Richard Nixon

The Educational Journey of America's Controversial President

8 Min Read

Richard Nixon, the 37th President of the United States, had an interesting educational journey on his path to the White House. Born in California in 1913, Nixon attended local public schools before gaining admission to Whittier College. After graduating from Whittier, Nixon went on to attend law school at Duke University before embarking on his storied political career.

Quick Facts About Richard Nixon’s Education and Early Life

  • Born in Yorba Linda, California in 1913
  • Attended Fullerton High School and Whittier High School
  • Graduated from Whittier College in 1934 with a Bachelor’s degree in history
  • Attended Duke University School of Law, graduating in 1937
  • Briefly practiced law in Whittier before joining the Navy in WWII
  • Married Pat Ryan in 1940, whom he met at a community theater group
  • Ran for Congress in 1946 and was elected at age 33

Whittier College: Nixon’s Undergraduate Years

Richard Nixon was admitted to Whittier College in September 1930 at the young age of 17. Located in Southern California not far from where Nixon grew up, Whittier College was a small liberal arts college affiliated with the Quakers.

At Whittier, Nixon pursued a degree in history and was active in campus clubs and organizations. He participated in student government as freshman class president and later student body president. Nixon also joined the Franklins, one of Whittier’s debate societies. His debating skills started to blossom at Whittier, foreshadowing his future political career.

Outside of academics and extracurricular activities, Nixon worked part-time jobs to pay his tuition. He worked at his uncle’s grocery store and during summers as a lifeguard and motel clerk in La Habra.

Nixon lived with his family during his first two years at Whittier before moving into a dormitory on campus. He graduated in 1934 at the top of his class with a Bachelor’s degree in history.

After completing his undergraduate studies at Whittier, Richard Nixon went on to pursue a law degree at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. He started at Duke University School of Law in 1934.

At Duke, Nixon excelled in his legal studies and graduated third in his class in June 1937. He was elected president of the Duke Bar Association as a law student.

While attending law school, Nixon lived with his parents who had moved from California to North Carolina after his father’s lemon ranch failed during the Great Depression. To help with tuition and expenses, Nixon took on part-time work during the school year and full-time jobs in the summers.

During his time at Duke, Nixon applied for the editor position on the Duke Law Journal but was turned down. This rejection stung, but Nixon persevered and succeeded in his legal studies, overcoming financial struggles along the way.

With his law degree in hand, Nixon passed the California bar exam in 1937 and returned to Whittier to join a local law practice. His career as a lawyer was short-lived, however, as Nixon became increasingly interested in politics.

What is Richard Nixon’s Net Worth?

After his political career that included serving as Vice President from 1953 to 1961 and President from 1969 to 1974, Richard Nixon’s net worth at the time of his death was an estimated $15 million.

The bulk of his net worth came from properties, book sales, and pensions. Nixon owned several properties including a 12-acre estate in San Clemente, California which he dubbed “La Casa Pacifica.”

After resigning from the presidency, Nixon wrote multiple books including a memoir and several books on international relations and foreign policy. These books sold well, adding to his post-presidential income.

Nixon also earned yearly pensions from his time in the Navy, Congress, and as president. By the early 1990s, his total pension income was over $800,000 per year.

With shrewd real estate investments and lucrative book deals, Richard Nixon built up a respectable net worth by the end of his life. But it paled in comparison to the wealth of many other 20th century presidents.

The Checkers Speech and Nixon’s Path to the Vice Presidency

In 1952, Nixon gained national fame for his “Checkers speech” defending himself against accusations of inappropriate campaign financing. This speech helped salvage his place as Dwight D. Eisenhower’s running mate in the 1952 election. Nixon served as Vice President from 1953-1961 before losing the 1960 presidential election to John F. Kennedy.

Nixon’s Wild Ride as President and the Watergate Scandal

Nixon won the 1968 election for the presidency, capitalizing on public unrest over the Vietnam War. He won again in 1972 in a landslide victory. But his presidency unraveled in 1973 and 1974 as the Watergate scandal came to light, revealing illegal activities by Nixon staffers and attempts by Nixon to cover up the crimes. Facing near-certain impeachment, Nixon resigned from office on August 9, 1974.

Nixon’s Resignation, Pardon, and Elder Statesman Role

After resigning in disgrace, Nixon was pardoned by his successor Gerald Ford in 1974, protecting him from prosecution. In his later years, Nixon rehabilitated his public image and took on an respected role as an elder statesman in domestic and foreign affairs. He died at age 81 in 1994.

Follow Richard Nixon on Social Media

As Nixon lived his entire life before the rise of social media, he did not have personal accounts on any platforms. However, you can follow the Nixon Presidential Library on social media for ongoing historical content about his presidency:

FAQs About Nixon’s College History and Early Life

Where was Nixon born and raised?

Richard Nixon was born in 1913 in Yorba Linda, California, where he lived until age 9. His family then moved to Whittier, California in 1922.

What degree did Nixon earn at Whittier College?

At Whittier College, Nixon pursued a Bachelor’s degree in History, which he completed in 1934.

Why did Nixon attend law school at Duke University?

After graduating from Whittier, Nixon was offered a full scholarship to attend Duke University School of Law in North Carolina. He accepted the scholarship and earned his law degree from Duke in 1937.

How did Nixon meet his future wife Pat Ryan?

Nixon met his future wife Thelma “Pat” Ryan in 1938 when they were cast together in a community theater production. They married in 1940.

What was Nixon’s first political office?

After serving in WWII, Nixon ran for Congress in 1946 at age 33. He was elected as a Representative from California, marking the start of his political career in Washington.