Oregon State University Libraries and Press

E.B. Lemon Oral History Interview, July 10, 1956

Oregon State University
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LILLIAN VAN LOAN: Could you tell us about the beginnings of Oregon State College?

E.B. LEMON: Well, that's a very interesting subject to me, the beginnings of Oregon State College. It's a real pleasure to visit with you about it for a while.

LVL: When did you first come here?

EL: That was a long time ago. It was the fall of 1907 I joined the freshman class at Oregon State College. I came then from a little high school in central Oregon, the town of Grass Valley. To indicate something of my background before I came to Oregon State College, I was the president of my senior class because I was the only one in the class. Coming to college in those days was quite an event. I still have some interests over at that community. Now I drive over there whenever I care to, in 3 1/2 to 4 hours. Back then it took me two days to get here,

LVL: How did you come?

EL: I came to Portland the first day by train. The next day, there wasn't any such a thing as a bus, there weren't any roads that a bus could get over, so it was train or walk. The institution at that time was very small. I suppose it might have compared favorably with a modern high school today, but I think that's rather generous perhaps. It was fair sized, it was overwhelming to me. There were four or five big buildings, seven or eight hundred students and as a sidelight I think there are five of those buildings still on the campus. I've seen most of them revamped considerably, but I've been here long enough to have seen all the rest of the campus develop in that time.

You might be interested in those buildings that are still here. Three are in the front part of the campus, or I should say five over there. Apperson Hall, which has had another story put on it since I first saw it. Benton Hall, which was then Administration building and the center of most of the activities of the institution. That building's been used for so many purposes that it's hard to keep track. Education Hall, which has been completely rebuilt in the interior and has served many purposes since then, and was at that time known as Agriculture Hall. The most interesting structure of all to me is what is now the College Playhouse. That was almost a new building and was the pride of the campus. The auditorium in there I thought was the largest room I'd ever seen and I suppose it was. That building which is now the little playhouse was then the college armory, the gymnasium for men, the gymnasium for women and the auditorium. We could go on indefinitely on the evolution of that building.

I wrote a little article at one time about the evolution of college buildings. I constructed it around the playhouse but that's all besides the point now. The fourth building of that's still standing is now the Paleontology laboratory which was then the chemistry building. I said there were five, but I guess there were six, the other building was Cauthorn Hall. Cauthorn Hall, which is now Kidder Hall, the art building, was then a men's dormitory. The evolution of that building it was subsequently a women's dormitory. But then it was a men's dormitory and I lived there for a while. I remember going from where I had most of my classes in the Administration building or in Agriculture Hall back and forth to the dormitory there was a little farm out here where I walked around the corner of the chicken yard.

LVL: How would you think dormitory life in Cauthorn Hall would compare with dormitory life today?

EL: I doubt there's very much changed. There were about as many shenanigans went on then as go on today, near as I can find out.

LVL: (Laughs) Boys were still boys?

EL: Yes, Boys were still boys. Fact of it is I doubt there was as much discipline then as there is now, although there was an effort to be much more strict about it. It didn't work out very well.

LVL: Did the boys make their own rules, did you mean?

EL: They had some. It was a good place to live. It was an experience that I prize highly. It was a good dormitory. Another interesting part then about dormitory life, I lived there for $3 a week for board and room. Those are the things that I remember first about the institution. It really did seem big. Those five or six buildings then, oh there were a few others, but they've disappeared. There was a girl's dormitory, some shop buildings, some agricultural buildings, a little greenhouse. They've all disappeared and made way for larger buildings. It was a pretty good institution. For all that, I prize it very highly. Of course, the fine thing about it was, you knew everybody, you got acquainted. I have some very pleasant memories of the staff, members of the faculty I was associated with.

I think the thing I characterize about the institution in my early days, the thing that I appreciate was that I arrived the same time William Jasper Kerr arrived. Of course, I came as a freshman and he was the president of the institution, there was quite a gap there. It was really the beginning of a great development in education on this campus, education in the state of Oregon and in the whole Northwest, when Dr. Kerr took over. The institution as it stands today in my mind is almost a monument to William J. Kerr. He was so far sighted, planned so well, that we're still following pretty much the outlines he set up for this institution, but in its physical aspects and in its educational program.

