Pauling’s OAC: Completing the Freshman Year

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President William Jasper Kerr speaks to members of the Students’ Army Training Corps, as assembled near the OAC bandstand, 1918.

[Part 4 of 4 in our series examining the Oregon Agricultural College that Linus Pauling knew during his freshman year, 1917-1918. Fall 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of Pauling’s enrollment at his undergraduate alma mater, known today as Oregon State University.]

Linus Pauling’s freshman year at Oregon Agricultural was spiced up a bit by a little administrative drama. Beloved OAC President William Jasper Kerr, who been appointed ten years prior in 1907, was being courted by Kansas Agricultural College, at that point the largest “aggie school” in the United States. An “insistent” Kansas board of higher education offered Dr. Kerr the presidency of KAC and a salary of $9,000 per year, compensation far beyond anything that OAC could propose.

The Kansas offer was met with heartfelt concern from OAC’s students, one of whom stated in a Barometer article that “every friend of the College hopes the President may decline the offer.” Of this moment, Pauling later recalled

Directly after I arrived in Corvallis, in the fall of 1917, there was a big rally with a couple of thousand of students marching down to the President’s House, singing songs that had been made up for the occasion, urging him to stay here instead of going to Kansas State College, in Manhattan, Kansas….that was one of my memories of one of the exciting events during my first year.

In December, the campus shared a collective sigh of relief when it became public that Kerr had decided to stay. Speculating about this turn of events, The Barometer suggested that “President Kerr’s decision seems to have been made chiefly on the grounds of the splendid opportunities afforded in Oregon through the cooperation of the able and united forces that have supported his administration.”

Kerr’s presidency would continue for another fifteen years, coming to a close only upon his acceptance of the position of Chancellor of the Oregon State System of Higher Education. His leadership was key to the success of OAC, which grew significantly during his years of service.


Pauling at track practice, Bell Field, Oregon Agricultural College. 1917.

Pauling hurdling at Bell Field during his short-lived track career, 1918.

Pauling came away from his first semester of college with five A’s, two B’s, and a D in Mechanical Drawing. (Of Pauling’s one notably poor mark during the term, biographer Tom Hager writes, “he wasn’t patient enough to let the ink dry on his work, Pauling remembered, and kept smudging it.”)

Spring semester for Pauling revolved around a heavy course load that included Integral Calculus, Descriptive Geology, French, and Qualitative Analysis. It was during this semester that he also received his only failing letter grade, the product of an unsuccessful attempt to circumvent the physical education requirement by joining the school track team. His try-out was, evidently, a mess, and he did not make the team. Once this gambit had failed, Pauling chose not to return to the Gym class in which he was enrolled, as his course load was proving to be quite heavy. (He took, and passed, the required class later on during his OAC career.)

Though encumbered by significant responsibilities outside of the classroom – including the lack of a permanent address and the need to work multiple jobs to make ends meet – Pauling completed his first year with seven A’s, one B, and two C’s – one in Descriptive Geometry and the other in Camp Cookery. The grade scale that OAC used at the time included a letter grade “E,” meaning that OAC marks of B, C and D were comparable to contemporary grades of A-, B+, and B-. As such, Pauling’s freshman academic record was really quite superb, both within his major and across the military and liberal arts courses that were required of him.

As Pauling’s academic excellence mounted, so too did the invitations to join a number of honor societies. By the time of his graduation in 1922, Pauling was a member of the Scabbard and Blade military honorary, and had served as secretary of the Sigma Tau engineering honor society, treasurer of the Chemical Engineering Association, and president of the Chi Epsilon civil engineering honor society.


 

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Two OAC classes battle in the tug of war, 1912. The competition was often held at the nearby millrace, with the losing class obliged to take a dip.

Socially, the 1917 school year broadly conformed to the calendars that had defined previous years, though a few changes were necessitated by World War I, particularly during spring semester 1918.

Because a significant portion of the men in the junior and senior class had left campus for Officers’ Training Camp, springtime saw a premature rendition of Junior Weekend. The commencing affair was “Junior Flunk Day,” while other happenings included the “Fresh-Soph Tug-of-War.” Pauling’s class, the freshmen, won this display of strength and, after watching this apparent disgrace, the juniors challenged the seniors and won. Junior Prom followed the tug-of-war and was treated as a sendoff for the young men leaving for the European theater. Previously a formal event, the conditions brought about by war rendered the 1918 Junior Prom more of an informal affair.

Outside of socializing on campus at dances and club events, students in Corvallis often entertained themselves with a night out. Popular activities included seeing movies at the Majestic Theater and ending the night with ice cream at Winkley’s Creamery. Another hot spot for spending time and grabbing a bite to eat was Andrews & Kerr, which served “Hooverized” waffles and offered a location where “seniors enjoyed high jinks.” Pauling was fond of A&K’s and frequented it when he could afford to, especially after seeing a show downtown.

The concluding social activities of the year transpired during Graduation Week and consisted primarily of events tailored to the graduating class. One notable highlight was the Senior Picnic Breakfast at A&K’s, complete with “bacon, coffee, oranges, eggs, buns, and doughnuts.” Other events included the dedication of the class monument and, as post-commencement exercises, an Alumni Ball and Banquet.

