George Daniel Olds Professor of Economics, Emeritus
Interviewed on May 19, 1978
[This transcript was created at the time of the original recording and may contain errors or omissions]
George Rogers Taylor
George Daniel Olds Professor of Economics, Emeritus
In his study in Frost Library
Friday, May 19, 1978 2 p.m.
Horace W. Hewlett
For: Amherst College
HWH: I checked and saw that you were born in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, June 15, 1895.
HWH: And I believe you went to Wayland Academy, and from there, as I gather, you entered Wisconsin State University at Oshkosh.
TAYLOR: Then called Oshkosh State Normal School.
HWH: Oh was it? And you were there two years.
TAYLOR: I went there, I lived with an aunt. That’s what made it financially possible for me to do that.
HWH: Then you were principal for a year of a school in Wausau.
TAYLOR: No, no. Waukeshaw, Wisconsin. Just a little school; I think I had five teachers. The first teaching I ever did.
HWH: What were you teaching?
TAYLOR: I had the seventh grade and half of the sixth. I think I got $600 a year.
HWH: No kidding. Well you did that in 1916-17 and then I note you were Chief Petty Officer in U.S. Naval Aviation from ‘17 to ‘19.
TAYLOR: No, I wasn’t a Chief Petty Officer, I was just Petty Officer-- never was Chief Petty Officer.
HWH: Do you recall what your duties were?
TAYLOR: Well, I was a Petty Officer I think third class, second class I guess when I got out. I was in what they called Wireless Telephony at that time, and I was sent first to Harvard to the Radio School, and then to New London to the Wireless Telephony School where I learned to install wireless telephone sets and to do something with them-- I’ve never been very clear on that-- primarily in aircraft. I worked in New Jersey where I did that, and down in Norfolk, Virginia.
HWH: That was preparing aircraft?
TAYLOR: Well, installing them and finally operating them sometimes, primarily in blimps.
HWH: I’ll be darned! That was sixty years ago.
TAYLOR: Yes. It was the beginning of radio telephony really.
HWH: Well, then you came back, I believe, after that war service of two years, and you taught at Wayland Academy.
TAYLOR: I taught there one year, yes.
HWH: And were you teaching...
TAYLOR: I taught eighth grade.
HWH: Then I gather you went back to college at Chicago.
TAYLOR: Yes, and in the meantime I’d worked down there a little. Well I worked I guess the summer before I taught at Wayland, worked at the post office down there. I always worked one place or another.
HWH: I gather you were in a way of earning money to go back to school, too.
TAYLOR: At Wayland, yes, although I didn’t save very much, but I was very lucky to have a bonus from the State of Wisconsin. They had a soldiers/sailors bonus which netted me $30 a month and I could almost live on it. But I did have a job.
HWH: But you studied then just one year and you got your Ph.B. at Chicago in ‘21.
TAYLOR: I had two summer schools mixed in on that and also Chicago was foolish enough to give some credit for service in the Navy, so that I think I got almost a semester’s credit just for being in the service.
HWH: Even though in 1921 you were 26 years old, there were probably a number of veterans with you, some were older having had a couple of years work and a couple of years in the service. Had you decided then what you wanted to study?
TAYLOR: No, not too much, except that I was interested in economics and history and philosophy, perhaps more philosophy at that time, but I think I majored in economics and philosophy. I had very good philosophy-- Clarence Ayres was one of my teachers in summer school, after he got through at Amherst.
HWH: Was Paul Douglas on the faculty when you got your Ph.D.?
TAYLOR: Oh yes. And he was, of course, a very good friend of mine. He was how I happened to come to Amherst.
HWH: That I know, but we’ll get back to that because I know he was a key figure in your life at one time. The year following your graduation, I see you taught at the University of Iowa.
TAYLOR: Yes, in the meantime I had taught at Earlham College for a semester. What happened at Chicago when I went there, I usually took the spring term off-- they had three terms and a summer school-- because I could always get a job some place. And I taught one spring term, part of it, down at Hammond, Indiana in the high school. I taught Public Speaking and then I taught economics at Earlham for the rest of one semester.
HWH: Is that where you met Mary?
TAYLOR: Yes, she was a senior when I was teaching there.
HWH: Was she a student of yours?
TAYLOR: No, no.
HWH: Well then you went back to the University of Chicago.
HWH: I presume both to teach and to study.
TAYLOR: Yes, that’s right. I was, you know, one of the helping instructors, earned my way that way.
HWH: And then in ‘24 you came to Amherst, I believe. This was, of course, just after the Meiklejohn affair and I want to ask you more about that a little later.
TAYLOR: I can tell you an interesting story on that when you want it.
HWH: I do indeed, but I believe for a period just after Meiklejohn’s departure that all of the faculty, but Economics particularly, were hiring a number of visiting teachers.
TAYLOR: Yes, Crook was the only one left and he ran his own course and a few people elected it who wanted an easy course. The other courses were given by Douglas and myself and sometimes some other people came in later.
HWH: Yes, I’ve heard it said that when Douglas came here, one of his terms was that you come with him.
TAYLOR: Well that wasn’t quite it. He kept me after seminar-- I guess it was along in June, a beginning seminar, in the summer of ‘24-- and he kept me after seminar and wanted to know if I wanted to go to Amherst with him, as an instructor. I thought it over overnight and in the meantime I had met Meiklejohn.
HWH: Is that so?
TAYLOR: At a dinner. I was invited by friends to a dinner with Meiklejohn. So I didn’t decide until I had talked to Meiklejohn.
HWH: Was that at Chicago?
TAYLOR: That was at Chicago and in the summer of ‘24 and I had a chance during the evening, at this dinner, to talk privately with Meiklejohn and asked him what I should do about this-- should I go? He thought quite a while and said, “Young man, it’ll be a great school again.”
HWH: Is that so? Well that was very shortly after his departure.
TAYLOR: Yes, it was really, really quite fine of him because he’d left with a lot of ill feeling.
HWH: I don’t know if you recall, when he came back to Amherst and read from Epictitus and John J. McCloy introduced him-- were you there then?
TAYLOR: Yes, yes.
HWH: Do you remember McCloy said the Trustees had cut their meeting short to come and hear him? And Meiklejohn’s first words were, “I’m glad to see I can still stir the trustees from their lethargy.”
TAYLOR: I’d forgotten that.
HWH: In your teaching here, let me get my notes here. The faculty, your second year, consisted of you, of course, and I believe Professor Crook was here.
TAYLOR: He was still here, I think, the second year, yes.
HWH: But there was a trio of people who later became very well known. There were Paul Douglas, Rexford Tugwell, and Talcott Parsons.
TAYLOR: No, that wasn’t the trio that came in at that time, I think.
HWH: Well there was Frank Hankins, and...
TAYLOR: But he was the... the three of these people who came in for something like a term. And Parsons came in for a full year as an instructor.
HWH: A recent graduate.
HWH: I’d just be interested in some of your comments about Mr. Douglas since I’m a great admirer of his.
TAYLOR: Well he was certainly a fine fellow. He couldn’t have been a nicer fellow to work along with. I remember walking the Range with him once, and that was quite an experience because he had very long legs and I had short ones, but I managed to make it with him, which was very pleasant. He was always full of ideas and a very stimulating fellow. He lived very frugally, down on Orchard Street. He was then married to his first wife and I remember he used to have us in occasionally. We always had enough to eat-- it wasn’t fancy. At about that time he had become a Quaker, and my wife’s a Quaker, of course, so we had a couple of meetings at his house and elsewhere, and it began the Quaker Meeting which is now located out north of Amherst and has over 100 members.
HWH: The one that the Wilsons attend.
TAYLOR: Yes, yes.
HWH: Do you still go to meetings?
TAYLOR: I do occasionally. Mary is the good Quaker in the family. I ordinarily attend the Unitarian Church when I go anywhere.
HWH: Well was Mr. Douglas here enough for other members of the faculty to begin to know him fairly well?
TAYLOR; Yes, a good many did. And of course he got well acquainted with Cobb, with whom he developed the Cobb-Douglas theorem which is still-- well everybody in economic theory knows that that theorem today is still respected.
HWH: What Cobb was that?
TAYLOR: That was Cobb in mathematics.
HWH: Charlie Cobb?
TAYLOR: Charlie Cobb.
HWH: I’ll be darned.
TAYLOR: Cobb did the statistical and computing work and Douglas developed the theory and you can’t ask any economist in the last thirty years, if he’s still alive, who doesn’t know about the Cobb-Douglas theorem.
