Why Kingman Brewster Jr. ’41 became the namesake of Handsome Dan XIX
Kassandra Haro ’18, Handsome Dan XIX’s handler, named the newest Yale mascot after former Yale President Kingman Brewster Jr. ’41. During his time as president from 1963 to 1977, Brewster notably helped spearhead Yale’s transition to a co-educational University.
As Kingman, the newest member of the Handsome Dan lineage, settles into his new home at Yale University Visitor Center, he will be following in the footsteps of another Kingman who brought lasting change to the University.
Yale president from 1963 to 1977, Kingman Brewster Jr. ’41 is the namesake for the Blue and White’s new mascot, Handsome Dan XIX. According to Brewster’s former special assistant and right-hand man, Henry “Sam” Chauncey ’57, Brewster would have been “absolutely happy as can be” about the decision made by Kassandra Haro ’18, Handsome Dan’s newest handler, to name the 12-week-old puppy Kingman.
“He and his wife loved dogs and they always had two dogs: a golden retriever and a black lab,” Chauncey said. “There were lots of times when Handsome Dan in those days would come up to the president’s house and the three dogs would have a meeting.”
Brewster, during his time as president, loved to walk around campus with his wife, and they would often sit in a courtyard of a residential college and let their dogs roam and interact with the students.
According to Chris Getman ’64, handler of four Handsome Dans over 33 years, the former Yale president would also go down to the sidelines during football games to greet Handsome Dan and support the Blue and White. Brewster was an “old-fashioned Yalie” and loved the spirit of Yale.
Nevertheless, Haro chose the name “Kingman” not because of how much the former president loved dogs, but because of his pivotal role in Yale becoming a coeducational institution. Haro told the News in a Zoom interview that she was impressed by his positive impact on the University and therefore decided to name Handsome Dan XIX after him.
“President Brewster brought Yale into the modern world,” said Geoffrey Kabaservice ’88, who wrote a biography on Brewster in 2004. “When he was going to Yale as an undergraduate, in some ways, it was, what he called it, ‘a finishing school on the Long Island Sound for upper-class WASP [White Anglo-Saxon Protestant] gentlemen.’”
Brewster became president of the University in 1963, at a time when Yale did not enroll women, had very little diversity and had almost zero financial aid capabilities. After his 14 years at Yale, he succeeded in getting Yale to admit women and to increase the proportion of undergraduate African Americans, Jews and public high school graduates.
According to the New York Times obituary of Brewster published in 1988, he did all of this in spite of facing “widespread criticism” from the alumni at the time, who were angry that there was a decline in the number of legacy students admitted to Yale during the 1960s.
“What made [Brewster] special was that he was a very outgoing president, and was very conscious of listening to faculty and students about their concerns,” Chauncey said. “If students were protesting, they’d go into his office angry, but when they came out, they’d feel much better.”
Brewster was in charge of the University during the 1970 New Haven Black Panther Trials. Charges against numerous Black Panthers in New Haven motivated around 15,000 people to protest in May of 1970, shutting down the Yale campus. Chauncey called Brewster “exceptional” at dealing with unrest because of his ability to listen to all sides and said he always found something good in what they had to say.
Brewster, after listening to many of his students, sparked controversy by saying that he was “skeptical of the ability of Black revolutionaries to achieve a fair trial anywhere in the United States,” which upset former U.S. Vice President Spiro Agnew under Nixon, suggesting that Brewster be “removed from his post” for the comment. Yale alumni also felt that Brewster was too lenient towards the revolutionaries, which created tension between the alumni and the president.
“He was often quoted; sometimes that got him into trouble when he spoke out on issues of the day,” Kabaservice said. “But, it also meant that he was modeling for the Yale student body what an independent thinker and leader could be.”
In 1988, Brewster died in Oxford, England, and his body rests in Grove Street Cemetery on Yale’s campus. The epitaph of Brewster’s tombstone says, “The presumption of innocence is not only a legal concept; in common law and in common sense, it requires a generosity of spirit toward the stranger, the expectation of what is best, rather than what is worst, in the other.”
“That’s what I think he would wish the most for today,” Chauncey said. “And in the era of, you know, a time today when there’s a lot of anger towards each other, I think he would love to have everyone to stop the anger and start listening to each other.”
The newest Kingman on Yale’s campus is set to continue the lasting legacy of his namesake by giving a “generosity of spirit towards the stranger.”
Dean Centa | firstname.lastname@example.org