Guide to the Oral history interview with Leonard M. Rieser, 1996 August 15 - 1996 October 22Manuscript DOH-16


Leonard Rieser was born May 18, 1922 in Chicago, Illinois and attended public schools. Influenced by a Dartmouth graduate who was his high school Latin teacher, he came to Dartmouth as a freshman in 1940 and was a student at the College until 1942, when he transferred to the University of Chicago, to focus more on his interest in physics and to accelerate completion of his last two years of college.

Back in Chicago Rieser enlisted in the U.S. Army in the fall of 1942 but was placed on inactive duty in order to finish his bachelor's degree in physics, which he completed in December 1943. He then was assigned to active duty on the Manhattan Project, which led to the creation of the atomic bomb. He worked with the project first in its Metallurgical Laboratory at Chicago and then at the Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico, where he witnessed the first atomic bomb explosion.

After the war ended, Rieser continued working at Los Alamos as a research assistant to renowned physicist Otto Frisch until the spring of 1946, when he was honorably discharged from the Army and went to Stanford University to pursue a doctorate in physics, which he received in 1952. While completing his doctoral program he also worked at Stanford, first as a teaching and research assistant and then as a research associate.

After receiving his doctorate he returned to Dartmouth in 1952 as an instructor in physics and spent the rest of his academic career at the College. At Dartmouth he rose through the faculty ranks, becoming an associate professor of physics in 1957 and professor of physics in 1960. Rieser also started down the academic administration track, serving as chairman of the department of physics from 1957-59, then as deputy provost for the sciences from 1959-64 under President John Sloan Dickey. In 1964 he began 18 years of administrative service alternating between the positions of dean of the faculty and provost.

By the time Rieser retired from administrative activities in 1982, he had not only had a major impact on the composition of the faculty but had also helped guide the institution through the implementation of coeducation, significant growth in faculty and student size, the implementation of affirmative action policies, and substantial growth in its research commitment and facilities.

He retired from Dartmouth in 1992, and was subsequently Senior Fellow of the Dickey Center and Fairchild Professor Emeritus.

Throughout his academic career Rieser remained very active in science and science organizations, both national and international. He served in a variety of capacities with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, including as a member of the AAAS Board of Directors from 1969-71 and then President and Chairman of the Board of Directors from 1972-75. He had a life-long interest in Latin American culture and society, and was a founding officer of the Interciencia Association, a federation of 15 associations for the advancement of science throughout the Americas, serving as President and Chairman of the Council of the organization from 1979-83. He was Chairman of the Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists from 1985 until his retirement from that position in June 1998. He assisted with the development of the Montshire Museum of Science (Norwich, Vt.), where he served as a member of the Board of Trustees since 1991 and was president of the board from 1996 until his death.

Rieser also served on the grants committee of The Research Corporation (1961-67), as President of the New England Council on Graduate Education (1966); on the Overseers Committee to the Department of Sociology at Harvard University (1975-85); on the Commission on the International Exchange of Scholars (1982-86); on the Council on the Humanities and Sciences at Stanford University (1982-86); as a Trustee of Hampshire College (1984 -96); as a Trustee of the Latin American Student Programs at American Universities, located at Harvard University (1990-1996); as a consultant to the MacArthur Foundation in Chicago (1991 -1997), after spending a year there in 1990 as a visiting scholar; and as a Trustee of the Conflict Management Group.

Leonard Rieser died in Lebanon, NH on December 15, 1998.

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