"John Gardner stands as an exemplar of the power of one individual to have a positive impact on society," said Stanford President John Hennessy at the time of Gardner’s death in 2002. "His life should remind all of us that education and public service can work together as a powerful force to improve the world in which we live."

John W. Gardner (1912-2002) earned BA and MA degrees from Stanford and a PhD from UC Berkeley. He taught psychology at Connecticut College for Women and Mount Holyoke College prior to his military service in World War II. In 1955 Gardner became the president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and from 1965 to 1968 served as Lyndon B. Johnson’s Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare. He founded the influential public advocacy groups, Common Cause (1970) and Independent Sector (1980).

Gardner remained connected to Stanford throughout his illustrious career, serving on the Board of Trustees from 1968 to 1982, and spending the last thirteen years of his life on campus. He was a founding member of the National Advisory Board of the Public Service Center (now the Haas Center for Public Service) and the first Miriam and Peter Haas Centennial Professor in Public Service. The John Gardner Public Service Fellowship and the John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities are just two examples of Gardner’s lasting legacy at Stanford.

The John W. Gardner Papers, 1912-2004 and the John W. Gardner Papers, 1961-1992, are housed at Stanford University Libraries Special Collections & University Archives. As a companion collection, the John W. Gardner Legacy Oral History Project includes interviews with people who knew Gardner in various capacities, including as colleagues, students, mentees, friends, and family members.

This Spotlight exhibit serves as an introduction to both the papers and the oral histories, and provides a glimpse into the richness of these holdings.


Explore Aspects of Gardner's Life


I was a California boy, stumbling cheerfully through life, succeeding, falling on my face, picking myself up and plunging ahead, holding on to some simple values, trying to live with a civil heart… always learning, always trying, always wondering.

John W. Gardner, Journals, June 19, 2001