Overall, the 1917-1918 school year at Oregon Agricultural College was an eventful and productive one, if shadowed throughout by the specter of war across the Atlantic. The OAC to which Pauling had been introduced was a varied and multifaceted institution, buoyed by an enthusiasm for shaping students into engaged, innovative, and community-oriented citizens. These principles and this spirit left a mark on Linus Pauling, just as he made an impact on the college and, later, the world.

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Rook Life

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Pauling outside his boarding house, first term of his freshman year at OAC.

[Part 3 of 4 in our examination of the Oregon Agricultural College that Linus Pauling came to know during his freshman year. Fall 2017 marks the one-hundredth anniversary of Pauling’s enrollment at OAC, known today as Oregon State University.]

Each year, students arrived from around the state, country, and abroad to attend Oregon Agricultural College. For the 1917-18 school year, OAC boasted a student body of over 4,00 men and women. Long requested by the student body, the number of college personnel also began to rise that year, with totals nearing 200 faculty members. And despite the onset of American involvement in World War I during the previous spring, OAC’s fall 1917 registration was its largest ever. Contributing to this was the fact that more women had enrolled for the 1917-18 school year than had ever previously been the case at the college.

One member of this large first-year class was a sixteen-year-old Portland resident, Linus Pauling. Once arrived in Corvallis, Pauling, in his diary, described his living situation, a boarding house close to campus, noting that “I have a nice big room, much larger than two boys usually have. I will share it with a sophomore named Murhard.” He likewise recorded these observations of two other young men sharing a room in the same house

they are two rooks; one, a 20 yr. old talkative fellow, named Hofman, weight 175# and always talks about his girl, Millicent, nicknamed “Titter.” The other, Henry, is a very quiet, small young man, but slightly deaf.  He will take Commerce, and Hofman will take Forestry.

Pauling left the boarding house after Fall semester and, because he was unable to find a permanent place of residence, he often wound up staying with friends during the Spring. Viewed through a modern lense, it would not be a stretch to say that Pauling was effectively homeless for this period of his studies at OAC.


Early on, Pauling expressed a great deal of insecurity in his potential to excel at the college. It did not take very long, however, before he discovered that his merit in academics had very clearly carried over from his high achieving ways in high school.

During the fall semester, Pauling registered for a typical collection of first-year classes, including Modern English Prose, Drill, and Gym. In addition, he began working through the core curriculum for Chemical Engineering majors, taking courses like General Chemistry, Mining Industry, and Calculus.

As he moved forward through his coursework, Pauling found that his high school education, though incomplete – he had not taken a required history class and did not graduate from Washington High School – was more than satisfactory. So pleased was he by the preparation that he had received for college, that he wrote a letter thanking his high school math teacher, Virgil Earl, for having done an exceptional job.

Earl replied to Pauling with gratitude and encouraging words, saying, “you have the ability and the disposition to work so I feel sure that you will succeed in your chosen work.” Earl’s point of view would soon be reflected by waves of praise and admiration extended by many of Pauling’s OAC professors.


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Pauling wearing his “rook lid,” ca. 1917.

Student functions played an outsized role in the undergraduate experience at Oregon Agricultural College. Activities and meetings were held each week and larger gatherings, such as dances, were hosted with great frequency.

Socially, the school year was underway once the YWCA-YMCA welcome reception had been hosted. This event, which was basically a dance, was put on by the two clubs to familiarize first-year students with the social dynamic of their new home. The 1917 welcome dance took place in the Men’s Gym (now Langton Hall) where the College president, William Jasper Kerr, kicked off festivities by addressing the assembled student population. The rest of October saw Mask and Dagger theatrical auditions, a senior reception held for the “frosh,” and an informal band dance. Class and student body elections also took place at the end of October.

In addition to cultivating a culture of of student involvement, the college did its best to stoke long-running social traditions. Pauling took these rituals seriously and commented on how they had strengthened his school spirit. By the end of his first month in college, he noted in his diary that “I am getting along alright. Have lots of beaver pep.”


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The Burning of the Green, 1925.

Central to many of these traditions was one’s class standing. First-year students were colloquially called “rooks” and “rookesses,” and were made to wear green caps (for men) or ribbons (for women) to denote their status. At the end of the year, students burned their “frosh” paraphernalia in a bonfire held just south of the Women’s Gymnasium.

Beyond hats and ribbons, amicable competitions and friendly rivalries between grade levels was an aspect of life at OAC which continued year round. Many of these events were staged during Homecoming, which took place annually during a fall weekend and focused intently on the college’s athletic teams as well as class rivalries. Sophomores and freshmen went head to head in both a bag rush and a football game, while all class levels participated in a three mile cross-country race. Intercollegiate sporting events during the 1917 Homecoming weekend included a soccer game between OAC and the University of Oregon, which O.A.C won, as well as a 6-0 home loss in football to Washington State College.

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The 1914 OAC Freshman-Sophomore Bag Rush.

The culminating event of the weekend was Sunday’s open house, during which undergraduates met and talked with alumni who had returned to campus. Of this experience the Beaver yearbook recounted, “all in all, it was a great success and the old fireplaces again welcomed familiar faces, and the undergraduates listened to stories of the ‘Good Old Times.'”

