"The First Fifty-Five Years of the University of Illinois Section of the American Chemical Society" By Virginia Bartow (1896-1980)

Virginia Bartow Prof. Bartow presented this talk at the Spring 1961, ACS Meeting in St. Louis, Missouri. She received her PhD in Chemistry in 1923 and joined the University of Illinois faculty in 1939. Dr. Bartow was very interested in the history of chemistry and started a chemical genealogy for the faculty that has since been continued by Dr. Vera Mainz.

The Illinois Section of the American Chemical Society was the twenty-third such group founded and the fourteenth west of the Alleghenies. Accordingly, it belongs among the first 16% of the total number of sections in existence. This speaks well for the energy, foresight and activity of the small group at the University of Illinois which petitioned for a charter when the number of chemists barely warranted such action. The roots of the section extend back to the opening of the then Illinois Industrial University in 1868. Not until 1890 did the entire student body pass the five hundred mark.

The young man destined to stimulate departmental growth and prestige, Arthur William Palmer, graduated from Illinois as a chemist in 1883. In 1884, he left to study at Harvard for his doctor's degree, after which he returned in 1886 for a short time to Urbana. Later, a second leave to study with Victor Meyer at Gngen and August Hofmann in Berlin was taken, from which Doctor Palmer returned to assume the headship of the department. By 1902, under Palmer's guidance, the department grew to include fifteen on the instructional staff. This increased to twenty-five, including the assistants in 1906. During Doctor Palmer's regime, a Chemistry Club was started in 1892. In the spring of 1899, the first chapter of Phi Lambda Upsilon was organized. The so-called "new" chemistry building was erected in 1902 at a cost of $100,000. Subsequent to the founding of the Graduate College of the university in 1895, the first examination for the doctorate was that of W. H. Dehn in chemistry. When Doctor Palmer died in 1904, he left an active nucleus of chemists, both men and women, who were ready for the move to form a section of the American Chemical Society.

Among the group who recognized the advantage of forming a new section were S. W. Parr and Edward Bartow, who were later to become national presidents of the society. Doctor Bartow, a charter member of the Kansas City Section, was enthusiastic about the privileges for those who could not regularly attend a national meeting. Any means of intercommunication could be most profitable. In addition, A. T. Lincoln, professor of physical chemistry, Isobel Bevier, pioneer administrator of a scientific Home Economics curriculum, H. S. Grindley, professor of animal nutrition, and Richard S. Curtis, professor of organic chemistry, were among the twenty-six who signed the petition for the establishment of the section which was granted April 9, 1906. Practically all the signers were connected with the University of Illinois, although a complete list is not extant in Urbana or at the American Chemical Society headquarters in Washington. Professor Parr became the first chairman and H. S. Grindley the representative to the council.

The history of the Illinois Section of the American Chemical Society might be summarized in the brief account of the meetings held on the average of once a month from October to May since its inception. According to the statement from the constitution and by-laws adopted on May 15, 1906, the section was organized for "the advancement of chemistry and chemical research." At the monthly meetings, the staff and students gathered together to hear reports of individual research much in the manner of a modern seminar. Slowly the change to more and more speakers from outside was made as funds for such an expense became available from the national office. There was from time to time a concerted effort to canvass the neighboring territory to ascertain who the non-member chemists might be in the locality who could be urged to join the society.

Relative to other sections, the Illinois Section, geographically somewhat isolated and without neighboring chemical industry, has generally had a medium-sized membership. The original boundary included an area within a fifty-mile radius extending out from the university. In 1912, this was expanded to include the territory between the 39th and 41st parallel across the state from Danville to Quincy. The possibility for those members at Quincy, which is two hundred miles west of Urbana, to attend meetings was never good. Subsequent loss of some of the counties could have been predicted. The St. Louis Section was assigned part of the south-western counties. The Illinois-Iowa Section in 1923, the Peoria Section in 1939, and the Canton, MO Section in 1950, carved away more of the territory. The present seventy-five-mile radius from the university was instituted when it became a general rule of the society that no section could extend its limits for a greater distance. It was certainly a more realistic recognition of the mileage which members could travel to reach the meetings. Within the present boundary are Eastern Illinois State University at Charleston, Illinois Wesleyan University at Bloomington, James Milliken University at Decatur, and some industrial concentration at Decatur, Danville and Tuscola. In these localities, several chemical plants are sufficiently large to have a number of chemists employed.

