Harold H. Plough

Harkness Professor of Biology, Emeritus and class of 1913
Interviewed on November 21-22, 1977

Audio file

Subject coverage

  • Former professors and teaching spans at Amherst,
  • Comments on Professors Frederic B. Loomis and John Mason Tyler,
  • The college's biological facilities in early 1900s,
  • Black Biology students at Amherst,
  • The place of research and teaching in biological studies,
  • Initial grant from Rockefeller Foundation in mid-1930s,
  • Undergraduate research at the College,
  • Development of the teaching of science at Amherst,
  • Effects of the 1947 core curriculum,
  • Need for investigation in teaching the sciences,
  • Leading universities in biological studies,
  • Comments on Amherst administrations,
  • Prof. David Todd as an astronomer;
  • Present five-college Astronomy Department,
  • The Neuro-Science Program,
  • Activities with the Atomic Energy Commission,
  • Forthcoming book: The Sea Squirts of the Atlantic Continental Shelf


[This transcript was created at the time of the original recording and may contain errors and omissions]

An Interview with: 
Harold H. Plough 
Taped at his home, Middle Street, South Amherst 
Horace W. Hewlett, Interviewer 
For Amherst College 
November 21 and 22, 1977 

HWH: This is Horace Hewlett talking with Harold Plough, who is Harkness Professor of Biology Emeritus at Amherst College, at his home on Middle Street in South Amherst to discuss some aspects of Science at Amherst College. 

Let me start with a comment: I think it very unusual that you spent your entire professional career here at Amherst except when you were involved in the two wars-- from 1917 to your year of retirement. 

PLOUGH: I took two years off and worked for the Atomic Energy Commission in Washington along in the ‘forties, too. 

HWH: It was really on leave from the College though, wasn’t it? So you had a career spanning 43 years here. Like you, Lim Sprague spent his entire professional career here at Amherst from 1920 until his retirement in ‘66 And then I was interested to go back to Professors Emerson and Tyler. 

PLOUGH: Eli Marsh was the same wasn’t he? 

HWH: Eli taught some place else very briefly. 

PLOUGH: He came here the same time that I did. 

HWH: He did? Well I’ll have to check that. Your classmate, Eli Marsh, along with Geof Atkinson. 

PLOUGH: Geof of course came later. 

HWH: But then, going back over the years, I find that the person who had the record of longevity on the faculty was William S. Tyler of the Class of 1830, who taught here 57 years from 1836 to ‘93. 

PLOUGH: He was not a Biologist. “Tip” Tyler, the biologist, was his son. Then there were Professor Emerson and Professor Hopkins. 

HWH: No! His son was though, of course, whom you knew. Then Ebeneezer Strong Snell of the Class of 1822 taught here from 1825 until 1876. 

PLOUGH: That must be the longest. 

HWH: He’s right up there near Professor Tyler. And Old Doc Hitchcock of the Class of 1849 was here from 1861 until 1911-- 50 years.

PLOUGH: I still remember going to chapel and hearing Old Doc Hitchcock talk. I’m sorry to say that was the last few months of his life. He’d gotten so he couldn’t see and he got up there to read the Bible and somebody had to finish the chapter for him. That was about the end of his active service. 

HWH: And that brings me down to someone whom you knew and possibly studied under. I don’t know. It would be Professor B.K. Emerson, Class of ‘65. 

PLOUGH: I never took a course of his but I went to many of his lectures in the year after my graduation. 

HWH: Would you feel that he was in any way ahead of his time in the work that he did? He was originally in both geology and, I believe, zoology. 

PLOUGH: Yes, but that was because they didn’t have a biologist. He was really a geologist and he was doing this to fill in what was needed before Tyler came in to take it over. No, he was a geologist but he had to be a systematic zoologist in order to tell what the animals were that were being fossilized. 

HWH: Would you have any idea of when experimental or laboratory biology began at Amherst? 