Another annual happening, The Co-Ed Ball, was held solely for the women of the college. Unsurprising, given the rising number of women attending OAC, 1917’s Co-Ed Ball was the largest in school history, with “four hundred women being present.” The supervisors of this specific occasion included Mary Fawcett, the Dean of Women, and Ida Kidder, the college’s beloved librarian, known to many as “Mother Kidder.”

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Performers in the Women’s Stunt Show, 1925.

The women of the College also sponsored the “Women’s Stunt Show,” for which every women’s organization on campus prepared and performed a skit. In addition to competing for a trophy, the Fawcett Cup, the ultimate goal of the Stunt Show was to raise funds. The 1917 edition succeeded on this front as a total of $400 was collected, with $200 apportioned to the YWCA.

In December, as the end of the term neared, the Intercollegiate Oratorical and Debate Society won its Annual Dual Debate against the University of Oregon. Other notable winter events included two Mask and Dagger shows: “Why the Chimes Rang” and “The Magistrate.” The Military Ball and the Interfraternity Informal rounded out a busy fall calendar for Linus Pauling and his fellow students at Oregon’s land grant college.

Study and Social Life at the Oregon Agricultural College

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OAC students in the Chemistry Lab, 1916. Note the student in military dress – during Linus Pauling’s undergraduate tenure, two years of ROTC were required of all males enrolled at the College.

[Post 2 of 4 examining Oregon Agricultural College during the years contemporary to Linus Pauling’s studies there as an undergraduate. These posts have been written in celebration of the centenary anniversary of Pauling’s enrollment at OAC (now Oregon State University) in Fall 1917.]

In 1908, Oregon Agricultural College adopted a semester system, which remained in place until the quarter system was reinstated in 1919. To graduate with a degree, 136 credits were required, and though an OAC student could not major in any liberal arts discipline at the time, all four-year degrees did require classes in the liberal arts. Linus Pauling fulfilled this requirement largely through foreign language study, taking coursework in French and German throughout his time at OAC. In addition, all students were required to take a gym class as well as an additional class in “Hygiene.”

As a Land Grant school, OAC offered a rich and varied curriculum that offered opportunities for both degree-seeking students as well as those wishing to bolster their practical skill through shorter vocational courses. The College was organized into seven schools: Agriculture, Commerce, Engineering, Forestry, Home Economics, Mining, and Pharmacy. The College also offered an affiliated but financially self-supporting School of Music, which was created at the behest of OAC students in 1908.

Some of OAC’s schools offered a wide breadth of options for their majors while others, such as Pharmacy, focused on a sole course of study. In the main, however, the variety of classes offered for students in most disciplines was staggering. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this was especially true of Agriculture, which offered seventeen “areas of specialty,” or majors. Included were emphases in Animal Husbandry, Bacteriology (the forerunner to modern-day Biology), Botany and Plant Pathology, Farm Mechanics (now Bioengineering), Soils and Farm Management, and Zoology.

Engineering was another popular course of study, perhaps second only to Agriculture, at least among male students. Within the School of Engineering, majors included Civil Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Highway Engineering, Industrial Arts, Irrigation Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering. In addition, other Schools offered engineering-centric degrees that pertained to their respective fields. For example, the School of Forestry advertised a degree in Logging Engineering and the School of Mines housed both the Mining Engineering degree as well as the Chemical Engineering curriculum.

Linus Pauling entered OAC with a particularly keen interest in chemistry, but he could not major in the discipline as, per state edict, the only School of Science operating at the time was located at the University of Oregon. Instead, Pauling chose the next best option, chemical engineering, as administered by the School of Mines. As he began his introductory coursework, Pauling may have found the classroom to be a bit more crowded than did previous first-term freshmen — the OAC Barometer, reporting on a bump in Engineering majors, hypothesized an invigorated interest “due to the demand for engineers in military service.”


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OAC Home Economics students posing with children outside of the Withycombe “practice house.”

Women at the college predominately gravitated towards Home Economics, though a smaller number sought out degrees within the School of Commerce, majoring, more often than not, in Secretarial Studies. The School of Home Economics was organized into four degree paths: Domestic Art, Domestic Science, Home Administration, and Institutional Management. Specific Home Economics courses included Home Nursing, Sanitation of the Home, Dress Making, and Costume Design. The school also offered a year-long vocational course to men in Camp Cookery.

For additional scholastic development, women seeking degrees could hone their domestic skills in the college’s “practice house.” Opened in 1916, the Withycombe House was made available to interested Home Economics students who lived in the building for two months at a time, rotating through a variety of assigned duties during that time.

As mandated by the Morrill Act of 1862, men attending the College – including those enrolled in shorter vocational courses – were required to participate in military training. A ROTC program was officially established in 1917, Pauling’s freshman year, replacing the Cadet Corps that had existed previously. By the time that ROTC was implemented, the military organization at the College consisted of “one regiment of infantry, a hospital corps, signal corps detachment, and a band of fifty instruments.” Heading into 1918, as the U.S. ramped up its involvement in the Great War, OAC became a military hub of consequence for the state of Oregon, a scenario that repeated itself in the early 1940s.


