Pauling’s OAC, 1919-1920: The Campus Scene

A view of the OAC campus looking east toward Corvallis, circa 1920. At right is Science Hall, where Linus Pauling taught chemistry as an 18-year old instructor.

[A look back at Linus Pauling’s third year at Oregon Agricultural College. This is part 2 of 3.]

As we noted in our last post, Linus Pauling wasn’t able to register as a student for his third year at Oregon Agricultural College, and spent most of the academic year teaching instead. In not registering, Pauling was one fewer body contributing to what turned out to be OAC’s second largest enrollment ever — a whopping 4,086 students. This number was outpaced only by the 1914 school year’s 4,176 students, and was surely propped up by the return of many students from their wartime obligations. Notably, the college also welcomed twenty-four international students, many of whom came from Southeast Asia and were members of the school’s Filipino Club.

The boost in student numbers led to a pronounced insufficiency in faculty staffing, a circumstance that ultimately led to the 18-year old Pauling’s hire as a Chemistry instructor. The problems with meeting student needs in the classroom were widely acknowledged within the student body, as evidenced by many articles in the campus newspaper – The Barometer – demanding that the administration hire more instructors.

Of the total population of students, 3,073 were male and 1,013 were women, a set of numbers that presented a housing crisis for which the college was largely unprepared. Once OAC’s administrators realized that they did not have the infrastructure to house 500 more students than had been on campus the previous year, they requested support from the government to convert the school’s old ROTC barracks into a new male dormitory. This residence hall, which would be named Poling Hall, took a month to refashion into an acceptable livable facility. In the meantime, hundreds of young men were housed by the campus’ YMCA chapter.

Autochrome image of Waldo Hall with campus greenhouses in the background, circa 1920.

The college’s primary female residence hall also suffered from the increase in enrollment. During the year, more than 300 OAC co-eds crammed into Waldo Hall, the largest number since its construction in 1907. While Shepard and Cauthorn Halls were also used for female students, each one was overflowing with students.

Surrounding OAC was the small college town of Corvallis which, at about 6,500 inhabitants, was just barely bigger than the campus population.


Students who went to accredited Oregon high schools did not need to formally apply for admission to OAC. Instead, they were immediately accepted so long as they had completed three units of English and two units of mathematics. One result of this low bar to entry was that incoming students did not need to have a high school diploma in hand in order to begin as college students. Pauling, famously, did not graduate from Portland’s Washington High School before beginning his OAC studies at the age of 16.

Compared to the fifteen colleges that Oregon State University supports today, a century ago there were only eight academic schools available at OAC: Agriculture, Commerce, Engineering, Forestry, Home Economics, Mines, Pharmacy, and Vocational Education. The college was also very clear about its Land Grant point of view, stating in its general catalog that

Special attention is given to the application of science…while the industrial or technical work is emphasized, the importance of a thorough general training, of mind development, and of culture, is recognized in all the work at the institution.

Unsurprisingly, the most popular major at OAC was Agriculture (338), and the second most popular was Home Economics (314, likely all of whom were women). The School of Commerce also attracted many students, including both women and men pursuing the Secretarial Science curriculum that was housed within the school.

The 1920 Commencement ceremonies, held in the Men’s Gymnasium.

The cost of attending OAC ranged between $261-351. Tuition was free to all students, but many classes had fees tacked on, including a $24 charge for laboratory usage. If you wished to graduate during the school year, you were required to pay an additional $5 graduation fee as well as an extra dollar to cover the cost of binding your graduation thesis and printing your diploma. Room and board for eight months would run an $250 on average. While these costs seem very affordable today, the national income per capita in 1919 was only $3,724.05, rendering an advanced education unattainable for many.

Because of his own financial difficulties, Pauling was not in a position to take any courses during the 1919-1920 school year. In his first two years at OAC he had enjoyed physics, chemistry, mechanical drawing, and place surveying studies. Had he returned as a student, he would have taken mechanics, hydraulics, electrical machinery, engineering, geology, mining, and military tactics courses along with the other Chemical Engineering juniors studying in the School of Mines.


Ida Kidder in her wickermobile, 1920.

In February 1920, sad news sent the campus into a period of mourning when it was reported that OAC’s beloved librarian, Ida “Mother” Kidder had passed away at the age of 65. In the few months before her death, Kidder had been mostly bed-ridden, only capable of travelling around campus in a “wickermobile” cart that had been designed and built by students at the college. Though she had been at OAC for only twelve years, Kidder, who was the college’s first professional librarian, had made a great impression on the student body, and tributes were paid to her in numerous publications on campus and as far away as the Dishina School for Girls in Kyoto, Japan.

Though Kidder’s death was a major event at OAC, she could not be mourned at a public funeral or memorial service for nearly a month because the entire city of Corvallis had been placed under quarantine. Specifically, health authorities on campus had strictly banned all social gatherings that were not absolutely necessary as an outbreak of the flu had wreaked havoc on the community. Fortunately, the student body was not too drastically affected by the outbreak, with only a handful of intercollegiate basketball games being cancelled as a precautionary measure.

Machine gun training on the OAC campus, circa 1919.

And though the Great War had concluded the previous fall, military influence was still very prominent on campus. All male students were required to complete twelve credits of military training to graduate. If a student failed to enroll in military training over the course of a year, the remainder of their schedule was voided and they were fined until they began attending. But these formal strictures aside, it was clear that the environment on campus had changed from previous years, and nearly everyone was grateful to see the return of social events and other gatherings that had been banned during wartime.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: