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BEHIND THE NAME: Wilbur Cross

By Sten Spinella
On March 4, 2014

Where did the Wilbur Cross building get its name? The grand old library across from CLAS and home to the center for student affairs is named after former Connecticut governor, Wilbur Lucius Cross.
Born in 1862, Cross, a Mansfield native, was a Yale college graduate, just like Homer Babbidge, the man whom UConn's current library is named after.
When he was a child, Cross' parents, Samuel and Harriet, worked in farming and manufacturing. Cross attended high school in Willimantic and was subsequently accepted to Yale University in 1881. After he earned his bachelor's degree, he set out to attain his doctorate, and in 1889, he was successful in doing so. From that point he spent three years as a high school teacher and principal. He then took a professorial position at Yale, where he was an instructor of English. From 1894 to 1930 Cross was a Yale staple, spending time as editor of the Yale review and retiring as the Dean of the graduate school.
Cross and other Yale dignitaries met weekly even after his retirement from Yale. At these meetings, Cross was known for his political acumen, and he was hardly shy in the dissemination of his views. This called attention to Cross' abilities, and when Connecticut Democrats despaired over a gubernatorial candidate, the Democrats of New Haven offered him up as an option.
Cross was the governor of the state of Connecticut during the Great Depression, from 1931-1939. He was elected as a Democrat after his retirement from Yale when he was 68-years-old. With his victory he ended a long run of Republican governors in Connecticut.
The election was close. Cross came in as an unknown, with very little experience in the political arena. He used this fact to his advantage, sporting an easy charm and a change in policy that people during the era yearned for. One of his main campaign promises was to repeal prohibition. Cross was reelected thrice afterwards as well, only losing in his bid for a fifth term.
Under Cross's guidance, Connecticut weathered a time of great turmoil. The governor instituted the New Deal and presided over labor disputes during this time of depression. He led Connecticut through a hurricane, and the instillation of the Merrit Parkway.
In 1936, Cross etched his name in Connecticut history. His Thanksgiving Proclamation remains the most memorable of its kind. In a trying epoch, he ignored the challenges faced by residents of the Nutmeg State, and instead addressed the passage of time and advocated an appreciation for life. Citizens of Connecticut memorize it to this day.
Construction of the Wilbur L. Cross library began in 1938 and was finished one year later. For three years the brand new building stood nameless, until the UConn Board of Trustees decided to name it after Cross, who had approved bonds for construction during his tenure.
The Daily Campus (then known as the Connecticut Campus) commentary section released an article on the event of the naming in 1942:
"It is significant to note that the name of Dr. Cross was not chosen for our library because he was chief executive of this state or because he was a great political leader, but rather because he is so eminent as a literary figure.
"Dr. Cross's works in the field of literature cover nearly half a column in Who's Who in America. His political works take but a sentence or two. He served 46 years as author, historian, biographer, and teacher before taking his place in the governor's chair."
Cross died in 1948 at 86 years old. Behind him, he left a written and public legacy that proved him to be worthy of attention, and reverence, due to his leadership of Connecticut and his devotion to the English language.
 


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