Pauling’s OAC, 1919-1920: Social Life

“Feminine Section Intrafraternity Smoker,” 1919-1920. Linus Pauling is seated at front, far right.

[The third and final installment of our look at Linus Pauling’s experience of the 1919-1920 academic year at Oregon Agricultural College.]

Campus life during the 1919-1920 school year was generally more lighthearted than had been the case during the previous few years; a time period defined largely by the horrors of World War I. War-time bans on major social gathering were lifted, making way for near weekly dances and school-sanctioned social events for all students to attend.

A major point of emphasis to kick off the school year was Homecoming Weekend. Beginning with a parade and rally held on the night of Friday, October 24th, and continuing through a home football game versus Stanford on Saturday (a 14-6 loss for the Aggies) and a campus church service on Sunday, Homecoming was a festive occasion meant to built bridges between students, faculty, and alumni. Unfortunately for Linus Pauling, his obligations to the state highway department resulted in his arriving on campus two weeks after the celebrations were over.

While not a student during the 1919-1920 academic year, Pauling still lived at the Gamma Tau Beta house as a faculty member. This was a regular practice at the time, especially for those who were unmarried. Professors whose names now adorn buildings at Oregon State University – individuals including Ava Milam, Grant Covell, Richard Dearborn, and Samuel Graf – were all members of various Greek organizations on campus.

A major highlight of the school year for the Gamma Tau Beta fraternity was their annual house dance, held on February 3rd, 1920. The house hired the Duke Vaughn Jazz Band to provide the entertainment and hosted a variety of faculty, alumni and out-of-town guests in addition to current Aggies.


Gamma Tau Beta intramural baseball championship team, 1919-1920. Linus Pauling likely took this photo.

“Here’s to men we know and love, / Beavers tried and true; / Here’s to the men of the orange line / Wiping the ground with you; / Up with the glass and pledge them, lads, / Flashing its amber gleam, / While deep in our hearts the toast shall be: / Here’s to the Old O.A.C.”

-“Toast to the Team”

Sports played an outsized role in campus social life, and for those who didn’t compete on OAC’s varsity teams there were many opportunities to participate in intramural activities. Recognized today as the third oldest program in the country, intramural sports at OAC operated under the motto of “Everybody in Sports” and worked throughout the year to include the participation of as many male students as possible. Pauling’s fraternity, Gamma Tau Beta, was very successful athletically, winning the college’s baseball divisions in both fall and spring, and placing second in cross country.

Women’s intramurals were not as well developed at OAC, but the college did offer opportunities for female students to compete in basketball, field hockey, swimming, and tennis. Through the Women’s Athletic Association, women at OAC also had the chance to practice baseball, volleyball, archery, fencing, soccer, and hiking. Relatively few actual games were scheduled during the school year due to a lack of teams and fears related to the influenza outbreak.

Beyond sports, OAC’s students took advantage of access to a number of different recreational pastimes including The Mask and Dagger Dramatic Club, and the Glee and Madrigal Clubs. In the winter, Mask and Dagger joined forces with the Glee Club to produce the school play, “The Importance of Being Earnest.” Student publications were another way to get involved on campus, be it through The Barometer newspaper, The Beaver yearbook or school-aligned quarterlies like The Student Engineer and The Oregon Countryman.

Linus Pauling and Paul Emmett, 1920

The recreational group with which Pauling was most closely associated was the Triangular Debate team, which offered the school’s best speakers the chance to compete intercollegiately. While Pauling was not eligible to participate during the year, his close friend Paul Emmett did compete in two separate debates, while also serving as the Forensics Manager for the sophomore class, one year beneath him in standing.

Emmett’s first competition was against the University of Oregon, during which he represented the negative argument to “Resolved, that the principles of the Chinese Exclusion Act should be applied to all immigration to this country for a period of not less than five years.” Later in the year, Emmett competed against the University of Washington, once again representing the negative positing on “Resolved, that the peace conference should have awarded the province of Shantung to China.” After graduating from OAC, Emmett earned a Ph.D. from Caltech and went on to become one of the foremost catalysis chemists of the twentieth century.