PLOUGH: Well I would say it began with Professor Loomis. He was a geologist and he succeeded Emerson when he retired. He shifted over then from being a zoologist to his proper field in geology. I came in just at that time. But Loomis was well grounded and had studied some of the experimental biology which was rapidly growing in the early 1900 period. 

HWH: Yes, Loomis was in the Class of 1896 and he was Professor of Biology from 1899 to 1917. 

PLOUGH: Unfortunately he died too early-- before he had retired. In 1937 he was on a trip to Alaska and his body was sent back to Amherst. 

HWH: And he was Professor of Geology from ‘17 to ‘37. 

PLOUGH: This was ‘37. He hadn’t quite, I think, not quite reached the retirement age. He took over as Professor of Geology when Emerson retired, so he shifted from the department of biology to geology at that time. 

HWH: Well it seems to me from what I’ve read that he was not only a good palaeontologist but a good zoologist. 

PLOUGH: Loomis? Yes he was not only a good geologist but he was a good biologist. He kept familiar with what was more important in the biological fields and did extremely well as a teacher of biology. Loomis was the man who got us started as biologists. 

HWH: Well you studied with John Mason Tyler. 

PLOUGH: Yes, but Loomis was much more effective than John Mason Tyler. Tip Tyler made little attempt to follow the rapidly growing conclusions in experimental biology. 

HWH: I read, I think in Thomas LeDuc’s book Piety and Intellect at Amherst College, that when Seelye was President, he encouraged John Mason Tyler to study in Germany and then to return to the College to teach. But he asked that he do as Seelye himself had done, to consider science more for the glory of God than for science itself. Did you have that feeling about John Mason Tyler at all? 

PLOUGH: You mean that he had developed that way? I think so, yes. But he was different from Seelye, for he was a good zoologist. He spent two years in Germany, but as I said, he never took a degree in Germany. He made no attempt to become familiar with experimental biology which had begun to develop in Germany. So most of his activity had been listening to lectures of well-known German professors. It evidently took him a while to get familiar enough with the German language to get a good deal out of the contexts. Unlike most of the others who had gone to Germany for their doctorates, Tip Tyler never took a degree in Germany. He just went over for two years, listened to lectures, then came back to Amherst after that to teach. And I think his basic idea was to make biological science a sort of a leader to the philosophic view that the Christian theologians had. I shouldn’t overemphasize that because he was a good teacher of introductory evolutionary biology, extremely good with the younger beginning students in the first two years. He exhorted them to see what the Good Lord had been doing in the evolution of living things and he did it quite successfully. He was always a favorite teacher of younger students just because of that activity. So far as I know, he never really was very active in starting more advanced students in the biological field. Professor Tyler published two or three books dealing with the theory of evolution-- Man in the Light of Evolution. They were all well-known to Amherst undergraduates and to contemporary teachers, but they were little read outside of Amherst. 

HWH: Did you have laboratory work-- extensive laboratory work-- in biology as a student? 

PLOUGH: Oh, yes. A little with Professor Tyler but especially with Loomis. Loomis was the man who stimulated a number of Amherst students from 1909 to 1917 to go to graduate school. But yes. Tyler encouraged a laboratory program in the first year in biology. He and Loomis divided the first year of work. One taught the first half year and the other the second half. Loomis got them started in advanced laboratory work, more particularly in the first two years. Tyler came into the first year laboratory work, but Loomis started on a well-planned laboratory program. 

Laboratory biology was given first in Appleton, then in the new Biology Laboratory which was built in 1910 for the use of biology and geology. In addition, it devoted the central part of two floors to museums. In 1945 geology moved to Pratt, leaving biology alone. Some years later, the museum was sacrificed. Now the Biology Building is used only for lectures and laboratories and the departmental library. 

HWH: Well, did the College facilities seem adequate to you as a student, and then again when you came back to teach? 

PLOUGH: It’s difficult to say. They did when I was an undergraduate, but later I’d had a good deal of experience at Columbia and particularly at Woods Hole. The Amherst laboratory facilities were reasonably adequate, but they needed to be converted to courses dealing with experimental work, like genetics and biological chemistry. Originally the work was descriptive. There was very little laboratory experimental work. Loomis was the man who developed the laboratory side of biology and the more active experimental branches of it. 

