Historical record

A 1937 Fortune magazine article examines the University of Chicago, “where the students get more excited over the intellectual tumult kept up by President Hutchins and his faculty than over Joe Stumblebum in the backfield.”

In December 1937 Fortune magazine printed an article about the University of Chicago’s history; its young president, Robert Maynard Hutchins; and the student body. Oh, how some things have changed (and others haven’t at all):

“Almost all of the eighty-five university buildings are part of a uniform plan, with gray Indiana limestone and Gothic architecture blending unobtrusively. Along the south edge of the campus runs the Midway, a wide green plaisance where Little Egypt once danced the hootchy-kootchy for the raucous World’s Fair crowds of 1893. There are no crowds these days; the noisiest thing about the Midway now is the carillon of the $2,000,000 Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, which sets Hutchins’s great Dane Hamlet to howling in the President’s dun house.

“Chicago’s resources were reckoned last June at a book value of $121,600,000, including its plant; its $67,200,000 endowment is the fourth largest in the U.S. [At the end of fiscal year 2011, Chicago’s endowment had a market value of $6.58 billion.] All this was made possible by the Rockefellers, who have donated $78,800,000 to endowment and upkeep since the university’s beginnings in the early nineties. To the Rockefeller-endowed institution come serious students, many of them children of professional people. By comparison with Yale and Princeton students they are poor, and as intelligent and diligent as they are poor. This year, for instance, the average high-school grade of the entering freshman class was ninety-one; and of the entire undergraduate body 65 per cent was doing part-time work to help pay its way through.”

Later, a spread about the University’s 11 distinguished service professors offers some priceless captions about the work being done by the faculty:

“Sewall Wright, geneticist, has bred forty-four toes on a guinea pig to support a controversial point on evolution.”

“Anton Carlson, physiologist, was once a divinity student. Today he hates metaphysics, learns about stomachs from dogs.”

“Two big guns in the social sciences at Chicago talk over the nation’s use of resources. Charlie Merriam is ‘the chief’ to Chicago political scientists. William F. Ogburn says ‘you can’t buck social trends.’”

“Brilliantly rude, violent at bridge is Leonard E. Dickson. But it takes him forty-five patient hours to explain his solution of the baffling Waring’s Problem.”

“Linguist, mountain climber is William A. Nitze, who teaches Romance languages. A socialite, Nitze is the faculty diner-out.”

“His ‘cyclotron’ cost $18,000 and will be used to smash atoms. A chemist, William D. Harkins teams up with physicist [Arthur J.] Dempster to study nuclear physics.”

“Police commissioner in suburban Flossmoor is Gilbert A. Bliss, mathematician. He is also a fine golfer and a good story teller.”

“By studying rock formations Norman L. Bowen, geologist, has learned to apply nature’s secrets to the making of porcelain.”

“[Arthur H.] Compton of the cosmic ray, Chicago’s third Nobel prize winner in science, makes more news than any other Chicago professor.”

Thanks to George H. Crowell, SB’40, for sending us the Fortune article.