Traditions, even in the relatively early years of OAC’s history, were extremely important. Freshmen – more commonly known as “rooks” – were required to don green caps (for boys) or green ribbons (for girls) when on campus. To enforce these and other rules, the sophomore class was charged with forming a Vigilance Committee, which could mete out demerits and other punishments – including paddlings – for violations that they observed.

Important traditions for the junior class, to which Pauling would have belonged had he been able to return as a student, included Junior Prom, Beaver Annual, and Junior Flunk Day. Junior Prom was held in the Men’s Gymnasium (present-day Langton Hall), which was decorated with orange and black crepe paper, and attended by many school faculty. Junior Flunk Day was devoted to games contested between and within classes, as well as pranks pulled by juniors on the unassuming.


Students working in Graf Hall, circa 1921

Students at OAC weren’t just busy playing intramural sports and attending school dances, many also maintained a keen interest in state politics. One continuing point of conversation was the fact that, in 1920, the U.S. dollar was worth approximately half as much as had been the case in 1913, yet all other university expenses had gone up. (Incomes had also risen a mere 4%.) During that same period of time, enrollment at Oregon’s primary institutions of higher learning – including the University of Oregon, Oregon Agricultural College, and Oregon State Normal School – had grown by 150% though classrooms had only barely increased in size.

As a potential corrective, students writing in The Barometer and elsewhere encouraged the citizenry to vote yes on the Higher Educational Tax Act, which would provide a boost in funding for the state’s colleges by increasing personal income taxes throughout Oregon. The measure passed in 1920, but was not enacted until the beginning of 1921.

In addition to stressing students’ budgets, funding woes for higher education in Oregon also hamstrung OAC’s ability to retain some of the temporary faculty that it had hired during the 1919-1920 school year, Linus Pauling among them. Fortunately, Pauling had built his savings up enough over the course of the year to re-enroll as a student for the fall 1920 quarter.

Retaining faculty was likewise encumbered at OAC by sub-standard facilities. The college was in especially dire need of a new auditorium as well as new Commerce, Home Economics, Pharmacy, and Engineering buildings. While a new engineering laboratory – present-day Graf Hall – began construction in November 1919 just off of Monroe Street, the other much needed buildings had to wait for several more years.

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.

Pauling’s OAC, 1919-1920: The Boy Professor

Paul Emmett and Linus Pauling, circa 1919

[Ed Note: Next week, school begins anew here at Oregon State University. And as has become tradition at around this time, we reflect back today on Linus Pauling’s attendance at Oregon Agricultural College one-hundred years ago. In this three-part series, we explore Pauling’s life and the culture of OAC during the 1919-1920 academic year.]

Linus Pauling began the summer of 1919 in a job he detested. Working 60 hours a week, Pauling held a position at Riverside Dairy that was responsible for “monitoring the quality of the bitumen-stone mixes” used in the company’s products. Exhausted and bored, Pauling started his search for a new summer job within only a couple of weeks.

Quickly he found a more desirable job with the Oregon State Highway Department working as a plant inspector at the Wolf Creek-Grave Creek section of the Pacific Highway. Importantly, the position allowed Pauling to work closely with chemicals, and once the new opportunity was confirmed, Pauling left the Riverside Dairy in favor of Josephine County, Oregon, where he would help to oversee the paving process.

The Grave Creek paving plant, 1919

As the end of summer neared, Pauling began to prepare himself to return to Oregon Agricultural College for his junior year as a Chemical Engineering student. However, he soon received devastating news: his mother, who as in dire financial straits, had used all of his savings to keep the family afloat in Portland, meaning that there was no money available to fund his continued schooling.

Defeated, Pauling continued his work as a plant inspector and, once September rolled around, he found himself debating paving techniques with other inspectors rather than attending classes in Corvallis. But even in these debates, Pauling relied upon his scientific training to put forth an informed argument and to contradict the conventional wisdom. Specifically, Pauling claimed that the state’s guidance to lay pavement at temperatures between 225-275 degrees Fahrenheit was not accurate enough; 275 degrees was, in Pauling’s view, necessary for the best outcome.


John Fulton, 1947. Also an OAC alum, Fulton served as chair of the Chemistry Department from 1907-1940.

