politician; Chicago, Ill.
Publisher of ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA, Vice-President of the University of Chicago, Congressman from Connecticut, and an avid collector of American art. Benton and Reginald Marsh were classmates and collaborated respectively as editor and illustrator for the Yale newspaper. During the Depression, Benton provided Marsh with a monthly stipend for which he received a monthly painting. When he became chairman of the board of ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA, Benton collected contemporary American painting to Americanize BRITANNICA's British image.
From the description of William Benton papers, 1940-1983. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 122648062
A dynamic man of broad interests and innovative flair, William Burnett Benton achieved distinction in many fields during his seventy-three years. He was blessed with a nearly unerring talent for the marketplace, but he is remembered especially for broad-ranging contributions in education and public affairs.
Born in Minneapolis on April 1, 1900, Benton was the first child of Charles William Benton, a Congregationalist clergyman and University of Minnesota professor, and Elma Hixson Benton, a country school superintendent. Benton and his younger brother, Daniel Hixson, grew up in a close-knit family which prized its activist heritage; their paternal grandparents had been missionaries in Lebanon from the 1840s through the 1870s, and the Hixsons were prominent in Democratic reform politics in Minnesota. Particularly through the forceful example of his mother, Benton early was imbued with humanitarian and public service ideals which his later life exemplified.
When Benton was thirteen his father died, and the family's situation changed radically. Young William entered Shattuck Academy in Faribault, Minnesota, on a partial scholarship, spending most vacations helping his mother in an ill-fated Montana homesteading venture undertaken with her father and brother. Though Benton disliked the isolated summers and the military regimen of the academic year, he was buoyed by the prospect of following a long line of Yale-educated Bentons who had been ministers, teachers, and professionals. Each year he stood close to the top of his class, but he always found time for extracurricular activities. In addition to sports, he supplemented his meager funds as Shattuck's sole agent for memory books, class pins, stationery, and a binder he invented for the new school paper. Through his schoolboy enterprise he began to discover entrepreneurial and selling talents which were to alter the direction of his ambitions.
In June 1917 Benton confidently took his final exams at Shattuck and the entrance exams for Yale. The college's English and mathematics requirements presented no difficulty, but he was shocked when he failed the French and Latin exams. Suddenly his dreams seemed unattainable, forcing the high school graduate to reevaluate the future.
In the meantime Elma Benton, seeking to improve her long-range career possibilities in teaching, had decided to earn a master's degree in education at Columbia University's Teachers College. Her solution to her elder son's predicament was to enroll him at Carleton College, where his aunt, Dr. Mary Benton, was dean of women. To his surprise Benton found all aspects of Carleton life congenial, and he weighed the notion of going against his mother's wishes by finishing his undergraduate work there. The dilemma disappeared when Congress passed a draft law covering ages 18 to 45, for Benton immediately left for Yale, where he was inducted into the Student Army Training Corps. Benton's hopes for military service were dashed only two months later with the signing of the armistice.
He stayed at Yale to retake the entrance examinations and in 1918 entered as a sophomore. Although quickly recognized as a prize debater and a frequent contributor to the Yale Record, it was a trying year for Benton academically and socially. He felt his Midwestern background and schooling branded him an outsider, and he resented the handicap as he adjusted to the social and intellectual atmosphere of the eastern institution. In early 1919 Benton began to make decisions which pointed him toward a business career. First came involvement in a college-calendar franchise, by which he impressed classmates with his promoting and selling techniques. Soon thereafter Benton was offered a Rhodes scholarship and had to confront the implications of his marketing aptitude. To his mother's dismay, he rejected it, instead accepting a prestigious summer training position in international trading and finance with National City Bank of New York.
That year brought major changes in his family situation as well. Elma Benton finished her degree work and was named headmistress at Hosmer Hall, a private girls' school in St. Louis, where she was to remain until her death in 1942. Dan Benton joined her there after spending the summer in New York City with his brother; but within a few months he had contracted an unidentified sleeping sickness, and he died in late December of 1919.
