Pauling’s OAC, 1919-1920: The Campus Scene

A view of the OAC campus looking east toward Corvallis, circa 1920. At right is Science Hall, where Linus Pauling taught chemistry as an 18-year old instructor.

[A look back at Linus Pauling’s third year at Oregon Agricultural College. This is part 2 of 3.]

As we noted in our last post, Linus Pauling wasn’t able to register as a student for his third year at Oregon Agricultural College, and spent most of the academic year teaching instead. In not registering, Pauling was one fewer body contributing to what turned out to be OAC’s second largest enrollment ever — a whopping 4,086 students. This number was outpaced only by the 1914 school year’s 4,176 students, and was surely propped up by the return of many students from their wartime obligations. Notably, the college also welcomed twenty-four international students, many of whom came from Southeast Asia and were members of the school’s Filipino Club.

The boost in student numbers led to a pronounced insufficiency in faculty staffing, a circumstance that ultimately led to the 18-year old Pauling’s hire as a Chemistry instructor. The problems with meeting student needs in the classroom were widely acknowledged within the student body, as evidenced by many articles in the campus newspaper – The Barometer – demanding that the administration hire more instructors.

Of the total population of students, 3,073 were male and 1,013 were women, a set of numbers that presented a housing crisis for which the college was largely unprepared. Once OAC’s administrators realized that they did not have the infrastructure to house 500 more students than had been on campus the previous year, they requested support from the government to convert the school’s old ROTC barracks into a new male dormitory. This residence hall, which would be named Poling Hall, took a month to refashion into an acceptable livable facility. In the meantime, hundreds of young men were housed by the campus’ YMCA chapter.

Autochrome image of Waldo Hall with campus greenhouses in the background, circa 1920.

The college’s primary female residence hall also suffered from the increase in enrollment. During the year, more than 300 OAC co-eds crammed into Waldo Hall, the largest number since its construction in 1907. While Shepard and Cauthorn Halls were also used for female students, each one was overflowing with students.

Surrounding OAC was the small college town of Corvallis which, at about 6,500 inhabitants, was just barely bigger than the campus population.


Students who went to accredited Oregon high schools did not need to formally apply for admission to OAC. Instead, they were immediately accepted so long as they had completed three units of English and two units of mathematics. One result of this low bar to entry was that incoming students did not need to have a high school diploma in hand in order to begin as college students. Pauling, famously, did not graduate from Portland’s Washington High School before beginning his OAC studies at the age of 16.

Compared to the fifteen colleges that Oregon State University supports today, a century ago there were only eight academic schools available at OAC: Agriculture, Commerce, Engineering, Forestry, Home Economics, Mines, Pharmacy, and Vocational Education. The college was also very clear about its Land Grant point of view, stating in its general catalog that

Special attention is given to the application of science…while the industrial or technical work is emphasized, the importance of a thorough general training, of mind development, and of culture, is recognized in all the work at the institution.

Unsurprisingly, the most popular major at OAC was Agriculture (338), and the second most popular was Home Economics (314, likely all of whom were women). The School of Commerce also attracted many students, including both women and men pursuing the Secretarial Science curriculum that was housed within the school.

The 1920 Commencement ceremonies, held in the Men’s Gymnasium.

The cost of attending OAC ranged between $261-351. Tuition was free to all students, but many classes had fees tacked on, including a $24 charge for laboratory usage. If you wished to graduate during the school year, you were required to pay an additional $5 graduation fee as well as an extra dollar to cover the cost of binding your graduation thesis and printing your diploma. Room and board for eight months would run an $250 on average. While these costs seem very affordable today, the national income per capita in 1919 was only $3,724.05, rendering an advanced education unattainable for many.

Because of his own financial difficulties, Pauling was not in a position to take any courses during the 1919-1920 school year. In his first two years at OAC he had enjoyed physics, chemistry, mechanical drawing, and place surveying studies. Had he returned as a student, he would have taken mechanics, hydraulics, electrical machinery, engineering, geology, mining, and military tactics courses along with the other Chemical Engineering juniors studying in the School of Mines.


Ida Kidder in her wickermobile, 1920.

In February 1920, sad news sent the campus into a period of mourning when it was reported that OAC’s beloved librarian, Ida “Mother” Kidder had passed away at the age of 65. In the few months before her death, Kidder had been mostly bed-ridden, only capable of travelling around campus in a “wickermobile” cart that had been designed and built by students at the college. Though she had been at OAC for only twelve years, Kidder, who was the college’s first professional librarian, had made a great impression on the student body, and tributes were paid to her in numerous publications on campus and as far away as the Dishina School for Girls in Kyoto, Japan.

Though Kidder’s death was a major event at OAC, she could not be mourned at a public funeral or memorial service for nearly a month because the entire city of Corvallis had been placed under quarantine. Specifically, health authorities on campus had strictly banned all social gatherings that were not absolutely necessary as an outbreak of the flu had wreaked havoc on the community. Fortunately, the student body was not too drastically affected by the outbreak, with only a handful of intercollegiate basketball games being cancelled as a precautionary measure.

Machine gun training on the OAC campus, circa 1919.

And though the Great War had concluded the previous fall, military influence was still very prominent on campus. All male students were required to complete twelve credits of military training to graduate. If a student failed to enroll in military training over the course of a year, the remainder of their schedule was voided and they were fined until they began attending. But these formal strictures aside, it was clear that the environment on campus had changed from previous years, and nearly everyone was grateful to see the return of social events and other gatherings that had been banned during wartime.

