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Interview of Marshall Ney States by Donald Shaughnessy on 1963 January 27, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/4902
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Undergraduate at University of Pittsburgh, B.A., 1916; instructorship in physics at University of Kentucky; teaching mathematics at Mercer University, Georgia; graduate thesis at University of Chicago with Dempster. Discouraging experiences with American Physical Society (APS), beginning 1916; invited to 1929 Des Moines meeting by Paul Klopsteg to discuss role of teachers in APS; invited to head group; Glen Warner, Klopsteg, States and S. L. Redman meeting in Chicago, 1930; preparation for and confrontation at Cleveland meeting of APS. Homer L. Dodge and Harold W. Webb; formation of American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), Floyd Richtmyer and Karl Compton; beginning of joint meetings between APS and AAPT (1933). AAPT became founding member of AIP. The AAPT journal; development of bylaws and policies of AAPT; election of Frederic Palmer as president, 1933; David L. Webster's presidency. Effect of AAPT on teaching profession. The Orsted medal; the Taylor Memorial Fund.
Dr. States, I guess a good place to begin would be to ask you some questions about your own personal background which might have influenced or affected your attitudes towards the teaching of physics and the need for such an association as you took an important part in forming. What about your undergraduate training in college? Where was that taken?
I was at the University of Pittsburgh, 1912-16, and my major was in mathematics under Dr. Holder. A problem came up, when I graduated, as to just what I was going to do. While I had a certain amount of physics, that wasn’t my main interest. However, I got an offer of a half time instructorship at the University of Kentucky for the magnificent sum, as I recall, of under $1000, and I accepted the job and went down to Lexington in the fall of 1916.
How come you went to the University of Pittsburgh? Were you originally from Pennsylvania?
I was born near Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. I went to the University of Pittsburgh because I had a scholarship there. My father helped me financially, but I paid him back, with interest. I got two scholarships, one at Meadeville College, one at Pittsburgh, I went to Pittsburgh, and I notified Meadeville. When I got to Pittsburgh and went in to see the chancellor to get an OK for tuition, he said, “What’s all this trouble you’re having with Meadeville?”
I said, “I didn’t know I was having any trouble.”
He read a letter from the president of Meadeville, in which he asked the chancellor not to give me a scholarship because I’d turned them down. I was faced with the situation that probably I was going to have to pack up my bags and go home. But the chancellor finally smiled. He said, “Just a question of where you want to go to school.”
”Well,” I said, “I certainly wouldn’t go to Meadeville under any circumstances.”
He said “OK” and he signed the slip.
I was there four years of course, and then I went to the University of Kentucky under the circumstances I’ve mentioned. I pulled a rather neat trick with Professor Webb, and he often told me he admired me for it. He wrote me and said that he had offered this job to a man from Wisconsin, and he wanted to know if I would accept the job if this man didn’t. I wrote back and told him that I was sorry, that I couldn’t pass on an item of that kind unless I was offered a job. So he immediately offered me the job. And he wasn’t fooling either because there was a man by the name of Wallin. Afterwards he and I became friends. I think he graduated from Chicago, later got his PhD there, I’m not sure of that.
In any case, I went down to Kentucky, and when I arrived there, Professor Webb took me into the mechanics laboratory, that was going to be my main responsibility, and he showed me the equipment in the cases. I went early. I went two weeks before school opened, and he told me that he’d like to have me set up at my leisure a certain number of experiments and see that they were in working order, because he insisted that all apparatus be in proper shape.
I worked at the job two or three days. I kept looking at Professor Webb out of the corner of my eye to try to size up the man. Finally I went in one morning and I said, “Professor Webb, I have something to tell you, and after I tell you, if you want me to, I’ll resign and go home.”
”Oh,” he said, “now what’s the matter?”
I said, “Well, I just can’t set up this apparatus. I haven’t enough information.”
”Well,” he said, “I kind of figured that that would be the case, but I also thought that perhaps you ought to find that out for yourself.”
