Pauling’s OAC

rooks

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.

oac-1911

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.

benton

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.”

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Cousin Merv

Mervyn Stephenson with his three sisters, Condon, Oregon, ca. early 1900s.

Mervyn Stephenson with his three sisters, Condon, Oregon, ca. early 1900s.

[Ed. Note: The Oregon State University Libraries Special Collections & Archives Research Center (SCARC) is, of course, home to the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers, a collection of some 4,400 linear feet held in 2,230 archival boxes.  Also included among the 1,100 collections held in SCARC is the Mervyn Stephenson Collection, which consists of eight file folders. Stephenson was Linus Pauling’s older cousin and was an important early influence in Pauling’s life. We spend a lot of time sifting through the Pauling Papers as we prepare these posts, but we thought it might be fun to engage with MSS Stephenson for a short while and learn a bit more about a man who, in some respects, served as a kind of surrogate big brother for Linus Pauling.]

Part 1 of 2

If he’s lucky, every young boy has his partner when he plays ‘Cowboys and Indians,’ or when he roams the streets getting into mischief. For Linus Pauling, his cohort in crime was his older cousin, Philip Mervyn Stephenson, also referred to as Merv but who also liked to be called Steve. He was born on March 23, 1898 in Condon, Oregon to a Condon native, Goldie Victoria Darling Stephenson, who married an English immigrant, Philip Herbert Stephenson.

Mervyn was about three years older than Linus, but when they were young school boys, the gap made no difference. The Paulings lived in Condon, off and on, until they moved to Portland for good when Linus was eight years old, and it was in Condon that Pauling and Stephenson spent the most time together. As they wandered the town together and explored its hills and gullies, they hunted rabbits, swam in streams, collected arrowheads and, in the winter, took sleigh rides. In later years, Pauling also recalled watching with his cousin as the area’s wheat was being harvested and bringing water to the farmhands.

Sometimes Mervyn’s father asked him to mind the store that he owned. Stephenson and Pauling looked forward to these occasions because these were times where they could sneak sweet treats and other good things to eat. Being left alone to watch the store also led to a few hilarious run-ins. One day the chewing tobacco was left out. The boys decided to try a small piece, probably swallowed a bit, and both got sick. Needless to say, neither of the boys’ fathers were pleased.

Another time, Pauling was asked by his father to watch the family pharmacy. Stephenson, of course, joined and the two decided to try the port wine—it was used for several prescriptions that Herman Pauling wrote. The boys tried a bit of wine, soon became drowsy, and fell asleep in the back of the store. The two got in trouble, once again, and that was the last of their major stunts. By 1909, after the Paulings moved to Portland, time spent with Mervyn never held the same childhood aura or imagination.


Mervyn and Linus at Kiger Island, 1918.

Mervyn and Linus at Kiger Island, 1918.

The Stephensons bought a family car in 1912 and, at the age of 14, young Mervyn immediately learned to drive. People in town called him a fast driver, and his father had only to call the local store or neighbor to see where his son had gone, because Stephenson would have most likely zipped by in the new car. Stephenson would also frequently hike down a nearby canyon with other kids from Condon and was a big fan of the regional county fairs. He was an adventurous young man and went on numerous excursions, including following local legends in search of a secret lake in the woods.

As he grew up, Mervyn’s parents thought him to be too thin and “understrength” for his own good. To combat this, they would send him, sometimes for a month at a time, to Charles and Nell Underwood’s house, where they would feed him well and work him hard in hopes that he might gain weight and muscle. It was here that Stephenson collected many arrowheads for his collection.

Mervyn was also becoming an upstanding citizen. He was, for one, the lead organizer of the athletic boys club of Condon until he left for college. More importantly, in 1912, (the same year that the family bought their car) he was marked as a town hero for being the first on the scene of a fire in a hotel. Mervyn had heard the siren in the middle of the night, rushed over to the fire station, and then hurried to the hotel to help. The town awarded him with a prize of one dollar for acting promptly and courageously.

Around the time of Mervyn’s graduation from Condon High School in 1915, Professor Gordon Skelton of Oregon Agricultural College (OAC) came to town to recruit students. He met Stephenson and they talked about what he might want to study should he attend OAC. After their conversation, Skelton had convinced Stephenson to give Corvallis a try and to major to civil engineering. Mervyn visited the Paulings on his way to OAC, and he talked with young Linus, at the time fourteen years old, about his plans to study highway engineering. The two also discussed other programs available at OAC and from this conversation Pauling learned that the college offered chemical engineering, which he believed to be the profession that chemists pursued.