HWH: Was experimental biology in that period largely confined to graduate schools? Were there many colleges that were active in that aspect of biology? 

PLOUGH: A few other colleges, stimulated by the laboratory at Woods Hole, taught experimental biology. In addition to Amherst, there were Wesleyan, Mount Holyoke, and Oberlin. It was only when students went on to one of the universities where biology was more active-- Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and to a lesser degree Johns Hopkins or Chicago-- that they discovered active experimental work in biology. The Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole served all of them all over the country, including Chicago, Indiana, Iowa, and others. The Pacific Coast developed its own experimental biology independently of the East. In Amherst and Wesleyan, experimental biology, working on problems on living materials, came in along about that period under the teachers Glaser and Plough. At Amherst it was a new teaching method involving laboratory studies on living materials which was brought back to Amherst from Woods Hole. At about this time (1934) Oscar Schotté was added to the teaching staff. This group of teachers made Amherst biology teaching a strong and influential program.

HWH: I noticed in some Amherst document that back in 1907 a grant was made to the College for the construction and maintenance of a scientific facility. It was, I believe, $150,000 and it was decided to use $100,000 of that for construction of a laboratory and the other $50,000 as a permanent fund for its upkeep and support. 

PLOUGH: These were the funds which were used to build the present Biology Laboratory in 1909-1910. 

HWH: Did you yourself know what you wanted to do when you came to Amherst as a teacher in 1917, or did you develop an interest here? 

PLOUGH: Well I knew I wanted to develop experimental work and when I was asked to come up here, I tried to think of it in terms of the situation here. I brought to Amherst an interest in experimental biology, especially genetics which I had worked on at Columbia with T. H. Morgan and others. They had an extraordinarily outstanding group of teachers at Columbia at that time. This group was especially capable in developing the experimental approach in biology. Amherst was influenced also by the laboratory at Woods Hole where teachers from all the universities in the Eastern half of the country came out in the summer to work on biological problems. This was a way in which the advancing experimental attitude in biology was spread around all through the more active universities and the research colleges. Experimental laboratory work had been stimulated all the way through as a series of biological problems which developed still further in the colleges during the winter studies. 

When I came back to Amherst from Columbia in 1917, Professor Loomis had shifted to the Geology Department. The first World War interrupted activities at Amherst for all of us for a year. Renewed development began again in 1919 when Otto Glaser joined us at Amherst from Michigan. 

HWH: You mentioned that students were sent down to the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole. Do you mean as undergraduates from Amherst? 

PLOUGH: Yes. Amherst had scholarship funds to pay promising students from Amherst to study for a summer at Woods Hole. And this was quite an effective approach for good Amherst undergraduates to learn some marine biology and to get some first-hand contact with active biologists from all over the Eastern U.S.A. There were regular weekly evening lectures which gave students some direct contact with biological research not only in Woods Hole but in universities all over the United States. The contacts were especially helpful for negro students who were treated at Woods Hole as equals with whites. This experience was particularly helpful to Monty Cobb ‘25, the negro anatomist of Washington. 

HWH: Yes, of Howard University. 

PLOUGH: You know at Amherst he had the negro-- the black-- difficulty. They were welcome but still not quite on the same plane as the white students. He was delighted to go to Woods Hole where nobody paid the slightest attention to whether he was black or white. And he found that this was true in other places although he had had trouble at Amherst. When he went on the track team in various places, although he was one of their best performers, he was put over at another table when they ate at some eating places. This kind of thing was difficult for him. 

HWH: He and Charlie Drew and Bill Hastie-- all at the same time. 

PLOUGH: Yes. I don’t know whether they were all in the same class or not-- 

HWH: No they weren’t. Monty, I think, was ‘25. Charlie Drew was ‘26 and Bill Hastie was ‘25, I believe. 