So he showed me how he took down the apparatus, and stored it, and he was very careful with it. All the rods were greased with vaseline when they were put away for the summer — just infinite care. He had a respect for apparatus which I acquired. It almost has human qualities, as far as I’m concerned.
Well, he showed me a little bit and within two days, I had the apparatus operating and was pulling off data that he complimented me on. Then it started. School started, and of course I didn’t know how I was getting along, but one night on the way home, I walked by his home to my boarding place. He said, “States, you know that mechanical laboratory is just working slick as a clock, and I want to tell you that it’s due to your efforts.”
You can imagine how I almost didn’t touch the sidewalk the rest of the way home.
So it was through a developing love of Professor Webb that I became intensely interested in physics, and then the war broke out, and Professor Webb, being a very patriotic man, volunteered for the Officers Training Camp. So did I. I was turned down because of a crippled arm. That was known to Professor Webb, so he exacted a promise that I would stay there for the duration, regardless of what happened.
I went back. I had all kinds of offers at two or three times the salary, but I stuck it out for the next two years. After the end of three years, Professor Webb and I talked it over. If I kept on, I’d get a sabbatical. Of course, the Dean knew that too and he didn’t want that to happen, because that would cut into his budget, so he ordered Professor Webb to fire me, which he did, with apologies. I went to teach mathematics at Mercer University in Georgia, from which one of the offers had come earlier while Professor Webb was away.
All the time I was at Mercer University, I’d get letters from Professor Webb urging me to go to graduate school. Finally I got fed up with these things, and wrote him asking where he thought I’d get the money to go to graduate school. He wrote back and said, he kind of figured that’s the way he was, but he didn’t want to suggest it; since I had, if I wanted to go to Chicago or anywhere else to graduate school and needed money, all I needed to do was to write him and he would send me a check for whatever I asked for.
He said, “If you want to go to Chicago, I’m sure I can get you a scholarship there.”
At that time I was married and had a son. We pulled out and went to Chicago, and for the next few years he footed the bill. Of course I have repaid him with interest. He didn’t want interest, but he admitted that in later years I’d probably feel better that I had met the obligation in full.
So I went to Chicago. I went there with the intention of studying with Milliken, but Milliken left just before I started my research work, and they assigned Dempster to be the sponsor of the research. Then things went along normally, and when I sent my work away for publication in the Physical Review — and I will not go into these details, but you asked me why I developed this attitude about the Physical Society — I had a shock. A very prominent man attempted to keep the thesis from being published. He was one of the wheel horses in the Physical Society, and you can imagine the consternation that caused me.
What was the reason for this?
Because my results didn’t agree with some theories he had. I didn’t say anything about his theories. I didn’t build the apparatus, it was there, but I worked on a problem with the apparatus, to get certain results, investigate certain things. I got the results and I wanted to publish them. I didn’t attempt to explain why things acted as they did. He was reluctant to see this published, so he tried to keep it under cover.
Well, then, later on I went to Physical Society meetings —
When did you become a member of the Physical Society and start attending meetings?
I started in 1916, and I became a member in 1922.
Then I went to a Physical Society meeting, having submitted a paper which was an instructional paper —, that is, a teaching paper — and on that program was a paper by Dean Dodge. His was earlier in the particular afternoon or morning session, and when he got up to give his paper, half the audience left and the other half sat in their seats and snickered at what he was saying.
So when I saw the reaction to his paper, I went upstairs, packed my bag and went home. I was not present when they called my name. I never gave the paper anywhere.
Was Dodge’s paper on education?
Yes. I heard of others who had similar receptions.
Do you recall what year this was?
I could only guess roughly. I’d say it was around 1925, 26, 27, in there. Well, you can see that these experiences hurt a man who was essentially a teacher. We sat around the lobbies of the hotels, commiserating what we were going to do about this. In my own case, up until 1929, I wasn’t connected with any formal committee to decide what we could do.
Let me ask you this. You got your PhD from Chicago?
Then where did you go?
