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.

Pauling’s Senior Class Oration

Illustration for the Forensics Club section of the 1923 OAC Beaver Yearbook.

Illustration for the Forensics Club section of the 1923 OAC Beaver Yearbook.

[Continuing our examination of the culture of oratory at Oregon Agricultural College during Pauling’s undergraduate years. Part 2 of 2]

This coming Saturday, Oregon State University will host its 146th commencement exercises.  As the campus buzzes with students finishing their finals and seniors looking forward to the pomp and circumstance that awaits, we turn our attention back to Linus Pauling, and a noteworthy speech that he gave just five days before he completed his undergraduate studies in Corvallis.


It is not given to every man to be unusually successful, to be extraordinarily talented, or to be exceptionally gifted to render services to the world. We can do no more than we are able, but by doing as much as we are able, by doing our best, we shall be accomplishing our task, and repaying our debt. For our college has given us something which will allow us to do more than we otherwise could; and we must do more than we otherwise would.

-Linus Pauling, Senior Class Oration, May 31, 1922

As we learned in our previous post on oratory at Oregon Agricultural College (OAC), forensics was an art form held in high esteem by the culture of the early in the twentieth century. The presence of a reputable orator at an institution symbolized a high level of cultural competence. For this reason, most colleges and universities of the time prioritized this activity and provided their students with the necessary tools to become competent public speakers. Consequently, being chosen to deliver a speech at any given event was considered to be an honor, and especially so at a high profile event.

During Linus Pauling’s years at OAC his close and lifelong friend, Paul Emmett, was heavily involved in the school’s forensics club, a likely reason why Pauling chose to join during his junior year. That year, Pauling entered competitive oratory for the first time and was chosen to represent his class in the inter-class competition, where he finished as a runner up for the title of college orator.

Although he came in second, Pauling’s achievement was impressive for a beginner, as oratory’s popularity and competitive nature was rapidly increasing at the time. Indeed, the year before Pauling joined the forensics club, the college had established a speech department and went from training only a handful of public speakers to a group of fifty to seventy-five orators per year, participating in ten annual competitions.

After 1921 Pauling no longer shows up in OAC’s forensics club records, but his participation in oratory at the school surely continued. Most notably, Pauling was chosen to deliver the senior class oration, an indication that his status as a prominent and respected speaker remained intact.

"Seniors Attend Farewell Convo," OAC Barometer, June 2, 1922.

“Seniors Attend Farewell Convo,” OAC Barometer, June 2, 1922.

Delivered on May 31, 1922, six days before commencement, the speech that Pauling prepared urged his fellow classmates to use the knowledge that they had gained at OAC to attack the problems facing society. Where his junior year oration, titled “Children of the Dawn,” felt simplistic and perhaps overly optimistic, Pauling’s senior class talk was characterized by its emphasis on personal responsibility and the “problems of the state,” a term that referred to the social and political issues that had emerged from the destruction of World War I. “Our lives are to stand as testimonials to the efficacy of the work that our college is doing,” Pauling said. “Education, true education, such as our own college gives us, is preparation both for a life of appreciation of the world and for a life of service to the world”

Another point that Pauling stressed in his address to the senior class was that of “repaying OAC.” It this, one might surmise that Pauling was speaking both of value gained from OAC and from the system of higher education as a whole. It is important to point out that the systematic killing of troops that characterized World War I had fractured the public’s feelings about research in the sciences. As noted by Pauling biographer Thomas Hager, a common argument at the time was that science was the cause of the war’s deadly nature. Out of this experience, numerous questions lingered. Should education work to propel science and technology? Was further development of science potentially harmful to society?

In this context, Pauling’s calls for individual responsibility and service to society can be viewed as a reaction against the negative connotations then being ascribed to various educational pursuits. And so it was that Pauling took pains to point out that OAC, Oregon’s land grant institution, “has contributed in a wonderful way to solving the multitude of problems arising in the state.” Likewise, near the conclusion of his talk:

This, then, is the way we can repay OAC – by service. Our college is founded on the idea of service, and we, its students, are the representatives of the college. It is upon us that the duty falls of carrying out that basic idea. We are going into the world inspired with the resolution of service, eager to show our love for our college and our appreciation of her work by being of service to our fellow men.