PLOUGH: That could well be. They were all particularly capable people. Intellectually the other two, Hastie and Drew, were even better students than Monty Cobb, though he made a very good record in his senior year and in medical school. He went out and worked two years on a PhD at Northwestern University after taking his MD at Howard. 

HWH: Well that leads me to another question. Are there some of your former students, or students that were involved with your department, who have become pre-eminent or eminent in the field of biology? 

PLOUGH: Yes, we have quite a number of graduates who went into biology. Among my contemporaries I can think of H.B. Goodrich ‘09, D. B. Young ‘11, Waldo Shumway ‘11, and Bill Young ‘21. 

HWH: One thinks, off hand, that many students at Amherst today go through the science curriculum that is preparatory for medicine. 

PLOUGH: Yes, this is true. But there are usually one or two students who go on as graduate students in biology. We made a definite effort (I don’t know how extensively this is being carried on since my retirement, although I’m sure it continues to some degree) always to try and get one or two outstanding students to go on into the biological field. This has to be, it’s part of what teaching biology or any other science in the College involves. A successful undergraduate department should send out a few students who make biology their own career. And the fact that students can do a little beginning research here at Amherst has been the major distinguishing feature of the Biology Department. This has been an important change in the attitude toward the biological sciences in Amherst from the earliest period. Hitchcock and Tyler thought of biology only as a part of the educational segment. This isn’t true any more. 

HWH: I read in the Amherst Graduate’s Quarterly of February 1926 that Sam Williams addressed the Alumni and his topic was “Research in the College.” 

PLOUGH: Yes, he was interested that in biology we were cultivating beginning research. 

HWH: It struck me that he was making a plea for research involving the student which was much more of his education than just attending lectures or even observing. 

PLOUGH: This is what I would think. We had done it from the early 1920s on. Glaser and I and a few others, Sam Williams, who came a little later, were interested in calling attention to students that there was a great field here that hadn’t been tried in college teaching. We tried to develop the idea that Amherst was an institution at which students could get preliminary training for graduate work in biology. This began in the early twenties and even more from the middle 1930s when Oscar Schotté joined us at Amherst. It has been the purpose of biology teaching to introduce biology students who continue beyond the first year to a biological problem which each makes the center of his educational activity. 

HWH: When I think of you, I think of you as someone who has really been committed to and submerged in research-- all the time I’ve known you. 

PLOUGH: Yes, I think so. 

HWH: And I believe... 

PLOUGH: This is what I tried to do, yes. 

HWH: I believe you got one of the first grants the College received for developing research in a college environment in science. 

PLOUGH: From the Rockefeller Foundation. 

HWH: When was that, Harold? 

PLOUGH: I think it was 1935-- ’35 or ‘36. And we were quite encouraged by that because it was quite clear that the Rockefeller Foundation decided to give us assistance for research because we were doing it here already. They sent two of their major staff people-- Warren Weaver, who was their senior officer for biology and medicine, and Frank Hayes-- to visit us at Amherst. After dealing funds to a number of universities they decided that there ought to be something in the colleges, and their first visit was to the Biological Laboratory at Amherst College. 

HWH: Do you know why they came to Amherst? 

PLOUGH: Well-- because they decided Amherst was a college which had begun to develop interest in research. Indeed, they told us that among undergraduates our beginnings in research seemed to them worth some outside aid from a foundation trying to encourage research. 

HWH: And that was the first research grant to an undergraduate college, although Rockefeller had aided in research at several universities for many years. 

Did it stipulate what kind of research was being aided? 

PLOUGH: Only that they were interested in stimulating research on genetics and development. We had to tell them what problem we wanted to work on and our statement they accepted and gave us funds to develop the program. 

HWH: Well that was the beginning. Do you remember how much it was in dollars? 

PLOUGH: It sounded like a lot of money then-- about $35,000 over three years. 

HWH: It has attracted still more money since then. 

PLOUGH: Yes, but research has gotten much more expensive than it used to be. I don’t know what the total has been. The Rockefeller grant did aid the teachers of biology in planning a program of research problems for the third and fourth years. 