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The pool housed in the basement of Shepard Hall, home to OAC’s YWCA operations.

Beyond scholarly inquiry and military training, the College strongly encouraged student involvement in extracurricular activities. This sentiment was echoed in advice that Pauling transcribed into his diary before he started college, wherein it was suggested that he “not take a number of extra [class] hours, but should try to do something for the school.”

OAC promoted a vibrant social environment for its students by fostering the creation and growth of student clubs and organizations. Most prominently, OAC was home to a number of Greek letter societies – one of which Pauling joined during his sophomore year – and other living organizations. Each dormitory and department as well as, in certain cases, specific majors, also sponsored their own club. As an incoming student studying in the College of Mines, Linus Pauling was naturally a member of the Miner’s Club.

The YMCA and the YWCA were also prominent organizations on campus, holding sway over many areas of campus social life and volunteerism. The YWCA, for example, organized the Campus Auxiliary of the National Red Cross so that the women of the College could fulfill their patriotic duty to “do their bit” in support of the war effort. To provide a base of operations for the YMCA and the YWCA, the College built Shepard Hall, which the two Y-organizations eventually shared with the Student Employment Bureau.

The College also housed organizations such as the Mask and Dagger – responsible for campus theatrical performances – the Oratorical Association, and the Intercollegiate Debate and Oratory organization. Likewise supported were location-based clubs that enabled students to connect with others who hailed from similar geographic backgrounds, especially California and Washington.

Central to the flow of information on campus were student publications, in particular the student newspaper, The Barometer. Published bi-weekly, students could find information in each edition on current events happening within the state and beyond, as well as notices of upcoming activities and meetings at the College. During Pauling’s time, the newspaper also regularly reported on humorous social slights in a column titled “We Have Observed That.”

This same lightheartedness permeated the final pages of the 1919 Beaver Yearbook in a section titled “The Disturber,” in which editorial staff ruthlessly poked fun at Greek letter organizations, other student publications, and the ROTC. While OAC prided itself on maintaining a serious scholastic environment and participated vigorously in the war effort, it is clear that the College’s students, in time-honored fashion, were intent on seeking out fun during their college years.

Through careful consideration and development of infrastructure and community principles, OAC provided a productive and agreeable setting for Oregon’s students to pursue a higher education. From diverse coursework to copious social opportunities, the College “within the vail of western mountains” provided students and professors with ample support to enrich themselves and their communities. These values clearly made an impact on the young Linus Pauling and continued to permeate his world view in the years that followed his departure from Corvallis.

Pauling’s OAC

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OAC rooks running through a large O at Bell Field, 1914.

[Ed Note: Today is the first day of Fall classes here at Oregon State University, and this month also marks the one-hundredth anniversary of Linus Pauling’s enrollment at what was then known as Oregon Agricultural College. Today’s post is part 1 of 4 examining the school that Pauling attended for his undergraduate education as well as the ways in which Pauling navigated life as a “rook” on campus.]

In the fall of 1917, a newcomer to Oregon Agricultural College, such as incoming freshman Linus Pauling, would have encountered a lively student population housed in commanding buildings. This same newcomer would likewise come into contact with a campus bustling with wartime activity and on the cusp of precipitous change.

From humble beginnings, OAC had, by 1917, developed into an institution admired by the bulk of Oregon’s residents — even those supporting the College’s rival, forty-five miles to the south. The College, by now steeped in the Land Grant tradition that had energized state schools across the country, sought to educate students, conduct research and, importantly, foster a connection with Oregon’s communities.

By the time that Pauling arrived, the campus infrastructure consisted of 349 acres, 91 of them constituting the main campus. The remaining acreage, located just outside the Corvallis city limits, formed areas for studying and maintaining livestock, poultry, and horticulture. At the time, the community boasted of 6,000 residents, “free mail delivery…many churches and no saloons.” Living in a city that derived its name from the Latin for “heart of the valley”, members of the OAC community took great pride in their scenic surroundings.

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The OAC campus as it looked in 1911.

During this period, the Administration Building (known now Benton Hall) served as the centerpiece of campus. Funded by the local townspeople as a show of support once OAC had received its federal land grant, the Administration Building was completed in 1889 and still stands today, the oldest building on Oregon State’s campus.

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Present-day Benton Hall, 1889.

To accommodate growing numbers of students and faculty, the number of buildings populating OAC’s campus increased each year, with 1917 being no exception. Specifically, the fall of 1917 saw the unveiling of the Forestry Building, now known as Moreland Hall, and its completion brought the total number of buildings on the OAC campus to thirty-six. Other notable structures of the era included the Agriculture Building (now Strand Agricultural Hall)—the largest edifice on campus at the time—the Dairy Building (now Gilkey Hall), the Home Economics Building (now Milam Hall), and Science Hall (present-day Furman Hall), all of which had been constructed in recent years.

The College was clearly growing. And yet, despite these developments, Corvallis remained a rural community in spirit, while Oregon Agricultural College, as the name suggests, was largely agrarian in its focus, with secondary emphasis paid to all manner of practical skill-building.


 

Tuition at Oregon Agricultural College did not exist. Indeed, in a technical sense, the school was free to all, including out of state and international students. That said, there were certain fees dispensed throughout a student’s college experience. Some fees were assessed yearly while others were collected for one-time events, such as graduation.