In emphasizing the idea that knowledge acquired at OAC was a tool that could be used for the benefit of society, Pauling’s speech makes the argument that the development of knowledge in any field cannot be intrinsically evil. Rather, each educated individual has the opportunity to render their knowledge in either beneficial or harmful ways to the greater population and, in Pauling’s view, bears a responsibility to use their talents for the improvement of society.


Pauling's senior class photo (lower left) and inscription (upper right), 1923 OAC Beaver Yearbook.

Pauling’s senior class photo (lower left) and inscription (upper right), 1923 OAC Beaver Yearbook.

The contents of his two major orations at OAC suggest that, even at the earliest stages of his career, Linus Pauling had developed a sense of the values that he intended to promote. For one, he was sure that the pure and applied sciences were important to improving the quality of life of all people. Pauling was also conscious of science’s potential for harm however, and as an undergraduate he began to promote the idea that the privileges of education carry with them with a responsibility to contribute to the greater good.

As Pauling’s career advanced, so too did his positive view of the future of science. After winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1963, Pauling took the opportunity, during his Nobel address, to once again exclaim that those who have received the opportunity to study the physical world should devote themselves to becoming responsible citizen-scientists. An extension of ideas first expressed in the OAC Men’s Gymnasium in 1922, Pauling pointed out that scientists who were conscious of the possibilities that their knowledge opened up were morally obligated to share their knowledge of the physical world in ways that benefited humankind.

Children of the Dawn

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[Post 1 of 2 focusing on the culture of oratory at Oregon Agricultural College during Pauling’s undergraduate years.]

Early in the 20th century, Oregon Agricultural College (OAC) – the institution now known as Oregon State University – was in the midst of rapid expansion and development. As new buildings sprung up and the student population steadily increased, the college was gradually acquiring all the markings of a venerable institution.

Prior to 1920, however, one such marking was still missing: a speech department. Viewed through a contemporary lens, it may be difficult to imagine the extent to which colleges of Pauling’s era prioritized and emphasized their linguistics departments. It is nonetheless true that, through the first half of the 20th century, the presence of eloquent orators on campus was a symbol of an institution’s cultural status.

Indeed, the focus on both oratory and debate at O.A.C. was, at this time, at least equal to the campus’ focus on athletics, music or drama. The college’s Forensics Club was regularly featured in the annual Beaver yearbook, with several pages dedicated to narrating club competitions. Likewise, the Barometer, OAC’s student newspaper, would at times publish up to six columns reporting on oratorical competitions in a single issue of the paper.

Oratory was so widely followed and competitive that an insert in the 1907-1908 Rooter’s Club booklet featured a cheer specifically created for OAC’s orators. Finally, in 1920, OAC established a speech department for the first time and thus was able to prepare a forensics team than was stronger than ever before.

"O.A.C. Yells" included in the 1907-1908 Rooter's Club book. Note the second  cheer written specifically for competitors in speech competitions.

“O.A.C. Yells” included in the 1907-1908 Rooter’s Club book. Note the second cheer written specifically for competitors in speech competitions.

The new speech department was a major asset to the college in part because speeches were used for more than oratorical competitions; oratory was a convention used to enhance the experience of nearly all campus events. Orators, for instance, might address the general student body or the college’s athletes before an athletic event in order to raise confidence and excitement in competitors and spectators alike. As stated in The O.A.C. Alumnus, a 1920s publication of the college alumni association, “forensic men and women [gave] athletics every ounce of support” by delivering lengthy and spirited pep talks. Once the game had started, oratory was also used to engage in “verbal combat” with students from other institutions.


Beaver Yearbook page devoted to a 1920 "triangular debate" between OAC, Reed College and the University of Oregon. Paul Emmett is pictured at right.