I went back to Kentucky, because Professor Webb wanted me. Not only that, I loved the climate and the atmosphere of the department. I returned in 1922.
You took an interest almost immediately in the teaching of physics.
Didn’t this evidence you gave of an interest in the teaching of physics, as compared to research, prejudice your chances for promotion at the University of Kentucky?
Somewhat. As a matter of fact, I went down there in ’22 with the idea, like many people, of prosecuting research and teaching too. But two things interfered somewhat with that. This blast I got from my friend on the paper put a pretty sore spot in my life, and I just said, “What the hell’s the use? If you do something and it doesn’t satisfy somebody, why, you can’t do anything about it.”
The other thing was that physics in the University in those days was considered a necessary evil. The Dean wasn’t interested in it and consequently Professor Webb couldn’t get adequate help. I was teaching sometimes 22 to 24 hours. You have a hell of a time doing research in physics if you have that much teaching and have to set up your lectures, demonstrations and so on.
So I frankly didn’t do any research for publication until after I left teaching, I published a number of papers later, not in the Physical Review.
Well, there was an atmosphere there that I gathered at the Physical Society meetings, and as we met people in smaller groups, that teachers ought to have some medium through which they could express themselves and compare notes.
When you speak of the Physical Society, are you referring to the Council of the Society?
Were there any one or two or three people who dominated the Council in the mid-twenties, who took the strongest position against the introduction of any material relating to teaching of physics?
I don’t know who they were. I just lumped it, and most people did, because the Council met behind closed doors, which is all right, but it didn’t give the teachers much chance to praise them, I can say that.
This thing went on. Of course, I didn’t talk to any members of the Council about this situation, but with people who were interested in teaching I continued to probe around, to see what was going on.
Well, in 1929 I attended the meetings at Des Moines, Iowa, and prior to the meeting, I got an invitation from Dr. Klopsteg to see him and have dinner with him.
Had you ever met him before?
Yes, I had. Of course, the reason for that was that Mr. Redman, his associate, Sales Manager for Central Scientific Co. visited all over the country, and he brought back information to Klopsteg about the unrest that I am speaking of. Klopsteg, unbeknownst to me, had had a little committee consisting of himself and Dr. Frayne and Glenn Warner. They tried to do something about this. Their plan, as indicated in my files (information which I received later) was to draw together quite a group of physicists — I have the list there that they worked out 150 or so — just to discuss this thing and see if anybody wanted to do anything about it. Then Dr. Frayne went into commercial work and this activity closed down. That was when I stepped into the scene at Des Moines meeting. I don’t know whether Klopsteg had in mind anything at that time specifically, but after or during the meeting, he asked me if I wouldn’t like to head up a group to bring about a correction to this situation among the teachers.
Well, I was very complimented. The reason he didn’t do it, as he says in the file here, was that he was afraid that his motives would be misunderstood if he took an open part in it. But he agreed to do everything that he could to assist the program, and I assure that he was a great power in doing this. He filled the bill, and didn’t come out into the open, shall we say, too much, except as I will indicate later, until the association was formed. I’m not saying that in any derogatory manner. I’m merely saying that I think he used good judgment. Mr. Redman stepped out altogether. His contribution to it was merely sitting on the sidelines for a couple of meetings, plotting and saying what he knew the attitude was in this school, that, and the other.
Well, I went home to Lexington, Kentucky, agreeing to thinking it over. Klopsteg went so far, as is indicated in one of my letters, as wanting to make me the executive secretary, (I suppose that’s the first time I ever heard the word) of a group, and he told me that I could talk this over with anybody I wanted to. Of course the first man was Professor Webb.
As time would permit, for the next four or five months, we chewed the fat about this thing, and finally I made arrangements to go to Chicago for a meeting with Klopsteg, which was held September 4, 1930. He had drawn in Glenn Warner, because of the former effort, and the three of us, with Mr. Redman sitting in on some of the meetings, formulated some plans. I’ve already said that the plan that they had been thinking about was to include a large group.