HWH: I’m not an economist. I was not aware of it. And did he participate in activities at the College?
TAYLOR: To some extent.
HWH: I believe he was here for just two years.
TAYLOR: Well, the second year he was here only for one term.
HWH: And Professor Hankins I believe was visiting professor from Smith.
TAYLOR: Social and Economic Institutions was the name of the course; it was a course supposed to stir people up. He and Barnes gave it, I believe, at least some years. I think they gave it one year while I was here. Hankins was a pretty good man I think, but Barnes was a little erratic in my opinion.
HWH: I think it’s curious, too, that Rexford Tugwell should have been brought in.
TAYLOR: I didn’t see much of him. He came up I think on a Monday and left on the next, something like that.
HWH: Do you recall where he was teaching at that time?
TAYLOR: No, I don’t. It may have been Columbia.
HWH: Well there was someone else, William E. Weld, from Columbia.
TAYLOR: Weld, also. He was one of that triumvirate. I don’t remember exactly, but he taught briefly for about a term: I saw very little of him at that time. He was in and out.
HWH: This would have been before Talcott Parsons had done his graduate work, too, I would think.
TAYLOR: Well, I think, I’ve forgotten the year Parsons did come, it was along about 1927.
HWH: I have it down as ‘25, the year ‘25-’26.
TAYLOR: I would say it was a year later than that, I feel quite sure it was. We were living down at Amity Street and he lived right next to us. I can’t remember, but Talcott taught the course in population, I think, the economics of population.
HWH: So this is before he really went over into his later interest.
TAYLOR: He was a very dull teacher.
HWH: I’ve heard that.
TAYLOR: Yes, very dull.
HWH: And I’ve looked through some of his books too, and found those almost...
TAYLOR: Well, they’re almost impossible. He had a great vogue up until about seven or eight years ago. I suppose he was regarded as the most distinguished sociologist in the country and he did develop, but he developed along with his theories, he developed his own vocabulary which scared people off. In fact I’ve read some of his work, but it’s so hard to figure out what he means by his terms and I never did belong to his school, although some very able people thought he was a very able man. The teacher, at Chicago, who in many ways influenced me-- although not to his way of thinking, but he was a brilliant teacher-- was Frank Knight and I remember Frank Knight’s thinking that Talcott was an able student and he certainly made a great reputation. I think with recent developments in sociology, Parsons is not so highly regarded.
HWH: Well, the sociologists are famed for their vocabulary.
TAYLOR: Oh yes.
HWH: And language. That leaves, really, James Walter Crook, whom you mentioned earlier, as being the senior member of the department.
TAYLOR: He was almost in his dotage, I would say. He was a very simple man and he and Mrs. Crook were always very nice to us, but he seemed to have no intellectual interests at all. He may have earlier, I dare say he did, but he was in the field of labor history which I didn’t know so well and I’d seen some of his notes which were very careful but taken from more or less textbook sources, as far as I could see. A kindly man but not an able man at the time I knew him. Now it may well be he was much abler earlier, but at that time he showed that he wasn’t up on the subject, because he would ask me questions that an able man in the field should not have-- simple questions.
HWH: The Department of Economics I believe was an offshoot of political science and that must have been around about 1907, because until that time Professor Crook was Professor of political science and then he became that of economics.
TAYLOR: Well, was it political science or political economy.
HWH: Probably political economy.
TAYLOR: Probably political economy which is identical really. Economics was taught back in the 1820s to some extent. I wrote a little skit once on it, for the Amherst alumni publication.
HWH: I read it. In the Graduate’s Quarterly, you wrote “One Hundred Years of Economics at Amherst.” Yes, I enjoyed it.
But it struck me that when you came to the College, really only juniors and seniors could study economics.
TAYLOR: That was true. It changed in about ‘29 or ‘30. There was a big faculty fight about it, that I remember.
HWH: I have it 1926, the first time it was offered to sophomores.
TAYLOR: Well, maybe sophomores. But juniors and seniors, well I’ve forgotten but it was gradually opened up and on one of those occasions I remember coming out of faculty meeting and hearing the whole thing deplored by a member of the English department, whom you know very well.
HWH: What was their objection? That it would take students from other courses?
TAYLOR: Well, it’s a business course, it isn’t proper enough, it’s not a liberal arts subject.
HWH: Back at that time, in the ‘twenties, well into the ‘thirties, there were only four members in the department.
TAYLOR: Oh yes, that is all. It was a small department.
HWH: Do you realize now that there are 10 full-time?
TAYLOR: Is that possible?
HWH: I checked, and in the middle of the ‘thirties there were seven or eight courses offered. Each of them, of course, was for a whole year.
TAYLOR: It picked up during the Depression, of course-- it’s likely to happen in economics.
HWH: And now, there are twenty courses offered with very complicated titles.
TAYLOR: Yes, some of them, of course, are seminars.
HWH: Someone else had joined the faculty in your third year here, I believe, maybe it was your second, no, it would be your third; it was Willard Thorp.
TAYLOR: Oh yes, yes.
HWH: And he was here...
TAYLOR: He was here briefly and then he left for government service, I believe.
HWH: That’s right. Did you by any chance have Charlie Cole as a student?
TAYLOR: No I didn’t. He was a history major, primarily, and so far as I know he took little if any economics here.
HWH: I recall when he taught here that he was really an economic historian.
TAYLOR: Well, his course was introductory economics but it was primarily European economic history, which is not a bad introduction to economics, as a matter of fact.
HWH: I think it’s interesting that Hugh Aitken is really involved in that field, too-- both American and European economic history.
Back to Meiklejobn: was that the story you were going to tell, or have you more to tell?
TAYLOR: That was the chief story. I think it’s a good one. It shows a side of Meiklejohn that’s not often emphasized-- his generosity, I think.
When I came to Amherst just after this, the faculty was buzzing with all this kind of thing. I suppose that the conversations at the faculty club (which was quite an active organization at that time, a great many people dropped in at the old Faculty Club about four o’clock, shot pool or played chess or one thing and another) with the older men I was turned in favor of Meiklejohn by the remarks which seemed to me so reactionary and unkind and critical. Now they undoubtedly had some reasons for feeling this way, but I almost immediately developed a feeling that he must have been quite a man. And I remember also, that some of the men who had not opposed Meiklejohn were looked down upon by these older men who felt they were kind of traitors.
HWH: Was there any leadership of that group? I would think George Bosworth Churchill might have been...
TAYLOR: Well, he was, but he disappeared from the scene just about the time I came.
HWH: He went to the Legislature.
TAYLOR: But Mike Smith, I would say, and Croc Thompson were the most vocal of that group.
HWH: How about Tom Esty?
TAYLOR: Well Tom Esty was never as bitter or outspoken or critical. He was of a more judicious mind.
HWH: And was there leadership of the other side?
TAYLOR: Well, in the beginning there wasn’t; we developed some later. But there was very little on the other side; it was a few of the older men that really ran the show. And primarily Mike Smith was the power.
HWH: I was always amazed by his authority, really, when I was a student, because he didn’t appear that way. He lived right across the street from where I lived and I found him...
TAYLOR: I knew him quite well and he and his wife were very, very nice to us when we arrived, as they were to the Porters, the Porters arrived the same time. And it was Mike Smith who made Scott, Dean, of course, later on.
HWH: I didn’t realize that. Under Pease?
TAYLOR: Under Pease, yes. That was Mike’s doing.
HWH: I have heard it said that President Pease relied very heavily on Mike Smith’s advice.
TAYLOR: Oh yes, yes. Mike Smith in a sense ran the College.
Taylor: Pease was an awfully nice man but he didn’t really take much interest in administration. He was confused by matters of economics and accounting. I remember one evening dropping in to see him, I’ve forgotten now why, and the poor man was working on his income tax and just having a terrible time.
HWH: It was quite simple then.
TAYLOR: Oh yes, relatively.
HWH: I could understand it today. Well he was President for just four years I believe.
TAYLOR: Or even less, I’ve forgotten. It wasn’t long. A very nice man but not really on top of his job.
HWH: Well Georgie Olds was undoubtedly the man to succeed Meiklejohn.
TAYLOR: Undoubtedly, and a very fine man. I know a story about him I think might interest you. At the end of my first year, I was an instructor, along about this time of year (May), he called me in and said, “What are you going to do this next summer?” I said, “I’m going down to New Orleans to work on my thesis, driving down in my Model T Ford.” “Well,” he said, “I think the College can give you $300 to help you on that.” Right out of the blue!