Beaver Yearbook page devoted to a “triangular debate” between OAC, Reed College and the University of Oregon. Paul Emmett is pictured at right.

The early 1920s coincided with Linus Pauling’s final years as an OAC student. Not surprisingly, his early experiences as a public speaker were heavily influenced by the high value that was placed on oratory within the student culture that surrounded him.

Even before entering any competitive event, Pauling had gained significant experience speaking to groups while teaching entry-level chemistry to fellow OAC undergraduates. During this same time period, Pauling’s close friend, Paul Emmett – later to become one of the world’s great catalysis chemists and, later still, Pauling’s brother-in-law – became quite active in the OAC Forensics Club and subsequently introduced Pauling to the thrills of competitive oratory. Emmett represented OAC in the 1920 triangular debate, an annual competition involving three colleges. The following year, both Emmett and Pauling were featured in the forensics section of The Beaver yearbook, Emmett as a debater and Pauling as a runner-up in the college-wide oratorical contest discussed below.

By founding a department dedicated to public speaking, OAC was able to provide members of its Forensics Club with a better training infrastructure. Importantly, Professor George Varney served as coach of the Forensics Club starting in 1920. Varney was a new arrival to the college but was known for having trained orators at different institutions, including a state champion. However, when Linus Pauling decided to compete in the annual inter-class oratorical contest, he sought the help of his own personal coach, an English professor whose past experience as a preacher qualified him to train students in the art of public speaking.


Pauling (bottom row, second from left) as depicted in the Beaver yearbook with fellow members of the class of '22.

Pauling (bottom row, second from left) as depicted in the Beaver yearbook with fellow members of the class of ’22.

Competing for the Juniors in OAC’s inter-class speaking competition, Pauling presented a grand interpretation of the status and future of civilization in the 20th century. Titled “Children of the Dawn,” (which he meant to refer to members of his generation) Pauling’s speech contained both analysis of the past and speculation on the future.

The piece opens with a poetic description of a dream, one in which humanity and Earth are only specks within the greater universe. In Pauling’s dream, humanity had developed so effectively as to reach beyond Earth to understand the entire universe. This dream, Pauling reveals, is an allegory for the possibilities that he saw as lying ahead for his generation.

From there, the speech chronicles the development of science and thought since ancient times in order to demonstrate the talk’s main argument: that Darwin’s theory of evolution can be applied to society, science and civilization. In this, Pauling describes the developments of the past as necessary steps to completing a “Great Design,” by which he means an entire universe that is progressing in accordance with the principles of evolution.

Pauling’s optimism and use of poetic language makes for an inspiring oration. The speech concludes on an even more hopeful note by suggesting that the youth of the day were privy to only the germs of unimaginable achievements yet to come. “It is impossible for us to imagine what developments in science and invention will be witnessed by the next generation,” Pauling wrote. “We are not the flower of civilization. We are but the immature bud of a civilization yet to come.”

William Black

William Black

Impressive as Pauling’s first competitive oration was, he wound up tying for second place in the OAC competition, losing top honors to William Black, a senior and three-time participant in the event. Contrary to Pauling’s idealistic and relatively simple premise, Black’s oration, titled “Our Tottering Civilization,” presented an elaborate and frankly racist view of the times. Black’s main argument was that interactions with “peoples of color” would be the demise of civilization as a whole. Black further suggested that in order to safeguard its civilization, the white race needed to secure its natural resources and keep people of color at bay. Black likewise worried that European culture could be lost forever if other cultures were to gain further sway over world social, political and economic affairs.

At the time, China and Japan had undergone periods of rapid modernization and immigrants from east Asia were very well established as active participants in the U.S. economy. The arguments issued in “Our Tottering Civilization” largely stem from a fear that further development of these cultures, both in and beyond the United States, could eventually lead to the subjugation of Western ideals. Black’s oration concludes by exhorting white nations to join forces against the further development of “colored” nations. Despite the fact that Black’s speech is overtly racist, it eventually won second place in the state-wide intercollegiate oratory contest, perhaps because of the complexity of the issues that it dealt with, or maybe because Black was an especially compelling speaker in person.


