Chosen To Be a Rhodes Scholar

Cecil John Rhodes

The Rhodes Scholarships were established by the will of Cecil John Rhodes (1853-1902), an Englishman who made a fortune in diamonds and gold in South Africa in the late 19th century. His will established the Rhodes Scholarships for English-speaking men from the British Commonwealth and the U.S. A codicil to the will added five scholarships for Germany because its Emperor recently had made the teaching of English mandatory in German schools. Rhodes had a vision of promoting international understanding and peace by providing the common broadening experience of an Oxford education to future leaders who were motivated to serve their contemporaries. [1]

In the U.S. in 1960 an individual to be eligible for the Scholarship had to be (a) a male U.S. citizen with at least five years’ domicile in the U.S. and unmarried; [2] (b) between the ages of 18 and 24; and (c) at least a junior at a recognized U.S. degree-granting university or college. The criteria for selection, as established by the will of Cecil Rhodes, were the following:

  • Literary and scholastic ability and attainments;
  • Qualities of manhood, truthfulness, courage, devotion to duty, sympathy for and protection of the weak, kindliness, unselfishness and fellowship;
  • Exhibition of moral force of character and of instincts to lead and to take an interest in his fellows; and
  • Physical vigor, as shown by fondness for and success in sports.[3]

The Rhodes Trust in 1960 added the following commentary on these criteria. “Some definite quality of distinction, whether intellect or character, is the most important requirement . . . . The Rhodes Scholar should not be a one-sided man. Thus special distinction of intellect should be founded upon sound character and special quality of character upon sound intellect. . . . Cecil Rhodes evidently regarded leadership as consisting of moral courage and interest in one’s fellow-man quite as much as in the more aggressive qualities. Physical vigor is an essential qualification . . . but athletic prowess is of less importance than the moral qualities that can be developed in sports.”[4]

Those requirements should have been enough to scare away any young man, but many applied even though only 32 are chosen each year in the U.S. In 1960 there were selection committees in every state, and a candidate could apply in his state of residence or the state in which he had received at least two years of his college education.  Each state then nominated two candidates to go to one of eight districts for another round of competition with each district selecting four Scholars.

As I was a resident of Iowa and had gone to college in Iowa, I applied for the Scholarship in Iowa, which was in a District with Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas. The application consisted of a written endorsement from the individual’s college or university; your college transcript; a personal essay; and letters of recommendation. I received counsel on my application from George Drake, a former Grinnell Rhodes Scholar (1957-59) who was teaching history at the College in 1960-61 while he was working on his B.D. and M.A. from the University of Chicago. (Later he received those degrees plus a Ph.D. from Chicago. From 1979 to 1991 he was the President of the College.)

My essay reviewed my academic work and extracurricular activities at Grinnell and American University and stated my desire to devote my life to politics and government. “I believe that engagement in the decision-making processes of our nation’s government is a high purpose in life and that educated, intelligent men have a responsibility to society, to their fellow men.” Reading Philosophy, Politics and Economics or PPE at Oxford, I continued, “would contribute to my personal development and to my preparation for a possible future career in government and politics.” (The essay, when read today, is not very scintillating.)

In early December 1960, the Iowa Rhodes Scholarship Selection Committee advised me that I was one of the candidates to be interviewed by the Committee on December 14th at an office in Des Moines. The Chairman of the Committee was Paul A. Thompson, who was a Des Moines businessman and not a former Rhodes Scholar. The other members of the Committee, however, were all former Scholars; they were R. B. Patrick, an insurance company executive; Virgil Hancher, the President of the University of Iowa; Dr. D. T. Nelson, Professor of English at Luther College; and Dr. Bille C. Carlson, Associate Professor of Physics at Iowa State University.

On December 14th I joined 10 or 11 other candidates for the interviews. I did not keep a journal of what happened that day, and I do not recall the details of the interview. I really regret this lacuna because this was an important piece of my life and because Rhodes interviews are often known for their off-beat questions. I only have a vague recollection of talking about my Washington Semester experience and learning about Impressionism at museums in Washington. At the end of the day the Committee met with all of the candidates and announced that Bill Hartmann from Iowa State University and I were nominated to go to the District competition.