The section has a poor rating for activity, public relations and reports. Such functions as improvement of public relations, advancement of chemical education, establishment of an employment office or awards of prizes have been assumed by the Department of Chemistry at the University of Illinois. In the extant minutes of section meetings, there is seldom any business mentioned. In 1923, a recommendation was sent to headquarters that the council of the American Chemical Society be given more authority; that there should be no attempt to economize in connection with Chemical Abstracts; that Industrial and Engineering Chemistry should be kept at a high level of efficiency and that inter-sectional meetings be given a definite status within the general organization. A committee headed by Doctor E. W. Washburn sent a series of resolutions to the Washington office relative to the bettering of Chemical Abstracts. Some were acceptable to the board and some were not, but it did result in an increase in the budget for Chemical Abstracts.

On October 1945, it was unanimously resolved that the section was gravely concerned by the brief and inadequate discussion held by Congress on the Atomic Energy Act. Letters were written to the President of the United States, the Honorable Andrew J. May, Chairman of the House of Representatives Military Affairs Committee, and John W. Snyder, Director of the War Mobilization and Conversion Board. The section urged further hearings on the Act and expressed the opinion that scientific research can flourish only in a free and unrestricted environment. The section sent a petition to Congress to advocate passage of the Magnuson Bill in favor of the Kilgore Bill.

When Charles Lathrop Parsons retired, the section sent to him a resolution of commendation for his able and devoted service to the society.

There have been very few general social functions. When Doctor William Albert Noyes came to assume the headship of the Chemistry Department in 1907, the section, together with the Chemistry Club, tendered a dinner to him on October 19th. This was almost in the nature of a birthday party in his honor as Doctor Noyes became fifty a short time later. The custom of having a dinner for the speaker at the monthly meetings became a practice and a pleasure for the whole staff. The number of people who attended the dinners has come to be small and include only those who are particularly interested in the research problem to be discussed. One of these rare celebrations was organized when Doctor Noyes became the national president. One-hundred and thirty came to the dinner to hear Doctor Noyes speak on "The Foundations of Chemical Development." He stressed the history of the basic principles, the large number of chemists in the leading nations at the start of World War I, the role of the American Chemical Society in the Army and Navy, and, above all, research and its potentialities. That same year, a joint meeting was held by the section and Phi Lambda Upsilon at which Doctor H. Gideon Wells addressed the audience on "Observations Covering Famines and Epidemics During War." Doctor Wells had been a member of the Roumanian Relief Committee and was well qualified to describe the aftermath of war. After World War II, there was a joint meeting sponsored by the section, Alpha Chi Sigma, Iota Sigma Pi, Phi Lambda Upsilon, and the student organization of Chemical Engineers. This meeting was addressed by Sidney D. Kirkpatrick, a 1916 alumnus, of the subject, "Scientific and Political Aspects of Atomic Energy and the Atomic Bomb Tests." Doctor Kirkpatrick presented moving pictures of Operation Crossroads at Bikini to an impressed audience of six hundred.

The Graduate College has cooperated with the section to bring special lectures to the campus. From time to time, there have been talks sponsored together with the Illinois Association of Chemistry Teachers.

There has been some cooperation with neighboring sections to route distinguished speakers on a tour of this part of the country. For a while the Illinois Section was a cooperating member with those who helped support the Chicago Chemical Bulletin. However, the Illinois Section withdrew in 1950. One report in the Bulletin of a gala affair in April 1915 showed that an informal occasion could be planned in a dry town. Various chemical companies had evidently been solicited for favors which consisted of pocket hones in leather cases for razors which were furnished by the Carborundum Company of Niagra Falls, alundum filter cones with aluminum holders from the Norton Company of Worcester, Massachusetts, and crackerjack, ice cream cones and gingerbread sent in from a firm in Lexington, Kentucky. This smoker included speeches by Doctors Noyes, Balke, and Derrick. There was report of considerable lusty singing of such ditties or parodies as "I did not raise my boy to be a chemist, I brought him up to be my pride and joy. Who dares to place an apron round his shoulders and make such smells for mother's darling boy."

Through the years, there has always been a small but enthusiastic group of supporters for the society in Urbana. They have taken part in the programs, presided at section meetings, contributed to the publications both as authors and editors, and served on committees and as officers. The following men on the faculty of the Chemistry Department or former students at Illinois have served as national president: William McMurtrie, W. A. Noyes, Sr., W. A. Noyes, Jr., Roger Adams, S. W. Parr, Edward Bartow, C. S. Marvel, J. C. Bailar, Jr., E. H. Volwiler, A. L. Elder, and C. F. Rassweiller. 1