Mervyn Stephenson (far right) with OAC classmates, 1917.

Mervyn Stephenson (far right) with OAC classmates, 1917.

Mervyn worked very hard as a freshman. Room and board ran to about twenty dollars a month, and he found a campus job that paid twenty cents an hour. He made it through his first year working full time with a full class schedule. During summer break, he was hired by the county to work on road construction, and that helped to make ends meet.

Stephenson concentrated on his ROTC training during in his second year at OAC; he moved up as a cadet captain and continued to progress forward. This year was also exceptionally tough because, midway through, his parents were divorced. His sister and mother then moved to Portland. That summer he worked on his first bridge, and as the break came to a close he was offered a job to continue to work on bridges. In order to take the job he would have to take a year off college. He would be paid a fair sum, but following the advice of his father, he decided to finish school and then pursue a career.

The United States was in the middle of World War I through Stephenson’s third year at college. As such, Stephenson transferred from the ROTC to the SATC (Students Army Training Corps) to receive training for combat, if needed. This same year, Linus Pauling, though only sixteen years old, began his studies at OAC. The only reason why Pauling’s mother, Belle, allowed him to go to college at such a young age was because she knew that Mervyn would be there for him.

Little did she know that no college junior wanted to spend his time watching over a sixteen-year-old freshman. According to Pauling’s recollection, soon after Belle left to return to Portland, Stephenson gave Pauling some advice about being in college, and then left him to fend for himself in the boarding house where they were supposed to be living together. Pauling did not stay past the first year in the boarding house, due to the cost of rent, and he did not see much of his cousin while in college.

In Stephenson’s handwritten memoir, titled P.M. Stephenson’s Life Stories, he recalled living with Pauling the entire first year and never mentions leaving Pauling behind. On the contrary, the manuscript focuses mostly on Pauling’s brilliance, describing a young man who would finish assignments quickly and then immediately find something more to teach himself. We learn from the memoir that one of the scholarly hobbies that Pauling picked up as an undergrad was teaching himself Greek. Stephenson was impressed, but being a more veteran college student, he spent ample time studying and his free moments socializing. Perhaps it was these diverging interests that led the two cousins to spend so little time together.


Mervyn Stephenson, training at the Presidio, summer 1918.

Mervyn Stephenson, training at the Presidio, summer 1918.

The two young men were very much together in the summer of 1918 when they left for San Francisco for intensive officer training at the Presidio military base. Stephenson recalled Pauling as having been a strong supporter of the war effort while at the camp. With the completion of his officer training, Stephenson was promoted to the rank of cadet major. He was then one of ten men at OAC to receive recommendation for commission as second lieutenant in the Officer’s Reserve Corps. That summer the cousins also worked together when they stayed in Tillamook, on the Oregon coast, with Stephenson’s mother. The two worked in a shipyard for the summer, building wooden-hulled freighters and taking small holidays in their off hours to go with Stephenson’s mother and sister to the resort town of Bayocean.

Stephenson’s senior year looked as if it would begin with a move overseas to serve in the war. Mervyn had received his second lieutenant commission and was notified that he would report to Fortress Monroe, Virginia, but his orders were never received because the war ended on November 11 of that year. He finished his senior year in due course, graduating from OAC’s College of Engineering, and was granted membership in the Zeta chapter of the Sigma Tau engineering honorary society. Mervyn and Linus then parted ways as Pauling continued his studies and Stephenson moved forward in his career as a bridge builder all across Oregon.

Ava Helen in Oregon

Ava Helen Miller (third from bottom) with her seven sisters. 1918.

Ava Helen Pauling was born Ava Helen Miller on her family’s farm near Oregon City on December 24, 1903.

At the time of her birth, Ava had nine siblings. Her father had come to the northwest from Germany in his teens, and was an elementary school teacher in the Willamette Valley before becoming a farmer. As a result, Ava later remarked that, while growing up, there was a great deal of respect in her family for the teaching profession. Her mother was born in Beaver Creek, Oregon to parents who had come to the west by wagon and on foot from Illinois and Missouri.