LVL: He was a man of tremendous vision?

EL: Tremendous vision. I've never met another man in all my experience, I think, his equal. The general outline of the campus which causes a great deal of comment from visitors today, is how well it's mapped out, was a plan he was responsible for. Early in his career here he could foresee what was ahead for Oregon and he employed one of the outstanding landscape architects of the United States to set up a plan and to be the advisor in the physical development of the plant." That was Mr. Olmstead, who continued as the architect until his death. Then he immediately turned to another great architect in the United States, who is also dead now, that was A.D. Taylor of Cleveland, Ohio. Mr. Taylor continued as our advisor even until after Dr. Strand came, then he passed away.

In the beginning of my second year I was interested in the school of commerce, which was then the business school of the campus. President Kerr brought to head up what developed into a great school Dean J. A. Bexell, who became an outstanding campus figure. I had three years of my work with Dean Bexell and then he surprised me by inviting me to stay on as an assistant. I took some graduate work and stayed with the school of commerce pretty closely for ten years, in the field of accounting and business management. I think perhaps Dean Bexell had more influence on my life in the business and educational way than any other person.

Because I was interested in forensics and debate, I was on the college debating team. I came in contact with a young man whom I'll never forget, that I'm greatly indebted to, that was Ralph D. Hetzel. He came here from the University of Wisconsin as an instructor in public speaking. He made a place for himself immediately, a man of great vision and capacity. He later organized the extension division, which was the beginning of the great agricultural extension division that we now have. Later, he left here to become president of the University of New Hampshire and went from there to the presidency of Pennsylvania State College. While still president, passed away four or five years ago.

I have another faculty character that I remember with a great deal of affection and pride; that was Major General U.G. MacAlexander, known during the First World War as Rock of Marne. As a young captain he was here in charge of the military department. I had four years of military training with General MacAlexander. I rate him along with those other four men that I have mentioned as outstanding figures who have contributed much to the campus and a very great deal to me I'm sure.

LVL: As you talk about such great people who were here at Oregon State, we begin to get a vision of why we have become the institution we are.

EL: That's right, and there are a number of others that should be mentioned. I didn't have work with them because they were in other fields. But, I did get acquainted with them and associated with them and later on as a young faculty man I admired them very much. I had the privilege of working on some committee assignments with some of them. I'm thinking of Dean Covell who founded the school of engineering and was a very strong character, a great influence on the institution. Another was Dean A.B. Cordley, who was head of the school of agriculture. I guess he was a botanist or zoologist, he was pretty much in that field, plant pathologist probably, but a very versatile man, very interested in athletics. He was a great influence with the young people of the campus. Well, there were scores of them as the years went along, great people.

LVL: Two or three of the pioneers I've been talking with have expressed the hope that someday a building would be named for Dean Covell.

EL: I should like to see that very much, both for Dean Covell and Dean Cordley. Their memory will be here for many years, whether there is a building or not, but buildings would be very appropriate. When you told me you were coming over, of course when I think of growth of the institution, in the course of my work now I generally turn to figures. Finances of course, that's been my field anyway. I just went into the Archives and picked up a book where I thought I would find some figures, and I noted that the year Dr. Kerr came here the income of the institution was about $100,000. We'll not go into that, but the budget I've spent a good many hours on in the last few months and which is now approved for 1956 and 1957 is a little more than $100,000, to be exact it's $5,666,801.64. I'm talking about the resident instruction only. I'm not talking about off campus affairs like the experiment station and the extension division. If we took all those things into consideration that figure would be doubled. At that time practically all the work done was on the campus. No branch experiment stations had yet been established. We had the home station here, but we thought of that as part of the campus. That farm was about where we're sitting here at this moment was part of the experiment station, I believe, then.