HWH: Really! That a surprise.
TAYLOR: And was it needed! $300 was a lot of money then and it surely helped, but that’s the kind of fellow he was.
HWH: Well, I don’t know of anyone in Amherst’s history, with the possible exception of Old Doc, who enjoyed the reputation he did, by everyone, colleagues as well as alumni and students.
TAYLOR: Yes. A very fine man. They called on us, I think the second week we were here. It was expected; and we returned the call. We named our cat after him.
HWH: It must be particularly satisfying to be with George Daniel Olds for...
TAYLOR: Oh it was. It was.
HWH: Let’s see whatever notes I have here. Let’s skip a little, George, and get to 1946 when the New Curriculum, which went into effect in ‘47, was adopted. I know you had a great deal to do with the sophomore course, Problems of American Civilization. You were general editor of that series that D.C. Heath finally took on. I don’t know if you remember, but you and I talked at one point, when you were just mimeographing your assignments, of how you could get them published.
TAYLOR: Yes, this was a problem to get publishing. No one would touch it the first year.
HWH: How did you persuade D.C. Heath to take it on?
TAYLOR: Well, it was very curious. The first year I went down Publishers Row in New York and every publisher’s college man was enthusiastic-- this was fine. Then they’d go to their treasurers who said paper books will never sell. But the next year I did see the Heath people and one other one, a New York firm, and they both were interested in it. I finally selected D.C. Heath, partly because I was so fond of Weeden down there, a very fine man. We had very fine relations until one of these big conglomerates had taken it over and ruined the company. It used to be a fine Boston firm.
HWH: The course itself operated at the College about twenty years, I think.
TAYLOR: More or less, of course it changed from time to time. I think it operated about the way that I developed it for about ten or eleven years, and I think continued with some changes, as all things do.
HWH: Everyone agrees it was one of the most successful courses of the so-called New Curriculum. That and Science 1-2 and English 1-2. You edited four volumes, I believe it was.
TAYLOR: Yes, and others later. I was then Chairman of the course.
HWH: Do you recall how many problems were published in all?
TAYLOR: Well, I think while I was there there were something like 40, maybe 35 or 40, and then there’ve been some since. The nature of the problems has changed somewhat.
I believed in the problem approach and the people who finally took over favored a more topical approach. And there’s much to be said for both, but I still think there’s something about a problem approach that is a bit more effective.
HWH: How did you get the idea of the problem approach?
TAYLOR: Well in part, I would say it arose out of my experience at the University of Chicago, in my economic history courses there with Chester Wright, who used a procedure something like the papers that we drew up here at Amherst. He would propose a question and we had to write a short paper on that, which he went over very carefully and criticized in class. It was, I expect, partly out of that that I developed this.
HWH: Did you have to sell it to the other members of the program?
TAYLOR: Well, of course the whole business, selling the whole program, is a story in itself and one in which Gail Kennedy was the leading spirit on the overall thing, and we had a committee that was a very good committee. George Funnell was on the committee, several others.
HWH: You mean the committee for the New Curriculum?
TAYLOR: For the New Curriculum. We had a group of people who worked together pretty well; there were some who didn’t make much contribution, there always are, but the enthusiasts, I would say, were Gail and I and George Funnell. Kidder was also a member and always went along with us-- not so much contributing ideas, but just as being helpful. I’ve forgotten now who the others were. Bailey Brown, I guess, and Beebe were members, but they were more conservative in their attitude and not as inclined to encourage as much experimentation as Gail and the rest of us. But Gail carried the day and carried the battles with Baird and others that were fought very bitterly over two years. And it finally was adopted. It was a great battle with the faculty and my part of it primarily was in this “Problems” course. Well we won finally, with many compromises. I compromised with Laurence Packard, who was very friendly to us but very proud of his freshman course and was going to keep it, and we didn’t touch it, really.
HWH: He didn’t participate at all in the problems program...
TAYLOR: He was not on the Committee, but he was a good friend of all of us that were pushing; the committee and he played ball with us as much as he could.
HWH: When Problems in American Civilization was finally introduced, I don’t believe that Laurence took part in it, did he?
TAYLOR: Oh no, well you see, that was American. He continued his freshman course which was European history. He continued that with slight gestures toward our ideas. And he went along, he didn’t object to our American Studies course. I don’t think he was terribly enthusiastic about it, but I think he felt much more friendly toward us than he did toward the people who were opposing these changes.
HWH: Among those involved in the Problems in American Civilization were there any stand-outs? You were probably more collaborative with other departments in this course than in any other course in College.
TAYLOR: No, we got people to come along with us pretty well. I can’t remember, in the beginning especially there was a good deal of cooperation and right straight through. It varied a little, sometimes one department or another would be more represented, but history was always represented. Ted Greene was always a very enthusiastic supporter.
HWH: Seems to me Ben Ziegler was quite active.
TAYLOR: Ben Ziegler was very active earlier; he pulled out later. As you know, he gets offended very easily and I think I finally offended him in some way, but he stayed with us a long while. And he was a very good teacher with those students who like him, I think. I would shove people out into other sections if they couldn’t get along with him and it worked pretty well. But he was a good section leader.
HWH: Well you know now the incoming curriculum-- and it really isn’t, it’s one required course for freshmen that will be introduced next fall, Introduction to Liberal Studies is the name of that-- and much of the opposition to that, from the faculty is that in addition to their regular disciplines, they have to manufacture new courses. That will be very time consuming. You must have run into that, too.
TAYLOR: To some extent we did run into that, but we made sure that people who entered it got full credit for it. This was a full course, it wasn’t added to their burden, and the problems were in different fields so that there would always be some of the problems in which a man was very well prepared. The English people taught English; there would be some that would work in very well-- some history, some political science, some in religion often cooperated; philosophy-- and we didn’t have too much trouble. It would vary a little from year to year as to what departments were heavily involved. But most people seemed to be interested in doing it. It had some advantages, it put a burden on the teacher in that he had to correct a three-page paper every two weeks and he had to run a seminar, but the lectures were spread out so that a man didn’t give more than two or three lectures in the course of a semester.
HWH: I recall you used to invite outside...
TAYLOR: And we had outsiders, so usually men taught two seminars every two weeks and read the papers. Most people were always glad to do that. [Alfred] Kazin was with us one year and this was one thing he wouldn’t do. He wouldn’t read papers. He said that would be beneath him to read papers. And I just refused to hire anybody to do it so we got rid of Mr. Kazin. I don’t see why he should be given any special privileges.
HWH: Have you seen reports on his new book?
TAYLOR: No, I’ve just seen a couple of brief reviews. I’m anxious to see the part where he talks about the...
HWH: The Jew in New York or the New York Jew. He mentions Amherst.
TAYLOR: Yes, I know he does and I think it mentions Frost in some connection but I don’t know what else.
HWH: He told the same story about Frost that everyone else tells about Frost: walking him home. You get almost to the Inn and they walk back to where they started from, back and forth, so a walk of maybe ten minutes takes about an hour. I had the same experience a couple of times.
Well, who decided what problems you would undertake in the course?
TAYLOR: Well I started out with two or three or four that I had already used in my economic history course and so those were naturals and we worked those in immediately.
HWH: Here at Amherst?
TAYLOR: Here at Amherst, yes. So that the course was really developed in a sense out of my economic history course here. We’d have a group meeting and decide. The whole thing was run on a group basis.
HWH: Did you have regular meetings?
HWH: Every couple of weeks?
TAYLOR: Well, I’ve forgotten now. We had a meeting at least to consider every problem and often we had informal meetings with coffee after the papers would come in to discuss what the students were thinking and what we really needed to stress in order to bring out the problem to them. There was a good deal of interchange, cooperation.
HWH: Well, a successful course needs that. Did you have trouble keeping students down to three pages in their reports?
TAYLOR: Well we didn’t because we didn’t read reports beyond three pages.
HWH: Very good. That’s like Arnold Aron’s class, no one was ever late because he locked the door.
TAYLOR: If we were going to do them well, we couldn’t permit long papers. This was the agreement. I think some of the teachers may have gone a little farther, but I didn’t. When I got to the third page, I stopped.
HWH: I would think you would have to in self-protection.
TAYLOR: Oh yes, you had to. Some of them would write 20 pages.
HWH: I recall taking a political science course; I knew very little what I was writing about, I just wrote and wrote and wrote and I got an A.
