Oregon State University Libraries and Press

Margaret Finke Oral History Interview, June 2, 1983

Oregon State University

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MF: I'm Margaret Fincke. At present I am emeritus professor of Foods and Nutrition at Oregon State University.

YL: I understand that you initiated the research program at Oregon State in the Home Economics Department.

MF: No, not in Home Economics, in Foods and Nutrition. Actually there had been a few research projects that had been carried out before that time. For instance, there was a very good one on the varieties of apples and their cooking qualities. That one was done in the Foods and Nutrition Department along with a few other small projects. They hadn't been funded, but were done in addition to everything else on the part of some of the staff members.

YL: What got you interested and involved in that?

MF: Well, some money became available. In 1935 I had finished my graduate work 1:00but we were in the middle of the depression. There weren't very many jobs, and there wasn't very much money anywhere in the country available for teaching or research. The Bankhead Jones Act was passed by Congress, and it provided funds for not only agricultural research, but there was also a clause in there about some funds for home economics. I'm not sure that it said that precisely, but it was applicable to home economics. The funds became available during the summer, and the committee here was looking for someone. I was fortunate enough to get the job and so I came west from New York. When I came out here, I found there 2:00were practically no facilities for research. There was no extra room. I had one corner of a foods laboratory, or rather the nutrition laboratory, where I could work when there wasn't a class in there. My budget for the first year was $600 with which I could equip the laboratory, pay for all the supplies, and any necessary help that I might be able to get. Actually, there was a little help because it was in the days of NYA, National Youth Administration. Students who were needy could work up to something like twenty hours a week, I think it was. They were paid by the NYA so I did have a little student help. That was when research in foods and nutrition started on a regular basis.


YL: What were your responsibilities as far as setting up the research program?

MF: To do just that - to set up the research program; equip the laboratory, write a project, and then to do the work.

YL: What were some of your first research projects?

MF: I was working on, first of all, the availability of calcium from spinach as it compared with other greens. Spinach is high in oxalic acid. Previous work with rats had shown that the calcium in spinach was not utilized, but that the calcium in other greens, particularly kale, was utilized in a way comparable to that of calcium in milk. So we did a study with humans. Then we branched out and 4:00went further into the studies of vitamins, ascorbic acid, and thiamin; the requirements of humans, and some factors that might affect their requirements.

YL: What got you interested in doing you first research project with spinach?

MF: I had done some work with it, but I hadn't worked with humans, so I wanted to know how the work with animals could be carried over into the human areas.

YL: Did you use any NYA students?

MF: No, a couple of us staff members used ourselves. We all believed that we should never ask anybody else to do what we wouldn't do ourselves, so all of us on the staff at that time acted as experimental subjects at one time or another.


YL: You said that you did your research in laboratories when they weren't being used for classes. Did you have to do most of your research at night?

MF: No, laboratories weren't busy all the time. The school was smaller. There were a couple of classes that were taught in nutrition, but I had, I suppose, the use of the lab about half a day every day. It was a little irregular though, and I had to set my work around the teaching schedule.

YL: Okay. And then you went on to develop the graduate student research program?

MF: That had already started. There had been some master's studies that were on apples, and there had been some others. I had graduate students from the very beginning.


YL: But you developed it further?

MF: Yes, the department developed them. They weren't all my students; some were.

YL: Could you tell me a little bit about your role in the development of the Nutrition Research Program in 1935?

MF: Well, I did it - that was it. I was the only one who had any time to really devote to it. Part of my salary was for research purposes, and I was the first one to do it. That was where the development came in; I worked at it.

YL: Do you have any more comments to add?


MF: About the research? Well, when we started, we realized that we were very isolated as far as nutrition was concerned. I knew the person who was doing the nutrition research up at Washington State, and I had met some of the others. We very early developed cooperative research among the nutrition research workers at Washington State, Montana State University, Utah State, and Oregon State. We didn't have any funds for such things so we used to get together on our own once 8:00or twice a year, and then carry on the cooperative part by correspondence. We had at least one publication as a group, and we kept up the association. When funds became available later on for cooperative research, the basic work had been done. Dr. Storvick's part later on was to do the cooperative research, but I was always interested in it.