This episode in Linus Pauling’s life, in which he battles for the crown of top college orator, offers an interesting glimpse into the culture of the early 20th century. While many elements of the era would appear almost foreign in a contemporary context, they do offer important evidence of the values and training that Pauling was exposed to long before becoming a world-renowned peace activist and public speaker.  Next week we’ll examine another important talk that Pauling gave as an undergraduate; one that has special relevance to events happening right now on the OSU campus.

Becoming Dr. Pauling

Pauling posing at lower campus, Oregon Agricultural College, ca. 1917.

Pauling posing at lower campus, Oregon Agricultural College, ca. 1917.

Linus Pauling’s 114th birthday, which was observed last weekend, dovetails nicely with the seventh anniversary of the creation of this blog, which we celebrate today. Milestones of this sort tend to get us thinking about our connection with Pauling here at Oregon State University and the transformative experience that he enjoyed as an undergraduate, more than ninety years ago.  Though he left Oregon in 1922 and would never reside in his home state again, the roots of the Linus Pauling who would deeply impact so many corners of twentieth century history can be concretely traced back to his youth in the Beaver state and, importantly, to his tenure as an undergraduate at Oregon Agricultural College.


During Pauling’s teenage years, questions regarding his future and the feasibility of professional training began entering his mind. As he weighed his options, Pauling had several things to consider. Of primary importance was the absence of his father, Herman, who had died in 1909, leaving the family’s financial situation teetering on the brink and erasing a vital male mentor from young Linus’s life. Though plagued with emotional insecurities, and despite being forced to hold a job from an early age to help supplement the family income, Linus still managed to discover his true passion, chemistry, as a thirteen year old high school freshman.

geballe

In a 1954 interview, Pauling credited Miss Pauline Geballe, a teacher at Portland’s Washington High School, for having helped him to discover his love for chemistry. Always a precocious child, Pauling began seizing every opportunity to learn more once his interest was sparked, and he took as many math and science courses as he could while in high school. Though a success at Washington, he knew that there was still much more to learn. At the time, chemistry was a booming professional field in the United States, and Pauling was aware that pursuing a degree in that area would pay off financially while hopefully satisfying his intellectual curiosity.

And yet, as he pondered his future, Pauling’s internal dialogue was haunted by his lingering insecurities. Believing that a college education was a privilege reserved for competent individuals, he at times felt unworthy of an opportunity of this sort. Eventually Pauling was able to overcome his fears and enroll at Oregon Agricultural College (OAC, currently Oregon State University), the state’s land grant institution and, realistically, the only college that he could afford. (Tuition was free for Oregon residents, and student fees amounted to around $10 per term, depending on the courses that one took.)

Fear flooded Pauling’s mind as the time came to face a new and unfamiliar environment. A month and a day before entering OAC, Pauling wrote in his diary:

Paul Harvey is going to OAC to study chemistry – Big manly Paul Harvey, beside whom I pale into insignificance. Why should I enjoy the same benefits he has, when I am so unprepared, so unused to the ways of man? I will not be able on account of my youth and inexperience, to do justice to the courses and the teaching placed before me.

Paul Harvey, as seen in the 1919 Beaver Yearbook.

Paul Harvey, as seen in the 1919 Beaver Yearbook.

It is interesting to note that finances – though a logical worry for someone in Pauling’s situation – are not what seemed to have troubled him the most. More salient is the link between experience, or “manliness,” and the benefits of an education. Pauling began college at the age of 16 and he clearly thought of his youth as an obstacle that put him at a disadvantage. OAC, however, gave Pauling more than academic knowledge; it changed the way that he thought about himself. Rather than asking why he should enjoy the benefits of a higher education, Pauling left OAC brimming with confidence, in search of new opportunities as a professional and as an intellectual.


Young Pauling, ca. late 1910s.

Young Pauling, ca. late 1910s.