TAYLOR: Probably worth it.
HWH: You drew on the Amherst faculty to produce most of those problems, or at least the early ones, all of them were...
TAYLOR: There were some outside. We wanted good problems and I felt that preference should be given to the Amherst group, but there were people outside who made suggestions that we should consider and we did adopt some of them. An Amherst man at Cornell-- what was his name?-- who did one of them for us. I’ve forgotten who it was but... Then some of them were joint, a man here and outside. Oh I can’t remember his name; I know him very well; he’s a very good friend of mine-- Allan Guttmann in English.
He was very active later and always very helpful on problems. He developed a problem on Jackson and the Indians, which also was suggested by a fellow out in the middle west and together they worked out that problem.
HWH: I believe Ed Rozwenc succeeded you as Chairman.
TAYLOR: Yes he did. And he had been very helpful on many problems, although his philosophy on the course was different from mine in that he believed in topics. I think maybe the time had come that there were some who didn’t like the problem approach. I think most of them did, but Ed definitely didn’t and believed in the topical approach which has much to be said for it. But it’s a different kind of course, so it gradually did change quite a little.
HWH: Well, as early as 1952 it was said to have been used by 235 other schools and colleges. Did you ever get a figure on how many ultimately used it?
TAYLOR: Used the problems?
TAYLOR: Oh, very many. I know that after ten years they had published-- I don’t know, something like 2,000,000 of them. They were sold out. But they were used in very many different ways. They were used down at Columbia to a large extent by graduate students taking their written examinations.
HWH: How so?
TAYLOR: Well, these problems were a way to review, what the opinions were, and they were used in some high schools; I was always surprised at the extent to which they were used in various ways.
HWH: I hope Amherst got royalties on it, or somebody.
TAYLOR: We shared some, but they were divided among the people who wrote them up. We got a little out of it, not much at first, but later we got a little.
HWH: The great thing then is that there was a small recompense to those involved. It didn’t cost the College anything, despite the treasurer’s fears.
Why did it end here? Why didn’t it continue even in the topic form? This was a very popular course even among the faculty.
TAYLOR: Well you know the curriculum’s undergone various changes. One of the reasons, I believe, was a (it didn’t end in my day, it was after my day that it really ended), one of the reasons was they found difficulty in getting people to participate in the course. I think that may have been partly the topical approach because what they did finally was to adopt topics for a whole semester, instead of two weeks at a time, and this meant that people outside of history or having some historical approach found it much more difficult to participate. I think the topical approach appealed to many, it was especially likely to appeal to people in English, I think, who made a real contribution. Of course we had a great variety of people from English one time or another and most of them made quite a contribution, and this was difficult for some of us who were not English majors, but it was very educational for me! (Laughter)
HWH: I looked in the catalog, George, and now under American Studies there are only two courses offered-- all the rest are borrowed from history, political science, English, you name it.
TAYLOR: Well that’s been practically true all along. There were usually a seminar or two.
HWH: This is exclusive of those, special department courses.
TAYLOR: Well you see, Ed was in the history department and it became a little more identified with American history than it had previously, which is understandable. I think that was part of the development and things changed, and the curriculum changed and interest changed.
HWH: Well I think it’s fair to say that, as I mentioned earlier, along with Science 1-2, English 1-2, Problems in American Civilization were the outstanding contributions.
TAYLOR: Well, it was for a time. It got quite a lot of national recognition. We got grants-- this was a mistake in a way-- we got grants so that we had people here from outside the College to participate in the course. We’d get two each year, young fellows from outside that we wanted to indoctrinate with the American Studies approach and it did succeed fairly well as far as these people were concerned; they were’t bad but they were real hard on the course. They were not on the whole very outstanding successes in leading a seminar so this.
HWH: Were they fresh out of or still in graduate school?
TAYLOR: No, these were people who were teaching, had taught for a few years, were interested in this approach and we brought them here and paid them a small salary to participate in the course. Charlie Cole was very cooperative and helpful always through the course.
HWH: George we’re almost through this side of the tape. Rather than run off, why don’t we stop it and turn it over, if you still have the time.
[Beginning Side Two]
HWH: The whole field of American Studies, George, is, as education goes, relatively new. Was there a tradition of it at Amherst before you introduced this?
TAYLOR: Well, there was a little. Amherst and two or three other places were experimenting along this line and we had a course-- I think it was in ‘38, a seminar which was given by George Whicher and myself-- which was a beginning. One of the ideas of the American studies program was to combine disciplines; the problems are not separated by departments. The problems spread over. So George Whicher and I gave a seminar for I think it was a year. It was towards the end of his career, and he made great contributions to it, but he wasn’t very well toward the end and in the seminar which was held at two o’clock, he would get very sleepy and he would go to sleep occasionally in the midst of one of these things and then when he waked up, he’d pick it right up like that. There was no problem, he did very well, but he’d get very sleepy. But I was very proud of the Amherst students at that time. You would never know-- no snickering, no indication at all that they knew he’d gone to sleep. Of course they did.
HWH: This was in the ‘thirties?
TAYLOR: This was about ‘38.
HWH: I graduated in ‘36 and there was almost no American History offered. Croc Thompson, and then after I left, Stetson Conn came in. And I’m surprised, too, that George would be the one who would collaborate because his reputation seems pretty much that of a loner.
TAYLOR: Well, it was in the English Department, I think, but he was always very friendly with social sciences and economics. He was not a trouble-maker at all and I enjoyed very much giving this joint course in which he attacked it from the American literature standpoint and I did from history.
HWH: It’s hard to think of cooperation of that kind in the ‘thirties.
TAYLOR: There was some elsewhere. Then the American Studies Association was formed and was active, I think, beginning about 1940 and I was active in that and became President of it at one point.
HWH: One of my questions was going to be when was the Association founded. I knew you were president from ‘56 to ‘58.
TAYLOR: I think it was right after the war, and this spread the Gospel around. Of course, my feeling particularly was that problems were important for one reason, because they spread across disciplines, and the idea of attacking a problem just from the economics standpoint is almost meaningless. It leads to all kinds of problems. What you should do, is to attack any problem from all the possible pertinent angles. This was one of the ideas in doing away with departmental lines and areas. It never worked very well for a number of reasons. Certain departments weren’t interested because they had their own interests; economics, for example, outside of Amherst and a few other places, took very little interest in it. They were contemporary-minded. Economic history was much less important than it is now, but it was embraced by English departments all over the country and still is. There are a number of reasons for that. One is that people in English departments I think, often feel a little frustrated by the narrowness of the approach that they’re expected to follow. Their study of literature leads way away from literature or from the fine points of literature. And the people in English who are interested in understanding American development, whether in its literature or in its life, are much attracted to this. And so it still is primarily people in English that are attracted to American Studies more than any other subject.
HWH: That’s interesting.
TAYLOR: And I would say they’re some of the best people. Oh we’ve had some from economics, not much. I think I’m the only President of the American Studies Association who was ever in economics. I think maybe they’ve had some people who were sociologists that have made some contribution-- some of which I don’t approve of-- but we had a couple of them that were much interested in artifacts. Well I like artifacts but you don’t need to go nuts about artifacts. You can read the whole history you know from an old bone, but I suspect that approach. But then people came in also from history, but people in English departments who felt frustrated by being put into narrow categories were delighted to get into a course that had some freedom very often.
HWH: I hadn’t realized that.
TAYLOR: I think they still do.
HWH: I studied American history at Yale and Yale, I think, was one of the first to introduce a program called History, the Arts and Letters and I was very tempted to go into that and I’ve read papers for teachers in that course when in graduate school. That was about the earliest that I had been aware of American studies as not a discipline but as a subject, as a project for study.
TAYLOR: Well, during the ‘thirties people were getting discontented with the departmentalization of knowledge. And this was an opportunity to cut across it. I think that was one of the chief appeals. Also the very practical appeal which was great to me was that a student presented with a puzzle is much more likely to take a keen interest in it than when he’s presented with a topic. Those were considerations.
HWH: There’s no true answer. I had not been aware of this. Your duties as president of the American Studies Association: did they take you all over the country those two years?
TAYLOR: Well, no, not much. I think the year after I was President I was given a grant by some Foundation to go around the country and survey what was happening. I know I went to Laramie, Wyoming, Colorado-- I don’t know-- quite a few places and didn’t find much doing to tell you the truth.
HWH: I don’t know if you are aware that the University of Wyoming now has a major collection of Americana. They were quite early in the game.