Professor Webb was an officer in the Army, and he knew pretty well, if you wanted to get something done, you didn’t go out and discuss it with the population, that a small group was required. You might think that this was a very undemocratic thing that I brought to Chicago: that was that Professor Webb and I would do something about this, with others, if it could be done on the basis that we were going to have a small group, and we’d hand pick them. We wouldn’t tell them this, but we went there with the idea that we were going to confront the Council of the Physical Society with: Here is an organization. We visualized numbers ranging anywhere from twelve to forty. We held it down. As a matter of fact, thirty were invited, that’s the total number, and twenty-two of them accepted.
Of course, I realized almost from the very beginning that I was not the one to be the executive secretary. I indicated at Chicago (which is not documented) that if I could persuade Professor Webb to be the sparkplug from that angle that would be the proper way to do it, if we wanted to get this organization into being. He was a head of a department, and a pretty strong man. I wish you could talk with him, although he’s 81 now.
So, as one can see from the correspondence, at the meeting at Chicago, of which I have the minutes, it was agreed that there would be a small group. We also agreed that we would have to have a temporary chairman of this meeting, and we agreed on Dodge, I don’t know this to be a fact, but from what I’ve already told you, I had the impression, although I didn’t know Dodge, that he would be a solid individual, that you wouldn’t have to sell him on the necessity for having an association.
Also — Professor Webb and I decided after I got back — we were not going to invite Dodge until we were sure we were going to have an audience.
Why didn’t Webb become the chairman?
Well, it was rather natural. To get this group together, you had to have a secretary, more than a chairman, if you see what I mean. He made a superb secretary for many years after the meeting at Cleveland was over.
So, in addition to a common assignment, actually, because of Klopsteg’s reluctance to come out too much in the open, he picked from this group the ones he’d like to invite because he knew them personally. He knew they wouldn’t misunderstand. Warner took his quota, and then the balance of the quota was left to me and Professor Webb.
As you might suspect, in making out such a list, the three of us naturally selected people with whom we had some acquaintance. There was no conflict in the selections. There was perfect agreement.
You got good geographical representation.
Yes. As it turned out, we invited these 30 people from 14 States and the District of Columbia, and that’s pretty good representation over the country.
I confess, as I’ve told you before, that this probably was a very undemocratic thing to do, but we wanted an organization and we thought maybe the end would justify the means. However, we were determined there weren’t going to be any Councils and stuff like that, to ball this thing up for somebody to run. We wanted to make it democratic, and I’m glad to say that my opinion is to this very day that the AAPT is run on as broad a base, democratically, as it can be, with eight or nine thousand members.
Following this meeting in Chicago, Professor Webb and I decided there was no point in having a chairman for a meeting that might not occur, so we decided we’d invite our people, so we’d have some indication that there was going to be a meeting. I sent out my letters and he sent out his letters, all except Dodge, and Webb was to be the man to invite Dodge.
On November 10, 1930, we had enough replies and enthusiastic replies that we knew this thing was going over. So Professor Webb wrote his letter to Dodge, and Dodge very enthusiastically accepted.
Then Professor Webb revealed to Dodge what was cooking. About this time, I broached the idea of Klopsteg that we needed what would be called a temporary secretary for the meeting, and proposed Professor Webb, and he very heartily concurred in it. As their answering letters funneled in to them, they sent them to the temporary secretary, so that just before the meeting the temporary secretary had prepared an agenda for the meeting, and a letter of explanation as much as we dared. We didn’t want to flush the covey by telling them that we were going to vote on an association, but the suggestion was there, you see. He sent, under Webb as temporary secretary, this letter and agenda. The agenda is in the minutes. I even have the sheets over which Webb worked and struggled to try to word this thing right. I have these work sheets in here.