There were also fees or additional costs associated with particular courses. For example, students were required to purchase “gymnasium suits” for their PE classes, and other fees were mandated for courses incurring laboratory expenses. Between yearly fees, semester fees, and a diploma fee, early twentieth century undergraduates could count on spending at least sixty-one dollars during the time that it took to complete a four-year degree.

With the cost of attendance so low, the principle fiscal concern for students came in the form of room and board costs. Women, who were required to live with family or on campus in either Cauthorn Hall (now Fairbanks Hall) or Waldo Hall, could expect to pay ten to twenty dollars per semester for rooming, depending on whether they chose a single or a double room. Male students, for whom no campus housing was available, could find lodging in private homes for approximately sixteen to twenty dollars a month, culminating in a yearly expense that might approach two-hundred dollars at the high end. Excluding funds for transportation, amusement, and other needs, such as clothing, a year at OAC was estimated to cost men between $346.20 – $401.20, and women $107.00 – $227.00.

Linus Pauling, 1917.

Pauling on campus, 1917

For Linus Pauling, who came from a humble background, finances were a great and continuing concern throughout his first year of college. In the diary that he maintained for much of the year, he meticulously tracked his spending habits in an effort to make every penny count. Before the school year began, he estimated that his expenses would sum to $297. However, by late October – just a month into his first term – he revised his initial approximation, noting

I have spent about $125 already. Board will be $175 more – 300 altogether. Then my numerous expenses will mount up. I do not expect to get off for less than $325.

In its annual catalogs, OAC emphasized that students could earn money for food and housing by working for a few hours every week. More specifically, according to the College, a student could work three hours a day for room expenses and four hours a day to cover both room and board costs. Administrative work and stenography were preferred by students, rendering these jobs in high demand.

To aid in the job searching process, the College provided a Student Employment Bureau. In highlighting this service, the College catalog took pains to stress that “no student should come expecting to earn money if he can do nothing well; skill is essential, as competition is quite severe in the College community as elsewhere.”

A Lecture Interrupted and a Campus Torn Apart

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[Part 2 of 2]

The Oregon State University Black Student Union’s (BSU) decision to interrupt a convocation featuring Linus Pauling and to stage a subsequent walkout off of campus were sparked by an incident involving an African American student athlete at OSU. As documented in multiple later accounts, on February 22, 1969 OSU football player Fred Milton broke team rules by refusing to shave his goatee.  Although this conflict occurred during the off-season, Oregon State football coach Dee Andros – an ex-Marine affectionately known as “The Great Pumpkin” – believed that he still maintained authority over his players and their appearance.  Andros gave Milton a forty-eight hour deadline to comply with the team rule. If he continued to resist, he would be cut from the team, which would mean he would also lose his OSU scholarship.

The BSU took on Milton’s cause and began planning peaceful measures to publicly express their solidarity and to bring awareness to the struggles that African American students were facing on the OSU campus. The actions that the agreed to put in play included a sit-in at a public event, a class boycott, and a campus walkout. The group also began publishing an underground newspaper, The Scab Sheet, which they viewed to be an important alternative to the OSU Daily Barometer, the student daily that had assumed an editorial stance tfavorable to Andros’ perspective.

The BSU believed the Milton case to be an infringement of a student’s rights to individual self-expression.  The group also pointed out that this was not the first black student athlete who had come into conflict with Andros’ policies; in the past, others had been told to keep their hair short and to not wear medallions.  BSU President Mike Smith explained that, although the policies were extended across the athletic department, they were based on standards set by white society, and that black student athletes were pressured to conform to them.

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OSU football coach Dee Andros holding telegrams of support, March 1969.

The first of the BSU’s peaceful protest actions began with a sit-in at a campus lecture, which was to be given by Linus Pauling on the morning of February 25, 1969.  The speech, titled “Advancement of Knowledge: Ortho-Molecular Psychiatry,” was one of seven presentations scheduled over three days as part of the OSU centenary celebration. The series celebrated the first hundred years of Oregon State by looking toward the future with a general theme of “The Second Hundred Years.” To encourage campus participation, the university cancelled all classes that conflicted with the seven presentations.  The formal lectures were to be followed by a discussion period in which students would be given the opportunity to dialogue with each of the invited speakers.

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Pauling’s speech is interrupted during his introduction. Pauling, seated, is obscured at right by the state of Oregon flag.

As Pauling was being introduced, an estimated seventy Black Student Union members and supporters filed into Gill Coliseum, the school’s basketball arena and the location for Pauling’s lecture. The BSU students subsequently took control of the dais, while Pauling remained seated. Mike Smith, the BSU president, and sophomore defensive back Rich Harr explained the group’s reasons for staging the interruption and also announced a boycott of athletic events that would start that weekend.  The speakers likewise called for white student support, noting that this was not just about the treatment of black student athletes, but of all students on campus. These sentiments were repeated later at a rally held in front of OSU’s Memorial Union.

After about twenty minutes, the protesters left the gym.  The large crowd that had assembled for Pauling’s talk gave a mixed response, though the majority of students applauded the BSU’s statements.  In an oral history interview conducted in 2011, OSU chemistry professor emeritus Ken Hedberg, a close friends of Pauling’s, remembered the participants as having been “very well behaved.”