Benton had been elated to start his second year at Yale as one of the editors of the Yale Record, and soon after Dan's death he was elected chairman of the editorial board. Under his direction the staff solicited more advertising, and the magazine grew to boast the largest newsstand circulation of any college magazine in history. In addition to honing his writing and promotional skills, Benton formed important and long-lasting friendships during his college days. Among these men were Henry Luce, Jr., Robert M. Hutchins, Ralph Ingersoll, Galen Van Meter, and Reginald Marsh.
Graduating in 1921, Benton accepted a job with the National Cash Register Company, renowned for the quality of its salesmanship and the leadership of President John H. Patterson, the father of "scientific salesmanship." Within the earlier system, "drummers" had carried samples or catalogues demonstrating a range of products made by various manufacturers. Selling relied not only on the salesman's persuasiveness and personality but also on the customer's loyalty. The salesman had little incentive to improve performance since only novice or incompetent employees sold on commission; any good agent was tied to a set salary. Patterson revamped the system by assigning NCR salesmen specific territories, sales quotas, and a single product to be sold by creating a need for it among prospects. Another novel characteristic of Patterson's system was rewarding salesmen with generous prizes and more lucrative sales territories.
Benton's hiring violated two of Patterson's rules-of-thumb; he was under 25 and a college graduate. At first limited to menial or over-flow office work, Benton won an early chance to develop his selling skills because of his industriousness and aptitude. Despite being saddled with a notoriously unpromising trial territory, he exceeded his quota during his first month in the field. The auspicious beginning was insufficient inducement for company officials to waive minimum age requirements for NCR special training classes compulsory for advancement. Impatient and disenchanted, Benton decided to shift to advertising.
He broke into the new field with a $25-a-week job with the New York branch of Lord and Thomas, then the world's largest and most profitable advertising agency. Albert D. Lasker, its head and owner, brought to advertising the same dynamism and creativity that John H. Patterson infused into the world of scientific selling. Benton's dissatisfaction with the agency mounted rapidly, however, as his requests to learn copywriting were repeatedly denied. After a brief period of discontent he moved to the George Batten Company, staying there until fired as a result of policy disagreements a tumultuous five years later. Before returning to Lord and Thomas he married Helen Hemingway, a teacher he had met while at Yale. Their first child, Charles William, was born three years later. Several years later the Bentons adopted two baby girls, Louise Hemingway and Helen Orr, and in 1942 another child, John.
In 1929 Benton resigned as assistant general manager and partner at Lord and Thomas, and with former assistant Chester Bowles, from whom he borrowed $5,000 for the purpose, started the Benton and Bowles agency. Despite the Great Depression, Benton and Bowles quickly became the sixth largest single-office advertising firm in the United States. The Depression itself fostered the agency's success, for it encouraged the re-examination of advertising policies and outmoded techniques, facilitating the rise of a new wave of creative executives. The fledgling agency also benefited from Benton's introduction into New York of the consumer research surveys he had devised at Lord and Thomas in Chicago. These surveys gave clients more systematically compiled data for marketing decisions, particularly appealing at a time when consumer purchasing power was drastically reduced. In addition, while other top agencies still were depending almost totally on newspapers and national magazines, Benton and Bowles pioneered in radio advertising. Two shows were especially important;" Amos 'n Andy," which Benton bought for Pepsodent while still at Lord and Thomas; and the "Maxwell House Show Boat." Among the innovations on the latter were the use of the live studio audience, cue signs for laughter and applause, and commercials with sound effects.
The partners had agreed verbally from the outset that Benton would be free to leave with fair compensation when he chose, and in 1935 Benton began making arrangements to quit advertising. Newspapers seized the rags-to-riches story: Yale scholarship student reaches goal of earning a million dollars before his thirtieth birthday-and during the Depression. It is true that the eventual value of his stock made him a millionaire; but because his return was pegged to the firm's well-being, only if the agency continued to prosper would his total assets mount. Benton, in fact, was destined for some financially rocky periods before his wealth was assured.