Ava’s parents met while her mother was a student in her father’s classroom. Her parents eventually divorced when Ava was nine, having, at that point, had two more children together – a grand total of twelve altogether. Her father eventually settled in Chicago for a time and had little-to-no contact with Ava for most of her life. The farm was left to her mother, who finished raising the youngest children that still remained.  (Much more on Ava Helen’s ancestry is available here.)

The family later lived in Canby, Oregon, which is likely where Ava finished grammar school. Ava then attended high school in Salem while living with an older sister. She graduated in June of 1921, and enrolled at Oregon Agricultural College in Corvallis the following year.

During her time as an undergraduate student she took a great number of English, French and Spanish courses. She also took a chemistry class every term, as well as at least one course in physical education. Her home economics courses were more varied and included clothing and textiles, child care and food preparation and selection. Overall she did quite well, finishing with a 89.21 grade point average, and would have finished even higher had she not received an F in an English course during winter term of her freshman year.

Ava Helen Miller at the entrance to the Jason Lee Cemetery, Salem, Oregon. 1920.

It was, coincidentally or not, during that same winter term that Ava met Linus Pauling, as a student in his class. She later wrote of their initial encounter:

In recitation room #211. Chemistry O.A.C. He was my teacher – a student assistant. His curls are lovely.

Following their first meeting, it was some time before the two spent any more time together. An instructor had recently been severely criticized for the attention that he had paid to one of his students, and though Pauling was obviously quite taken with Ava from the beginning, he was determined not to endure the same fate.

One day, however, a note came back to Ava in her chemistry notebook stating that if she waited after class, Pauling would walk across campus with her. The two walked, and then went for more walks, becoming better and better acquainted over the following months.

By the end of the school year, Ava had written Linus a check for the amount of “My heart, my life, my love, my all.” The two wished to marry, but their mothers would not grant permission. Linus resumed working for the Oregon State Highway Commission the following summer while Ava stayed with her mother. During the summer Ava wrote Pauling at least 94 letters, receiving just as many in return.

Ava resumed classes at O.A.C. the following autumn and Linus began his graduate studies at the California Institute of Technology. The two continued to write each other throughout the next year. It is apparent over the course of their exchange that, though they missed each other greatly, both managed to stay well-occupied during their time apart. Linus was working intently on his crystallographic research while overseeing classes and labs. Ava was busy keeping up with friends and her sophomore year classes.

The two stayed close through their correspondence, and shared the daily workings of their lives. Ava sometimes sent Linus candy, and Linus sometimes sent Ava flowers. Above all however, they discussed the prospects of their marriage, and their eager anticipation of the time that they would be spending together in the future.

Ava Helen Miller and Linus Pauling with two O.A.C. classmates. 1922.

Ava and Linus decided to marry following the completion of Linus’ first year of graduate studies, with or without the permission of their mothers. From the perspective of the young couple, they had already been engaged for over a year. They began discussing the details of their forthcoming wedding, informed relatives and purchased their rings.

After waiting over a year longer than had initially been intended, Linus and Ava married in Salem, Oregon on June 17, 1923. The two would spend a brief honeymoon in Corvallis before moving to Portland over the summer. During those summer months, Linus worked for the Warren Construction Company. With the onset of autumn, the newlyweds returned to Pasadena, where Linus renewed his studies at the California Institute of Technology.

For more information on the Paulings in Oregon, check out our Oregon 150 series.

Period of Transition: Pauling in Corvallis

Linus Pauling, age 17.

Linus Pauling, age 17.

Corvallis, the home of Oregon State University, sits adjacent to the Willamette River in the central Willamette Valley. Nestled between Portland and Eugene, and a reasonable distance from both the Pacific Ocean and the Cascade mountain range, Corvallis offers close proximity to a large variety of outdoor activities and big city accommodations while maintaining the feel of a small town lifestyle. Corvallis’ reputation as a green, vegetarian-friendly, and bicycle-friendly community also help to define its place on the map.

However, when Linus Pauling arrived here in 1917, Corvallis was an entirely different place. As opposed to its current population of roughly 50,000, Pauling’s Corvallis housed only about 5,000 people within its city limits. There were certainly no bike-lanes or vegetarian-friendly restaurants, and Hewlett-Packard, a major employer here, wasn’t even an idea yet. Furthermore, Oregon State University, which Pauling chose to attend because of financial necessity, was known as Oregon Agricultural College.