Three days later Hartmann and I joined 10 other nominees from the other five states in the District for the final interviews. Again the interviews were held in Des Moines. The chairman of the committee and a non-former Rhodes Scholar was W. Harold Brenton, the founder of the Brenton Banks. The other members of the committee, all former Rhodes Scholars, were Mr. Patrick from the Iowa Committee, Professor Emory K. Lindquist of the University of Wichita, Professor Robert M. Muir of the University of Iowa, C. H. Riggs of Pierre, South Dakota, H. A. Gunderson of Fremont, Nebraska and Merrimon Cuninggim of St. Louis, Missouri. Again I do not recall the details of the interview other than the Committee’s announcement at the end of the day that David Ness from Minnesota and MIT,[5] Fred Morrison from Kansas and the University of Kansas,[6]Bill Hartmann[7] and I were chosen Rhodes Scholars.

Thereafter the other new Scholars and I advised the Warden of Rhodes House and Secretary of the Rhodes Trust, E.T. Williams, which Oxford colleges we wanted to attend. I believe I said I wanted to go to Balliol College, which was probably the most prestigious in Oxford. On February 20, 1961, Mr. Williams advised me that he failed to gain my admittance at my preferred college and instead had prevailed upon Worcester College to take me. Worcester, he assured me, would be a great place, and Virgil Hancher, then the President of the University of Iowa, had been there.

I advised President Hancher that I too would be a Worcester man, and he was delighted to receive that news. As I later discovered, I was also pleased to be at Worcester.[8]


[1] Philip Ziegler, Legacy: Cecil Rhodes, the Rhodes Trust and Rhodes Scholarships (New Haven; Yale Univ. Press 2008)[“Legacy“]; Anthony Kenny (ed.), The History of the Rhodes Trust 1902-1999 (Oxford; Oxford Univ. Press 2001)[“Kenny“]; Office of the American Secretary of the Rhodes Trust, http://www.rhodesscholar.org/home.

[2] In 1965 the Rhodes Trustees eliminated the ban on marriage for Scholars in their second year at Oxford, and in 1994, the marriage ban was eliminated altogether. (Legacy at 217-19, 222-23; Kenny at 58-60.) In 1975 the Rhodes Trustees prevailed upon Parliament to include a provision in the new Equal Opportunities Act that would allow the Rhodes Trustees to eliminate any discrimination against women. Immediately thereafter the Trustees asked the U.K. Secretary of State for Education for permission to do just that. The next year, 1976, permission was granted, and women became eligible for the Scholarships. (Legacy at 217-23; Kenny at 66-69.) Before 1975, I was a member of the Minnesota Rhodes Scholarship Selection Committee that held an informal interview with a female candidate and that thereafter wrote to the Trustees urging them to seek Parliamentary relief from the terms of the will regarding gender.

[3] Rhodes Trust, The Rhodes Scholarships–The United States of America, 1960 (April 1960).

[4] Id.

[5] David Ness obtained a B.A. (Oxon) in PPE in 1963. He then returned to MIT where he earned a Ph.D. and taught at its Sloan School of Management. While at MIT he worked on Project MAC, the pioneering research project that significantly advanced the development of computer operating systems. In 1973 he joined the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Finance as a professor of management and later also of decision sciences. He retired from Wharton in the late 1980s and worked as a consultant until 1993. He was the author of books and articles about computer software. In 2006 he died of complications following surgery. (Rhodes Trust, Register of Rhodes Scholars 1903-1985, at 257 (1996)[“Register“]; Obituary:  David Ness, , U. Penn. Almanac (Feb. 28, 2006), http://www.upenn.edu/almanac/volumes/v52/n24/obit.html#dn.)

[6] Fred Morrison obtained a B.A. (Oxon) in Jurisprudence in 1963, a M.A. and Ph.D. in Political Science from Princeton University and a J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School. He is a Professor of Law at the University of Minnesota Law School after teaching at the University of Iowa School of Law. (Register at 256; Univ. Minnesota Law School, Fred L. Morrison, http://www.law.umn.edu/facultyprofiles/morrisonf.html. )

[7] Bill Hartmann obtained a D. Phil. (Oxon) in Physics in 1965. After being a Research Physicist at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, he joined the faculty at Michigan State University, where he is a Professor. Hartmann is a noted physicist, psychoacoustician, author, and former president of the Acoustical Society of America. His major contributions in psychoacoustics are in pitch perception,  binaural hearing, and sound localization. (Register at 255; Wikipedia, William M. Hartmann, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_M._Hartmann.)

[8] See Post: Sailing to Oxford (Aug. 29, 2011); Post: Reading PPE at Oxford (June 6, 2011); Post: PPE Examinations at Oxford (June 10, 2011); Post: Oxford’s Lord Franks (June 20, 2011); Post: Celebrating Oxford’s Worcester College’s 700th Anniversary (May 29, 2011); Post: Oxford in New York City (May 17, 2011); Post: Dinner at an Oxford High Table (May 18, 2011).

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As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

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