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Chester M. Alter Papers

Identifier: M104


Chester M. Alter served as Chancellor of the University of Denver (DU) for 14 years, from 1953 until 1967, the second longest tenure of a chancellor at DU. The collection includes Alter's professional and personal papers, photographs, awards and memorabilia.


  • Other: 1906-2006


Biographical / Historical

Chester M. Alter was born in 1906 in rural Indiana. He received a B.S. from Ball State University, an M.A. from Indiana University, and a Ph.D. in chemistry from Harvard University in 1936. During World War II, he was recruited from his job at Boston University to work on the Manhattan Project. Alter served as Chancellor of the University of Denver for 14 years, from 1953 until 1967, the second longest tenure of a chancellor at DU. After leaving DU in 1967, he continued to be associated with the University as Chancellor Emeritus. He also served as a trustee in such organizations as the Gates Foundation, Central City Opera Association, the YMCA, and as the sole trustee for the George W. Clayton Trust. He has been on the board of directors of almost every educational institution in the Front Range, and has served as consultant to institutions of higher education in Korea, Malaysia and Brazil. He was a section and a division chairman of the American Chemical Society and was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

His influence has been felt throughout the State of Colorado in such organizations as the Colorado Board of Ethics, the Colorado Commission on the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution, the Colorado Expenditures Council, and the Judicial Advisory Council of the Colorado Supreme Court. He was the first non-lawyer to be an officer of the American Judicature Society, and was honored by its Justice Award in 1980.

During his tenure at the University of Denver, he oversaw the transformation of the University from a local institution to an internationally known one. He raised faculty salaries and was instrumental in bringing in outstanding scholars as visiting professors, such as Arnold Toynbee, and speakers such as U Thant and Averill Harriman. He also increased the volume of sponsored research at the University. He saw the University campus expand from 75 to 125 acres, and was responsible for many construction projects, including residence halls, a Law Center, and a science and engineering center. The Chester M. Alter Arboretum at the University of Denver recognizes his work in maintaining the character of the campus.

Alter was married to Arvilla Morrison in 1933. They have one son, Richard David Alter, born in 1939. Until her death in 1997, Arvilla Alter was involved in her husband’s work in education. After his wife's death, Alter continued to be involved with the University of Denver and the community. Chester Alter passed away in 2006.


63 Linear Feet (64 boxes and about 6 linear ft of oversize and unboxed material)

Scope and Contents

The collection includes Alter's professional and personal papers, correspondence, diaries, speeches, newspaper clippings, photographs, awards and memorabilia.


The collection is unarranged.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Chester M. Alter, 1999-2004 and R.D. Alter, 2002.


No further accruals are expected.


18 boxes at MR in Accession area 2004.003. This collection is very confusing. The original collection which was generally processed and has a file level description in G:/SpecColl/Collection_Guides/DU_Collections/Admin-Chancelelors/Alter were partially transferred to May Reed and are in the Accession Queue as 2004.003. Of the 22 boxes in the Collection Guide those transferred to Mary Reed are as Follows: Box 1 = Re:D Box 18; Box 2 = Re:D Box 19; Box 3 = Re:D Box 20; Box 4 = is not in Re:D - is in Manual Shelving; Box 5 = Re:D Box 21; Box 6 = Re:D Box 22; Box 7 = Re:D Box 23; Box 7A is in Manual Shelving; Box 8 = Re:D Box 24; Box 9 = Re:D Box 25; Box 9A is in Manual Shelving; Box 10 = Re:D Box 26; Box 11 = Re:D Box 27; Box 12, 13(Now Re:D Box 36) and 14 (Now Re:D Box 37) are in Manual Shelving; Box 15 = Re:D Box 28; Box 16 = Re:D Box 29; Box 17 = Re:D Box 30; Box 18 = Re:D Box 31; Box 19 = Re:D Box 32; Box 20 = Re:D Box 33; Box 21 = Re:D Box 34; Box 22 = Re:D Box 35. The other many boxes in the manual shelving are not in Re:Discovery at all. The first 12 boxes in Re:Discovery are boxes in the Electronic Shelving that were sent by Alter's son after Alter's death. Boxes 13 and 14 in ReDiscovery are oversize flat boxes.

Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections and Archives Repository

2150 East Evans Avenue
Denver CO 80208
(303) 871-3428