Fortunately for Pauling, Oregon Agricultural College had seen an unprecedented growth in enrollment that fall and was now confronting a crisis as faculty struggled to meet the needs of a much larger student body. In late October, OAC Dean of Chemistry John Fulton reached out to Pauling – who was by then well-known to the faculty as being an exceptional talent – and offered him a position teaching analytical chemistry. Pauling was 18 years old at the time of the offer.

Though it would come with a $25 pay decrease to $100 per month, Pauling readily accepted the job, returning to campus on November 14 and officially beginning work as an instructor in Chemistry on November 20, 1919. Pauling’s personnel file indicates that this was not his first job within the Chemistry department – the previous academic year he had been employed as a student assistant, charged with mixing solutions for use in general chemistry laboratories.

Despite the pay decrease, Pauling found that his new job did come with a few perks. Nestled in Science Hall (present day Furman Hall) Pauling worked primarily on the second floor, which was dedicated to quantitative analysis, and was assigned his own office. He also enjoyed the services of his own assistant, a Mr. Douglas, who helped prepare solutions for the courses that Pauling instructed (the same job that Pauling had held the year before).

In winter 1920, his debut as a collegiate instructor, Pauling taught three courses: two sections of quantitative analysis for mining engineers, chemical engineers and pharmacy students; and one section of general chemistry for agriculture, home economics, and entry-level engineering students. The courses were listed as Chemistry 244 and Chemistry 102 respectively.  In these three classes combined, Pauling taught 83 students, one of whom was his close friend Paul Emmett, later to become an influential catalysis chemist. Emmett received an A in Pauling’s quantitative analysis course for chemical engineering and pharmacy students.

And as the year progressed, Dean Fulton and Pauling developed a consequential academic relationship and also a friendship. Importantly, it is likely that Fulton referred Pauling to a series of papers authored by Irving Langmuir and G.N. Lewis that became very influential in his later research. Following Pauling’s graduation from OAC, Fulton also supplied $100 and $200 loans to support Pauling’s research during his graduate school years at the California Institute of Technology.


With one term of instruction under his belt, Pauling’s horizons began to expand and his interest in the opportunities offered by an OAC education started to wither. In particular Pauling believed that the land grant curriculum put forth by OAC was lacking, particularly in its attention to theory, and increasingly he found himself drawn to Caltech and its new Gates Chemical Laboratory. As he considered a transfer, Pauling initiated a brief correspondence with Caltech’s Chemistry head A.A. Noyes, and he also secured a letter of recommendation from John Fulton. In the end though, Pauling was simply unable financially to commit to a move to southern California, and decided to stay on at OAC for another term as an instructor.

For spring term, Pauling was assigned two new courses: Chemistry 242 and Chemistry 245. Both were quantitative analysis surveys designed for engineering students and each included at least one lecture, one recitation, and anywhere from three to twelve hours of lab work per week. Each day of Pauling’s schedule had several morning hours blocked out for preparing and delivering the majority of his lectures.

View of the inside front cover of Pauling’s 1920 Quantitative Analysis notebook.

Pauling’s research notebook for that year – annotated with a hand-written “Keep Out! No Admittance” across the front cover – is riddled with student grades, calculations and notes on experimental methods. Pauling was compelled to consult this journal when, after finishing his position at the end of spring term and returning to his pavement inspector job, Dean Fulton contacted him at his Wolf Creek address. In his letter, Fulton requested that Pauling decipher some of the notes on quizzes that he had administered to his students during the previous term. Fulton also needed clarification on unknown solutions that he had produced and used during his classes.

Pauling’s appointment for the academic year ended in June 1920 and by June 11th, when OAC’s students were wrapping up their final examinations, “the boy professor” was returning to his position with the Oregon State Highway Department. He did so having also applied for a job as an assayer at Mountain Copper Company in Keswick, California, but he ultimately decided not to make the move so far south. During the summer months that followed, Pauling worked especially hard to accrue enough savings to support a true junior year at Oregon Agricultural College. Fortunately, he was able to do so and returned to campus the following fall, eager to begin classes after a one year hiatus.