When Benton announced his retirement from advertising, President Robert M. Hutchins, his former Yale debating partner, invited him to undertake public relations and fund-raising work for the University of Chicago. After Benton turned down the offer, Hutchins countered by proposing a shorter-term project; surveying University programs and suggesting improvements. As further inducement he stressed opportunities for directing and expanding the University's commitment to radio broadcasting and educational films, both areas which had already whetted Benton's interest.
Overcoming his initial hesitation, Benton agreed to spend two to three months assessing the situation and producing a "consumer research" survey for the institution. It was unprecedented for a university to adopt such techniques to measure its "acceptance" or "sales resistance." Indispensable assistance came from John Howe, then part of the University's public relations office and Benton's right-hand man for the ensuing three decades.
The University's public relations in the mid-thirties were in a poor state. Though it was outside the purview of his assignment, Benton managed to solve two of the institution's most vexing problems. The University was perceived as a nest of subversion, a situation which had been exacerbated by the publicity surrounding Charles Walgreen's withdrawal of his daughter from classes. Benton could uncover no factual basis for these accusations, so he got permission from Hutchins to approach the drugstore magnate personally. Their meeting laid the groundwork both for the resolution of the immediate problem and for Walgreen's underwriting of the University's Charles R. Walgreen Foundation for the Study of American Institutions. Benton was equally successful in neutralizing the chronic hostility shown the University by Chicago newspapers, especially Colonel Robert McCormick's Chicago Tribune.
Late in 1936 Benton completed The University of Chicago's Public Relations, his analysis of the University's image problems and recommendations for improvement. Pinpointing Hutchins's role in public relations as crucial, he also underlined essential contributions to be made by faculty, students, trustees, and alumni. In line with his own interests and vision, he also emphasized the largely untapped capacity of radio and film to promote the University. Fifty confidential copies of the controversial report were printed for circulation to the trustees, and the University's public relations now so intrigued Benton that he agreed to assume a half-time position as vice-president.
He lost no time in implementing the ideas he had outlined in his report. In addition to producing and commissioning scores of promotional articles and pamphlets about the University, Benton lectured widely and urged others in the academic community to do the same. Much of this work was aimed at the Chicago business community, a group whose ties to the University the new vice president sought to strengthen and expand. Benton's greatest interest, however, was in radio and film. He put "The University of Chicago Round Table" on a permanent footing, arranging a grant from the Alfred Sloan Foundation for that purpose. Begun modestly in 1931 as an occasional seminar on current economic, political, and social issues, by the fall of 1936 the "Round Table" had a national following. Under Benton's tutelage it was for twenty years the most popular radio discussion program in the United States, drawing many of its participants from the University faculty. Benton further heightened the University's national visibility when he inaugurated another radio series, "The Human Adventure," which linked faculty research to dramatic advances in human knowledge.
Prospects for developing educational films were more complex. In 1932 the University had entered into a five-year contract with an AT&T subsidiary, Electrical Research Products, Inc. (ERPI), under which ERPI provided the financial and technical resources for film-making while the University supplied its faculty and endorsement. In 1936 Benton learned of the conglomerate's desire to sell ERPI and to abandon the educational film business. Despite the trustees' interest and Benton's strong encouragement, the University chose not to acquire ERPI. Benton's faith in the potential of the educational film business remained undiluted, and he was to have another chance to purchase ERPI only five years later.
During his years of service to the University, Benton continued to look for personal investment opportunities. In 1939 he bought Muzak, an ailing and obscure company which sent music into restaurants and hotels over leased telephone lines. The company's managers conceived of Muzak as a substitute for live orchestra and band music, but Benton revolutionized the business by envisioning it primarily as background music. Within a few years he had turned Muzak into a thriving concern, but he was stymied in his simultaneous efforts to introduce subscription radio, a scheme in which special FM channels would be made available to citizens on a subscription basis. By the late 1940s Benton was devoting his energies primarily to other concerns, though he retained ownership of the company until 1958.
