Wilbur Lucius Cross was born in 1862 in Mansfield, Connecticut. He graduated from Yale University in 1885, then served as principal of Staples High School in Westport, Connecticut, and taught high school English in Pittsburgh, before returning to Yale, where he taught for more than thirty years. He was Dean of the Yale Graduate School from 1916 to 1930. Along with C. F. Tucker Brooke, Cross was the editor of the Yale Shakespeare; he also edited the Yale Review for almost 30 years. He wrote several books, including Life and Times of Laurence Sterne and The History of Henry Fielding, and his several well-regarded books on the English novel helped define the genre of the modern novel. Cross was somewhat unexpectedly elected governor of Connecticut as a Democrat in 1930, serving four two-year terms, from 1931 to 1939. He is credited with passage of several items of reform legislation during his tenure. He also endorsed legislation that authorized funding for the rebuilding of the Connecticut State College, which included the construction of the first campus library, named the Cross Library. After retiring from public service, he continued to stay active in his writing and research projects until his death in 1948 at age 86.
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