Pauling’s OAC: Sophomore Social Life

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[An examination of Linus Pauling’s sophomore year at Oregon Agricultural College, which began in Fall 1918. This is part 3 of 3.]

Life on the Oregon Agricultural College campus during Linus Pauling’s sophomore year started off with one primary focus: World War I. As a result, Greek life activities and other traditional social excursions were temporarily suspended by the U.S. War Department as their ideals were deemed to be “incompatible” with those espoused by programs like the Student Army Training Corps. Ever vigilant, OAC students found their way around some of these restrictions by participating in planned informal gatherings. Greek life was not reinstated until late fall, after the war’s conclusion, and social planning committees did not return until late winter term.

Despite the war pulling away many of the school’s athletes for service, OAC still fielded teams through all three terms. Sports offered students a distraction from the realities of war and gave them a common point of focus to rally behind. In fall, football games began shortly after school started with the first contest of the season taking place on Saturday, October 12, 1918. As the term moved forward, several games were cancelled on account of the influenza epidemic and the season ended on a disappointing note with a 13-6 Civil War loss to Oregon in Eugene. Illness hampered the basketball team as well and their schedule on a down note with two additional losses to the rival Ducks, described as the “Lemon Yellow men” in the class yearbook.

Women’s athletics were also popular on the OAC campus. Though the war effort led to the cancellation of the the hockey and tennis seasons, OAC’s ladies completed intercollegiately in swimming and intramurally in basketball and soccer. Nearly 300 students turned out to participate in basketball, the women’s sport with the longest history at OAC.


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Linus Pauling and Paul Emmett (back row) with a group including Pauling’s sisters Lucile (3rd from left) and Pauline (far right), 1919. Paul Emmett and Pauline Pauling married some fifty-seven years after this photo was taken.

After living on campus during his freshman year, Pauling spent the fall 1918 term rooming with Lloyd Jeffress, a friend from his childhood who had first introduced him to the chemistry a few years back. In addition to this crucially important experience, it was through Jeffress that Pauling also met Paul Emmett, a fellow OAC student who would become a close friend, research partner and, eventually, brother-in-law.

Just as Pauling had been academically successful in his freshman year, so too did he excel in the classroom during his sophomore year. Taking courses including engineering physics, metallurgy, analytical chemistry, and mining engineering, Pauling received all A’s in his math and science classes throughout the year, and a complete 4.0 grade point average in his winter term. In addition to his schoolwork, Pauling was a member of the Miner’s Club. This group took field trips to study mine surveying, mining geology, and mining methods throughout the year. These excursions were particularly fascinating to Pauling as he had already been interested in rocks and minerals for many years.


The OAC student body was a very vocal bunch who often took to their school newspaper, The Barometer, to voice their opinion. One particular issue of common concern was the fight to resume programmatic social functions. Temporarily banned during the war, activities of this sort still had not been reinstated by the beginning of the winter 1919 academic term.

In response to growing unrest, college administrators created a social events committee, comprised solely of faculty members, to which the students offered their complaints. As a result of this dialogue, the first school-sponsored social function of the year – aside from a series of Armistice celebrations – was a “Greater O.A.C.” dance held on Saturday, February 1, 1919.


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Illustration included in the 1918-1919 Beaver yearbook.

In the spring, an exciting and important opportunity was extended to Pauling: an offer to join the Gamma Tau Beta fraternity. Pauling eagerly pledged, despite being troubled by the feeling that he had been selected mostly to raise the house grade point average. By 1919, OAC’s Greeks had established a reputation of regularly compiling a collective GPA that was higher than the college average, and Pauling suspected that his invitation may have been in keeping with the continuation of this ambition.

Pauling’s experience in the fraternity was different than anything he had known before. His upper-class house brothers nicknamed him “Peanie” and expected that he, as with his fellow underclassmen, would go out on weekly dates. Pauling was not interested in pursuing this obligation and often feigned illness as a means to excuse himself. Indeed, romantic involvements were mostly a passing afterthought for Pauling in the years prior to his meeting Ava Helen Miller in January 1922.