Well, there have been many significant events, but the institution has grown and its services of course to the entire state. A land grant college has so many interests that bring it close to the people. The whole state is in a sense our campus. The land grant movement was founded to render service primarily to the rural people of the country. These 52 land grant colleges I believe we have now spread throughout the country have certainly carried out the mission on which they were founded. I think that Oregon State College can be properly designated as one of the half dozen real leaders, thanks again to the types of people who directed the institution in those very early days, Dr. W.J. Kerr in particular.

To me, one of the things that has made my work with the college so interesting over all of these years is being able to recall from time to time some of the things I remember being said by men I've already mentioned. Again I refer to Dr. W.J. Kerr. I remember he said one day "A college administrator must live entirely in the future and refer to the past as only it might be a guide as to what should be done ahead." I've always thought of that because since I've got into college administration, I find that that's true one always must be thinking way ahead. If that isn't the case, then the institution is never ready to meet its tallies and the demand made upon it.

I think perhaps now, in 1956, that we're at a very critical period with reference to future planning. We all know what is ahead in the way of educational development in this country. It seems to us, probably because we're close to the scene, that it may be hitting Oregon and Oregon State College in particular with greater force than we realize. Studies that have been made on a national scale show that Oregon ranks third among all of the states of the nation in the percentage of young people of college age who are actually going to college. The number of students" graduating from high school and going on to college, is increasing everywhere. I believe it was in 1900, the percentage of men and women of college age in college was about 4%. In 1950 it was around 30%. The prediction is that it may go as high as 50%. Perhaps that goal will not be achieved in the lifetime of people who are directing education today but it will come. In Oregon it is traveling quite fast, so we must get ready to meet the demand in whatever way is feasible.

It's my judgment it will be impossible for Oregon State College to accommodate all of the men and women who want to come here in the next decade, regardless of what happens in education. So, there must be planning however to do the very best we can. With the assumption and the conviction that we cannot meet the situation in entirety, we have established certain goals to which we're working. That goal of course starts with how many students can be accommodated. We have tentatively have said 8,500 in 1960. Now 1960 is right close and while we're at over 6,000 students now, to go to 8,500 requires quite an expansion. It's a challenge, but that's only a beginning.

To jump ahead five years to 1965, we have established the goal at 10,000. In another five years in 1970, at about 13,500. No one can predict, I think, where we can go on from there. I'm not using these figures because I want to indicate I think they're accurate, they're goals toward which we can work whether we can meet them or not depends pretty much on the people of the state of Oregon and their actions through the legislature. It boils down to a question of money. If there are funds enough to provide the staff and to provide the facilities there is no question but what that number of students will be here. What the trend will be for an institution like this, what changes the trends will bring about is another thing that is a question for speculation. The number of youngsters will be sufficient that all institutions will be crowded. Because, as we have already emphasized in this interview, that a land grant college is so close to the people that the numbers coming here will continue to be larger than at any other one institution in the state, regardless of the character or type an institution may be.

What trend is education in general going to take? Not all of these young people who want to go to college can be in institutions like Oregon State College, the University of Oregon or other sister institutions in the community. Possibly there will have to be more trade schools, possibly junior colleges, in large numbers as our population increases. Which may mean a more emphasis on upper division and graduate work at Oregon State College and fewer freshman and sophomores than we have now. Well that's just interesting speculation. But it has to be all a part of our thinking and developing a plan. We have committees at work now and will put more committees at work in the future, attempting as I like to say, to "blueprint" our plans for the institution for the next five, ten or fifteen years. By "blueprinting," we mean getting down on paper what the institution must be in 1960, for example, to handle 8,500 students. We have to have more staff, more teachers. If we can get them, we have to have more places for students to live. That may be the bottleneck, maybe the community might not be able to handle 8,600 students in 1960. We think at the moment that they aren't going to be able to take care of 6,800 or 7,000 that's expected this fall. So there would have to be tremendous development in the community as well as about the institution in general. So it's a tremendously interesting problem to sit here and speculate the situation which one will not live to see too much of, but which you know that of a certainty going to come. The plans made today will determine pretty much how well it will be done tomorrow.

LVL: Thank you so much, Dean Lemon.