To think that Pauling began his academic experience as a timid and uncertain individual may come as somewhat of a surprise; particularly so because Pauling is now remembered as an outspoken, larger-than-life figure. From the vantage point of today one might also suggest that, as he entered college, Pauling should not have felt like he lacked experience. He had, after all, just about exhausted most of the employment and educational opportunities then available to a young man of high school age. Quite early on in life, Pauling had been given the responsibility of watching the family drugstore whenever his father needed to be absent. Later on, in his free time, Pauling and his friends devised any number of new schemes to remain employed, even seriously contemplating the possibility of opening a private chemical laboratory. And in school, Pauling seized every opportunity to broaden his horizons.

Looking into the records from Pauling’s undergraduate years, one might surmise that his feelings of unworthiness were overcome largely because of the OAC experience itself. In college he would develop his character and identity.  And he would escape the shell of the boy who lost his father at the age of eight and who was raised by a harried mother whom, in his later estimation, didn’t understand him very well.


"A prodigy, yet in his teens."

“A prodigy, yet in his teens.”

As the young Pauling settled in at Oregon Agricultural College, he found himself first overwhelmed by the diversity of courses that were required of chemical engineering students and, eventually, dissatisfied with the quality of coursework that was offered. Pauling realized pretty quickly, however, that he “deserved” to be in college as the successes that he had enjoyed in his high school courses continued in the OAC classrooms and labs. It is also clear that, by the time Pauling graduated, students and professors alike recognized his academic talent: OAC’s 1922 yearbook refers to Pauling, by then a senior, as “a prodigy, yet in his teens.”

By the time that he had graduated, Pauling’s overwhelming sense of his academic experience was that of dissatisfaction with the limitations from which OAC suffered at the time. Students were required to learn only the basics of chemical engineering and most of his professors lacked professional experience in the chemical industry. Most of the department’s professors did not have a doctorate, and of those who claimed a post-graduate education, at least one was lying.

Known then as the "Chem Shack," OSU's refurbished Furman Hall now houses the College of Education.

Known then as the “Chem Shack,” OSU’s refurbished Furman Hall now houses the College of Education.

There were faculty members at OAC, however, who were aware that professions in the sciences were changing and that both a research infrastructure and a chemical industry based in the United States were on the ascendance. OAC professors like Floyd Rowland did their best to expose their students to the latest findings and research methodologies in the field. Indeed, Rowland, the head of the chemical engineering program, so impacted his students that nine out of the twelve in Pauling’s graduating class went on to pursue post-graduate education – at that time, a near unimaginable success. So while Pauling’s hunger for an academic challenge was not quenched as an undergraduate, he surely began to discover his true potential at OAC, and he had at least a few people on campus helping him down that path.


Pauling with a few of his Gamma Tau Beta fraternity brothers.  Pauling, at left, wears his "rook lid," required apparel for all OAC freshman boys at that time. Ca. 1917.

Pauling with a few of his Gamma Tau Beta fraternity brothers. Pauling, at left, wears his “rook lid,” required apparel for all OAC freshman boys at that time. Ca. 1917.

Concerning the social side of Pauling’s undergraduate experience, it is known from his letters and reflections in later years that his involvement in the fraternity system was very important to the development of his personality. Pauling credited the OAC Chapter of Delta Upsilon for bringing him out of the isolation from his peers that he had felt as a child and had initially experienced upon moving to Corvallis.

His involvement in the Greek system began when he was invited to join Gama Tau Beta. Pauling later suggested that this likely came about because the house needed to bolster its grade point average and knew that Pauling would provide a big boost. Whatever the reason for Pauling’s invitation, he joined and he greatly benefited from the company of new found brothers.

Over time Pauling became a house leader. One of his main goals is this capacity was to broaden the connections of his fraternity by proposing that the house join a nationwide brotherhood, the Delta Upsilon fraternity. Once his house brothers accepted the proposition, Pauling almost single-handedly took care of moving the transition forward. In his later years, Pauling discussed the impact that fraternity life had made on his college experience, noting that

up until the time that I became a member of Gamma Tau Beta there was no one who strove to teach me how to get along with my fellow human beings.