By the end of spring term, there were at least 25 fraternities and 13 sororities associated with Oregon Agricultural College. Not surprisingly, Greek life on campus was a potent force, and was especially prevalent within the spheres of intramural sports and competitive speech. Gamma Tau Beta regularly competed in both areas and often fared well – in 1919 the house placed second in baseball and track, and third in basketball.

In debate, students from across campus enjoyed taking on topics both serious and comedic. In one instance, competitors were asked to wrestle with the following argument: “Resolved, That an alligator is a better pet than a rhinoceros.” Pauling participated in an inter-class competition that spring and eventually developed a reputation for his oratorical skill.

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Image of the “Nothing But The Truth” cast, 1919

Indeed, once unshackled from the restrictions of war-time, social life took off during spring term. In April, the college’s theater club, Mask and Dagger, performed a farce titled “Nothing but the Truth.” A “stunt show” put on by students throughout campus was also staged during the term. And in addition to the inter-class debate competition, Pauling also participated in a sophomore class party to round out the school year.

Athletically, while fall and winter proved pretty rough, spring brought a couple of OAC victories over rival Oregon in both track and baseball. These wins contributed to a broader sense of good feeling on a campus that had seen some tough times over the past academic year.

Buoyed alongside his classmates was young Linus Pauling. Still just 18 years old, Pauling concluded his sophomore year with excellent grades, an improved social standing through his fraternity, and a job lined up over the summer to test paving materials used on Oregon’s brand new highways.

Pauling’s OAC: Life During Wartime

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SATC cadets being addressed by OAC President William Jasper Kerr, October 1, 1918.

[Examining Linus Pauling’s sophomore year at Oregon Agricultural College, the 1918-19 academic year. This is part 2 of 3.]

While World War I began in the summer of 1914, it was not until April 1917 that the United States entered the field of battle. During this time, Oregon Agricultural College became a significant site for military training and was particularly well-known for producing young enrolled officers. In 1918, a Student Army Training Corps unit was established on campus, and the early period of Linus Pauling’s sophomore year at OAC was dominated by SATC influence.

The SATC was created to allow young men to enroll in the military while still furthering their technical education. From the outset of hostilities, the War Department established as a high priority the need to maintain standards of higher education for the nation’s youth and, in particular, to build practical skills for those who would eventually serve.

While the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) had been established a few years prior, during the war the SATC effectively replaced the roles and responsibilities that the ROTC had been meant to build and organize. Nearly half of all male students at OAC were enrolled in the SATC during the school year, and Pauling was among them. Following the conclusion of the war, Pauling remained active in the ROTC as well. Indeed, by the time that he graduated from OAC, Pauling had been promoted to the rank of Cadet Corporal within local Company H.


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Benton County (Oregon) War Bonds poster, 1918.

The Great War made a tremendous impact on students at OAC and with the establishment of the Corvallis SATC unit the college became a West Coast epicenter for military training. The urgency of a war-time curriculum was partly enabled by a shift away from semesters in favor of an academic quarter system, which allowed for three-month training periods that dovetailed more readily with the military’s needs.

Following American entry into hostilities, OAC also began to heavily promote student enrollment in classes that would support the war effort. Many courses at OAC were likewise adapted to fit the needs of the moment. This shift was most pronounced within the School of Engineering, with courses in mechanical, electrical, experimental, civil, chemical, and mining engineering quickly reimagined to strengthen the student body’s readiness for battle.

For Pauling, who was a chemical engineer, these adjustments manifested in three specific classes that were new to the college’s course offerings: “Explosives” in fall term, “Camp Drainage/Trenches Issues” in winter term, and “Excavation for War Purposes” in the spring.  As with all other SATC students on campus, Pauling was also committed to a rigorous training schedule, often devoting multiple hours in a day to military drills. These shifts in obligations did nothing to wither his enthusiasm: throughout the war, Pauling remained a steadfast and enthusiastic supporter of the American effort, and was later described as “100% for it” by his cousin Mervyn Stephenson.

Indeed, during the war years, communities across the United States were enveloped by a wave of nationalistic feeling, and Corvallis was no exception. On October 1, 1918, the community put forth a Pledge of Loyalty with 3,000 male students, between 700-800 female students, and nearly 10,000 Benton Country residents signing on. Uncle Sam was likewise a regular character in the school’s newspaper, The Barometer.


