Pauling’s OAC: A New Decade

[Looking back on Linus Pauling’s junior year at Oregon Agricultural College. This is part 3 of 3.]

The 1920-21 academic year at Oregon Agricultural College was, in many respects, a period of growth and change. With World War I now concluded, the school grew in size, many of its programs became better known, and the campus was buoyed by a sense of optimism.

One signal that the Roaring Twenties had reached Corvallis was the aptly named “Inter-Fraternity Smoker” contest. The cheeky competition – in which Linus Pauling participated – saw fraternity members “v[ying] with one another to produce the best characterization of womankind.”

Sports at OAC also enjoyed growth and success during the school year. Football, basketball, baseball and track all competed without the encumbrances mandated by the flu years, a new tennis program came into being, and OAC’s wrestling team won an intercollegiate championship. The college likewise sponsored several sports-adjacent groups, including a varsity “yell team” that was comprised of three students who rooted especially hard for the Beavers at all athletic events. “Women’s aesthetic dancing” also made an appearance during the year.

At this point in its history, OAC was committed to providing physical education opportunities for its entire matriculated population. All women enrolled at OAC were required to take a P.E. course, and the Physical Education for Men curriculum was among the most robust on the West Coast.

P.E. opportunities during the year were augmented by the completion of a new campus pool, chronicled as a welcome relief to students who had, according to The O.A.C. Alumnus, “swelter[ed]” through an “unprecedented heat wave.” The 50 x 100 foot facility, 9.5 feet deep at the diving well end, was among the larger pools around, and was surrounded by a grandstand that could seat 5,000 people.


The 1920-21 school year was also important for OAC’s academic programs, many of which were garnering more attention. The schools of Agriculture and Engineering could both boast of national rankings, while the School of Home Economics was the third largest in the country, featuring four departments (household science, household art, household administration, and home economics education) which all led to a four-year degree. The School of Forestry, which focused on logging engineering and technical forestry, was among the biggest in the country, and the School of Pharmacy – which offered pre-medicine courses in addition to a more standard pharmacy curriculum – was a leader on the West Coast. OAC did not house a School of the Liberal Arts, but its music program was, on the basis of size, ranked second among western colleges.

An OAC Chemistry lab, circa 1920

While not of national stature, OAC’s Chemistry program was quite large, owing to the fact that all students were required to take at least introductory chemistry as part of their studies. The Physics department created a research branch during the school year, and students in Botany and Plant Pathology could make use of the largest library of plant diseases and plant equipment west of the Mississippi River. Two new degree programs were added in Fall 1920, a B.S. in Vocational Education and a B.S. in Military Science and Tactics, “for the training of men for appointment as officers in the Regular Army.”

The school year also saw significant additions to the built environment on campus. The Health Services department moved into new quarters, where one full-time physician and two nurses cared for the OAC community. The School of Commerce broke ground on a new building, as did the School of Home Economics, and the School of Engineering moved forward on a series of projects with an estimated value of $360,000 (approximately $4.7 million today). Notably, present-day Kearney Hall – then known as Apperson Hall and home to the School of Engineering – received an extensive addition.

The 1920-21 academic year was also the last tuition-free year for OAC students. In previous years, students had been charged fees to help support specific classes, but they were not assessed a separate tuition charge.

Additional costs continued to come about for lodging. As before, all female students were required to live in the dorms, unless they received special permission from the dean or their parents lived in Corvallis. OAC’s women’s dorms featured “large air parlors” and cost $18 per term for a single or $9 for a double, plus $5 for deposit and incidentals. All rooms had access to “pure mountain water, both hot and cold,” lights, heat and “other modern conveniences” including a bed, pillows, linens, towels, sheets, and a wardrobe. Starting a few years prior, men also had the option to live in dorms. Their rooms were outfitted for between two to six people, but private rooms could be found around town for $4.00 – 5.50 per week, including meals.


Despite all of the positive momentum, many at OAC recognized that it was still hard for recent graduates to find work outside of the Pacific Northwest. (except for those from the School of Agriculture, who had “no such hardship.”) Some argued that a reason for this was the name of the school, and that if O.A.C. were to be rechristened as Oregon State College, a “handicap” that was “neither fair nor equitable” to graduates outside of the School of Agriculture would be removed. As it happened, the school was eventually renamed, but not until 1927 and even then as Oregon State Agricultural College. OSAC became Oregon State College in 1932 and, at long last, Oregon State University in 1961.

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