YL: You were the first professor with a doctorate degree to be hired in the School of Home Economics. What would you say were some of the challenges that you faced when you were establishing a professional approach to home economics?

MF: The professional approach was there. Oh, yes. Mrs. Jessamine Williams, who 9:00was head of the department, was a very professionally minded person. So was Agnes Kolshorn, who was also on the staff. I think we were able to develop graduate work more because I had the laboratory. Later on we began to get a little money through the Experiment Station, so we got one assistantship a year and we continued with that. So, you see, it was possible to do more than had been done before, but the climate was there certainly, before I came. They were very glad to have somebody who could devote time to it. Actually, there was 10:00money that was available for all of home economics, but it was only foods and nutrition that welcomed it. That was really the reason I was the one chosen; it could have been somebody in family life or clothing or management. Miss Wilson, Maud Wilson, was already doing research in housing, but they wanted to open up research in a different department. As I said, the professional climate and the interest in research was there before I came so I got plenty of support.

YL: Going back to your background before you started your research, could you tell us a little bit about where you went to school, what you majored in, the 11:00degrees you got, and why you chose OSU?

MF: Yes. I graduated from Mt. Holyoke College with a major in chemistry and a minor in zoology and physiology. Then, among other things that I did during the next few years, was to go to Newfoundland. I saw what it was like when food and the variety of food is scarce and the affect that that had on the people there, including those who were on the staff. I was there for six months. I did not spend a winter there, but I had the interest. As it happened, there was a study 12:00going on in Newfoundland at the time by Dr. Helen Mitchell, also a Mt. Holyoke graduate of a few years earlier than I. I met her later, and she filled in a lot of the background that I didn't know about the people in Newfoundland. She had done a nutrition status study there, and then had followed up a few years later with another one so they could see the progress that had been made. When I came back from Newfoundland, I went to Columbia University as a special assistant to the head of the chemistry department, Dr. Henry Sherman. He had been out for a year with tuberculosis.

When he came back, the administration tried to make things as easy for him as 13:00possible so they gave him another assistant to do anything he need done. I was that assistant, and I started my graduate work under his direction. He was one of the outstanding leaders in the area of chemistry and nutrition. I stayed on to do my master's and doctorate under him. He had been a visiting professor out here (OSU) one summer for a short course; a two weeks short course in nutrition. They (OSU) knew him and were apt to follow his recommendation. He recommended me, and I came. It was pretty far away from home. I grew up in New York, so I thought I would come for only two years; it isn't fair to leave at the end of only one year. I came for two years, and I'm still here!

YL: You must like Oregon then?


MF: Yes, I liked it, I liked the people, and I liked living here. I liked being in a Land-Grant Institution. It was the first Land-Grant College I'd come in contact with. My major as a graduate student was in the chemistry of nutrition, and I came from an entirely different background then the home economics people. Although I hadn't really known anything about home economics before, I learned a great deal. I listened in on courses in various fields, but I always listened in on all the foods and nutrition courses. We had a department seminar which covered the whole area of foods and nutrition, and I learned a great deal. I had 15:00a chance to do reading on my own in the area of foods, and I gained a great deal of respect for foods which I had known very little about from a scientific standpoint. So, I grew into this area of home economics; I didn't grow up with it.

YL: That's very interesting.

MF: Of course most of the earlier leaders in home economics come up through other fields too, including Ellen Richards who had come up in chemistry.

YL: Then you were appointed as the acting dean of Home Economics for the two years of 1964 and 1965. What were some of the accomplishments that you were able 16:00to do? Would you say that the school changed, or was it going through a change at that time?