Benton's association with the University led directly to another and even more profitable investment. Sears, Roebuck and Company had acquired Encyclopaedia Britannica after having been involved in its management during World War I, but the corporation was increasingly anxious to get rid of it. Benton knew General Robert E. Wood, chairman of Sears, from working closely with him on the America First Committee, and he suggested to Wood that Sears give the Britannica company to the University of Chicago as an endowment. The General agreed, but the University trustees balked at accepting the gift, worried about the lack of working capital and the appropriateness of a university's operating an essentially nonacademic book business. After months of negotiating, Hutchins, Benton, and Wood reached a compromise whereby Benton would supply $100,000 of working capital and assume risks of ownership and operation.
In early 1943 Benton thus became the owner, publisher, and chairman of the board of Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., and at the insistence of the University trustees he took two-thirds of the common stock. The University retained the option to buy one-half of his stock without interest, which would have given it two-thirds and control; when the time came to take up the option, the trustees were unwilling to tamper with a such a lucrative business arrangement. Benton eventually retired the University's holdings, but the institution continued to receive substantial royalty payments.
Shortly after assuming control of Britannica, Benton learned that ERPI was still available. To him it seemed natural for Encyclopaedia Britannica to acquire an educational film company, but it was a business gamble since all Benton's predecessors in that field had failed. The newborn Encyclopaedia Britannica Films, Inc., however, soon occupied an unexpectedly strong position in the field. Not only did its principal competitor, Eastman Kodak, withdraw from the business, but it donated its library of silent films to Encyclopaedia Britannica and the University of Chicago.
Another of Benton's projects grew out of his relationship with the University and Britannica. During his vice-presidential years, Benton became involved in Robert Hutchins's Great Books program, and in his enthusiasm he resolved to publish the works as a set. His Britannica associates were skeptical, reminding him of the ready availability of standard editions. Discounting their fears, he subsidized Mortimer Adler and an ever larger group of subeditors to compile the Syntopicon, a thesaurus of ideas within the Great Books of the Western World. Costs skyrocketed and deadlines were postponed again and again, but Benton's belief in the project never wavered. The 54-volume series finally appeared in 1952, its enormous commercial success vindicating Benton's judgment. In 1961 Britannica began publication of The Great Ideas Today, an annual supplement to the Great Books; two years later a companion set, the ten-volume Gateway to the Great Books, was published.
During his years at Chicago Benton also embarked on his career as a public servant. In 1939, as advisor to Nelson Rockefeller, then Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs, he became engaged in the early U. S. ventures in international cultural exchanges. Three years later he was a founding member of the Committee for Economic Development, an organization of top businessmen devoted to planning postwar employment and production. In 1945 Benton severed his administrative connection with the University of Chicago to become Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs. His responsibilities included consolidating the wartime information agencies within the State Department and launching the first major U. S. programs for peacetime international information and educational exchanges. Benton was ideally suited to these tasks, but he knew that success would depend on his ability to educate Congress and the American public.
Under his direction the State Department began the Voice of America broadcasts, established the United States information offices, and promoted international visits of professors and students. Benton also led U. S. participation in organizing UNESCO, which he later served as representative under the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. He was busy on the legislative front as well, guiding through Congress the Foreign Service Act of 1946 and the Fulbright Act for international educational exchange programs.
Benton resigned from the State Department in 1947 and planned to give his attention to Britannica affairs. Soon thereafter, however, because of his international experience and his years of work with the Commission on the Freedom of the Press, the State Department asked him to lead the American delegation to the 1948 United Nations Conference on Freedom of Press and Information. Until his death twenty-five years later Benton continued his work with American delegations to numerous international conferences.