Well, we went to Cleveland. Before I go to that, I might say that we had special assignments, the four of us. Professor Webb’s special assignment was to be this temporary secretary. Klopsteg’s special assignment was not clearly indicated, but there’s enough in there and we knew enough about Klopsteg that we kind of hoped that he’d have a skeleton of a constitution and bylaws up his sleeve. Warner’s special assignment was to arrange tor a suitable place in Cleveland to hold the meeting, because we didn’t want it to be held in a hotel where the Society was meeting for fear of stragglers would come along and say, “I see Bill Jones in there,” and come in and take part. So we had it in a private club in Cleveland. It was his friend Jones’ club and Jones arranged the luncheon.
My special assignment was not too pleasant a one, but I think you’ll understand it was the logical one. I was to make whatever study I pleased, and I was to make a charge, so to speak, against the Council of the Physical Society. In other words, I was to kind of wave a red flag to excite these people so that when the motion was put — and we hoped some of the visitors, the invited people would put the motion, though Klopsteg offered the motion — we wanted them to vote “Yes.”
So I studied the directory of the Physical Society and the American Men of Science. Apparently this thing was so bad that, I don’t remember anything particularly about what I said, because I was very anxious to forget about it.
Then we got into the meeting, and there was one man, as I mentioned yesterday at lunch, who broke into the meeting. I wasn’t able physically to kick him out. He got up and told what a low caste the physics teacher was. In the discussion of this thing, I was trying to find out when I was to break in, you see, and he gave me the cue.
As I mentioned yesterday, Richtmyer, when Klopsteg asked him to speak, said the situation about teaching of physics on the Council was far worse than I’d indicated, and I had it down to a pretty small item. Ingersoll of Wisconsin, whom I’d never met before — he was invited by Klopsteg — complimented me on the charge. I remember his remark. He said, “I’m glad you’re on my side.” I must have been pretty bad.
Well, in any case, that is how the organization was established.
What about the meeting two days later?
At this meeting on December 29, Lloyd Taylor made a motion that we have a second meeting, to get a report from the executive committee that was appointed that day, and to bring in a constitution, if we had one. Of course we got this thing up in two days and you know darned well Klopsteg had the works in his pocket. It may have been changed a little bit. We actually got it printed somewhere or other, stenographic work, application blanks, and we began taking applications right there at that second meeting.
I might say that Professor Webb and I were awfully scared at Richtmyer’s acceptance, because he indicated in his letter, of which I have a copy, that he thought there were too many organizations, but he wanted to attend the meeting. Frankly, Professor Webb and I thought we had a spy from the Council in our midst. That’s the reason I made my charge as strong as I did, one of the reasons.
Well, it turned out that Richtmyer saw the light, and two days before the 29th we had established an organization, so he immediately put his shoulder to the wheel, as I understand, and went to Karl Compton and told him that this thing ought to be supported, at least not opposed. The result was that at the second meeting, both Compton and Richtmyer were there, and when the president asked people to come up and sign the blanks and join, Richtmyer was Number 1 on the list.
I’m number 4. I still have my card. I won’t bother showing it to you.
Just to continue for a moment — other people know more about this than I do, but Richtmyer was a very great influence for good in the AAPT. But he had to be sold that day. When he saw the attitude that these men had, he knew this thing was going to go, and he did not express himself at the first meeting until Klopsteg asked him to. You will notice, in the form in which Klopsteg made his motion, it covered some of Richtmyer’s objections. In other words, this was organized without prejudice towards affiliation with any other group. I think Klopsteg would agree with this.
In reading over the minutes, it says that when the subject came up of what relation if any the AAPT should have with any other groups, the minutes say “Considerable discussion was held on this point.”
Yes. Well, it would be pro and con, of course, because people were just fed up.
Was there a strong feeling that there should be no affiliation at all? With the APS?
No, I don’t think so. No, I don’t think there was a strong feeling there shouldn’t be any association. I think it was more this: “All right, Physical Society, here we are, and if you want to cooperate with us, we’ll be glad to do it, but if you don’t want to recognize us or extend the right hand of fellowship, you can go fly a kite, we’re going to do it anyway.”