MF: In a way it was. I had been acting dean for six months when Miss Milam was dean so I knew a little bit about the administration of the school. I had been department head since 1945, so I knew quite a bit about administration. I wanted to see the development of the different departments, and I wanted to develop the 17:00schools professional manner as much as possible, taking full advantage of the relationship of home economics to the basic disciplines; the sciences, social sciences, philosophy and liberal arts. I have a great respect for liberal arts as a background, and I thought Oregon State had recognized that for a long time in home economics. Miss Milam was responsible for bringing the liberal arts into home economics. Before her, I think the emphasis had been much more on what we call home economics subjects: food, nutrition, clothing, textiles - the applied 18:00areas, but without having much of the basic sciences and arts. I was glad to continue what we started because I felt very strongly on that subject. I wanted to see all departments develop, and I wanted to see all departments doing research. Now, I was not able to accomplish that in two years, but we made a start, I think. The school was growing quite rapidly at the time. In 1963 we were not yet getting the results of the baby boom of the 50's, but it was beginning. You see, in '63 the eighteen-year olds had been born in 1948. We were 19:00beginning to get a larger number of students, and the students, themselves, I think, were interested in a much broader opportunity for choice. They were not interested in following a curriculum where everyone took the same thing. We'd been working on the curriculum at that time and there were changes; not always for the best, but you've got to have change once in a while, I think. We changed to the core curriculum from the general curriculum.

You see, the emphasis when I first came was probably to prepare students as high 20:00school teachers, and that's where most of the students went. There were always some who went into dietetics, but some of the other areas had not been developed. I think the curriculum was based on "what a student might have to teach eventually", which meant all home economics areas with a good background in each. Well, there was demand for more specialization. I think we felt that there needed to be a good basis of all home economics courses. We didn't want a student going through in Family Life, taking nothing but social science as a background, and knowing nothing about clothing and textiles, nutrition, foods, and so forth. We thought that everybody ought to have the basis of a common 21:00core. It could be less than it had been, because everyone was not planning on going into either teaching or dietetics.

YL: Did you help look at the requirements for the common core and bring in some more liberal arts type courses?

MF: No, I don't think I did much of that. I think we developed some of it, but they had started before I became dean. You can't develop a whole new program of course work in two years, but in a way, you can sort of set the pattern for the future.

YL: I know that you were also interested in studying the inborn errors in metabolism, and that you took some leave to go to a children's hospital.


MF: Yes, I had a sabbatical at that time. I spent the first part of the year in Thailand. Oregon State University had a contract with Kasetsart University there for advisers, and I went as an adviser in home economics. I don't feel as though I accomplished a great deal in six months, but at least, I helped to lay the background, the groundwork. Then I went to Children's Hospital in Cincinnati for the rest of the year. They were working on inborn errors of metabolism and I was working in the dietary department. As a member there, I was the one assigned to work with the people who were actually doing experimental work with inborn 23:00errors. I saw the first three cases of Phenylketonuria that I had ever seen. I knew a little about it beforehand, but that did, I think, awaken an interest in inborn errors that continued right along until now.

YL: It must have been a very interesting experience.

MF: It was a very interesting experience, yes. At the time we had three cases: one little boy was four, and a brother and sister who were about two and three, I think. The damage had already been done at that time and they were profoundly retarded. When we put them on a phenylalanine free or low diet, they improved, but within their own limits. When I came back to OSU, there were a few cases in 24:00the state of Oregon, and I was asked to be a consultant on those cases. It was shown that if you got them early enough; by early enough, I mean two or three weeks of age, the profound retardation could be avoided. I don't know that they yet know what some of the long term effects are. Even with the treatment of proper diet and so forth, there were behavioral problems that developed later. There were problems even when children were taken off the diet; theoretically you could take them off the restricted diet when their brains had developed up to a certain point. Actually, I think there were problems when they were taken 25:00off the special diet. I was very much interested in all of that, yes, but not only in phenylketonuria. We had many seminars in the area of phenylketonuria, and the Nutrition Research Institute had a electrosaries which Miss Storvick will tell you about. That created a lot of interest on the campus because I think people in education did not realize at all that there could be any possible relationship between learning ability and nutrition not only in education, but in other areas too. Some of the physicians in town also became quite interested in this.

