Oregon State UniversitySpecial Collections & Archives Research Center
Happenstance or Providence: How I found all my jobs
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Fritz Marti, February 1933.
Fritz Marti, February 1933.

The next coincidence seemed favorable. I had often been invited to the house of a lady in Portland who had three charming daughters. Her cousin was Dean of Arts at the University of Cincinnati. She recommended me, and Dean Chalmers wrote me he was ready to appoint me. But, alas, his next letter brought the news that the philosophy chairman, Professor Tawney, had gone to a convention at Chicago where he met an old friend whose son had just made the doctorate, and Tawney had awarded the vacant instructorship to that young man.

By summer 1925 I had no job for the fall. I set out to look for one, on my way east.

In the winter 1924-25 I taught evening classes in the University's extension center in Portland. One of my students was a young Dutch electrician, Louis Boomsma. He owned a Model T Ford which he had acquired in Los Angeles for $110. He was going to spend some time with an uncle in Sioux Falls, S.D., and desired to get eastward as cheaply as possible. So did I. The coach fare by rail from Portland to Sioux Falls would have cost each of us $76. We decided to chip in $75 each and travel in Louis' car, via Seattle, Yakima and Spokane. We were on the road for a fortnight, saw Yellow Stone Park, bought a set of four new tires, replaced the radiator and had the knock taken out of the engine, and ate reasonably well all the way, all for $150.

As an itinerant philosophical journeyman I began to look for a job at the University of Montana. When I saw the gigantic white M high on the mountain side above Missoula I went to a shoeshine parlor and spent a dime on a polish of my high shoes and another to shine my old leather puttees which I still had from my Swiss army service. It was money wasted. The Dean of Arts at the university needed no philosophy instructor.

Our next stop was at Butte where we had to wait a day for the engine repair. I called on the Dean of the State School of Mines. Philosophy? No. they had never taught that but it sounded interesting. The dean went to see the president who had no money for such luxuries.

We drove on through Yellowstone, the Big Horn Mountains and the long and enchanting prairies. At one point in Wyoming we almost bought a vacant cabin on a lonely knoll. We drove past the Devil's Tower and, on the Chamberlain ferry, crossed the Missouri, from the desolate prairies into the green corn belt of eastern South Dakota. Louis stayed with his uncle, and I began my train trip to the East, first via Mankato to La Crosse.

The next day Aunt Mary took me to see the woman president of the local college, but there was no job. I continued to Madison to meet Professor McGilvary with whom I had corresponded while still in Switzerland. The University of Wisconsin had no vacancy in philosophy. Neither was there any in the Chicago area, at Northwestern University in Evanston, at the Armour Institute of Technology whose Dean was a Swiss from Neuchâtel, and at the University of Chicago where Professor Tufts received me in a very friendly way and asked me to lunch. He suggested that I stay another hour and go to the solemn ground breaking for the two million dollar chapel that was to be built. As I came to that vacant lot a little early, only two workmen were there, testing the steam shovel. By accident the shovel ripped out half a square yard of turf. The two men quickly replaced it so that the ground looked unbroken. Then the small academic procession came, led by Tufts. A tiny trustee clad in too big a gown was hoisted unto the steam shovel, one of the workmen towered behind him, reached down over the little man's shoulders and guided his hands on the levers, thus breaking ground officially. I have never seen this incident written up anywhere. After all the only witnesses were the two workmen and I. As I watched the ceremony, I figured the university could well afford to hire me for a year, if the building of the chapel were delayed for just one week. That week's interest on the two millions would amply cover my salary. But as fate would have it, I came to teach at the University of Chicago only a score of years later.

During my few days at Chicago I stayed at the YMCA, for seventy-five cents a night, not clean but cheap. The first evening I leafed through my little address book and my eye was caught by the name of a Mr. Muller, the uncle of an old friend of mine with whom I had studied engineering and who had asked me to bring personal greetings to his uncle if ever I were in Chicago. I had forgotten that request and now phoned Mr. Muller. He asked me to call after supper. He lived way out in a western suburb and I could stay only an hour before the last elevated train back. Just before I left, Mr. Muller said I should call on an acquaintance of his, a well to do Swiss realtor in the Loop who had various academic connections. Next morning this gentleman gave me the names of the dean at Armour Institute and of the Swiss professor of anatomy at the University of Michigan. He also gave me his calling card with a word of introduction to Professor Adolph Meyer, one of the country's leading psychiatrists and Director of the Phipps Clinic at The Johns Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore.

From Chicago I went to Ann Arbor, where there was no vacancy. By this time I was a bit worried because the fall term would soon open everywhere. So I changed the wording of my inquiry to "do you need a man to teach philosophy or something else?"

The answer remained negative in Cleveland at Western Reserve University and at the Case School of Technology, also at the University of Pittsburgh. Neither were there any openings in philosophy in Philadelphia. Even if there had been one at Temple University I would not have taken the job. The dean's secretary asked me to wait for the man in his own inner office. Above his desk there hung a lifesize photograph showing face, shoulders and chest of a gentleman whom I took to be some famous friend of the dean. When the dean walked in, I saw it was his own picture, and I quickly prepared an excuse in case he should offer me a job.

The very kindly and scholarly dean at the University of Pennsylvania took my double inquiry literally and offered me an instructorship in Latin. I was still so green that I declined, not knowing that all that would be expected of me would be to teach elementary Latin which I could well have done. But I surmised that, though hired, I'd be fired again at once, as an impostor posing as a classicist.