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.”

Clothes Make the Man

[Ed Note: The Pauling Blog becomes a photo blog for the next four weeks as we dig into the 5,500+ images held in the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers. In addition to showing off some pictures that have never before been released online, this examination pays particular attention to Pauling’s evolving taste in clothes over the years. Today’s post features selections from Pauling’s birth in 1901 to the end of the 1920s.]

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Pauling in 1902, age 1. Note in particular the necklace.

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Pauling, age 5, posing in buffalo-skin chaps, 1906. Linus’s father had this photo commissioned for use in advertising his Condon, Oregon pharmacy.

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Linus, at center, with his two sisters, Lucile (left) and Pauline. This photo was also taken in Condon in 1908.

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Eight years later, the Pauling children posed near their home in Portland with their mother. From left to right: Lucile, Linus, Belle and Pauline Pauling, 1916.

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Pauling in his ROTC uniform during Fall term of his freshman year at Oregon Agricultural College. He is sixteen years old in this photo. Two years of ROTC was compulsory for all male students attending OAC at the time.

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An iconic portrait of the young Pauling taken the summer after his freshman year at OAC. Specifically, this photo was taken on the Oregon Coast in Tillamook, where the Paulings spent some time during the summer of 1918. Linus worked as a pin boy at a local bowling alley during the stay.

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Another photo of Pauling in his military dress, 1918. Though only two years were required, Pauling opted to remain in ROTC for the entirety of his OAC experience, graduating from the college having attained the rank of Major.

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Far from a typical look for Pauling, this image is cropped from a group photo of participants in the OAC “Feminine Section Intrafraternity Smoker,” circa 1920.

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Pauling with his life-long friend, Paul Emmett, in 1920. Also a Beaver, Emmett went on to become a major scientific figure in his own right, making significant contributions to the study of catalysis chemistry. Emmett also became Pauling’s brother-in-law when he married Pauline Pauling late in life.

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Pauling clowning around sometime near his graduation from OAC in 1922.

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Newly arrived at Caltech, Pauling poses on the back of a student’s car.

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Pauling with his bride, Ava Helen, her mother, Nora Gard Miller, and Nettie Spaulding, one of Ava Helen’s eleven siblings. Standing at front is Nettie’s daughter, Leone. 1924.

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The young couple outside their Pasadena home in 1925. Linus had been working on their Model-T Ford prior to this photo being taken.

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Looking very California on a trip to the beach. 1925.

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At the Temple of Neptune, Paestum, Italy, during his legendary Guggenheim trip to Europe. This photo was taken by Ava Helen in April 1926.

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.