It was at that time, I suppose, that a group of us worked with the State 26:00Department of Health. The department was able to put through a ruling that all babies born in the State of Oregon be tested for phenylketonuria, galacticimia and maple syrup urine disease. We do volunteer work now in the medical records department in the hospital here, and one of the things I have done there is to file these little reports that come back from the State Department of Health in the proper baby's folder. There haven't been very many cases found, but there have been some. Consider that there was one man over at Fairview who was sixty-seven years old with the mentality of eight months; if you can prevent 27:00that, it's worth a program that may uncover only one or two cases a year, if that many. That's been one of my interests, yes.

YL: Did you apply your knowledge when you returned to your classes?

MF: Well, certainly. They had to listen to me.

YL: Did you end up teaching?

MF: Yes, I certainly did. Child nutrition had been taught for a good many years, but no matter what experiences you have as a teacher, you certainly bring them all in to your teaching.

YL: I remember reading that you wanted to go to Children's Hospital specifically to improve.

MF: Of course, whenever you take a sabbatical you hope to improve yourself in 28:00some way. In fact, that's the purpose of the sabbatical, so yes, I think I talked about it, not only to my classes, but also to general groups. As I said, the whole idea of inborn errors of metabolism was pretty new, and people in other areas did not realize there might be any connection.

YL: How did it affect the Education Department in Oregon?

MF: I don't know, I suppose it affected their thinking, I don't know that it affected their deliberate actions much, but certainly, I think it broadened 29:00their point of view.

YL: And then you were in Thailand. What exactly did you do at the University there?

MF: Well, I was adviser to home economics. They were setting up the school. Miss Milam had been to Thailand. The last time she was in China, she also went to Thailand and spent a few weeks. She talked to the Minister of Education and to others high up, telling them that they should send people to school in this country. We started off with two students, and we've added a number since then. By the time I went to Thailand, there were a few people in Thailand who had had a background in home economics and could teach, but educators as a whole did not 30:00have the concept of what home economics was. That's a very American idea, you know, and so it was my job, I think principally, to educate the rector and the vice rector of the university. The rector was very receptive to it, but the vice rector was not as much so. He told me right at the beginning that he really didn't believe in home economics. I didn't say much, but I just worked around, learned as much as I could and worked on possible courses that might be taught and what students might gain. About a couple of weeks before I was going to leave, they asked me to submit outlines for all the courses that we taught in home economics. I didn't quite do that, but I did leave them with quite a few 31:00generalizations. I still had to learn a lot about how much could be applied to an entirely different culture.

YL: It must have been hard to approach a different culture with our concept of home economics.

MF: Yes, but in many ways they were receptive to it. Thailand was, of course, a very interesting country in that there are two classes: the rich and the poor. There is no middle class, at least at that time there was practically none. Students came from the wealthier class, but the teaching would probably have to be aimed at the poorer class. Well, I think the important thing was to really open their eyes to the possibility of what could be done. There was nothing very 32:00tangible that I could leave, but I think that I left a few ideas. Then Miss Agnes Kolshorn followed me. She was there for two years and she would have accomplished much more, I'm sure. I think I sort of started it, started the ground work at least.

YL: And then you also had experiences in Israel.

MF: Yes, in Israel it was an entirely different situation. Israel, of course, is a much better developed country, a very highly educated country in general. I mean, they have a number of very fine scientists that work in all areas: artists, writers, dramatists, actors and so forth. They had had some exposure to home economics, and were quite anxious to get a school of home economics 33:00started. Of course it's a small country. We had many problems, and one of the biggest problems was to find staff. As there hadn't been home economics there before, you couldn't look for home economists to do the teaching. It had to be more like it was at the very beginning of home economics here; you have to draw on people from different disciplines and bring them in. That's about what we had to do. Then we had to work with the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health, showing them what a trained home economist could do. They were teaching 34:00something that they called home economics in high school. The teachers there came from institutes where they had had two years of higher education past high school, but it was not with matriculation. There a high school student can go through high school, graduate and have a perfectly good diploma, but he isn't prepared for the university. He was not acceptable unless he had taken matriculation exams. They are tough exams and cover specific areas. In our country, if a student transfers from an Israeli high school or an Israeli university and comes here to a university, he is given credit for one year of 35:00college work for his matriculation exam; they're that extensive. The people who were teaching home economics had not had matriculation. They had gone to the two year training schools.