TAYLOR: Yes, they were early in the game. Actually a fellow out there by the name of Walker was one of the prime movers out there and I became well acquainted with him and I helped to get him a job later at George Washington, I guess, where I think he’s carried on and has a big department there. He later became active also in the American Studies Association.
HWH: There’s a Gene Gressley who’s active in Laramie now.
TAYLOR: I haven’t kept up with it.
HWH: And at that time there was a Colin Goodykunz down at Boulder who was more in American history but very interested in American Studies.
TAYLOR: I went down to Colorado, I went to Minnesota. I met Marx for the first time and also Ward, at Minnesota.
HWH: Leo? And Bill Ward?
TAYLOR: Yes. I met them out there. They were assistants or young teachers-- something like that.
HWH: Were you aware that William Seymour Tyler’s grandson, this was John Mason Tyler’s son, married a woman who was teaching-- I believe, history-- at the University of Minnesota? He died, but she’s still living down in Wellesley and she’s someone I want to talk to.
TAYLOR: They had one of the few really good American Studies programs in the early days. They had a man out there, I’ve forgotten his name now, who was a leader, one of the leaders in the movement. I would say perhaps he should be hailed as the father of the whole movement, in a way. And he had a great influence on both Ward and Marx.
HWH: This woman, incidentally, had Bill as a student. That’s another reason I want to see her. Shifting around, George, when did you realize you wanted to major in economics as a career? At Chicago?
TAYLOR: I would say probably in Chicago. It had wonderful teachers. John Maurice Clark who was regarded by many people as a very dull teacher, I found very interesting.
HWH: The Amherst alumnus.
TAYLOR: Yes, John Maurice Clark. A wonderful teacher for a person who was already interested in what he was talking about, but very dull for other people, especially undergraduates at that time. I had him; I had Viner; I had Frank Knight, Paul Douglas. I had really a galaxy of the finest teachers in economics. At that time Chicago was outstanding in economics and this interested me very much. I was also interested in philosophy at that time. I had some very fine philosophers.
HWH: If you’ve told me I’ve forgotten why you went to Chicago.
TAYLOR: I went to Chicago after the war, after I’d done some teaching because when I graduated from Wayland Academy, I won a scholarship to the University of Chicago for all four years that covered my tuition, so I never paid any tuition at Chicago. There was a time, you see this little academy was really Baptist affiliated
HWH: Wayland Academy
TAYLOR: Yes. There was a rather close connection between Chicago and the academy which existed for some time. Our examination papers used to go down to Chicago and they’d be graded down there. The main prize at commencement was a full four years’ tuition at Chicago. Otherwise, I would probably have gone to Wisconsin.
HWH: Did you ever have any desire to do other than teach in economics-- to go into business or have an interest in government service?
TAYLOR: Well, sometimes. But those things are not under one’s control. You grasp opportunities that come along. At Chicago, after I had been studying there one year, just begun my graduate work, I was asked by Frank Knight to go out to the University of Iowa as an instructor for a year. He was a very great teacher, although with a philosophy then which was quite liberal, not like the Chicago school today which is on the real right wing of economics. But he was a brilliant teacher. I was much influenced by him and by several other teachers in economics and history out there. We had a fine group while I was out there. I stayed a year; I might have stayed longer except that the Dean didn’t like me and I didn’t like him.
HWR: It’s funny how personalities affect one’s future. What was the subject of your doctoral dissertation?
TAYLOR: “Agrarian Discontent in the Mississippi Valley before the War of 1812.” And it’s one of the things that led me into a kind of statistical study because I made one of the first indexes of prices for any place in the United States. It didn’t amount to much. I made it for New Orleans and was able to show that the decline in the price of commodities out there led to a lot of discontent in the middle West.
TAYLOR: Led to a lot of discontent in the Middlewest before, just before the War of 1812.
HWH: Well now this then is when Georgie Olds subsidized you for a summer.
TAYLOR: That’s right. Yes.
HWH: I notice that you’ve done quite a bit of work in agrarian matters.
TAYLOR: Well some, not a great deal.
HWH: On pricing.
TAYLOR: Yes, a good deal of pricing. And I did work down in the Department of Agriculture, I think it was in ‘39; I went down there. I had a year’s leave and went down there as an agriculture economist to study certain interstate barriers to farm products that had grown up.
HWH: I didn’t hear that.
TAYLOR: Interstate barriers to interchange of farm products. Many states had put in laws which were supposedly sanitary laws but designed to protect their own agriculture. California had a law for a long while that no citrus fruit could be brought in from any place where they had some kind of scab disease. Well, this was not going to grow in California anyway, but it would protect their own crop and a good many such regulations were in effect.
HWH: I notice you did some studies down in Charleston, too.
TAYLOR: Yes those were price studies that I did on the grant from Harvard with Arthur Cole, who was a leading man at Harvard. I spent a year down there doing those price studies that later came out as part of the general Price History of the World by, who was the man in London-- Sir William Beveridge, who was in charge of the whole thing.
HWH: Well then the publication that the government brought out of yours “Barriers to Internal Trade in Farm Products”...
TAYLOR: That was when I was with the Department of Agriculture.
HWH: I had it that you were there in ‘38 and your study was published in ‘39.
TAYLOR: That’s right I think. I think that’s right. I went down there with Fred Waugh who was a very distinguished agricultural economist.
HWH: Now other activities you’ve been involved in is editor of The Journal of Economic History which you did for five years. Did the American Economic Association sponsor this?
TAYLOR: No. It’s an independent society of economic historians, of American economic history. It’s the Economic History Association and covers not only American but others, though chiefly American. To some extent my appointment there was due to an Amherst College graduate, Carter Goodrich, who was a power in the association, and when they were changing editors he called me up and asked me if I’d be interested in it.
HWH: That must have been time-consuming.
TAYLOR: Well it was, but it was a lot of fun and also very educational.
HWH: Did you do it here in Amherst?
TAYLOR: Yes. And I had a little time off for it. Charlie Cole was always agreeable to that kind of thing.
HWH: Then just before that you published a very successful book, The Transportation Revolution: 1815-60. Did this grow out of your original studies on agrarian discontent? Did you get into transportation as a result of those studies?
TAYLOR: No, it was a result of all my price studies and all my interest in economic history and it actually came about because Harold Faulkner over at Smith was one of the editors of a series on various periods of economic history and he suggested that I do one of the volumes. I agreed to.
HWH: That did achieve great success.
TAYLOR: Yes. You probably have seen the article about me in the Business History Review for Spring 1977.
HWH: I have indeed, yes. Then with Irene Neu in 1956, incidentally The Transportation Revolution was published in 1951, and five years later with Irene Neu you did The American Railroad Network 1861-90. I would think, just to me, that would be a fascinating area to study.
TAYLOR: Well it was. It was a very specialized study. We were interested primarily in the integration of the railroad network which was most unintegrated before that time, before 1860 or even 1870, because of the difference in gauges. I made a thorough study of gauges and drew a map which was a very successful part of the whole study and that was largely my contribution and Irene Neu also wrote several chapters on the development of fast freight lines and that kind of thing.
HWH: My father-in-law, my late father-in-law, was an attorney for the Union Pacific. He was a real railroad buff and I sent him a copy of your book. He loved it. I have a question down here of how you happened to get involved in the study of railroads and their problems, but you’ve answered that.
There’s one area that is more peculiarly Amherst, if I can find my notes here. Ah, here we are. Do any students stand out in your memory as being a joy to teach as undergraduates who later became prominent in economics or in any other area?
TAYLOR: Well now that’s a difficult one. You see what happened was, in undergraduate school particularly, most of the students that I was most interested in and that were my best students, went on to graduate school and then I lost track of them. One of my experiences when I became emeritus here and taught four years at the University of Delaware was to find that one of the advantages of teaching graduate school is that you see what becomes of your product-- and I had two people down there who were really outstanding. But I had good people here, but most of them didn’t go into economics, most of them went into law, business or history. Oh there were some that went on in economics-- who is this fellow up at Cornell now, he was one of my early students? He made a good record at Cornell. Chandler Morse. He was one of my real good students from my early days. He was a very able man.
HWH: Phil Coombs you must have had.
TAYLOR: Phil Coombs, yes. I remember him very well. He taught in the Economics Department for one year. But most of them didn’t continue with economics; they continued in history, or business or law. I tended to lose track of them, although there are so many of them, my memory is not very good I’m afraid.