Late in 1949 a new path of service opened up to Benton when his old business partner, Chester Bowles, then governor of Connecticut, appointed him to fill a vacant U. S. Senate seat. The next year Benton ran to win the two years remaining in the term. His energetic and creative promotional skills once again found an appropriate arena; he introduced the helicopter into political campaigning and used radio and television extensively. The new techniques were effective; Benton was elected, while Bowles and the rest of the state ticket were defeated.
In the Senate Benton joined other liberal Democrats in supporting Truman's Fair Deal. He became a member of the Banking and Currency Committee, the Rules Committee, the Select Committee on Small Business, and the Joint Committee on the Economic Report. Benton introduced and saw enacted a Mutual Security Act amendment stipulating that the act's administrators when purchasing foreign-made materials give preference to factories with noncommunist leadership. He was especially disappointed to have failed with his "Marshall Plan of Ideas," a six-part program designed to combat communism and promote freedom of information.
Benton's voting record supported civil rights and other liberal policies, with a single exception which was to be a lasting source of regret to him. He had been steadfast in his opposition to the Internal Security Act (also known as the McCarran Immigration Act) on the grounds that it was pointedly restrictive of eastern and southern Europeans. Political considerations within the Senate convinced him to swallow his objections and to cast his vote with the overwhelming majority in its favor. It was vetoed immediately by Truman, only to be overridden by Congress. In early 1952 Benton returned to his original stance, joining Senators Lehman and Humphrey in opposing a more extreme version; however, this bill too was enacted over presidential veto. Benton continued to work on immigration after leaving the Senate, primarily by helping organize and finance the National Committee on Immigration and Citizenship. The committee's efforts were rewarded by the 1965 adoption of an immigration policy it deemed liberal and humane.
Benton is seldom remembered for his most significant action in the Senate: challenging the nationwide communist paranoia fuelled by Senator Joseph McCarthy. Particularly incensed by charges that the State Department had been infiltrated by disloyal, card-carrying communists, soon after winning election Benton began a careful investigation into McCarthy's own activities. By the late summer of 1951 he had collected enough evidence to introduce a strong resolution demanding McCarthy's expulsion from the Senate. Amidst an atmosphere of intimidation and mistrust, Benton was subjected to attack from all sides. Support for his position slowly grew, particularly after McCarthy's decision in the late spring of 1952 to sue Benton for libel.
Many Connecticut Democrats regarded Benton's attack on McCarthy as a grave political mistake. McCarthy retaliated by campaigning against Benton in his home state, but polls suggested Benton was benefited as much as he was hurt by his fight against McCarthy. After his loss in the Eisenhower landslide of 1952, Benton continued his battle against McCarthy from outside the Senate. It was not until three years later that the Senate finally voted to censure McCarthy.
Benton's defeat marked the end of his service in elected positions, but he remained active in state and national Democratic politics. His concern about campaign methods led him to become a director of the Fair Campaign Practices Committee; he also worked vigorously on behalf of his close friends Adlai Stevenson and Hubert Humphrey, and he served on the Platform Committee for the Democratic National Conventions in 1952, 1956, and 1964.
In the final three decades of his life, Benton concentrated on Britannica's affairs together with various educational and public projects. The two were often intertwined, as was the case with his frequent trips abroad to study developments in education and communications. Benton's lifelong fascination with the Soviet Union and Latin America was deepened by an acute consciousness of the American public's ignorance on these topics. Determined to educate as large an audience as possible, Benton published widely about his tours abroad and mailed reprints regularly to scores of political and business leaders.
Benton was particularly intrigued with the Soviet educational system. "The Voice of the Kremlin," which first appeared as a feature in the 1956 Britannica -Britannica Book of the Year, was a comprehensive analysis based on his 1955 trip to the U.S.S.R. It was reissued two years later as This Is the Challenge. The 1965 Britannica Book of the Year contained "The Teachers and the Taught in the U.S.S.R.," which Benton wrote after his fifth trip. The same title was used when the essay was published as a book the following year. A similar tour of Latin America with Adlai Stevenson resulted in "The Voice of Latin America," which appeared in book form soon after being printed in the 1961 Britannica Book of the Year.