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A portrait Pauling in his military dress, 1918.

World War I came to a conclusion mid-way through Fall term and, as might be expected, November 11, 1918 proved to be a significant day on the OAC campus. Upon hearing the news that the war was over, spontaneous celebrations rocketed through campus, and within days there had been multiple parades and assemblies honoring those who had served. Notably, war-time restrictions on social functions were also temporarily lifted to allow students to gather in good cheer.

And while the armistice did not bring with it an immediate dismantling of war-time activities, the thoughts of many began to shift toward ideas on reconstruction in the post-war period. Students throughout campus debated the specifics of how best to proceed through the months and years ahead, with many agreeing on a global industrialized democracy as the ideal for moving forward. In letters to The Barometer, multiple students further commented on the role that higher education would play in this vision for the future. One writer perceptively offered that OAC had become an important breeding ground for future leaders and

will have to broaden out into bigger lines of thinking, for the world is demanding real leaders who are more than technical leaders.

In another demonstration of the lasting effects of the war, the Oregon legislature passed a law in the months following the Armistice that made military training compulsory for high school boys throughout the state. Similar regulations remained in colleges like OAC, where ROTC programs had already been mandatory for male students.

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Dedication of the Memorial Union, June 1, 1929

Oregon Agricultural College lost 51 students and staff in battle during World War I. Their collective sacrifice was not forgotten by OAC, an institution that took seriously its long tradition of military service. In 1920, proposals for a student activity center that would “stand as a lasting memorial erected to the honor and memory of the students and alumni who gave their lives in the service of their country” began to circulate on campus. Pledges were solicited not long after and, in 1927, excavation began in the heart of campus. Completed in 1928 and dedicated a year later, the Memorial Union now serves as a warm, welcoming and universally beloved space for OSU students to study, socialize, rest and reflect.

Pauling’s OAC: Sophomore Year

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Linus Pauling, age 17.

[Ed Note: Another academic year begins this week at Oregon State University. This fall also marks the 100th anniversary of Linus Pauling’s sophomore year at what was once known as Oregon Agricultural College. This is post 1 of 3 looking back on Pauling’s experience of the 1918-1919 school year.]

On September 23, 1918, a Monday, 350 sophomore students returned to Oregon Agricultural College to resume their classes after a long summer break. Among them was seventeen-year-old Linus Pauling who, because of his ROTC commitments, had split his vacation between an intensive six-week military training course at the Presidio Army post in San Francisco, and a job working at a shipyard in Tillamook, Oregon.

Pauling was excited to return to Corvallis because it meant that he could once again frolic with his first love, chemistry. A Chemical Engineering major in OAC’s College of Mines, Pauling thoroughly enjoyed his courses. He also appreciated the overall college experience and felt comfortable in the close-knit community that OAC embraced and advertised.

A total of 4,086 students registered at OAC throughout the 1918-1919 school year, and among them were 86 Chemical Engineers. More popular majors at the Land Grant school included Mechanical Engineering – which accounted for a quarter of enrolled students – Agriculture, Home Economics, and Commerce.

Fall term also marked the opening of a new academic unit at OAC, the School of Vocational Education. Included within this unit were the departments of Education, Psychology, Agricultural Education, Home Economics Education, and Industrial Education. The stated mission of the new school was to “train teachers in vocational lines for secondary and higher education.” And while this ambition was squarely in line with the broader charge of the college, World War I had also pulled many local teachers away, leaving Oregon’s communities in dire need of more instructors to take their place.

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The reference area in OAC’s new library, housed in current-day Kidder Hall. 1918.

The beginning of a new school year likewise brought with it the opening of OAC’s first designated library, located in what is now known as Kidder Hall. The building was so named in 1964 to honor the first professional librarian to staff the building, Ida A. Kidder, a beloved faculty member whom many referred to as “Ma Kidder.”