HWH: I’ve misplaced a sheet, it may be I can remember them. I’d really be interested in your comments on the various administrations that you’ve served under. You mentioned Georgie Olds, of course, and made a comment on Pease. What was it like with Stanley?
TAYLOR: It was a very interesting period. He introduced, you know, the Committee of Six and for the first couple of years the Committee of Six was made up of Mike Smith and Croc Thompson, Dwight Salmon, people that went right along with King. And then we had a revolution and the others who were rebels came in, of whom I was very active.
HWH: I’m told by Al Lumley that you were probably the leading, behind-the-scenes member on the faculty.
TAYLOR: Well, it wasn’t a matter of manipulation, it was largely a matter of standing up.
HWH: And persuasion?
TAYLOR: Yes, persuasion and I think, well I never hesitated to stand up to King, but always courteously. This is the thing that has changed in the faculty that really bothers me in the last days of Charlie Cole’s administration. I think one has a right to object but not to be discourteous, and it seems to me that faculty in the very late days of Charlie Cole became truculent and this I don’t like.
HWH: You should take its pulse now.
TAYLOR: Yes, I know. Well fashion has changed. Under King-- let me say to start with that after King left and I appraised the situation, toward the end I had a feeling that both King and I had real respect for each other.
HWH: Great respect?
TAYLOR: A great respect for each other. I really fought him bitterly at times and I think, to some extent justifiably, but he was a greater president than I gave him credit for. He did some very fine things. He created this curriculum committee and made Gail Kennedy chairman of it, you know. He should be given great credit for that.
HWH: Did you have anything to do with Gail’s being Chairman?
TAYLOR: No I didn’t. I was still in war service of one kind or another. I came back and was made a member of the committee.
HWH: Because there was a time when Stanley, as I understood it, summarily fired Gail.
TAYLOR: Oh yes, well I was involved in that.
HWH: Did you have something to do with bringing him back?
TAYLOR: Yes I did have something to do with that, although not a great deal. He was fired. I think King never liked Gail because Gail was unconventional and somewhat of a trouble maker. He was a very good friend of mine; I admired him, but he was rather difficult to handle. He would occasionally be very unconventional in class and this is the thing, really, as I understand it, that teed Stanley off on him. He made some sexual remarks of some kind; he was quite a student of Freud at the time and whatnot and mentioned some of these things in class. I don’t know what they were, but Stanley heard about it and said, “This is the end.” This is the story and it may not be entirely true. But Gail was eased out at the end of that year against protests by the faculty and the students and all. And it was partly a matter of Lamprecht’s being very strong against him then and Lamprecht being very close to King at the time. That situation changed a little bit during the year; I don’t know exactly what happened. Lamprecht became even less popular-- MORE unpopular-- with some of the faculty and I don’t think as influential with King and a lot of pressure was brought to bear on King which he didn’t seem to resent as much as I would expect him to. He brought Gail back, which was one of the wisest things he ever did because Gail was a brilliant member of the faculty and made a great contribution.
HWH: I think Gail went up to Bennington.
TAYLOR: He was at Bennington. I went up to see him, he was my best friend on the faculty.
HWH: He was a remarkable man, as you say, not run of the mill like many...
TAYLOR: Oh a brilliant mind, erratic, it’s just a shame he didn’t write more. You know he had a beautiful pen; he’d write but he’d spend all day either working in his garden or listening to music. And then about nine o’clock at night he’d go to work and then he was too tired. But he was a brilliant fellow and a brilliant teacher. I would say he was our most successful teacher in American Studies sections. He had the ability somehow to stimulate the students to think, which is a lot of the action.
But now the Committee of Six: I’ve served on it practically every chance, every possibility; I had to be out for a year from the time I was elected until the time I quit. It was very interesting to watch the way Stanley handled it. Stanley had some very interesting techniques. If there were problems that he didn’t want to bring up, he would talk the whole time. He’d bring up all kinds of extraneous things and then it’s too late to take up anything else. You got so you just KNEW this would happen and you couldn’t stop him. He knew what he was doing, he was a smart man, and he kept us pretty well in hand, although we would occasionally rebel. I will tell you one story that might be of interest.
When he’d been here several years, he decided to do something about retirement payment for teachers. There had been a belief by many of us, handed down from one teacher to another, that on retirement, one got I think it was one half of his salary, but there was never anything in writing and never was anything committed on paper, and I don’t know whether it was by word of mouth or not. But this Stanley decided, quite rightly, had to be settled.
HWH: Be what?
TAYLOR: To be settled. So he appointed a Committee to study this and work with him and the Trustees and work out a system. Well, he made a great mistake in this, because he chose Eastman, who was not popular with the faculty, and he chose Bailey Brown, who was popular but was not at all a positive person in this. And so Bailey Brown just went along as did Eastman, pretty largely, with something worked out by Stanley and I don’t know who it was on the Trustees, that was a great disappointment to us. It was put in arbitrarily, immediately, with no consultation except with this unrepresentative committee. It was really, it seemed to us, an outrage. So with a couple of others-- I’ve forgotten who they were now, I think Gail was in on it-- we circulated a petition, which was a really strong petition. Our experience with Stanley was, that so often did not report our protests, or if he did he didn’t interpret them the way we would prefer, to the Board of Trustees. So we sent this directly to each member of the Board of Trustees.
HWH: Stanley must have blown his top.
TAYLOR: And to Stanley, I was the culprit. At eight o’clock the next morning I was in his office-- we sent out special delivery letters the night before-- this was a very interesting meeting. He said, “I understand that you were instrumental in writing this.” I said, “I was.” And he said it was a good statement. And then we had a Quaker Meeting. For five minutes he didn’t say anything and I didn’t say anything. We just sat there. He was thinking very hard. Finally he said, “Well, that’s all for today; we’ll have a faculty meeting on this.”
HWH: Which was just what you wanted.
TAYLOR: Very wise. We never got what we wanted out of it. He carried this through, it wasn’t very satisfactory. Later, it was revised into much better shape. But at any rate that was my one REAL confrontation with him, and it was fair, he was fair enough, he didn’t bawl me out-- he wanted to, he was mad, but he was a smart man.
HWH: He was an astute man.
TAYLOR: Stanley was a very, very able man and I came to appreciate that more after he left than I did then.
HWH: Did he need to be persuaded to bring Gail back or was that his idea?
TAYLOR: Well-- I don’t know. Certainly he must have felt very strongly the whole pressure of the faculty-- many of the faculty-- and the student body. The protest must have been much more than he anticipated, and I think partly that, I don’t really know the inside story on that altogether-- why he came to that conclusion. But again, it was one of the smartest things he ever did. Stanley had in general an ability to, if you opposed him on something and he saw he was licked or whatnot, he’d be on your side. He was a very, very smart administrator, as a matter of fact. You know a good administrator knows when to cave in, but he would do it so ably that you’d think he’d always been for it.
HWH: Was there any direct confrontation with him in faculty meetings?
TAYLOR: Yes, there was often. We would challenge. We certainly did on this insurance thing. And of course his rebuttal was that we had a faculty committee, you know, but it wasn’t a faculty committee. Most faculty members in those days were mice, you know.
HWH: Is that when it came to which seat they sat on at faculty meeting?
TAYLOR: Oh there were always a few little things like that. But most of them were, you know Warren Green would bluster and bluster but he never made any particular important points about things. And then the way faculty meetings were carried out, of course, it was hard to speak against King, he wouldn’t give you a chance very often. He knew what he was doing-- not that he was unfair, but he was a little fast with the gavel.
HWH: So his parliamentary procedure would...
TAYLOR: It was partly that and partly also that faculties weren’t as outspoken in those days as they are now. You had a certain, well there was a kind of respect for the president and a loyalty to the College that I don’t think is as evident today.
HWH: One member of the faculty this spring brought in a charge with seven or eight points that he confronted Bill Ward with, in front of the whole faculty. He was a member of the Committee of Six-- and why he brought this up at that time in the manner he did, I don’t know.
TAYLOR: Well I don’t know, there are matters of taste in these things that I think we observed and although there were times when I felt rather bitter about things that King had done, I never would think of doing such a thing as that, nor would other members of the Committee. I don’t know of anybody in my whole experience through King’s administration that ever was discourteous or unreasonably bitter.
HWH: Times have changed.
TAYLOR: Times have changed in all the colleges, as I understand.
HWH: Not Amherst alone. I was an undergraduate when Stanley announced abolition of the Latin requirement. Did he consult the faculty on that?