Under Benton's aggressive leadership, Britannica expanded its foreign and domestic operations. In 1957 the Spanish-language Enciclopedia Barsa was published, to be joined seven years later by a Portuguese translation. Benton also embarked on ambitious plans for Britannica's British subsidiary, focusing on strengthening management and production and more closely integrating its activities with those of its American parent.
On the domestic front Benton engineered the 1961 acquisition of Compton's Pictured Encyclopedia. Aimed at the secondary school level, Compton's complemented the Britannica Junior Encyclopedia, a reference set in print since 1934. In 1964 Britannica bought the G. and C. Merriam Company, a leading producer of English-language dictionaries and best known for its Merriam-Webster series. Two years later the company purchased Frederick A. Praeger, Inc., a firm distinguished for its international publications and resources.
Also in 1966 Encyclopaedia Britannica Films, Inc. was reorganized and renamed. The new Encyclopaedia Britannica Educational Corporation (EBEC) was designed to meet rapidly changing needs in the development, production, and marketing of educational films, instructional materials, and reference books. Other modifications in corporate structure followed. William Benton's son Charles resigned the presidency of EBEC to form an independent, non-profit company, the Fund for Media Research. He next assumed sole ownership of Films, Inc., an EBEC subsidiary which distributed 16-millimeter versions of entertainment motion pictures produced by major Hollywood studios.
All of Benton's Britannica stock went in 1958 to establish the Benton Foundation, a vehicle for funding worthwhile projects in communications and education, the areas which he had always consumed his attention. During Benton's lifetime the Foundation supported a broad range of endeavors, including several enterprises in which Benton himself was actively involved. For instance, the Foundation aided a number of policy research organizations with which Benton was closely associated: the American Assembly at Columbia University, the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies, and the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions. Political causes in which Benton believed also received Foundation assistance. These included the Committee for a National Trade Policy, the Commission on the Frame of Government, the American Foreign Service Association, and the Adlai Stevenson Memorial. The Foundation also helped underwrite numerous cultural projects. Most prominent among these was the American Shakespeare Theatre and Festival, to which Benton gave a great deal of time as trustee and patron. Others were the Wadsworth Athenaeum, the Noah Webster House Foundation, the Committee for the Preservation of the White House, and the Kennedy Library Corporation.
Benton earmarked a significant portion of the Foundation's resources for educational endeavors. The Foundation contributed to ongoing seminar and lecture programs such as the Cleveland Conference, the Yale Conference, and the Institute of International Education, while also giving substantial aid to institutions which Benton served as trustee; the University of Chicago, University of Connecticut, University of Bridgeport, Brandeis University, Hampton Institute, and Carleton College.
Benton received many accolades during his lifetime, including eight honorary degrees. Because of the University of Chicago policy restricting the awarding of honorary degrees to scholars, Benton's contributions were seldom publicly recognized by the University until it conferred on him the first William Benton Medal for Distinguished Service in 1968.
Honors continued to accumulate. In 1972 the University of Connecticut renamed its art museum in Benton's honor. Long a benefactor of the school, Benton also prided himself on his valuable private collection of American paintings from the first half of the twentieth century. Works by Yale friend Reginald Marsh, whom Benton largely supported during the Depression, formed the richest part of his collection, but he also boasted numerous works by Ivan Albright, Jack Levine, Bellows Hassam, and Kuniyoshi.
Benton died on March 18, 1973. He was survived by his widow, Helen Hemingway Benton, and their four children, Charles Benton, Louise Benton Wagner, Helen Benton Boley, and John Benton.
From the guide to the Benton, William. Papers, 1839-1973, (Special Collections Research Center University of Chicago Library 1100 East 57th Street Chicago, Illinois 60637 U.S.A.)