That was the kind of an attitude. And as a matter of fact, I know precisely (from my point of view) when this right hand of fellowship was extended.
When was that?
At the Boston meeting in l933, Professor Webb was sick and asked me to act as secretary for him. You’ll not find this mentioned in the minutes, because Palmer and I agreed at that time that we shouldn’t mention it in the minutes, but at an executive meeting that was being held about 4 o’clock one afternoon, Richtmyer was late, and Palmer insisted (properly) that we sit around and chew the fat till Richtmyer could get there, because he knew that Richtmyer was in the Physical Society Council meeting.
Palmer had arranged a wonderful meeting that year. We took the crowd away from the APS. So when Richtmyer came into the room, he remarked something like this, “Well, boys, the jig’s up.”
We said, “What do you mean?”
The Council has asked me to request cooperation in future meetings of the Physical Society and the American Association of Physics Teachers, and the suggestion is that one year the APS meet a day early, have their important papers that day, “and I think the sessions were three days long then,” and then both meet the first day of the Physical Society and the second day, then the Physical Society would put their important papers…”
You see what that would do. Then they would reverse this thing. I think that was the turning point, officially the turning point. I don’t know whether that was in their minutes, any more than it was in ours, but that was the time that we really began to be recognized.
Now, there was another thing that was very strong in Professor Webb’s mind, and I don’t have his letter, but it’s in my recollection that there were four founding members of the American Institute of Physics. Someone wrote to Professor Webb and wanted to know if the Association would be willing to accept an associate membership. Professor Webb, as far as I know without consulting with any of the officers, wrote back and said that it was a founding member or nothing. He felt, and everybody else did, that we had as much right to be a founding member as the other societies that were being included, although they had been in existence longer. But I think behind the scenes, both Compton and Richtmyer really put that over. That’s my opinion, but I don’t know about it. I mean, that the AAPT became one of the founding members of the AIP.
Now, I would like to make this statement. Over the years there have been histories written, and they’ve tried to say who did this and that. Many of the “facts” were just not so. I suppose Webster’s was the worst, although it’s all right.
I want to say this, that the question has been raised as to who was responsible for the organization, of the AAPT. To me it’s very much like a two stage vacuum pump. There’s a roughing stage and there’s a finishing stage, and you might as well say, which is the more important stage, the roughing stage or the finishing stage. They’re complementary things, and there’s no answer to that question.
So I would say that the people who should get credit for organizing the AAPT are the 22 people who sat in Cleveland, as the finishing stage. Then there was a roughing stage of Klopsteg, Warner, Webb and States, who did the spadework to get the meeting going. In my opinion no one man did it all.
Now, if I or Webb or Klopsteg or Warner had sat down and had written 22 people and invited Dodge to be there, then I’d say that man should get credit for it. I would say this, that Dodge cooperated but he was not a member of the original four committee, and he recognizes that, I’m quite sure. There’s no question but that his handling of the meeting contributed greatly to it.
Another way of looking at it, answering this question, as to the praise that anybody should get: Who would have gotten the rap if this meeting at Cleveland had been a failure? Well, Dodge and Webb would have taken a hell of a rap, as you can see from what I’ve said. I might have taken a little, for having made my charge against the Physical Society. Klopsteg and Warner I think would have been substantially in the clear, Klopsteg because everything that he did, which was tremendous, was in feeding information to us and agreeing with us and making suggestions. I’m not diminishing that. Dr. Klopsteg I hope is my friend, and he did a powerful lot for that organization all through the years. But my answer to it is that as near as you can come to it, the people who should get the credit are the 22 people who stood up and were counted on that day.
That’s interesting. You recall that at these early meetings of the AAPT there was some debate over the question of whether or not to publish a journal. This was much debated. What was your feeling?
I thought that we ought to have a journal, because I was afraid that the Association would run along for a few years and die if we didn’t have something to tie it together. Of course, if you could have changed presidents and secretaries every two weeks so that everybody could have gotten into the act, the very fact that they were right up at the top and running things, and you got enough of those people, the Association might have survived for that reason. But that of course is impractical.
