Oregon State UniversitySpecial Collections & Archives Research Center
Happenstance or Providence: How I found all my jobs
Page 7

Published in the Washington D. C. Evening Star, September 23, 1938.
Published in the Washington D. C. Evening Star, September 23, 1938.

The country was not yet out of the depression, and jobs were scarce. A new coincidence seemed to favor me in a gruesome way. At the College of William and Mary Professor Geiger fell down a flight of stairs, broke his neck and died. I was about to get into my car and drive to Williamsburg. But the good ladies at Hollins pointed out that in Virginia one ought to wait till Geiger was properly buried. I waited and lost my chance. A young Ph.D. fresh from Harvard and not knowing Virginian proprieties arrived at once and got the job.

My favorable coincidence was uniquely odd again. As I had my car I drove from Hollins to Baltimore two or three times a year, to visit friends. Early in 1935 I did not return the direct way via Frederick and Winchester but had some business in Washington. The old narrow highway was often so full of traffic that it could take two hours to cover the forty miles to the capital. This time, leaving Baltimore, I had to stop at the Montgomery Ward corner for the right turn unto the Washington turnpike. At the corner a college student with an armful of books was thumbing for a ride. I took him aboard, and we began to chat. He was bound for the campus of the University of Maryland at College Park, a few miles from the District of Columbia. When he heard I was a college teacher, he wanted to know my subject. He said, "College Park offers no courses in philosoph; why don't you come and teach it?" In my ears this sounded like an odd suggestion. At Goucher and Hopkins we had always looked askance at "that cow college" in College Park. However I figured the lack of philosophy courses was as good as a vacancy, and I drove the boy right up onto his campus, stopped at the administration building and asked for a catalog. The Dean of Arts and Sciences was not in his office, but I sent him a letter from Hollins and, a few weeks later, I drove back to call on the new president, "Curly" Byrd who had been Maryland's most successful football coach, then Athletic Director, and eventually Vice President. Curly was always interested in innovations. He thought well of my proposal to introduce philosophy, and I became a full professor and head of the new department.

I soon had a good friend in Toby Danzig, the chairman of mathematics. He had made a name for himself by his book on Numbers. A second book was accepted for publication, and Toby celebrated the occasion by inviting a score of people to his house, and having the book's first chapter read to them. The reader was Elizabeth Lindsay, the widow of Vachel Lindsay. I found her a very interesting person and phoned her at the King-Smith Studio School in Washington, where she was dean. She had to cancel our dinner engagement the last minute but asked me to come and see her at a small party in the apartment of two teachers at her school, Franc Epping, the sculptress, and Gertrude Austin, the pianist. It was the latter with whom I spent the evening, rather than Mrs. Lindsay. Exactly an hundred days later, on the day of St. Boniface, June 5, 1937, Gertrude and I were married. It was the best coincidence Providence had yet arranged. We found an apartment across the street from King-Smith, and I could reach the university in a drive of twenty minutes.

At the very top of the Maryland campus hill stood an iron water tower, out of use. When the Japanese began to increase their navy they paid good money for scrap. The University sold the old tower. It was being dismanteled while I taught a summer class outdoors. That one time in my life I dared to prophesy, and the prophecy came true. I told my students: "Make no mistake. Some day that iron will be shot back at you from Japanese guns."

When we were actually at war, Byrd was quick in bringing to the campus the first eight-hundred men for the Army's Special Training Course in the principles of geography and physics. The army psychologists did an excellent job in sending us qualified students, no matter what their school background. Now Curley had to provide staff to teach them. He had the secretaries check the faculty background. Since I had been a student of mechanical engineering I was among those picked to teach physics.

A few days before summer school opened, the new dean, formerly chairman of chemistry, and a good friend of mine, sent for me and informed me that by Byrd's orders I was to cancel all courses in philosophy and give all my time to physics, as my patriotic duty. I said I would do nothing of the sort since the war surely required a citizenry at home in the history of ideas. However, I said, I was as patriotic as the next man and, beyond teaching all my philosophy courses, I would take over on my own and without pay two sections of thirty men in physics.

Our beloved professor of physics, Eichlin, had died shortly of cancer and had been replaced -- it was war time -- by a former high school teacher of physics who was ignorant and stupid. The first test he wrote for the 800 men resulted in a four foot high stack of papers full of inevitably prolix and verbal answers to vague and unmathematical questions which did not really test the students' comprehension of simple statics. This man sent a rude order I was to see him in his office as if I was not his senior but some underling. He took the top half foot of these test papers and told me to grade them. I put them right back on the pile and told him to grade them himself since it was he who had written this test. I could have devised a graphic test which could have been checked in almost no time and would have tested real proficiency. Next day the dean told me he agreed with me but I was in hot water. At home, Gertrude said, "You had better look for another job."