So while Pauling was discovering his academic and professional potential through his classroom experience at OAC, his shyness was also being overcome by the social mentorship that he received from his fraternity brothers.  When he left Corvallis, Pauling was well on his way to becoming the confident individual that many came to know over the ensuing decades.


A very early - perhaps the earliest - photo of Ava Helen Miller and Linus Pauling together, 1922.

A very early – perhaps the earliest – photo of Ava Helen Miller and Linus Pauling together, 1922.

OAC provided a wealth of opportunities for Pauling to cultivate his talents and discover his potential, but probably the most important outcome of his undergraduate experience was the relationship that he developed with Ava Helen Miller.

As we’ve seen, Pauling’s academic prowess was noted by students and faculty alike, so much so that, during his junior year, Pauling was hired as an instructor and assigned to teach freshman-level chemistry. He was eighteen years old at the time.

On January 6, 1922, Linus entered a classroom nervous, but basically ready, to teach a class of Home Economics majors. The era being what it was, this class consisted entirely of female students. Feeling a need to establish his authority from early on, Pauling decided to ask a tough question. He ran his finger down the registration sheet, looking for someone to call on in response to the inquiry, “what do you know about ammonium hydroxide…Miss Miller?”  Ava Helen responded with a quite satisfactory answer – the class had studied this compound during the previous term – and thus began a relationship that steadily developed into a romance. In the months that followed, the connection between the two quickly developed and, before long, the young couple was engaged.

Posing together on graduation day, 1922.

Posing together on graduation day, 1922.

Linus’s early relationship with Ava is of notable importance because it bridges two periods in his career: the end of the OAC chapter and the beginning of his long run at Caltech. Linus graduated from OAC in June 1922 and moved on to Pasadena while Ava Helen stayed in Corvallis for more schooling, the couple’s desire to wed temporarily squelched by both sets of parents. Separated for one year, the two wrote to each other nearly every day, and in these letters Linus expressed his true self to Ava Helen in a way he had not done (and never would do) with anybody else.

Later on, in marriage, the two would inspire each other to take their work even further. Ava Helen’s interest in world affairs would propel Linus’s awareness of the need for peace activism, and Linus’s dedication would inspire Ava Helen to become a leader in countless social justice organizations. As a friend of the duo wrote in 1960 “the Paulings don’t stand in each other’s shadow, they walk in each other’s light.”  For us, as we reflect on the milestones of today, it is gratifying to know that this hugely important couple owed their introduction to the little land grant school in Oregon’s Willamette Valley – a fertile space then, as now, for the transformation of bright young minds.

Mervyn Stephenson: Builder of Bridges

Mervyn Stephenson, ca. 1920s.

Mervyn Stephenson, ca. 1920s.

[Part 2 of our examination of the life of Mervyn Stephenson, Linus Pauling’s cousin.]

Having completed his schooling in 1919, Mervyn Stephenson was quickly hired by Conde B. McCullough, a former college professor known today as Oregon’s most famous bridge engineer. Excited to begin his career, Stephenson moved to southern Oregon shortly after graduation to work as a civil engineer for the Bridge Division of the Oregon Department of Transportation. The first project that he worked on was in Douglas County, but the project was shut down so he returned to Salem to delve into bridge design. Mervyn worked hard, but he still found time for fun and was especially keen on dancing: he attended dance halls on the weekends and saved several of his dance cards to prove it.

At work, Mervyn wasn’t stuck behind a desk for long. One of his first major projects was the building of a concrete arch bridge over Hog Canyon in 1920. In 1921 he worked on the Crooked River Bridge in Prineville, as well as the dam for the Prineville Reservoir, and the Bear Creek Bridge. A year later he assisted with repairing the John Day Highway. It was here that he helped to rehabilitate a stone building that had been the headquarters of a Chinese doctor, Kam Wah Chung, a structure that was transformed into a museum many years later.

The Kam Wah Chung & Co. Museum, Grant County, Oregon.

The Kam Wah Chung & Co. Museum, Grant County, Oregon.