HWH: Was this in the area of genetics that it was used? 

PLOUGH: We talked to them about studies in Genetics and Development. This was when Oscar Schotté was just coming into our department. He was working in development and Glaser was interested in it, too. So a number of us gave a lot of thought to what we could do in stimulating research activity in studies beyond the initial course. There wasn’t any idea to change the initial courses-- the initial course that got so many people to know the field-- but we had the feeling that a few good students would respond to an opportunity to work on an individual biological problem, and learning how biological knowledge is developed. They learned because others were learning to get new answers to basic biological problems. That was the idea. To get a number of students starting, working in one or two problems which we developed and suggested that they try. This is just the way it worked. There were always others involved secondarily. 

HWH: Which was the purpose of the grant: it was supposed to encourage research on the part of the biology faculty and to introduce students to participation beyond the initial courses. 

PLOUGH: Yes-- the latter thing. Research activity in an undergraduate institution was to a degree a sideline with the Rockefeller Foundation. They were interested in getting more research in different fields going. And they had unearthed the fact that there was research going on in biology here at Amherst, first as Glaser and I had been carrying on, and later with great additions from Oscar Schotté. This was what they were prepared to support. With their encouragement we made applications for a grant. Warren Weaver and Frank Hayes came up and, yes, they were interested in supporting research at Amherst because we had already shown some work of that kind going on. The funds that they gave us in the grant were-- I’ve forgotten, I think it was five years at first and then it was renewed for another 5-year period. Then after that, we were able to get funds from other research groups like the National Science Foundation. 

HWH: You’ve attracted quite a few grants from various governmental agencies and research foundations since 1935, to keep research at Amherst going. 

PLOUGH: Yes, from National Science Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, Atomic Energy Commission. But everybody in science that does research gets support from funds received from some research-supporting institute. This is recognized as essential now. It wasn’t, back in the earlier period. Then you did things that you could develop yourself. Now almost all research activity requires some outside assistance from research foundations or the U.S. government. 

HWH: As I recall, soon after the war, I believe you were the one who succeeded in getting a radioactive cobalt source-- and a special vault built for it-- down in the biology building. 

PLOUGH: Yes, I hadn’t thought of going into that because this was a part of the research activity. It just means that we developed something here that required the use of radiation and the cobalt source was the energy source. Eventually we also got some xray generating. Yes, this was done but one shouldn’t make too much of that. After the war it was being done everywhere. We got funds in order to carry it on here and could carry on radioactivity and radiation research where in many places this hadn’t been done up to this time. It was more and more needed in the field of Genetics. But this means simply that we adapted-- adopted and adapted-- the experimental techniques which were coming to be more and more in use in university research programs. And these in the same way were being carried on in Woods Hole. During the summer Glaser and I were able to transport our work from Amherst to Woods Hole and carry it on there-- those of us who wanted to go down there. Oscar never liked Woods Hole and wouldn’t go there, but many others have carried on biological studies there. I have, all these years. After the war the biology staff at Amherst grew with the addition of George Kidder and Al Wood. Each of them has carried on research and has stimulated advanced students to do so. 

HWH: I don’t ask this so much to glorify Amherst as just to get the facts. When we talked earlier you indicated that Wesleyan, for example, has encouraged a research program perhaps comparable to what we’re doing, but that Wesleyan has not encouraged their undergraduates to develop research studies of their own. Most other colleges do not give opportunities for undergraduates to make a beginning in research. 

PLOUGH: I don’t think many others in the early days, apart from Amherst and Wesleyan, did. Wesleyan encouraged undergraduate problems in physics-- physics and chemistry-- and they had stimulated undergraduate research in nutrition, also. Over quite a long period they had some research activity going at Wesleyan with some opportunities for undergraduate participation. It’s just that we spread it a little more at the time and brought it in to the teaching program that was being developed in biology. I think we had more extensive programs here at Amherst than anywhere else in the colleges in those earlier years. Later they organized such a program at Oberlin. Of course, one shouldn’t overemphasize this Amherst undergraduate biological research too much. The Eastern universities were all encouraging graduate students to make a beginning at individual research study. Our program at Amherst was designed to stimulate our most advanced undergraduate students to undertake an individual research problem. 