A strong supporter of individual rights, Pauling was uncertain as to why Milton could not wear a beard and later noted that he never succeeded in receiving a straight answer from the university’s administration concerning the rationale for this policy. Paulng also expressed a belief that the sentiment displayed on his alma mater’s campus mirrored trends at other universities and that, as with many other institutions, the roots of these brewing conflicts lay mostly with the administration’s inability to recognize the problem and to take measures to fix it.

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In the days following the lecture sit-in, OSU President James Jensen took steps to reconcile with the BSU, but he did not meet with success. On March 1, the BSU announced the next in its series of actions to stand up for the rights of African American students at OSU.  Class boycotts followed on March 4with hundreds of students, faculty, and staff joining in support.  Athletic events were also boycotted both at OSU and elsewhere, and black athletes in the PAC-8 joined the protest by refusing to participate in games against OSU.

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On March 5, forty-seven black students – essentially the entire African American student population at the school – marched out of the main gate on the east side of OSU’s campus. The walkout began with a rally held in the Memorial Union that included a talk delivered by BSU president Mike Smith.  Speaking to a gathering of more than 1,000 faculty and students, Smith stressed that black students could no longer accept “the plantation logic” upheld by the administration and athletic department at OSU, a “hallowed institution of racism.”  Reporting on these events the next day, the Scab Sheet suggested that the OSU walkout was the first of its kind at an American college or university.

The Oregon State BSU chapter was joined in the walkout by over 100 members from the University of Oregon’s Black Student Union, who chartered buses and drove up to Corvallis to participate in solidarity.  There was also a rally held in sympathy at Portland State University to support the actions on OSU’s campus.  The president of PSU’s Black Student Union spoke at the rally and condemned OSU’s “policy of tradition” as being “not in accord with what’s going on today.”

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African American students walking off the OSU campus, March 5, 1969.

On March 6 the OSU Faculty Senate convened and passed an amended version of an “Administrative Proposal” that had been drafted by the school’s Office of Minority Affairs. This proposal included the creation of a Commission on Human Rights and Responsibilities.

The following day, three students withdrew from the university to seek education elsewhere. In response, the Faculty Senate met again to declare an emergency, an action which allowed the students who withdrew to receive an incomplete on their transcripts rather than a failing grade. Faculty members at the University of Oregon also met around this time to consider a proposal that would allow black students from OSU to be admitted as expediently as possible, should they choose to pursue their education at the university.

In an editorial, the Scab Sheet expressed a lack of surprise that the black students had left. After all,

Arrayed against them was a coalition of the University administration, the Athletic Department, the various athletic supporters, white athletes, Chamber of Commerce and alumni.

Furthermore, the university had earned a reputation for being ill-prepared to deal with minority students, and had compiled a record of inaction in handling problems of this sort. In fact, as explained by the president of the Associated Students of OSU, inaction seemed to be the university’s current formal policy.  Indeed, one year before, the university had turned back over $100,000 in federal funds that had been earmarked for the recruitment of minority students.  In the view of the Scab Sheet, the situation had deteriorated “to the point that blacks could maintain pride and self-respect only by disassociating themselves completely from Oregon State University.”

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The departure of many black students from OSU’s campus in 1969 altered student demographics for many years to come and exacted lasting damage to the university’s reputation within multiple communities. With respect to athletics, Dee Andros was not able to convince a single African American player to join his 1970 recruiting class, and from 1971 to 1998, OSU’s football teams posting losing records, still the longest run of futility in the history of Division I football.

Fred Milton, whose refusal to shave his beard brought decades of tensions to a head, ultimately transferred to Utah State University. Milton later enjoyed a successful career at IBM and Liberty Mutual Insurance, before moving into the public sector as a civil servant working for the city of Portland and Multnomah County. He passed away in 2011 at the age of 62.

Though a painful moment in OSU history, the actions taken by the BSU in winter 1969 led to direct and meaningful changes on the Corvallis campus. Later that year, OSU established the Educational Opportunities Program, which was designed to help recruit and retain students of color. Three cultural centers were also established on campus, each a mechanism for creating community spaces for students of color and a platform for sharing these students’ experience with the broader university community.

The 1969 Black Student Union Walkout

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African American students leaving the OSU campus through its west gate, February 25, 1969.

[Ed Note: We recently received a collection of photographs documenting an important moment in the history of Oregon State University – a walkout of African American students led by OSU’s Black Student Union in winter 1969. While this is largely an OSU story, Linus Pauling did play a role in the event, which we’ll explore this week and next.]

The racial tensions that escalated throughout the 1960s and that made an imprint on universities all across the United States were evident on the campus of Oregon State University as well. In a description that accompanied a photo collection recently accessioned by the OSU Libraries Special Collections and Archives Research Center, photographer Gwil Evans, who was a Journalism professor at OSU at the time, provided some background on event that served as a pivot point for race relations at Oregon State near the end of the 1960s.

In his notes, Evans explained that, on February 25, 1969, members of the OSU Black Student Union interrupted a convocation hosted by President James Jensen at OSU’s Gill Coliseum. The convocation, which was part of a series of events marking the university’s centenary, was to feature a speech by Linus Pauling, Oregon State’s most prominent alum.