Tales from Pauling’s Boyhood: The 1917 Shipbuilders’ Strike

Linus Pauling, 1917.

Linus Pauling, 1917.

In 1917, Pauling began a diary, (known simply as the “OAC Diary” among Special Collections staff) in which he described his activities, thoughts and feelings, many of which are both enlightening and entertaining. Just as interesting though, are some of the entries about life in the early 20th century. The diary contains a number of historical gems dating from Pauling’s time in Portland and Corvallis, including the following excerpt; an entry dating from either late September or early October 1917 and describing a strike among shipbuilders along the Oregon coast.

About 10,000 iron and wooden shipbuilders are striking in Portland, with corresponding amounts in other Pacific coast cities. Accordingly I will not get to see the Mt. Hood, the largest motorship in the world, launched. This is the second week that Supple and Ballin, across the river, has been idle. About 60 wooden ship and 12 steel ship ways are near Portland. The Mt. Hood and three sister ships of wood with Ballin’s patent steel reinforcements. The War Monarch, War Baron, War Viceroy, Landoas, and other ships now building on the Northwest Steel Co’s four ways, are of 8,800 tons. The three ships being built at the Coast Ship Building Co.’s place are about 10,000 tons.

After a little digging, the OSU Special Collections staff was able to turn up the fascinating history behind this little-known strike. In honor of Oregon’s 150th year in the Union, we would like to share that history today.

By early 1917, World War I was raging through Europe. Woodrow Wilson, U.S. president from 1913-1921, had maintained a policy of isolationism and neutrality throughout the war, leaving the U.S. relatively unaffected by the massive conflict. In January 1917, however, the situation changed drastically. British intelligence intercepted and decoded the Zimmerman Telegram, an order for the German delegate in Mexico to broker a treaty with the Mexican government. This treaty, if enacted, would require Mexico to go to war against the United States.

Furthermore, in February 1917, the German navy resumed unrestricted submarine warfare, a practice that had previously resulted in the sinking of the Lusitania and the deaths of nearly 2,000 civilian passengers, including hundreds of Americans. The U.S. could no longer remain neutral and, on April 6, 1917, the United States formally declared war on Germany and its allies.

The fall of 1917 saw the U.S. war movement in full swing with troop deployment and military buildup well underway. bio10011-45-shipbuilders-strike-entryWith this boom in military-minded production, underpaid laborers saw opportunity. In early September, wooden shipbuilders up and down the coast of Oregon began plotting a walkout. They knew that, with the need for ships and at an all-time high, plant management would be forced to meet their demands in order to get production back on schedule. Unfortunately for the would-be strikers, word of the plan got out. On September 14, the day before the walkout, E. W. Wright, manager of McEachern Shipbuilding in Astoria, closed his plant for the weekend, effectively superseding the workers’ strike.

Outraged by Wright’s actions, the McEachern workers accused Wright of locking out pro-union workers. The workers struck, citing their rights as union laborers rather than their initial demands for increased wages. On September 16, the Carpenter’s Union and other unions associated with the Metal Trades Council declared a strike as well. The following day, one hundred National Guard troops were sent to Hammond Lumber Co. in Astoria to protect non-union workers from the picketers. Many decried the Governor’s use of the National Guard, noting that no violence had occurred during the strike. This was the first time that National Guard troops had been mobilized during a strike in Oregon since 1898.

Following several unsuccessful meetings between union representatives and shipyard management, metal workers in Portland and Seattle struck in late September, expressing their solidarity with their fellow laborers. The following day, it was announced that Northwest timber companies had lost a series of large Federal lumber orders as a consequence of “uncertainty in the labor market.” Because wooden shipbuilding was on hold in the Northwest, the U.S. government had no reason to purchase timber there. Instead, the government was forced to move many of its contracts to California, where shipyards were still operating.

In early October, three weeks after the strike had begun, the halt in shipbuilding was becoming a danger to the U.S. war effort. The federal government approached shipyard owners, demanding that a solution be found immediately so that production might continue. After another week of fruitless negotiations, the U.S. government stepped in and the Federal Labor Adjustment Board began a series of hearings meant to force negotiations between the owners and laborers. As the hearings continued, the strikers increased their picketing, hoping to gain public support and cow the shipyard management. On October 17, 140 picketers were arrested in front of the Northwest Steel Company compound. As a result, union leaders agreed to stop all picketing until an agreement was reached.

On October 21, a deal was finally brokered between the two parties, with the shipyard owners conceding a small pay raise to the workers. The following day, the U.S. government announced the end of its wooden shipbuilding programs for the duration of World War I, unofficially discontinuing the use of wooden ships in the U.S. military. The shipbuilders returned to work on October 23 with orders to complete all commissioned ships, aware that the strike in which they had engaged had contributed to the demise of an entire industry.

Almost undoubtedly, the shipbuilders’ strike had far-reaching consequences that have greatly impacted the history of the Pacific Northwest. With the loss of government funds originally earmarked for Oregon timber and coastal shipbuilders, and unemployment rising in the wake of the demise of the wooden ship era, Oregon’s economy was altered drastically. It is difficult to imagine what the state’s industry, economy and population might look like today had this important event played out differently.

(And it is unknown whether Pauling ever saw the launching of the Mt. Hood.)

To learn more about Linus Pauling, visit the Linus Pauling Online portal.

Oregon 150