Born in Laramie, Wyoming, Henry Merritt Wriston was the son of Henry Lincoln Wriston, a Methodist minister and Jennie Amelia (Atcheson) Wriston, a schoolteacher. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in English literature in 1911 and his Master of Arts the following year, both from Wesleyan University in Connecticut. He continued his studies at Harvard University as an Austin Teaching Fellow and earned his Ph.D. in 1922. In the meantime, he began teaching history at Wesleyan to undergraduates in 1914.
During the First World War, Wriston served as the assistant manager of the Connecticut State Council of Defense. Following this assignment, he was named executive secretary of the Wesleyan Endowment Fund in 1919. His proven success impressed the administration of Lawrence College (now Lawrence University) in Appleton, Wisconsin so he was appointed to succeed the recently deceased Samuel G. Plantz as president of that institution. He served in that capacity from 1925-1937, further developing course curriculum and library holdings. Under his tutelage, the Institute of Paper Chemistry (at present, the Institute of Paper Science and Technology) was established; his experiences at Lawrence prompted his publication, The Nature of a Liberal College.
In 1937, Wriston was named president of Brown University, the first non-Baptist to serve, and earned a reputation as a proponent of liberal education. In 1939, he reduced the number of courses required of students, and in 1947, his ?Red Book? reforms guided the university toward a general, liberal arts education.
His contributions, however, did not end there. After his retirement from the university, he was appointed by President Eisenhower to sit on the Council of Foreign Relations. In addition, he became the president of the American Assembly, and was an active Board member of the World Peace Foundation.
President Eisenhower was also impressed by Wriston reputation and appointed him Chairman of the President Commission on National Goals. Serving on the Historical Advisory Committee to the Chief of Military History for the United States Department of the Army, Wriston was instrumental in documenting its policy during the volatile Cold War period. He wrote four significant works on American diplomacy and foreign policy and was a member of the editorial board of the distinguished journal Foreign Affairs from 1943 to 1967.
For these contributions to the state and the nation, Henry Wriston was inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 1976. He died in New York City on March 7, 1978 at the age of eighty-nine.
Debra A. Mulligan