1445 Wampanoag Trl # 201 Riverside, RI 02915-1019 | (401) 433-0044 | info@RIHeritageHallofFame.org
Elmer Cornwell was born on July 6, 1924, in Holyoke, Massachusetts, son of the late Elmer E. and Eloise (Leining) Cornwell. He attended Holyoke public schools and graduated from High School as valedictorian in 1942. Elmer was admitted to Williams College where he attended his freshman year, but in June, 1943 he was drafted into the Navy Seabees and served until his discharge in 1946. Upon completion of his military service, he returned to Williams College in 1946 and graduated magna cum laude in June 1948. He entered the graduate program in Government at Harvard University in September, 1949. At Harvard he was awarded a master’s degree in Political Science in 1951 and a Doctor of Philosophy in Government in 1953.
Upon completion of his studies at Harvard, Dr. Cornwell was appointed instructor in Politics at Princeton University and taught there until 1955 when he became an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Brown University. In 1964, Cornwell had achieved the rank of full professor while serving as chairman of the Political Science Department. He held this post from 1962-71 and again from 1973-74. He remained at Brown as a professor until his retirement in 2005.
Dr. Cornwell was active on state and local levels of government in Rhode Island. He served as parliamentarian of the Rhode Island from 1977 to 1994, and was an aide to the House Speaker from 1994 to 2004. He became a recognized specialist and consultant on Home Rule on many municipal charters including that for Providence. He also was a consultant to charter revision commissions in a number of cities and towns. Cornwell served as elected town moderator in Little Compton from 1984 to 2004 and as research director at the Constitutional Conventions of 1964-1968 and 1973.
On the national political scene Dr. Cornwell received a research grant from Eagleton Institute of Politics in 1960 to study local party organizations and a grant of $100,000 in 1967 from the Carnegie Corporation to study state constitutional conventions. This project, which was conducted jointly with the National Municipal League, resulted in a book-length study written in conjunction with his former student and protègè, Hall of Fame inductee Dr. Jay S. Goodman.
Dr. Cornwell was awarded the Frank Luther Mott Prize for his book Presidential Leadership of Public Opinion a study that analyzed the influence of voters on presidential policy. He was an author of several books and numerous articles on the American presidency, political parties, and Rhode Island politics including a standard 1968 textbook titled Introduction to American Government and joined with URI professor Maureen Moakley to produce Rhode Island Politics and Government in the prestigious series Politics and Governments of the American States.
In 2008, he established Elmer E. Cornwell, Jr. Fellowship Fund at Brown University to promote the study of politics. As a man of integrity and faith, he served as deacon and moderator at the United Congregational Church of Little Compton.
Elmer died on March 25, 2011 at the age of eighty-six, and is survived by his wife Laura J. Walker of Little Compton, two daughters: Joan Bohl and Leila Cornwell, and three stepchildren. He was the father of the late Alison Cornwell. He is buried in Pleasant View Cemetery in Tiverton.