Indeed, OAC was in the midst of a period of significant maturation during this time and many faculty members who were then active on campus are now remembered through buildings that bear their name. These individuals include William Jasper Kerr (president of OAC), Ava B. Milam (Dean of Home Economics), Clara H. Waldo (first woman to serve on the OAC Board of Regents), John Andrew Bexell (Dean of the School of Commerce), and others. In 2011, Linus Pauling joined their ranks when the Linus Pauling Science Center was formally dedicated on the western edge of campus.


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Students working in an OAC chemistry lab, circa 1915.

Throughout the school year, Pauling was employed in a chemistry lab, preparing solutions for his fellow students to use in their coursework. Since his father’s death eight years prior, Pauling and his family had been confronted with a severe financial burden and young Linus had been compelled to work to bolster the household economy. This trend continued at OAC, where his wages were meant to fund his higher education, which he valued so deeply. During this time, Pauling had been storing his money with his mother, Belle, in Portland, and she had been unknowingly using the savings to keep herself and her two daughters afloat. This turn of events would become the source of a major interruption to Pauling’s education down the road.

Two disruptions of more immediate concern defined much of Pauling’s sophomore year: U.S. involvement in World War I and the deadly outbreak of Spanish Influenza. The arrival of the flu wreaked havoc on Corvallis students from the outset of the term: within the first month of fall, four students had fallen ill and a handful of new cases were being reported each week. In response, OAC converted it’s YMCA/YWCA facility, present-day Shepard Hall, into a hospital to attend to all who had fallen ill. The college also brought in two nurses and a new physician specifically to handle the epidemic.

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Mervyn Stephenson with his cousin at Kiger Island, south of Corvallis.

But amidst the seriousness of the times, the end of Pauling’s sophomore year did bring several pieces of exciting news. For one, Pauling’s cousin, Mervyn Stephenson, was set to graduate. Part of a graduating class of 130 students, Stephenson was one of five to complete a degree in civil engineering. Immediately following the completion of his coursework, Stephenson was taken on to work with famed bridge engineer Conde B. McCullough in southern Oregon.

That spring, OAC also received approval to begin construction of a new engineering building, present-day Graf Hall. This new space would include modernized lab equipment for OAC’s faculty and engineers-in-training, including a hydraulic testing center, a material testing center, and a steam and gas engine laboratory. While not directly focused on the needs of the college’s chemical engineers, the new space was an indication of OAC’s commitment to its engineering curriculum and surely a source of excitement for Linus Pauling and many others who inhabited his world.

Pauling’s OSAC Honorary Doctorate

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Linus Pauling at Oregon State Agricultural College in June 1933. The 1933 commencement program stated that Pauling was “now acclaimed among the distinguished scientists of our time.” Included in the photograph (left to right) are Dr. Marvin Gordon Neale, Commencement speaker; David C. Henny, honorary degree recipient; Pauling; Dr. William J. Kerr, Chancellor of the Oregon State System of Higher Education and OSAC president from 1907-1932; and Charles A. Howard, honorary degree recipient.

[Ed Note: This weekend is commencement weekend at Oregon State University, and to mark the occasion we thought we would look back at Graduation Day 1933 at Oregon State Agricultural College, a commencement exercise distinguished by Linus Pauling’s receipt of an honorary doctorate from his undergraduate alma mater.]

The early years of Linus Pauling’s academic career were marked by a dizzying array of accomplishments. Offered an assistant professorship by Caltech at the conclusion of his graduate studies in 1927, he was promoted to full professor just four years later. And by 1933, he oversaw twice as many graduate students and post-doctoral fellows as any other professor at the Institute.

His Caltech salary also increased substantially during this time, the result of his having received numerous offers from other institutions trying to pry him away from Pasadena. Since he was usually asked to teach only one seminar per term, he was also left with plenty of time to conduct research, often as a visiting professor at nearby universities.

Perhaps most notably, he had also won the first ever Langmuir Award, granted in 1931 for his research in structural chemistry. A.C. Langmuir, the brother of Nobel chemist Irving Langmuir, established the award for “outstanding chemical research,” defined to be work of unique merit conducted by an individual in the beginning stages of their career. In granting the award to Pauling, A.C. Langmuir recognized Pauling to be a rising star and predicted that he would one day win the Nobel Prize. In many respects, the award launched Pauling into the public eye.