TAYLOR: Yes. There was a faculty vote on it. This was one time that I, and I don’t know quite what the answer was, but Gail Kennedy was against doing away with Latin. He’d never studied it. I had studied it for two years, but this was a great battle in which, well of course Stanley was clever on this kind of thing, but the Old Guard (Eastman, Croc Thompson and those that Stanley had had to depend on largely) were against him on this. But Stanley put it through. Dave Morton was against it. I remember his speech, it was very poetic. He could make a very fine speech, but it wasn’t very persuasive. But I thought it should be done away with, if for nothing else, as a reason for selection of students. But Stanley did a very good job on that; and against the opposition of the people who had turned Meiklejohn out.
HWH: Well, on to Charlie Cole, unless there’s more to be said about Stanley. I think one great thing on Charlie’s coming in was that he had been Chairman of the Alumni Committee that had made a report at the same time that the Faculty Committee had-- remember the Alumni Council published a report called “Amherst Tomorrow?” They were much in agreement and I’ve always thought as a result of that, Charlie became a prime candidate to succeed Stanley.
TAYLOR: Well possibly that was part of it. I was always a good friend of Charlie’s, but with some difference. Charlie of course was the fair-haired boy of Stanley King, and Charlie was brought in to teach economics and made head of the department without any consultation with the Economics Department.
HWH: I didn’t know that.
TAYLOR: I never felt really bitter about this, but some people did. And Charlie, before he retired, made a special point of coming to me and apologizing for that, and telling me he thought that was an unfair thing the way that was done. Which was very decent of him.
HWH: Then you say before he resigned, do you mean as chairman of the Department?
TAYLOR: No before he resigned as President. I think it was either at that time or just after. Maybe it was when I was made emeritus. I don’t know, but he did at one point, made a point of this, which wasn’t necessary, but it was nice of him to do it, because in a way it was curious not to consult with the department, which Stanley should have done. Stanley occasionally would do things like that. But I couldn’t object to it greatly because I admired Charlie, I thought he was a good man, and it didn’t do me any great harm. I never felt resentful about it.
HWH: Well many people seemed to think Charlie was certainly the right man at the right time.
TAYLOR: I think he was, and on the whole he was a very good president. And of course I felt very close to Charlie because I’d been in the same department with him and I could always go into his office and say whatever I liked. With King there was always a kind of intimidation, whether he meant it or not; I always felt that Charlie was a very good president. I think he was handicapped in dealing with the trustees because he was not a businessman. And an academic man does not have the clout with the Board of Trustees that a businessman or a lawyer does. Charlie, while he was a very good president, I think was somewhat under difficulties because he was an academic type; the Trustees knew it and he didn’t quite have the leadership with the Board that he would have had otherwise. But I think he was a very good president. He made some mistakes. They all do.
HWH: Think of any in particular?
TAYLOR: Yes, I can think of one mistake he made; and I don’t know but what I’d have made the same mistake. But it’s too bad. We appointed a man, we interviewed a man for the economics department, and Charlie interviewed; Charlie liked him and we were enthusiastic for him and we recommended him. But it came out at about that time that he had sometime in the past been a member of the Communist Party. Well we knew that and Charlie hadn’t known it, apparently, but Charlie did learn it, and we urged that he be appointed anyway. It seemed to us that it was in the past, and we recommended very strongly to Charlie that he be appointed. Charlie didn’t do it. Well, Charlie had to live with his Board. I can see why he did it. He’d have been a bigger man if he had; but we’ve all made such mistakes.
HWH: Charlie had a built-in, in my opinion had a built-in handicap in his administration, and that was his treasurer. You remember when Stanley left, he had Paul named an ex-officio member of the Board and Charlie had great difficulty on many occasions with that.
TAYLOR: Well, this is true. This was true. And Paul was a very unpopular figure with the faculty of course. I had some real bitter battles with him.
HWH: You were five years on the faculty under Cal Plimpton. Have any thoughts on his administration?
TAYLOR: Not much really, except that when I went up and really wanted something, he just gave it to me. He was a nice fellow, I liked him, but he would postpone decisions so much, especially making appointments, it was very difficult to make appointments. We’d recommend an appointment very strongly and he wouldn’t object to it, but he wouldn’t get around to approving it. It was hard to get an answer from him for things, so that I felt the College drifted while he was there. But that may be unfair, and he was occasionally very left-handed. I remember we were letting a man go from the Department and we hadn’t told him yet, it was up to Calvin to tell him. We had a faculty dance, and Calvin made the mistake of telling his wife during the dance...
HWH: Oh no!
TAYLOR: You know he joked about it. He joked about everything. Well the poor woman broke down and cried and left the dance floor.
HWH: You mean he told the professor’s wife?
HWH: Not Ruthie? I thought you meant Ruthie.
TAYLOR: No, no, no. He told the professor’s wife. He’d do things like that; he didn’t mean to be mean, but he was insensitive, I think. But he didn’t do many things like that, but he did sometimes. And he would joke about things in the Committee of Six and in the Faculty Meeting that weren’t really in good taste. It was things we were serious about. But I think he did it to, well, just to smooth things over, perhaps. But I didn’t have many dealings with him and I never had any trouble with him.
HWH: I think you were fortunate to have retired, I believe that was in 1965, before all of the campus unrest here. Because Cal had severe problems with that.
TAYLOR: Yes, I know, but I left just before then. I was very lucky.
HWH: Do you have any memories of Scott Porter?
TAYLOR: Oh yes, of course. Scott and I came at the same time. Scott was always a very good friend of mine and he was a very astute Dean. He was not an educational leader, but he was a good Dean in the sense that he kept out of trouble and as far as possible he kept the College and the students out of trouble. He never stood up to anybody and he worked with any President, and apparently very well.
HWH: Well he worked with what, four of them; there was Stanley Pease, Stanley King, Charlie Cole, and Cal.
TAYLOR: And he could get along with them. The Committee of Six always thought that he was no power of strength-- if there were any position that we were taking we didn’t expect Scott to go along with us. We just knew he couldn’t; he was the President’s man. But he must have been a very valuable man to the president, I would assume.
HWH: I expect he had more authority under Charlie than he did with the other presidents.
TAYLOR: Probably, but the only time I ever knew him to take a strong stand against the president was that petition we had on retirement. And he signed that and President King gave him HELL.
HWH: Is that so?
HWH: George, we’re just about at the end of this tape. I don’t know whether I have a shorter tape in my pocket here.
TAYLOR: If there are some more things you’d like, it’s all right with me. I have the time. Sure.
[Continuing interview with George R. Taylor, May 19, 1978]
HWH: A session with Professor George Taylor on the second tape. George, I don’t know that there’s more to say about Scott where we left off.
TAYLOR; Let me see. I don’t think so, except that the one difference between Stanley King and Scott, was always in regard to Al Lumley. For some reason, and some of it good reason, he took a great dislike of Al Lumley. In fact, there are memos in the College records in which he says he should never be continued on the faculty. Oh he, they had, bitter-- I’ve forgotten, but at any rate Scott was always as far as he could be, a defender of Al Lumley.
But I was going to tell you about Colston (Warne) and Stanley. Certainly Stanley was excellent in defending Colston’s right to operate outside of the College and have his own ideas and teach what he wanted to. And I do remember one occasion on which Stanley called me in-- I was on the Committee of Six at that time and a member of the Economics Department-- Stanley called me in and said, “I want you to listen to this letter that I have dictated.” (I think it was to (Hugh) Weed, one of the alumni body who was not exactly liberal). And he said, “I want you to read this letter.” Well he just DAMNED Weed out. Said this was not the way for an Amherst alumnus to act and it was a powerful letter. And I said, there’s nothing I could criticize there and I thought it was great. But he was very good in that area. And Weed of course was a menace at times. You know he was very down on Chandler, because Chandler was in OPA, as I was, but Chandler had had something to do with OPA’s regulations that Weed didn’t like.
HWH; Les Chandler?
TAYLOR: Les Chandler who was in economics. And Weed was just DOWN on Chandler, wrote letters to Stanley about this and everything.
HWH: Weed had the Carter Carburetor Company in St. Louis, Missouri. And he was the ringleader of the St. Louis dissent.
TAYLOR: Well at any rate, Chandler was farthest from a radical, you know; he attacked him as being a Marxist and a radical, you know;Chandler was very able, but not a Marxian by any means. There was one other thing about Charlie I wanted to tell you. Oh dear, I can’t remember it now.