HWH: Well I’m amazed now, when I look at the various fields over the years that biologists at Amherst have been concerned with. There were Glaser’s biochemical studies, your Drosophila genetics, Oscar Schotté’s development and regeneration; George Kidder-- with his biochemical problems and Al Wood’s fossil vertebrate skeletons.

PLOUGH: Yes all the staff was busy with research 1935 to the War. I’m sorry to say it looks to me as though they were not as active now as they had been earlier. I don’t know why. Hexter and Yost are doing a fine job publishing books (and they’re good books) but they don’t seem either of them to be doing any research for students to copy. I think this is a disappointment and I’m sorry. Some of the younger men are active, like Brower and Leadbetter. 

HWH: I couldn’t have conceived of anyone doing the kind of work Lincoln Brower is doing now only a few years ago. 

PLOUGH: Very nice work. 

HWH: He’s in so many fields, too. It’s not only mimicry, but he’s concerned with ecology... 

PLOUGH: Well that’s just one field-- that’s the field and he gives a course he has developed in an area that nobody else has followed-- very nice work-- stimulating. He lectured at Woods Hole last summer, you know. The big lecture room was full and he got a great round of applause for the program after he’d finished. He not only lectured for an hour but he showed a film for half an hour after that. 

HWH: I was going to ask if you’d seen some of his films. 

PLOUGH: We’ve got him interested in Woods Hole now so I think perhaps he’ll get down there after this. 

HWH: I think in your department, as I remember it as a student which was, lo, many years ago, there were about three of you involved in teaching. 

PLOUGH: Glaser-- 

HWH: Glaser and you and Oscar 

PLOUGH: That was the initial group, but we did have some younger men before that-- (as Rankin and George Child)-- not on really permanent appointments. It’s been gradually growing and one or two-- certainly Brower’s an addition. And some of the younger men are good, too, who are just getting established. 

HWH: This is entirely different, Harold, but I was amused and I see you have a nice assortment of books and I’ve looked through some of those, too-- but I was amused in the early years of the College, where science was concerned, that chemistry was taught to the junior sophisters, as they were called, for one term out of the three terms of the year, in the junior year. And then a few years later it was moved down to the sophomore year for two terms. But they always reserved anatomy for the senior year. I wondered if this reflected-- if you’ve ever heard anything about it, or looked into it-- if this reflected the callow youth coming to college and not being really equipped to consider the study of Anatomy until he was a mature senior. 

Would you comment on the development of the teaching of science at Amherst? 

PLOUGH: Certainly chemistry has been the leader in all this development from the earliest days and what they did then really doesn’t count; it wasn’t of any importance until they got a real program in chemistry. They weren’t efficient in chemistry. But actually the department of chemistry has been perhaps the most successful of all the science departments in Amherst. It may not have been as large, but they have good chemists who left them, started with them and became chemists afterwards. And this is what you have to think of. You can’t think of the development of the sciences in terms of just adding a little here and there. They’re important in their own right and only when this has been recognized and developed in the College are they doing their job. And this is why for those of us who have stood for that (usually you’re thought of as being people who’re just interested in the field, not interested in its place in the College), this isn’t true. All the way through in the earlier days, men like Emerson, Tyler because he never quite had the interest, but Loomis-- Emerson and Loomis, and certainly Doughty in chemistry had it. I don’t know how far Hopkins ever got to be. Hopkins got numerous students started. More and more it was the enlargement of the emphasis on the sciences as such and the fact that the College needed this kind of thing in order to make its offering complete. I find that I have to shout that doctrine all the time-- that the fields of science are disciplines of importance in the development of knowledge in the College as everywhere else. And only when the College develops these things as disciplines that are of essentially basic importance to the development of human knowledge do we do our job. That’s what you have to look at-- the development of science in the colleges, at Amherst particularly. 

