A Third Push for a Men's College

While the outbreak of World War II forced planning for a men’s college to be placed on the shelf again, the idea was not forgotten or abandoned through the early 1940s, especially by the Board of Fellows. In 1944, the Claremont Colleges were reorganized into a more collegial governance structure. A provost would replace a president of the University Center, to be filled in rotation by one of the undergraduate college presidents, and the name Claremont Colleges was dropped for the central coordinating unit in favor of the singular, Claremont College. Most importantly for the survival of the third college plan was Robert Bernard’s appointment to the position of managing director of Claremont College.


Robert Bernard

Robert Bernard was devoted to the prospect of a third college and had previously worked under James Blaisdell, William Ament, and Russell Story. Bernard graduated from Pomona College in 1917, majoring in English, and began working for President Blaisdell just two months after graduation. Bernard had a keen sense of the Claremont environment and held the identity of the alumnus who never leavesan important figure for universities as fund-raisers and members of the administration. In 1942, Bernard was made administrative director of the Claremont University Center and in 1944, managing director of Claremont College. From 1959 to 1963, Bernard served as president of the newly reorganized Claremont University Center and Graduate School. Over his career, Bernard would participate in the founding of four CollegesScripps, Claremont McKenna, Harvey Mudd, and Pitzer.


Donald McKenna

An equally important founder of CMC was Donald McKenna. Born in 1907, McKenna graduated Phi Beta Kappa in English literature from Pomona in 1929 and took an M.A. in English from Claremont College under the direction of William Ament, before moving on to Harvard for his Ph.D. He withdrew from Harvard in 1934 before finishing his doctorate, eventually joining the family firm, the McKenna Metals Co., which subsequently became Kennametal Inc. Upon his return to Claremont, McKenna began to contribute to Pomona College, but soon became disillusioned with the liberal nature of the Pomona College faculty and orientation toward the New Deal. McKenna maintained close contact with Robert Bernard and the more he heard about the pro-business philosophy of the new college, the more he became interested in supporting the endeavor. McKenna’s support came slowly, but he soon took responsibility for establishing a founding budget. His early gifts and fundraising efforts in 1944 and 1945 helped make the college a reality. In March 1946, McKenna committed $5,000 per year over five years to get the men’s school under way.

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Russell K. Pitzer

Galvanized by McKenna’s gift, Robert Bernard met with the Board of Fellows’ standing committee on the men’s college, which was in agreement that if Bernard and McKenna could raise an additional $25,000 to match McKenna’s $25,000 pledge, it would raise another $50,000 to bring the founding budget to $100,000, and the men’s school could open. Bernard and McKenna identified Russell Pitzer, a graduate of Pomona College in 1900 and notable Claremont figure, who practiced law, served as city attorney, and was a successful citrus grower, as a potential donor. The two met with Pitzer and stressed the importance of a proposed school as a service to returning veterans to receive a personalized education in preparation for careers in business. Russell Pitzer liked what he heard and agreed to match Donald McKenna’s pledge.


George C. S. Benson

With the men’s college poised on the brink of actuality, finding a director for the school was the next priority. Initially identified as a possible appointee to the Graduate School by Robert Bernard in 1937, George Benson had a chance encounter with Bernard in Claremont upon his discharge from the U.S. Army and quickly emerged as the front-runner for the director position. George Charles Sumner Benson was a graduate of Pomona College (’28) and grandson of Pomona College founder Charles Burt Sumner. Following Pomona, Benson took an M.A. from the University of Illinois in 1929, a second from Harvard in 1930, and a Ph.D. in government and political science from Harvard in 1931. Benson went on to pursue his academic career teaching at several universities: the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan, and Northwestern University. During this time, Benson was also the author and publisher of several well-received monographs and served a term on the State of Michigan Planning Commission. Following his wartime service in the US Army supervising civilian governments in occupied Italy and Austria, Lt. Col. Benson was offered the position of director of the men’s college, with a back-up five-year appointment as professor of public administration at the Graduate School should the men’s college fall through. On June 4, 1946, Benson was officially appointed as director of the school.


Mabel Gibberd Benson

Mabel Gibberd Benson, George Benson’s wife, was an equally important figure in the founding of the men’s college. Mabel married George in 1935 and they coauthored an essay on world federalism in 1939. During the war years, Mabel and her two sons lived in the home of George Sumner, Benson’s uncle, with Mabel teaching English at Pomona College and persuing a Ph.D. in literature from the University of Chicago, which she received in 1945. After her husband took the position as director of the men’s college, Mabel drafted the initial course catalog and assisted with recruitment and admission.