First President Dr. George C. S. Benson and Dr. Mabel Benson.

Impact Stories

The First President and First Lady

Dr. George C. S. Benson and Dr. Mabel Benson developed the intellectual framework for CMC

“Our effort is not to do away with theory but rather, following scientific method, to secure better theory by the constant checking of our principles against the facts of the political and economic world.”
—President George C. S. Benson

Dr. George C. S. Benson was the founding president of CMC, serving from 1946 to 1969, when he was summoned to Washington, D.C., to serve as a key Pentagon official in the Nixon administration.

In 1928, Benson graduated from Pomona College, which was founded in 1887 by his grandfather, Charles Burt Sumner. He received his M.A. in 1929 from the University of Illinois and his Ph.D. in government in 1931 from Harvard, where he was an instructor in government from 1931-34.

In the ’30s, he also served as research director for the Council of State Governments in Chicago, lecturer at the University of Chicago, associate professor at the University of Michigan, and professor at Northwestern University. In 1941, he published his best-known book, The New Centralization, which questioned the concentration of power in the federal government.

Between 1942 and 1946, he served in the Army, working in Africa, Italy, and Austria in civil affairs and military government, and rising to the rank of Army lieutenant colonel.

By this time, Benson had distinguished himself as a publishing scholar, an administrator, and a military officer. He was appointed by the trustees to lead the new school in 1946 at the same time he was given a faculty appointment at the Claremont Colleges. While teaching at the Harvard Summer School, he used his scholarly, military, and federal government connections to recruit the first faculty within four months of the school’s opening.

Over the next two decades, Benson led the college into the first rank of liberal arts colleges in the United States, with a special reputation in economics and government. He was particularly proud of having recruited an outstanding early faculty. Strongly committed to the Claremont Colleges Group Plan, he played a leading role in founding Harvey Mudd College and Pitzer College and also in bringing the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden to Claremont.

Reflecting his interest in public service, Benson was active in Republican Associates of Los Angeles, supported the early career of Congressman Richard Nixon, served as research director for President Eisenhower’s Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, and chaired all campaigns, from 1978 through 1996, of Congressman and CMC alumnus David Dreier (R-Covina).

Benson retired from the presidency of Claremont McKenna College in 1969 to accept the position of Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs under President Nixon. He was instrumental in persuading many universities to keep Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs when such programs were under attack across the nation.

Returning to Claremont in 1972, Benson published a trilogy on ethics in American life: Amoral America (1975), Political Corruption in America (1978), and Business Ethics in America (1982). These books drew on his beliefs as the son and grandson of Protestant ministers and contributed to the national movement to teach ethics in schools and colleges. Into his late 80s, Benson remained an active presence on campus, pursuing his research and writing in his office and participating in college events.

Dr. Mabel Gibberd Benson

Benson married Dr. Mabel Gibberd in 1935, and the couple had two sons. In 1942, Mabel, who held a doctorate in literature from the University of Chicago, taught English at Pomona College. And, pretty soon, she would teach two classes of freshman English in the newly established Claremont Men’s School.

Mabel collaborated with Benson to develop the intellectual framework for the men’s college. She wrote the College’s first catalog, which stated CMC’s approach to the liberal arts for leadership — CMC’s Original Idea.

“There is no incompatibility between an education planned for specific types of leadership and an education designed to develop a liberally informed mind,” she explained. “In fact, real leadership presupposes the latter, and, in turn, a liberally informed mind can find no more satisfying vocation than in such leadership.”

Mabel also edited a history book chronicling CMC’s first 10 years, “An Idea Becomes a College,” that was published in 1957.

“Our effort is not to do away with theory but rather, following scientific method, to secure better theory by the constant checking of our principles against the facts of the political and economic world.”

— President George C. S. Benson