HWH: I recall as a Freshman, it was right down here, that there was a so-called burning of the American Flag. Joe Warner was working with Walter Dyer in the Amherst Press and he reported it and it went all over. And the D.A.R., the American Legion rose to protest. Stanley wasted no time. He brought the culprits in and they were suspended forthwith.
There was something I was trying to remember too, George, to ask you about. Maybe it will come to me.
TAYLOR: One incident that has to do with Calvin Coolidge that you may know about. In the early days, I think it may be the early ‘thirties, the faculty was considering whether to do away with Chapel or not-- required Chapel-- and we voted by a two-thirds vote, as I remember it, to do away with compulsory Chapel and we received a telegram from Calvin Coolidge vetoing it.
HWH: NO! Epictitus included.
I know one question I wanted to ask you, if you had had any particular relationships with members of the Board that occur to you-- pleasant or unpleasant.
TAYLOR: Well I’ve never had any unpleasant ones but the only one on the Board that I have had much to do with, or anything to be exact, was the New York lawyer...
HWH: Eustace Seligman?
TAYLOR: Seligman, yes. I’ve always considered him a good friend of the College and a good man to talk with. He was always intelligent and I was always amazed at the wideness of his reading, especially in economics. A very able man.
HWH: He was. Of course you know his father was a Dean at Columbia.
TAYLOR: Well outside of that I have known others, but he was the one I was really impressed with. A very able man.
HWH: I always thought of him as “Mr. Amherst.”
TAYLOR: Yes. He was a fine man. And I knew the senior Plimpton-- not well. But I hadn’t known the Trustees very well. Stanley didn’t want the faculty to know them too well. We would have one member from the Committee of Six who would meet the members of the Board-- that’s one night when Stanley would have them there.
HWH: Not at their meeting?
TAYLOR: No, not at a meeting, I think it was more social. I can’t remember. I think it was just social. At any rate, we on the Committee of Six would vote who would be our representative. I’ll never forget the first vote we had on that. There were six of us there and we all wrote a name on a little slip of paper and it was unanimous. One man had voted for himself. Which was all right. He was happy. We all voted for Laurence Packard and he voted for himself. This pleased us all. I don’t think it pleased Stanley, particularly, because he and Stanley were not on the best terms.
HWH: Well you must have been elected, if not unanimously, on an occasion or two to wait on the Board.
TAYLOR: No. Well, we changed that later. I think later the whole Committee of Six met with them for a while.
HWH: Charlie changed that significantly. I think Cal did it perhaps even more.
TAYLOR: But I think Stanley thought it was better not and I’m not sure but what he wasn’t right to some extent. I’ve often thought maybe that the less a Board of Trustees knows of what’s going on, the better. I’m not sure about that, but I think there’s something to be said for it. If I were President, I think I might take that view.
HWH: There’s one area we haven’t touched on at all. I don’t want to press you, George, you’ve been very kind to let me go on this long. That is your war time activities in World War II. You were with the OPA.
TAYLOR: Well I worked with OPA and OPM.
HWH: Where was that?
TAYLOR: In Washington. And also in Boston. At one point I was sent up to Boston to have charge of Price Administration in the New England area. I was up here for, I don’t know, seven or eight months and had the pleasure at that time of having Bowles as one of my subordinates. Chester Bowles. He was a representative of OPA in the state of Connecticut and all these men were somewhat responsible to me although more to the general administrator. I was just a price man.
HWH: You were the regional administrator.
TAYLOR: For all products. Yes. And I got acquainted with Bowles then and later and I thought him a fine man to work with. I hold a great admiration for Bowles.
HWH: Was your connection with him in any way connected with Phil Coombs later as an economist?
TAYLOR: Well, we both were down with Bowles in Washington. Phil had a job, a more or less overall job at which I thought he did a superlative job. And I was head of non-ferrous metals, all the metals that were the basis for pricing-- something I knew nothing about but learned a lot. And that was the chief thing I did during the War, except I later became head of the retail division, the retail pricing division, pricing for retail all over the United States, and then...
HWH: You say all over the United States?
TAYLOR: Yes. It was in the Washington Office. Then I did go down for four months to Paraguay for the State Department and the Price Administration to advise them on price control and rationing. It was a futile business. They had the notion that the way to keep their administrators of rationing honest was to change them every three or four months, you know, so they could all get their hand in.
HWH: Well you were absent from Amherst, it seems to me, for about five years.
TAYLOR: For at least a year during that period I returned to the College to teach a once-a-week seminar. I went down in ‘41 and I had various jobs with the Price Administration and what not and was with the Office of Management. I headed the office down there for a while, what they called the Field Office overlooking the whole field of problems that arose with our field officer. I did that for some time reporting directly to Kenneth Galbraith on that, and was very impressed with Galbraith as an administrator-- an able fellow. He’s been a friend of mine since. Then I went to Paraguay for a while; then I came back here; and then they wanted me to go down to head up the History of CPA which they were writing. I went down there for three or four months on that, but I wanted to come back and anyway I thought it was a futile job to do, because the heads of divisions had changed and the people who were supposed to write it up were clerks and secretaries and what not who didn’t know what was happening and it was an impossible situation from my standpoint. They got another fellow to do it and he put out a series; I put out a couple. He put out-- oh, I don’t know-- ten, twenty, thirty maybe, that were run of the mill non-critical, non-analytical jobs which I suppose were useful but I wasn’t interested.
HWH: Sounds like a pretty model bureaucratic report.
TAYLOR: I was not impressed with the Office of Production Management. I went down there, Stanley asked me to go back and go down there. Earlier a man at Harvard was head of that, really a bombastic son of a gun, and I got down there and found the whole department full of time-servers, people who weren’t doing much. I had a very high price man that was vice-president of a New York bank. We always asked, you know, these businesses to send us down men. Well they’d often send down someone they couldn’t use anyway. And this fellow was just impossible, so we put him at a desk off in a corner and no one ever paid any attention to him.
But early in the game of price administration, under Galbraith and his predecessor, overall I thought it exciting and interesting. But I’ve always found administrative jobs boring after the first couple of months when I get things organized.
HWH: Seems to me that teaching was your forte. I’ve been impressed by the quality of the Amherst Economics Department over the years. It’s really attracted some first-rate teachers.
TAYLOR: We’ve been very fortunate in that and we’ve made very few mistakes.
HWH: I think of the people that were teaching when I was a student-- besides you there were Colston (I never had a course with you, I did with Colston), Willard Thorp, Jim Cusick, who I believe went to Dartmouth.
TAYLOR: To Dartmouth, he died very recently.
HWH: Then over the years...
TAYLOR: Over the years I think it’s been very outstanding.
HWH: Les Chandler was outstanding.
TAYLOR: Les Chandler, outstanding. Yes, we’ve had some very able men.
HWH: Arnold Collery.
TAYLOR: Oh yes, a very able man.
HWH: Did you bring Arnold here or was that...
TAYLOR: Well, that was a departmental matter. I don’t know who originally suggested him, but this was one of the fine things about Amherst: with practically all the presidents, the departments chose the men. Sometimes we were turned down, sometimes we were turned down lightly. Which reminds me that there was one story about Charlie I was going to tell you.
We had a great argument with Charlie about promotion in the ‘sixties of Ben Ziegler.
HWH: About the promotion of Ben Ziegler?
TAYLOR: Yes. We, on the Committee of Six-- Gail and I and a few others-- we knew his weaknesses, but we felt that if he had tenure he’d get over some of this touchiness, (which was) troublesome. So we really recommended it and Charlie didn’t recommend it, and it went to the Board and the Board finally accepted the Committee of Six. I don’t think Charlie argued against it too hard, but Charlie told us he didn’t believe this would help. He was right. Ben did not change. He was more prickly afterwards than he was before. So there’s a case where Charlie was right and we were wrong.
HWH: That was touchy.
TAYLOR: Not that he wasn’t a good teacher and all. And I don’t know that it affected him too much but it certainly didn’t make him less hard to deal with.
HWH: I know what you mean. George, I know there are other things I’d like to ask you, but I’ve exhausted the notes I’ve written down. Is there something we haven’t touched on?
TAYLOR: No, no. I guess that does it. I just feel that Amherst has treated me very well.
HWH: Well I think it’s been reciprocal. And I have enjoyed this and I thank you for your time. It’s nearly two hours we’ve been here.
TAYLOR: I hope your typing service doesn’t break down.
[Final transcription September 1978]