The immediate cause of the interruption and subsequent protest was a demand issued by OSU’s football coach, Dee Andros, that one of his players, and African American student athlete named Fred Milton, shave his facial hair. This conflict arose in the context of a longer history of racial tensions on campus, as well as concurrent protests related to tuition hikes and the escalation of the Vietnam War.

There was also an uneasiness associated with the talk itself, both with respect to Pauling’s presence on campus as well as the way in which he was introduced to the large crowd that assembled for his lecture.  These issues dated back many years, stemming from a schism that had developed between Pauling and Oregon State in 1949, due to Pauling’s belief that Ralph Spitzer – a former graduate student of Pauling’s who was fired from his faculty position at Oregon State College – was let go due to his political beliefs.

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Ralph Spitzer.

Pauling had known Spitzer since serving as a Visiting Lecturer at Spitzer’s undergraduate alma mater, Cornell University, in 1937.  Spitzer then went on to complete his Ph.D at Caltech in 1941 under the general supervision of Pauling, and sometimes working directly for Pauling.  The two shared a strong mutual respect and often closed their letters with questions asking after wives, children, and general well-being.  Pauling ultimately helped Spitzer to secure research funding and a teaching position at Oregon State College by providing his pupil with a series of consistently glowing recommendations.

Once they had arrived in Corvallis, Spitzer and his wife Terry became increasingly interested in American social problems as well as a multitude of issues related to the atomic bomb.  This concern in matters well beyond the teaching of chemistry, coupled with Ralph and Terry’s lack of hesitation in voicing their opinions, ultimately resulted in Spitzer’s firing by OSU President August Strand in February 1949.

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Ralph and Terry Spitzer, April 1949.

A letter that Spitzer had published in Chemical and Engineering News supporting Trofim Lysenko’s evolutionary theory of vernalization and, more broadly, Soviet science, provided a useful excuse for the OSC administration to deny renewal of his contract.  Although this was, on a technical level, an acceptable action for the president to take, since Spitzer was not tenured and he was not fired for explicitly political reasons, word of the incident quickly spread across campus and the region.

One of Spitzer’s immediate responses upon being informed of his impending dismissal was to write to Pauling seeking his help.  He also asked for a trial before the American Chemical Society (ACS), which refused to become involved in the incident despite the fact that Pauling himself was president at the time.

Nonetheless, after studying the details of the situation, Pauling wrote to President Strand and informed him that, although he did not hold the same beliefs as Spitzer, he believed his former student was certainly entitled to harbor opinions of this sort, and that OSC needed to honor them as a matter of academic freedom and respect for the principles of democracy.  Speaking as an OSC alumnus, fellow chemist, educator, American, and president of the ACS, Pauling urged Strand to reconsider his decision to fire Spitzer.

Strand responded to Pauling forcefully, writing that

if by this action, Oregon State College has lost your respect and support, all I can say is that your price is too high.  We’ll have to get along without your aid.

And so it was that Pauling did not engage with his alma mater until December 1966, five years after Strand had retired from his post

Though the ice between Pauling and OSU had been broken a couple years prior, the situation remained awkward as he arrived on campus for the centenary lecture series. Of particular note, Strand’s successor as OSU President, James Jensen, elected not to introduce Pauling. Instead, Bert Christensen, who was chair of the OSU Chemistry department, was asked to fill this role. This decision was far from customary for a visitor of Pauling’s magnitude and was viewed by many as an affront.

Pauling himself made note of being surprised upon learning of this breach in normal protocol.  He was far more surprised when Christiansen’s introduction was abruptly interrupted by the president of the Black Student Union, the details of which we’ll explore next week.

Pauling in Graduate School

Pauling in Pasadena, 1922.

Pauling in Pasadena, 1922.

[Part 1 of 3]

“My ambition to become a factor in the advancement of human knowledge can be realized only if I prepare myself properly for my work.”

-Linus Pauling, letter to A.A. Noyes, January 26, 1922

By all measures a successful chemical engineering undergraduate at Oregon Agricultural College, and wanting very much to continue his education and earn his PhD in chemistry, Linus Pauling wrote to several graduate programs across the country, inquiring in particular about fellowships. Though he had proven himself to be prodigious talent as a student and, already, as a teacher, Pauling’s location in Corvallis didn’t carry a great deal of cache with the country’s elite institutions. And given his family’s shaky financial health, some measure of institutional funding was going to be required if he were to advance in the academy.

Pauling heard back from Harvard first, but was disappointed by their offer, which was for a half-time instructorship. Harvard also suggested that it would take him an estimated five years to complete his degree.  A more promising option was the University of California, Berkeley, an institution that would continue to tempt Pauling in the years to come. But as soon as he received a favorable reply from the California Institute of Technology (CIT), he rescinded all other pending applications, including Berkeley. Pauling had a good feeling about Caltech, and indeed his choice would pay significant dividends for the next four decades.


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Once frustrated with chemistry at Oregon Agricultural College because he found it too easy, in graduate school Pauling was both presented with more challenging questions and received more considered guidance from some of the best scientists of the day.  One such man was Arthur Amos Noyes, the chair of Caltech’s chemistry department who also served as Pauling’s contact throughout his application process.