This section, composed mainly of academic chemists, promotes as its principal goal the instruction and training of young people for their profession. As a member of the section for forty years, I can attest to the serious effort to invite a talented group of scientists to appear before the section. The timely and the popular, the theoretical and the industrial, the national presidents and the eminent foreign men " all have been here. The topics have been general, specific, and controversial. An eager group of young scholars has proved to be a receptive audience. Only one section publication has come to light. This was an "Annual Announcement" for 1911-1912 when Philip B. Hawk, the biochemist, was the chairman.2 Ninety-seven listed members included only six from outside the university. Only eight of the twenty-two papers presented during these two academic years were given by non-members of the section. This shows how much the section made of presentations by the local group. When financial support was given by the national office, expenses could be paid for speakers of note from away from the campus. But, as late as 1918, the May meeting consisted of three PhD thesis reports, one of which was given by E. H. Volwiler. The Saturday morning seminar, which was attended by staff, graduate and undergraduate students, and the gradual increase of the seminars soon after 1920 gave ample opportunity for local talent. With this change in educational policy, and the financial assistance, the Illinois section now draws completely from the outside for its programs.

Naturally, I have been interested in meetings which were addressed by women. In 1911, Doctor Helen Isham, later Mrs. Henry A. Mattill, who was then a member of the Chemistry faculty, presented a paper on "The Determination of Carbon in Iron and Steel." In 1914, Miss Isabel Bevier and members of her staff in Home Economics, took charge of programs. Doctor Nellie Goldthwaite, an able colloid chemist, discussed her specialty of jelly making, and Doctor Ruth Wheeler, a nutrition specialist who became head of that department in the Medical School at the University of Iowa and later the director of the School of Euthenics at Vassar College, presented the results of her research. Miss Bevier told me an interesting story about her initial attendance at American Chemical Society meetings in Boston where she worked after her studies with Doctor Atwater. She attended with Mrs. Ellen J. Richards, the instructor in Sanitary Chemistry at Massachusetts Institute of Technology who said that they would always go and sit quietly in the front row where the men would see them and realize that they were really interested. Katherine Lonsdale, Wanda K. Farr, and a biochemist from St. Louis are the only other women speakers that the records show.

By far the most ambitious project ever undertaken was the organization of the annual national spring meeting of the American Chemical Society which was held in Urbana, April 18-20, 1916. Before this gathering, only one American Chemical Society convention had ever been held in a locality as small as the Twin Cities. This was the 1906 meeting when the considerably smaller society met at Ithaca, New York. To relate the history of the convention is to offer a sharp contrast with present practice at national meetings.

Made imperative by the rapid expansion of the University of Illinois, the chemistry building was more than doubled by an addition which was completed in 1915. The Chemistry staff was eager to invite the national society to come to Urbana to see the new facilities and dedicate the building as part of the program of the 1916 meeting. The delay of a year was caused by the necessity to wait until the new Inman Hotel was completed, because the accommodations for outsiders were limited to only the Beardsley Hotel and a couple of others, both small and inferior. Rumor had it that one of the distinguished speakers, in spite of all precautions, arrived to be completely dismayed by what he found and promptly took the train back to Chicago. A long distance telephone call assured him that better quarters could be found for him, and all was well. There is no doubt that all spare rooms in the homes of not only the Chemistry faculty but also many of the university staff were used. Fortunately, a university group has connections with other institutions and the visiting chemists, in numerous instances, knew friends in Urbana with whom they could stay. One of the staff reported that the visitors were literally taken into the homes and hearts of the faculty. At my own home, there were three guest rooms, one of which was to be assigned to Dr. Willis B. Holmes, formerly at Illinois. When Dr. Harry Holmes of Oberlin arrived, the registration clerk mistakenly sent him to the Bartow home. He probably walked the two and a half blocks, where he found that there was room for both Holmes. This natural mistake resulted in a life-long friendship for all concerned.

Under the general chairmanship of Edward Bartow, the meeting proved to be the largest that had ever been held, bar none. Dr. Parson, the experienced secretary, thought that the registration would be small, so that the number of programs supplied by the national office actually ran out the first day. Undaunted, Dr. George Beal, with the aid of an assistant, prevailed upon the local press to set up type for the remainder of the program. Dr. Beal and his helper read the proof by midnight and the additional programs were at the registration desk by eight the following morning. In all, there were 729 in attendance, which was seventy-one more than any previous meeting. Dr. Parsons wrote back to the chairman that it had been the most successful meeting which he had seen. Evidently, a friendly spirit prevailed and pervaded the group which was obliged to confine itself within a relatively small circumference with few outside distractions.

1 Between 1960 and 2000, an additional 14 Illini served as ACS president.

2 Since this was written, Annual Announcements for 1908-1909 and for 1909-1910 have come to light.

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