Interestingly enough, Pauling’s entry into the college world was not marked by his characteristic confidence. Because he was only 16, Pauling was worried about how he would compare to his older and (he assumed) more intelligent classmates. Nonetheless, he pushed his fears aside and before long, had arrived for his first year as an undergraduate.

Pauling started out as, more or less, a typical underclassman. He moved into a boarding house with his cousin Mervyn Stephenson, and enrolled in the classes required for the mining engineering field. He also developed a fair amount of school spirit, or ‘beaver pep’ as he called it. He wore the green beanie required of all freshman, attended and cheered at sport events, joined the student military cadet corps, and began searching for romance. Within a few weeks, Pauling had moved out of the boarding house for financial reasons, had developed a clear idea of the classes he enjoyed and didn’t enjoy, and had taken an interest in a co-ed, although their association wouldn’t last very long.

Painting of Oregon Agricultural College, ca. 1912.

Painting of Oregon Agricultural College, ca. 1912.

As might be expected, Pauling’s favorite courses were math and the physical sciences. Not only did he truly enjoy these classes, but he excelled in them as well. In fact, he found that he had no more trouble mastering college level courses than he did mastering his high school classes. However, Pauling didn’t succeed in every class he took. He received a D in mechanical drawing – a subject for which he didn’t have enough patience – and an F in freshman gymnasium after his attempt to work around the rules for taking the class failed.

Pauling’s sophomore year at OAC was much like his first. He continued to outshine his classmates, was given a job in the chemistry department’s solution room, and also joined a fraternity, Gamma Tau Beta. Between his studies and his job, Pauling had very little free time. This set the precedent for the long hours of hard work that would, in part, define the rest of his life.

Pauling’s third year at OAC, however, was as different from the preceding two as could possibly have been the case. As the end of summer was approaching, Linus’ mother Belle told him that she needed to use all the money he had earned to make ends meet at home. Instead of protesting, Pauling agreed, and prepared himself to make the best of a year at home.

However, the chemistry department at OAC had a very different plan. Burdened by unexpected staff shortages, and fearful of losing their prize student, the department decided to offer him a job teaching quantitative chemistry – a course he had taken only a year earlier. Although the job would be a cut in pay from a job that he had found as  paving instructor for the state’s department of transportation, Pauling didn’t hesitate and headed back to Corvallis. He wasn’t able to take any classes, but Pauling enjoyed the job. It gave him good experience as a lecturer and an excellent opportunity to catch up on the latest research in the field of chemistry.

In 1920, after his yearlong stint as a chemistry instructor, Pauling reentered the OAC chemistry program as a junior. By this time, he had gained a great deal of self-confidence. He was closer in age to the rest of his classmates, officially an upperclassman, and was building his reputation as the smartest man on campus. He continued to have no trouble mastering his courses, and began to develop an interest in public speaking, which he took far enough to compete in a school-wide contest (he finished second).

The next year, as Pauling was traveling home for Christmas vacation, OAC offered him a new job teaching freshman chemistry for home economic majors. Thinking the extra money would be useful, he decided to accept the offer. On his first day of class, a young student by the name of Ava Helen Miller caught his eye. As time went on, they began to become more interested in each other until finally, Pauling asked her to go on a walk with him. From there, their relationship grew, and just before the end of the term, Pauling asked her to marry him. She said yes, and he promptly lowered her final grade by one letter to avoid any possibility of favoritism.  The location where Linus and Ava Helen first met, Education Hall Room 201, is now marked by a plaque.

During his senior year, Pauling also began thinking about graduate school. It was clear to him that his goals in life required a higher education than was attainable at OAC. He applied to several schools that offered advanced chemistry programs including Harvard, Berkeley, and of course, the California Institute of Technology. Although Caltech was the youngest and smallest of the schools, they made Pauling the best offer. He decided to accept, and at the end of the summer of 1922, armed with his B.S. in Chemical Engineering, Pauling left his bride-to-be Ava Helen behind in Corvallis and headed for California.

For more information of Linus Pauling in Oregon, check out our Oregon 150 series. For general information on Linus Pauling, please visit the Linus Pauling Online portal.  For more on Pauling’s undergraduate years, see the Pauling Centenary Exhibit or the Linus Pauling at OSU site published by the Department of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering.

Oregon 150