In their correspondence, Noyes encouraged Pauling to develop his coursework independently during his final quarters at OAC. Doing so would enable the bright but undertrained Pauling to enter CIT with the strongest background the he could muster in physical chemistry.  Noyes’ suggestions included building up a solid understanding of both French and German, and also working through a more rigorous physical chemistry text than the one that Pauling was currently using in his class.

This more appropriate text, An Advanced Course in Chemical Principles, was co-authored by Noyes himself, along with a Caltech colleague, Miles S. Sherrill.  Noyes implored Pauling to move through the book, methodically solving all of its example problems, the end goal being to provide Pauling with a better understanding of the field, and to prepare him to pursue both advanced coursework at CIT as well as his own unique research agenda.

The text itself was not merely descriptive, but also guided students through the problems that it presented by giving them the information necessary to solve them. This approach was unlike that taken by other popular texts at the time, which focused instead on leading students more directly to a solution. Noyes believed that his and Sherrill’s approach would help students to internalize what they were learning and assist them in understanding the processes required to arrive at the correct answer.

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Noyes’ specific suggestion was that Pauling work through the text in conjunction with the OAC physical chemistry class in which he was currently enrolled, beginning at a point in the book that matched where he was at in class.  Instead, Pauling opted to commence with an independent study of the text during the summer after he graduated from OAC and before he enrolled at CIT.  Doing so, he believed, would allow him to work through the problems systematically and would also help to occupy his time while he was working in the field, assisting with road construction and pavement testing for the Oregon Highway Department. Before he reached the Caltech campus during the third week of September 1922, Pauling had worked through the entirety of book, solving many of its problems by lantern light in his tent.

And just as he would continue to do for the rest of his life, Pauling questioned the accuracy of certain answers posed by the authors of the book.  Upon finally arriving in Pasadena that fall, a first order of business for Pauling was to compare his notes with those of Paul Emmett, his childhood friend and OAC classmate who had likewise entered a course of graduate study in chemistry at CIT.


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While Pauling was still at OAC, Noyes passed along a few more ideas that might help in preparing for the rigors of Caltech. In addition to his own physical chemistry book, Noyes also suggested that Pauling read X-Rays and Crystal Structure, authored by Sir William Henry Bragg and his son William Lawrence Bragg, and likewise advised that Pauling take a mineralogy class at OAC that would cover the fundamentals of x-ray crystallography.

It is interesting to note that, while reading X-Rays and Crystal Structure (once again, put off until the summer of 1922), Pauling wrote to Emmett and told him that he was not learning much from it. The Braggs, of course, eventually became chief scientific competitors of Pauling’s, and the techniques that they described in their book proved fundamental to many of Pauling’s own early discoveries.


A.A. Noyes, ca. 1920s.

A.A. Noyes, ca. 1920s.

As he tried to help Pauling secure funding for the coming school year, Noyes found himself questioning whether or not Pauling had the experience necessary to receive a teaching fellowship. Wanting to insure his study at CIT, Noyes encouraged Pauling to send further information that might help with finding a grant to cover tuition or even a graduate assistantship, which would promise a “somewhat larger payment.” Noyes assured Pauling that he assumed Pauling would eventually be qualified for a teaching fellowship the next year.

In applying to graduate programs, Pauling expressed full confidence in his capacity to succeed as a student in physical chemistry, due to his strong grasp of mathematics, his previous experience teaching quantitative analysis and his work as a teaching assistant in general chemistry.  But he also believed that the environment at Caltech was top-notch and would provide him with the training that he needed to carry out research, even though he had no prior experience in this area.

Noyes ultimately was able to offer Pauling a prized graduate assistantship, confident in his interest in pursuing pure science and a career in university teaching. Pauling would foster a close relationship with Noyes over the years, and it was Noyes who worked hardest to keep Pauling at Caltech after he had completed his PhD, warding off the advances of G.N. Lewis at Berkeley in particular.


Paul Emmett with his mother, ca. 1920s.

Paul Emmett with his mother, ca. 1920s.

Pauling moved in with Paul Emmett and Paul’s mother in September 1922, and stayed with them for his first school year in Pasadena. During this time, Emmett and Pauling shared the same bed, sleeping in shifts. Pauling’s habits were such that he would stay up late studying while Emmett slept, and around 3:00 AM Emmett would get up to go to the lab, at which time Pauling then went to sleep. During this first year in California, Pauling also took Richard Chace Tolman’s class, Introduction to Mathematical Physics, which helped cement Pauling’s desire to become a theoretical physical chemist.

During his sparse free time, Pauling wrote letter after letter to his girlfriend, Ava Helen Miller, who remained in Corvallis to continue work on her Home Economics degree at OAC. Having expressed a desire to marry at least twice before Linus left for California, only to be rebuffed by their families, the two decided in their letters that they would absolutely be wed once Pauling had finished his first year of classes and just prior to his resumption of more construction work during the summer. Their plan came to fruition in Salem, Oregon on June 17, 1923, and Ava Helen moved to Pasadena that fall to accompany her new husband during his second year as a graduate student.