It was the way in which it gradually got away from the rather school-type attitude that science was something you took on the side. The realization that this is a basic field of human activity that the College has to offer as well as others. So that not only in the arts and philosophy but in the sciences, too, the College has to do its job. And this is done quite well at Amherst, in the basic things like chemistry and physics and biology. And insofar as the others like psychology are coming on, that would be true. That’s what I really have always been interested in, what perhaps hasn’t always been understood. I’ve never been interested in limiting what the College did, but only insisting that these are some of the things it ought to do and that it wasn’t necessarily always doing well. 

HWH: Would you guess that this “turn” that you mention when the College forewent the traditional manner of teaching science, when it began to accept these specific disciplines as worthy of support in themselves-- would that have come along in the 1870s or ‘80s, or was it later than that? 

PLOUGH: Oh it was later than that as far as Amherst went, a good bit later. Certainly when I was a student here, there was very little evidence that it was being done. There was a little because Loomis was doing work of his own. To a lesser degree Sam Williams in physics, also was; and to a degree Doughty in chemistry. But it needed to be extended in all these fields. 

HWH: So this is really in the 20th Century you’re speaking of. 

PLOUGH: Well I suppose so. Yes, that’s where it goes, that’s the way it developed. 

HWH: Well, Harold, on the so-called New Curriculum of 1947: when it was introduced, did you feel that that made any difference to the teaching of biology? 

PLOUGH: It’s a little hard to tell what you mean by the new curriculum. There are two or three new curriculums. 

HWH: The one of 1947-- the first one that Gail Kennedy’s committee brought out. 

PLOUGH: Well I don’t think it made any great difference in the emphases that were given. But it was another way to try to put the teaching, particularly of the sciences, together. Gail Kennedy and Charlie Cole were both interested in trying to draw the sciences into the educational process-- perhaps a little more than they had been done before. And all those programs, no one of which held on for more than a year or two-- all we did was just to do what we’d always been doing with the little changes, a change in the emphases. 

HWH: Well one of the arguments for that program, known as the Core Curriculum, was that it would force students who might otherwise have avoided certain areas to at least get a taste of what things were about. 

PLOUGH: Well, I think it was an extraordinarily fine idea. It did well. But I am only really saying that it did what the best students had done anyway and that it tried to emphasize just that. I think the Core Curriculum, the scheme was excellent and insofar as it held, it was well worth doing, but it didn’t hold very long. All the arts people saw to it that it didn’t-- it wasn’t kept in there-- and that’s the attitude now-- the feeling of, “Well, what do you have to bother with all this for.” 

And of course this is true in the Universities. It isn’t done. You only do what you find valuable and that means simply that we have to see to it that the other things get an opportunity to make themselves known to students. 

HWH: I just wondered if that particular curriculum in any way introduced students to biology that you know of, who might have otherwise neglected it. 

PLOUGH: It gave all students some introduction to the basic ideas of sciences and the arts. There was some increase in interesting students, but not much. We had lots of interest in biology even in the earlier days, so it didn’t really change that very much. And all it could have done was to try to get the sciences inter-connected, which is a good thing, too. 

Charlie Cole was a very capable person in the theoretical aspects of this and any views that he had I’m sure were valuable and helpful. And I think that’s what that was. But the Core Curriculum certainly was well worthwhile and if it could have been continued, it would have been valuable. Currently all the fields in the curriculum stand on their own supporting ideas and that was long since being done in the sciences. 

HWH: Well as time went on, you recall first that Warren Green was in charge of the so-called Science 1-2 program, and then Arnold Arons came in. Arnie, I think, tended to become... 

PLOUGH: I forgot about him. I forgot about Warren Green-- 

HWH: I think Warren did it for two years, perhaps, and then Arnold came in. 

PLOUGH: Well Arnold was very good at it. 

HWH: Oh, excellent! 