Originally an advertising executive and broadcasting entrepreneur, William Benton retired from the advertising world in 1935 and accepted an offer from the University of Chicago's president, Robert M. Hutchins, to undertake a short term study of the university's public relations. After completing the study, Benton assumed the post of part-time vice-president in 1937, overseeing the university's public affairs and broadcasting initiatives until 1945.
As part of Benton's plan to improve the University of Chicago's public image in the wake of accusations that it was a haven for left-wing radicalism, as well as to increase its visibility and prestige, both Benton and Hutchins gave a great number of public talks, especially to the business community. Moreover, Benton's office arranged for Hutchins and prominent faculty members to write articles and be interviewed as experts for various media.
One of Benton's most successful projects was the University of Chicago's Round Table radio program, which was launched as a local broadcast in 1931 and was picked up by the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) in 1933. It was thereafter aired as a national broadcast until 1955. The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a private trust providing grants for projects related to science, technology, and economic performance, began sponsoring the weekly broadcasts in 1938.
The standard Round Table format involved three speakers, usually two university faculty members and one guest speaker, and dealt with contemporary – often controversial – social, political and economic issues. Though it quickly emerged as one of the most popular radio programs of the time, it was also criticized for having a leftist bias, especially by NBC. The latter pushed for more network control over its content and sought to impose commercial standards on its scholarly approach. Alfred P. Sloan, himself, criticized the program after a 1945 broadcast in which the liberal economist and philosopher Friedrich Hayek faced off with two faculty members, Charles E. Merriam and Maynard C. Krueger. Sloan viewed the program as unfairly harsh in its treatment of Hayek, and this temporarily jeopardized the program's relationship with the Foundation. During the Second World War, most of the Round Table's programming was related to developments in the war and the American military effort.
Benton also successfully launched the radio program The Human Adventure, which aired 1939-1945. The program showcased faculty research on a wide range of topics, including scientific, historical and cultural phenomena; however, it was less successful than the Round Table at attracting a broad audience. Aside from radio, Benton was keen to develop the University of Chicago's capacity for producing educational films, but his efforts in this realm were not as fruitful as his radio endeavors.
In early 1942, Benton was appointed by the U.S. War Department as Coordinator of the Orientation Courses of the Bureau of Public Relations for the Sixth Corps Area (comprising Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan). This position involved organizing lectures on different regions of the world, political developments, and international relations for the officer orientation courses held by the various Midwestern military camps of this area. In 1945, Benton officially left the university, accepting the position of Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, which involved consolidating wartime information agencies and creating new information bodies for the post-war era.
From the guide to the University of Chicago. Office of the Vice-President. Records, 1937-1946, (Special Collections Research Center University of Chicago Library 1100 East 57th Street Chicago, Illinois 60637 U.S.A.)
Ashley Montagu, born Israel Ehrenberg on June 28, 1905, was a British-American anthropologist, specializing in the areas of race and gender issues, as well as a prolific speaker and author, publishing over 50 books in his lifetime. The son of Jewish tailor Charles Ehrenberg and his wife, Mary Plot Ehrenberg, Montagu was born and raised in London's working class East End neighborhood. Although the reasoning behind his name change was never revealed, it may have been due to anti-Semitic prejudice faced by many East End Jews during his childhood, and Montagu might have felt the need to distance himself from his parents’ Russian and Polish backgrounds.