So the journal I think was in the mind of all of us, more in the minds of some people than others. In fact, the first year’s letters that Professor Webb has here show that suggestions came from Blake of Ohio and I don’t know who else that we ought to get busy starting a journal.
Now, the only two things that I think may have caused any consternation on that was that we obviously had to raise the dues. And believe me, $2 dues in those depression days, with the low salaries, was an item for a man to think about. It seems ridiculous now.
The second thing was the disagreement as to who the editor was going to be. That’s where the biggest debate was, I think that ranged between Palmer and Dodge. I took no part in it because I didn’t know anything about the matter. But I think everybody agrees that Roller’s selection as editor was a very good one, and he got the thing going in good style.
Was Palmer opposed to Roller’s selection?
That’s my understanding. He wasn’t opposed to Roller per se, but he thought it was too much Oklahoma to have the president from Oklahoma and the editor from Oklahoma. I don’t think Palmer had any particular person in mind that he thought should have been the editor. I could be mistaken on that.
Let me go back to this meeting in Cleveland, the 29th and the 31st. Do you recall any debate on the constitution or bylaws? Debate on the term of office of the president? Was that important?
I don’t think it was. You see, we elected this way. Marsh White put the motion to elect Klopsteg and Webb for the chairman and secretary for the first meeting, and then Edwards of Duke University moved that they be the kingpins for one year.
I don’t recall that there was a contest of any kind, either on that or on the constitution. Oh, there may have been, on the wording of it with reference to whether you’re going to let high school teachers in, and of course they didn’t at first.
Very important point. In the minutes this comes out as a very important subject of debate: whether or not to allow high school teachers into the Association. Do you recall that debate?
Yes, and I think the way they resolved it was that a person was eligible for membership regardless of whether he was teaching or not, or whether he was teaching in high school or not, if his main interest in physics was college teaching. That meant that a man, well trained, in high school physics, who had the ambition to be a college teacher someday, there’d be no question of his admission. But I think that what some of them wanted to avoid was having high school physics teachers admitted to the Association whose primary function in high school was football coach. You know that happens.
Do you recall your own position on this issue?
No, excepting the thing I said on this point. At least I think that’s what I would have recommended. I don’t recall.
There was another important event during the first few years of the Association’s history and that was the election of Palmer as president in ‘33. Why was he chosen? Do you know what steps led to that?
No, I don’t, other than what the minutes would show. I would guess that it was carrying out the suggestions that we had when we organized the association, that we didn’t want any one person or any one clique to get hold of it and run it. We wanted jobs passed around. Of course, Dodge being from the West or Midwest, I personally thought it was a very happy selection that we then hail a man from the East.
That leads me to say that one of the things I suggested to Klopsteg at the Chicago meeting was that I didn’t think he had enough men from the South on the list, and he admitted that. They weren’t overly abundant at the Cleveland meeting. What I mean is that in Professor Webb’s mind and mine, and I’m sure in Klopsteg’s and Warner’s, was the thought that even though we did a very undemocratic thing, we wanted that to cease with the formation of the association, and that the management would be passed around. I think that’s been done all during the years.
Did that have a role in Webster’s selection as president later on?
I think so. And you see, then we went to the Pacific Coast for his colleague out there. I’ve forgotten his name. I didn’t know him very well. It was all over the country. I don’t know of any rumors of any kind that so and so was selected because we wanted to keep this thing in a certain way.
Now, I think it was natural for Klopsteg or anyone else to have been treasurer for a long time, because you don’t ordinarily pass that around because of the changing of bank accounts and one thing and another. Then, secretary, they usually run longer than the presiding officers.
As far as I’m concerned, I’ve never heard any comment that anybody was trying to hog the situation, so to speak, in any case.
Palmer was a very fortunate selection. Look at the wonderful job he did at that Boston meeting. That was terrific.
You mean, in bringing together the organizations?