Well, then the law was passed that stated that in the future, if a teacher was going to teach in high school, he or she must have a degree. This meant that they must have matriculation, and then they must go to the university, not to the two-year institutes. It was a problem there to try and upgrade the people who were already teaching, and to also prepare new ones. So I met with some resistance. The people who had already been teaching and teaching quite successfully were in some cases quite resistant; not the teachers themselves 36:00perhaps as much as some of the officials. They were resistant to teachers having to go back and take what would amount to at least three years of work. You see, that was pretty hard to say, "You have been teaching for ten years, now you must go back and take three more years of preparation." That was hard, and it was the same way with dietetics. We were also going to prepare students for hospital dietetics. There aren't a great many hospitals in Israel, but there's some very good ones. But the profession of dietetics had not been developed as much as it might have been; for instance, in the hospital in Rehovot where I was, they 37:00said they had a clinic of three hundred diabetics and no dietitian to work with them. But even then, some of the doctors were very anxious for trained dietitians and some were not. So I think that they have done very well, but its been slow progress.

Another difficulty was the matter of textbooks. It's such a small country and Hebrew, their language, is a language nowhere else, so they were not going to print textbooks for a field that had only twenty-five students in it a year. They had to use, primarily, English textbooks written in English. That meant that they had to be proficient enough in English to read. If they had come up through the high schools in Israel, they'd have had English from the sixth grade 38:00on. They had read Shakespeare, but they had never read any chemistry or any nutrition and that was difficult. Also, they may have come from another country, graduated from high school elsewhere, and had very good high school training, but were not prepared in English. So we had problems there.

YL: What exactly did you do?

MF: Well, I called it, of course, an Introduction to Home Economics. There were some who spoke English very well, and I always gave them a mimeographed outline in English of the day's lesson. The others in the class would help. Israeli students are very cooperative, very helpful with each other, and they were a 39:00mature group as they had had military experience before they came to the university. The men had had thirty months and the women had had twenty months following high school. After they had had matriculation exams, they had their military experience. Even those who were what we call conscientious objectors did some kind of service for the state, mostly in their new immigrant developments down in the dessert somewhere. They are all at a much higher level of development than our regular freshmen. They were very helpful, very attentative. They didn't put up with any nonsense either. They let me know if they didn't like something. I liked them very much.

YL: I understand that you worked with Dean Milam. I would like to know some 40:00things about what was she like as a person? How would you describe her?

MF: Well, urn? Indestructible. That's true. You can't say it in a few words. She was a strategist. Now for instance, one time the animal industries on campus called her in and said they had just voted that Sherman's Chemistry of Foods and Nutrition, which was the standard textbook in the field of nutrition, was not fair to the animal industries. It gave undue weight to the use of milk instead 41:00of meat. Therefore, they had voted that it should not be used, - "You know, that book should not be used on the campus." Miss Milam just looked the Board over and said, "You gentlemen can't be serious", and that ended that. She was tall for one thing, imposing and very good looking. She could keep her cool, turn aside something like that, and show that it's absurd. I think they accepted it at that. She had ideas but did not want to impose them on us, but she would like to have us adopt them. I remember once when we voted on an idea, everybody voted against it. She looked a little startled and said, "Well, I guess that's that". 42:00We never heard another word about it and there was no animosity. She had ideas as to what we could do, and sometimes we thought we had plenty to do without those new ideas, but you could argue with her, I mean you could discuss things with her. You could say, "I don't agree with you," and she would accept it. So, by and large, she was a good person to work with.

