Charles Stewart III
“Making technology safe for democracy, making every vote count.”
Professor of Political Science
Housemaster of McCormick Hall
From an early age, Charles Stewart III, born in Winder, Georgia (he can still do the accent), and raised in Florida, knew he wanted to live in a close, meaningful community. He originally planned to become a Methodist preacher, and spent a year at Yale Divinity School. After shifting to political science, he arrived at MIT as an assistant professor, became full Professor in 1999, and served as department Head from 2005 to 2010.
Stewart's work in the Political Science department might seem a long way from life as a minister, but since 1992, Stewart has also served as the Housemaster of McCormick Hall, living in the modern towers with his wife, Kathy Hess, and son, Cameron. For the young students of McCormick, Stewart and his wife act as leaders and advisors. Says Stewart, "This is like having a parish."
McCormick Hall is a true community, a residence of 275 young women, most of whom spend all four years at West and East Towers, in a remarkable setting with its own rich history, culture, and architecture. McCormick was envisioned and underwritten by a female MIT graduate (Katherine Dexter McCormick, '04) and designed by Herbert Beckwith, who taught architecture at MIT from 1926–1968.
Infrastructure of Democracy
Stewart describes himself as "a political historian with a twist—applying modern economic theories and statistical methods to questions that involve the early history of American political institutions." As his thesis title ("The Politics of Structural Reform: Reforming the Budgetary Process in the House, 1865–1921,") suggests, he has been a reform junkie for decades. He received his undergraduate degree in political science from Emory University, and his PhD in Political Science at Stanford.
While contributing to the lives of hundreds of undergraduates, Stewart enjoys his own family life at McCormick. All members of the Stewart family have participated in BBQs and brunches, and Kathy Hess conducts cooking classes during IAP. The family's modernist apartment has an extensive patio with large planters for what Stewart refers to as The Farm—tomatoes, strawberries, vegetables, and possibly the world's smallest corn patch.
"Of all the things I've done at MIT, being housemaster has been the most enjoyable," says Stewart. "I'm able to deal with students on a human level, and I get to watch young people transition into adulthood. The changes are so amazing during this time. It's great to see the students growing—and to be able help out from time to time." Stewart and Hess will soon begin their third decade at McCormick, where they are—it is tempting to say—leading their flock.
About Stewart's work on voting reform:
Making Technology Safe for Democracy
Soundings Magazine, Fall 2008
Political Science Department