Around this time, Pauling gave a seminar at Caltech on the quantum mechanics of the chemical bond that famously baffled Albert Einstein, who was in attendance. Not long after, Pauling became the youngest individual ever invited to join the National Academy of Sciences. It is no wonder then that Caltech’s chemistry chief A.A. Noyes remarked that Pauling was “the most promising young man with whom I have had contact in my many years of teaching.”


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Pasadena Post, September 27, 1933

Where Pauling’s talent was coming to the attention of the broader scientific community in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Oregon State Agricultural College had recognized Pauling’s potential much earlier, during his years as an undergraduate. In May 1933, perhaps seeking to strike while the iron was hot, OSAC sent Pauling a telegram offering him an honorary doctorate of science, which would be his first. Despite the short notice, Pauling promptly and eagerly agreed to be present for the commencement ceremony, which would take place on June 5, 1933. Not long after, he hopped in his car and drove from Pasadena to Corvallis to partake in alumni events scheduled for the preceding weekend.

Recent changes at Pauling’s alma mater made this honorary degree all the more impressive. In 1932, the Oregon State Board of Higher Education established what was then called the Oregon State System of Higher Education to manage the affairs of colleges and universities in Oregon, an arrangement that remained in place for more than eighty years. Oregon State president William Jasper Kerr subsequently became the first chancellor of the system.

Over time, Oregon State University has both decentralized and simplified the process by which it decides to award honorary doctorates. In contrast, the decision to award Pauling his doctorate required the agreement of numerous individuals from the top of the system on down. Specifically, Pauling was recommended by the state system’s administrative council, approved by Chancellor Kerr, and endorsed by the board of higher education.


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Pauling was one of three alumni to receive an honorary degree from Oregon State Agricultural College that year. The others were David C. Henry, a consulting engineer in Portland who received his honorary doctorate of Engineering, and Charles Howard, the state superintendent of public institutions in Oregon, who received an honorary Doctorate of Education. Dr. Marvin Gorden Neale, president of the University of Idaho, gave the commencement address that afternoon. In his speech, delivered in the early years of the Depression, Neale spoke of the need to fight against critics of the education system and to work to insure that support for land grant colleges and universities didn’t slip away.

When the moment came to introduce Linus Pauling, William Jasper Kerr listed off a string of accomplishments amassed since Pauling’s 1922 graduation from Oregon Agricultural College. In addition to the Languir Prize and the National Academy of Sciences admission, Kerr also emphasized Pauling’s achievements during his two years as a Guggenheim fellow, his authorship of over fifty scientific articles, and his appointment as a full-time professor at Caltech.


The evening report published in the Corvallis Gazette-Times newspaper leaned heavily on Pauling’s local roots and agreed with others’ assessment that Pauling’s future was bright. The paper also reported that 486 degrees were conferred at the 1933 commencement: 418 bachelor’s degrees, 52 graduate degrees, and 13 pharmaceutical chemistry diplomas.

OSAC Executive Secretary W. A. Jensen wrote to Pauling following the ceremony to confide that his award had been one of the most heartily endorsed doctorates he could remember. He also conveyed the encouragement and approval of Pauling’s burgeoning career that had been relayed by many on campus. Jensen concluded his memo with an increasingly common idea: “The Nobel Prize is just ahead!”

When Science published news of Pauling’s accomplishment, Fred Allen, another Oregon State alumnus, wrote Pauling to congratulate him. In his letter, Allen joked

I am proud that our alma mater could break away from the precedent which has stumbling over one’s beard a prerequisite to an honorary degree.

Indeed, Pauling was only 32 when awarded his first honorary doctorate, just eleven years removed from his undergraduate program. The two other recipients of honorary degrees at the 1933 graduation ceremony were decades older than Pauling.

Pauling would ultimately accumulate 47 honorary degrees over the course of his lifetime. For a man of such decoration, it would seem fitting that his first honorary degree came from his alma mater, a school that encouraged his passion for science well before he became nationally recognized. The honor captured an important moment in Pauling’s career and provided a glimpse of what was to come.