YL: What do you think her philosophy of home economics was?

MF: I always have difficulty putting that into words. I've heard an awful lot of attempted definitions of what home economics is.

YL: What do you think it meant to her? How did she influence the school by her beliefs?

MF: Well, she believed thoroughly in home economics. That's certainly true, and 43:00she felt that the main purpose of home economics was to educate women for the home. She believed that there were jobs, yes, that one could pursue. One could do high school teaching, dietetics, and so forth, but primarily, the focus should be on home, rather than delving deeply into any one field. I think she felt that everybody should be educated in all areas of home economics and have a thorough education.

Dr. Clara Storvick: She wasn't in it for the "all mighty" dollar. She was a whiz in food preparation herself.

MF: Yes, she was. And, I think she was greatly respected in all areas on the 44:00campus and worldwide. For instance, the forestry people had concerns: they said that at that time they had young men and a few young women who went off to lookouts during the summer to watch for forest fires. The law or the rules of the Department of the Interior required that supplies be sent in to these people 45:00at least once a month, usually by mule train. Many of the lookouts were so isolated that that's the only contact they had with the outside world. The School of Forestry asked Miss Milam, this was before she was dean, if she would teach a course on camp cookery, which she did. It was a very popular course. She realized that if these men were going off for three months, they could wreck their health if they didn't eat properly. For years we had lists of supplies that they might take and suggestions as to how to use them, how to look for wild plants, and fresh food. Of course, these young men were interested in earning 46:00money as money was pretty scarce during those days. Since they paid for their own food, they would try to skimp. And of course, fruits and vegetables and such things were what they would elect to omit. So along with camp cookery she taught some nutrition.

The department continued to teach that course for many, many years. As I said, we had these lists of supplies, and even after the course was dropped I brought that list up-to-date on more than one occasion. She took that camp cookery class on, not knowing anything about camping. Dean Peavy, dean of Forestry and who 47:00later became President Peavy said, "I'll do the camping part if you'll do the other part." They taught it together, I think, at first. As I said, she was very much respected and, of course, Dr. Snell had also been very well respected. Home economics really has played an important part on this campus and is a very respected field of endeavor.

YL: I know you've had experience with mountain climbing too. And Dean Hawthorne?

MF: Also Miss Storvick; she was the one who really got us started.

YL: Dean Hawthorne was with you once, and I heard she had an accident or something?

MF: Yes, we were there. We were climbing Mt. Washington rather early in the 48:00season. It's pretty steep, and when you go around, you have to go up some rocks and then around to the other side on a path that's about that wide. The leaders had gone ahead and strung a rope along so at least you had something to hold on to. Coming back, we had gotten around the part which was dry and on the sunny side. We started down by the rocks and I knew it was terribly slippery and icy. We were all concerned about the fact that we didn't have a rope there. Miss Hawthorne slipped and fell and started sliding down. She was facedown at first, and somehow she flipped over, was on her back and then she had no control. She was heading down, right for some rocks. One of the young men ran across the 49:00slope, dug his ice ax in with one hand, caught her with the other and stopped her. That could have been pretty disastrous. She had to come the rest of the way down on foot so she could get to the camp. We all were scared, don't think we weren't!

YL: And you continued mountain climbing?

MF: Oh yes.

YL: Okay. Looking back on all of the things you've done at Oregon State and in Corvallis, is there one thing that's the most, maybe no one, but a couple things that are really meaningful to you? What do you feel personally? You've done so many things, and you've received so many honors. What do you think?

MF: Oh, of course, I think the most important thing is to see some of the 50:00graduates; see what they've done. We've had some wonderful ones.

YL: That's very rewarding to you?

MF: Oh, yes. That's what you are teaching for - to prepare people for something else.

YL: Do you have any comments you would like to add?

MF: No, I don't think so.

YL: It's been really interesting.

MF: Of course, we were very pleased when Miss Hawthorne became dean, and I think she's done a very fine job. We hope we get a new dean who is equally competent.

YL: Thank you very much.