Henry Merritt Wriston seemed an unlikely candidate when he assumed the Brown presidency in 1937. He was neither a Baptist minister nor a Brown alumnus. Nevertheless, perhaps no president this century has made as great an impact on the mission and form of the institution as Wriston.
One of his early objectives was "to get Brown off the defensive in the matter of its public image -- in short, to awaken a decent pride." Both the number and quality of applicants improved during his term, as did Brown's image as a leading university and research center.
President Wriston established the temporary Veterans College in the wake of World War II, which provided an opportunity for students lacking formal entrance requirements to prove themselves capable of transferring to regular college work. When space was especially tight, he even provided some of these students rooms in his own home.
Wriston also took a keen interest in architecture, and was instrumental in construction of the residence Quadrangle that now bears his name. The construction of the Quad made possible the enlargement of the student body, while the wider geographic distribution of the students did much to change Brown from a regional college to a nationally recognized institution.
When Wriston announced his retirement in 1955, he was widely lauded for the impact he made on the school during his tenure. One alumnus may have summed it up best when he said that Wriston "took Brown by the scruff of the neck and shook it into greatness."