The Arts Club Brings Literary Giants to Dartmouth

In the span of just three weeks in the spring of 1930, Carl Sandburg, Thornton Wilder, and Edna St. Vincent Millay presented their work to students.

During his senior year at Dartmouth, Nelson Rockefeller ’30 became the president of The Arts, an arts and culture club at the College. The April 1930 issue of Dartmouth Alumni Magazine notes the arrival of a string of highly distinguished visitors. 

“Carl Sandburg, poet, biographer and ballad singer, lectured on modern poetry and sang old folk-songs before a Dartmouth audience that filled Dartmouth Hall to capacity, overflowing into the aisles and the very platform from which the visitor spoke. Following him appeared the more suave Thornton Wilder speaking on the relations between literature and life. Mr. Wilder speaks in the same manner in which he writes and the listened finds himself wandering into scenes from The Bridge of San Luis Rey or The Woman of Andros. Edna St. Vincent Millay appeared as the third of this trip from America’s finest writers. Miss Millay read extensively from her own poetry proving herself capable of acting as well as writing. All three of these writers were welcomed by the student body with an unusual amount of interest and approbation.”

According to The Dartmouth, Carl Sandburg visited on Feb. 21, presenting “An Evening with Carl Sandburg.” His impending visit was covered in the school newspaper over several days leading up to his arrival. He performed songs from The American Songbag, a popular anthology of folksongs he compiled and published in 1927.

The Arts club arranged for novelist Thornton Wilder to speak less than a week later on February 27.

Admission for his appearance was 50 cents, as it was for Edna St. Vincent Millay who presented on Mar. 6. Members of The Arts, plus faculty and their spouses, were invited to a special reception following her packed performance in Webster Hall. 

The March 5th edition of The Dartmouth encouraged students to attend, recalling Pulitzer Prize winner's last visit five years prior: 

“She came at the apex of that most exciting of all adventures of the mind: the discovery of great poetry in high youth. I am wondering how many Dartmouth men are engaged in that adventure now. Fervently I hope that every man in college will at least expose himself to that joy, tomorrow evening, whether or not it takes. The discovery is more exciting if made early than late. A long delay means that it never will be made at all. There is a special splendor in hearing great poetry read by its own author, a privilege usually ignored until the poet is dead, the possibility past. Yet tomorrow night that privilege is extended to Dartmouth men.”