Oregon State UniversitySpecial Collections & Archives Research Center

Oral Histories of the Oregon State University Microbiology Department, 1964-1989

Historical Note:

The first biology classes taught at Oregon Agricultural College were offered by the School of Physics in the 1876-77 academic year and included training on the use of microscopes. Bacteriology as a separate course was not made available until 1899 when Emile F. Pernot, a bacteriologist and photographer, began providing instruction in the discipline. Pernot also conducted many bacteriological studies on behalf of the Agricultural Experiment Station on topics ranging from contaminants in milk to diseases of goats and hogs to the production of clover. By 1909 Pernot had acquired an assistant and fourteen courses formed the curriculum, as supported by the new Department of Bacteriology. Pernot left OAC in 1910 for a position as City Bacteriologist in Portland.

In 1912 T.D. Beckwith became head of the department and over the next handful of years, new study options came online in pharmacy bacteriology, immunity and vaccine therapy, zymology, and sewer and water bacteriology. In 1922 the unit was transferred administratively from the School of Agriculture to the new School of Basic Arts and Sciences. Bacteriology formally became a department in the School of Science in 1936; that same year, the staff of the Hygiene department was merged into Bacteriology.

Over the next three decades the department evolved in a number of ways, all the while growing steadily. In 1946 its name was changed to Bacteriology and Hygiene, and a graduate program was introduced. Marine bacteriology was added to the curriculum in 1953 and the department's name was changed yet again, to Microbiology and Hygiene, in 1961. From 1936 to 1965 the department's staff grew from 3 to 21 and its total class enrollment swelled from 167 to 496. By the mid-1960s all of the department's instruction and a portion of its research were administered by the School of Science, with the other portion overseen by the Agricultural Experiment Station.

Now located within the OSU College of Science, the Microbiology department's research agenda continues to serve the missions of both its parent college as well as that of the College of Agricultural Sciences. By the close of 2012, over 300 OSU students were majoring in microbiology and the department was home to 30 faculty and an equal number of graduate students.

Walter B. Bollen (1896-1989) was born in Portland and spent the majority of his life in Oregon. Bollen attended Oregon Agricultural College, receiving a bachelor's degree in horticulture in 1921 before earning a master's in bacteriology the following year. Bollen then moved on to Iowa State College, where he took a doctorate in soil fertility, awarded in 1924. Bollen returned to Corvallis in 1929, assuming a position as Associate Bacteriologist. Over the course of his career, Bollen served as both teaching faculty and research scientist affiliated with the Agricultural Experiment Station. Bollen's primary scholarly focus was legume inoculation for use in agricultural production. He retired from the university in 1965 but maintained an association with the Microbiology department up until his death in 1989.

Mabel E. Pernot (1900-1991) was the daughter of Emile F. Pernot and the granddaughter of George Coote. Born in Corvallis, Mabel moved with her family to Portland in 1910 before returning to Corvallis in 1925 to care for her ailing grandmother. Later in life, she worked as the OSU clothing and textile stock room manager from 1947 to her retirement in 1965.

Emile F. Pernot (1859-1927) was a bacteriologist and photographer who is considered to be the originator of microbiology at Oregon State University. Pernot taught the first bacteriology classes offered at Oregon Agricultural College before leaving Corvallis in 1910 for the position of City Bacteriologist in Portland, where he also founded Portland Bacteriological Laboratory. Pernot likewise served two long terms as State Bacteriologist, from 1903-1913 and again from 1916-1923. His research interests were wide-ranging, but perhaps his most important contributions were to the study of tuberculosis, particularly as it effects poultry.

George Coote (1842-1908), a native of England, emigrated directly to Corvallis in 1877, where he established himself as a farmer. In 1888 Coote accepted a position within Oregon Agricultural College's Department of Horticulture - eventually becoming its chair - which he maintained until months before his death in November 1908. During his tenure, Coote was responsible for the college's grounds and greenhouses, and also published several Extension Service Bulletin articles on fruits, flowers, vegetables and nuts.

Harriet Forest Moore was Oregon State University's first archivist from 1961 to 1966.

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