Montagu earned his undergraduate degree from University College London in psychology and anthropology. After studying anthropology at the London School of Economics under Bronislaw Malinowski, Montagu left England for the United States. He arrived at New York City in 1927 and began taking graduate classes at Columbia University. Montagu then traveled to Italy in 1928, where he took classes in ethnography and anthropology at the University of Florence. Upon his return to the United States in 1931, while working as an assistant professor of anthropology at New York University, Montagu married Marjorie Peakes. The couple would have two daughters, Audrey and Barbara, as well as a son, Geoffrey. In 1934 Montagu returned to Columbia University, culminating his postgraduate work at Columbia in 1936 with his dissertation, Coming into being among the Australian Aborigines: A study of the procreative beliefs of the native tribes of Australia, produced under the direction of Franz Boas and Ruth Benedict. Based largely on his dissertation, Montagu’s first book, Coming into Being among the Australian Aborigines, was published in 1937. After he completed his education, Montagu taught anatomy at Hahnemann Medical College in Philadelphia in 1938 and became an American citizen in 1940. It was during his time at Hahnemann that he began to produce work relating to race, resulting in his seminal work, Man's Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race, published in 1942. The work controversially advanced the argument that race was a social construct imposed upon a complex biological substratum and demolished the arguments for inherent inequality between human populations. The influential nature of Man’s Most Dangerous Myth led to Montagu’s service on the 4th United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) task force, in 1949. The ten member UNESCO committee, composed of such world-renowned social scientists as Claude Levi-Strauss and E. Franklin Frazier, was created to collect information about the problem of race and to establish educational programs to disseminate its findings. The resultant document, authored by Montagu, the group’s rapporteur, was published as the “Statement on Race” in 1951. The Committee’s final statement on race asserted: 1)All mankind belong to the same species and that the differences between groups are few compared to all of the genetic similarities. 2)That Race designates a group with high frequency of physical characteristics or particular genetic trait and that these traits fluctuate or even disappear over time. 3)The way in which people are grouped does not reflect the capacity or character traits of a particular group. The differences between races are physical and have no correlation with other traits like intelligence.
Upon leaving Hahnemann Medical College in 1949, Montagu moved to Rutgers University, where he was a professor of anthropology and head of the department from 1949 to 1955. While at Rutgers, Montagu wrote perhaps his most famous work, The Natural Superiority of Women, published in 1953. Examining the differences between the sexes anthropologically, Montagu concluded that women were the superior sex because they possessed a better capability to survive both as individuals and in groups- talents necessary for an advancing society. Based on these conclusions, he suggested that women receive equal pay for equal work, a controversial stance at the time.
With his prolific writing skills to rely on financially, and facing strong backlash for his openly liberal views and anti-McCarthy public statements, Montagu accepted a forced retirement from Rutgers in 1955 at the age of 50. Though retired from academic life, he continued to lecture at such institutions as Harvard University, Princeton University, the University of Santa Barbara, and New York University. Settling in Princeton, New Jersey, Montagu’s work took up a more humanist element with Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin, his effort to encourage parents to take a more physical role in raising their children and especially to encourage mothers to breastfeed their babies. Published during that same year, Montagu’s book The Elephant Man: A Study in Human Dignity, a history of the life of disfigured Briton Joseph Merrick, inspired a Tony winning play and later a motion picture. He continued publishing through the 1980s, including The Nature of Human Aggression (1976) and Growing Young (1981), while making numerous and notable television appearances on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show as well as the Phil Donahue Show.
In his lifetime, Montagu received many major awards, among them the American Association of Humanists’ 1995 Man of the Year award, the Darwin Award from the American Association of Physical Anthropologist in 1994, and the Distinguished Achievement Award from the American Anthropological Association in 1987. Montagu maintained an active schedule of lecturing and gardening around his Princeton, New Jersey, home until he was hospitalized in March 1999; he died on November 26, 1999 from heart disease, at the age of ninety-four. He was survived by his wife of sixty-eight years, Marjorie, as well as his son and two daughters.
From the guide to the Ashley Montagu papers, 1927-1999, 1927-1999, (American Philosophical Society)
|Place Name||Admin Code||Country|
|Biology, genetics, eugenics|
|Race, race relations, racism|
|Anthropology, ethnography, fieldwork|
|Social conditions, social advocacy, social reform|
|Art--Collectors and collecting|
|Art, Modern--20th century--history|