Yes, and the program, I regard Palmer as one of the outstanding presidents of the early days. He was Number 2. Dodge did an excellent job, and I think Palmer did a very good job, and again I wouldn’t want to make any comparison there.
I don’t think you could, because the two were different men and the Association was facing different problems. One of the purposes of the Association was to advance the teaching of physics.
After the Association had been in existence for five or six years, what had happened to the advancement of teaching of physics? Had the teacher gained any status or prestige or security as a result?
I couldn’t pin it down, but I think very definitely it improved the quality of the teaching, because these men came to the meetings and they gave papers on little gadgets and things that they used in their laboratories. The listeners would make notes. You could go up and say, “Bill, I wish you’d tell me a little more about this.”
I think what it did was to enable the teacher who was put to it for time, after a brief two or three day meeting, to go back home with a whole lot of ideas as to how he was going to improve his department. Professor X, however, who was just a member of the Association, I don’t think that the Dean paid too much attention to that. I might be mistaken. And it could be that in some instances the colleges furnished the money for these men to go. They probably wouldn’t have done it unless it was something either directly connected with the teaching of physics or the giving of a research paper.
Now, in the early days money from the schools for that purpose was hard to come by. Many schools wouldn’t give you a dime if you were going to the meeting to get the Nobel Prize. They just didn’t recognize it.
What about the Oersted Medal? Did this help the Association, give teachers more status and prestige as teachers rather than as research physicists?
I think it probably did.
How did this development come about? Do you recall the debate in the Association leading up to the decision to award the medal?
No, I don’t have any information on that.
I take it that Klopsteg was the anonymous donor? Of the funds?
Is there anything that you would like to add?
I think that most of my discussion here has been very impersonal. I will give you one personal thing. This, I would say, is about the only, shall we say, “restricted” item that I would want to put on the record.
I was naturally a little bit disturbed when these various histories came out, and I thought that somebody could have said that States, Warner, Webb and Klopsteg had gotten the group together. That would have been very easy to find out. But both Mr. Warner’s name and mine were not mentioned for two or three histories. Warner’s name has never been mentioned, as far as I know. Finally, when Taylor wrote his history, he called me on the phone or wrote me a letter and said, “My recollection is that you had something to do with the organization.”
So, with mixed feelings, I wrote and told him, yes I had, and just let it go at that.
So he expanded the list from just Dodge and Klopsteg to include me. Well, I was so appreciative of that that I started financially the Taylor Memorial. Now, that may be very small potatoes, but I gave them over a two year period $350 to establish that account. I wouldn’t want that published.
What is the Taylor Memorial Fund?
Well, I had the thought that if somebody would start this Memorial Fund, the Association would find some good purpose for the money. They always needed money. Of course, nowadays I guess you can get money from Washington for almost anything. But you couldn’t in those days.
So I put no strings on it. I just wrote the president and told him that if it was appropriate, I wanted to make a contribution to what I thought might be called the Taylor Memorial Fund. See, he had a very tragic death. He was well liked as far as I knew, and one of my personal friends, Lloyd Taylor.
So the first year I sent the president a check for $150, and the next year I sent him a check for $200, or vice versa. I split it for income tax purposes. I was appropriately thanked for it. Then the Society I didn’t think made as much of it — not of the gift, but I thought if they’d publicized it a little more, some more of Taylor’s friends would have contributed. Maybe they did. I don’t know. Nobody’s ever reported to me on it. But what they did with what money they had, whether it was more than I gave or not, they started gathering information for the publication of a book mainly on laboratory procedures for an advanced grade of undergraduate physics. I’ve never seen the book. I thought maybe the president (at that time Buchta, I believe) would have seen to it that I got a copy of the book. I’ve never seen it but I understand it’s quite a valuable thing. I couldn’t make any use of it. If you want to call that a sour note, I think that’s the only one I have.
That’s not very sour. Is there anything else you think of that deals with the origins or formation that should be on the record?
No, I can’t think of anything.