As time passed and his skills became more widely known, Mervyn was offered a job in highway construction in Cuba, but he turned it down, preferring to stay close to home. The Federal Bureau of Public Roads also offered him a job in 1933, but he did not accept, choosing to stay with Conde McCullough instead. In the years that followed, he was a member of the teams that designed and built several of the iconic structures now closely associated with McCullough. These included the Coos Bay Bridge, Rogue River Bridge, Siuslaw River Bridge, Yaquina Bay Bridge, John Day Bridge and other coastal bridges.  In an interview published in the January 17, 1934 Marshfield/Coos Bay Times, titled “Bridge Program Hailed as Major Step in Progress,” Stephenson lent insight into what it was like to work for the famed engineer.

We used to have a lot of fun. [McCullough would] come to look at what you were doing. [He’d] look over your desk and see what you were designing and he’d always reach over and get your pencil and start scribbling, stick [the pencil] in his pocket and walk off. So after we got to know him better, as he’d start to move, we’d reach over and grab [the pencil] out of his pocket, never said anything, just reach over and grab it out of his pocket.

Conde McCullough, ca. 1920s.

Conde McCullough, ca. 1920s.


The Second World War was a source of new opportunities for Stephenson. In 1945 the U.S. Army contacted him asking him to do some highly secretive work overseas in support of the war effort. Stephenson traveled to Washington D.C. for a briefing and then was flown to the Hickam Field base near Honolulu. As Stephenson soon learned, the Army had sought out and gathered civilian scientists and engineers to help plan the U.S. invasion of Japan, and Stephenson was one of the experts called in to assist. As such, he was instated as a colonel and assigned a high pay grade because of his specialized skill set.

While at Hickam Field, Mervyn studied maps and aerial photos, analyzing the roads and bridges that might be encountered in the planned invasion. He also helped to estimate the amount of raw material needed to build bridges and highways as U.S. forces moved across Japan. This work never came to fruition, due to the Japanese surrender on September 2, 1945.

Still of use to the Army, Stephenson was transferred to a unit working on the Philippines Highway Planning Mission and charged with rehabilitating the country’s highway system. For a while he moved with his unit through Japan and the Philippines, inspecting tunnels and bridges. Once this mission was completed, he returned to civilian life as an Assistant Bridge Engineer with the Oregon State Highway Department.


P.M. Stephenson and Linus Pauling at a Darling family reunion, 1983.

P.M. Stephenson and Linus Pauling at a Darling family reunion, 1983.

From 1955 to 1957, Stephenson was the Oregon State Bridge Engineer. Most of the bridge projects that he oversaw, including Winchester Bridge and the Fords Bridge, resided on I-5, the west coast’s main interstate highway. Probably the most important project that Stephenson supervised was the design and construction preparation for significant upgrades to the Columbia River Interstate Bridge, linking Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington.  He retired from employment with the Oregon State Highway Department in 1957, but was soon appointed, by the governor, to the State Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee.

After his retirement, Stephenson and his wife traveled extensively, their favorite destination being Mexico, which they visited several times during the 1960s and 1970s. In 1972 Linus Pauling sent his cousin a letter, asking about the arrowhead collection that Mervyn had inherited from their grandfather Darling. He also took the opportunity to provide Stephenson with an update on his life and burgeoning interest in Vitamin C, and asked that Mervyn and his wife visit him and Ava Helen in California on their next trip to Mexico. This letter is the final record of written contact between Pauling and Stephenson, though we know from photographs that the two saw one another at least one more time, at a Darling family reunion held not long before Mervyn died.

Philip Mervyn Stephenson passed away in Salem, Oregon in 1983. His undated autobiographical manuscript ends with various accounts of his travels in retirement. The piece makes little mention of Linus Pauling, save for the memories that the two shared in their childhood and college years.  Though we can’t know for sure, it is likely that the two young boys who held much in common as they hunted for small critters, searched for arrowheads and caused mischief in their fathers’ stores, gradually grew in separate directions as they pursued their passions and careers with tenacity.