[Side Two continues.] 

HWH: This is Horace Hewlett again in the second session with Professor Plough at his home on Middle Street in South Amherst on Tuesday, November 22, 1977. 

Harold, when we talked yesterday you suggested that there might be something you’d like to say about the difference between biology or science in a college and a university. We did talk about the extensive research in universities. 

PLOUGH: Yes we talked about that... I suppose one of the main points. I’ve always had it in mind and still have-- I’m not quite sure that my view here is shared by many others. It is certainly shared by Oscar Schotté and Otto Glaser-- both felt as I do. But I’m not sure that the College administration has had any understanding of what we had in mind. And perhaps it hasn’t given very adequate support to the program. The point that I’ve had in mind right along and that I was talking about yesterday was that one of the important factors in a science like biology in the College is that it should, along with the teaching, carry on a certain amount of investigation-- some actual research going on in the institution that can be entered into by some of the more advanced students. This is a major part of the activity in that it is this that separates what the college tries to do from what has been done in the educational experience of any of these boys before they came-- that they will meet if they go on in graduate work. A very small number of them do immediately, and there should be a start of this investigation method-- actual studies, individual studies on the part of the more advanced students. This is the kind of thing that is, I think, important in setting the tone of the department and the College. Otto Glaser and I certainly had developed over a good many years and when Oscar Schotté came along, in 1935, he entered into it-- it was exactly the line that he was interested in and he entered into it enthusiastically along with those of us who were here. And this, I think, is what we-- well I at least-- would hope would be continued over the years in the Department of Biology and other similar science departments. 

Now I suppose it would be said, yes, this is what departments are doing everywhere-- what other departments are doing. I’m not quite sure that they are, but in any case the method in the languages and philosophical studies and literature is not quite the same nor is the DEMAND quite the same. The sciences have a rather unique opportunity to offer a field parts of which are being actively investigated in many parts of the world and in the study of which the College can take a part. So students who are going on in these fields can begin with this study before they get away from college. I think it’s quite important in the teaching process that the opportunity be offered and understood. I’m not quite so sure that it is being done in that way right now and it seems to me that if it isn’t, there’s something being lost over what we had earlier. It’s easy to make criticisms, of course, after you’ve left a group. I’m not sure that this is true, but it seems so to me.

HWH: What you just said brought up a point that really never occurred to me before, and that is that in the social sciences and the humanities scholars have to be careful that they don’t duplicate the work of others. Then a young man or woman comes to write a dissertation now, they try to find a field that will not be competitive with what someone has already done or is about to do. But from what you just said, in science it seems to me that there’s much to be gained by the collaborative or supporting research that may be going on here at Amherst at one point, or at MIT, or out at Stanford, so that the end result of the research that they’re in can have other bases. 

PLOUGH: Yes, I think that’s a fair analysis, although I would think it’s rather doubtful that we’re working in a unique field. I think the kind of work that would be done here at Amherst is simply carrying on some one of the basic problems that are under investigation in larger groups everywhere. They may be different but not necessarily. It just means that the group here can enter into a research program, into fields that are being actively pursued in a good many other places. They would be picked up, perhaps, depending on the interests of the particular teachers here, but they wouldn’t necessarily have to be different from what was going on in other places in the field in any case. That depends on the individuals and where they are. But I’m disappointed right now to go up to the Biology Laboratory and find that some of the younger men are doing active work but Yost and Hexter seem to be doing nothing. They don’t have any students who are coming in to work on problems. Now one could come back and say, is anything of this sort being done in chemistry and physics? Certainly in chemistry there is some work and has been-- but that’s in activity with one or another of the active teachers there. But I think over the years it has always been the character of the Biology Department that we had a lot of students working on this or that-- things that seemed important to them. I remember when Commager first came here I had to go and tell him about Amherst, along with some older members of the faculty, and I told him, “Well, of course, you understand that we try to make the students feel that this biology is the most important thing they’ll study here in the College.” Well, he smiled and I smiled, too. Nevertheless this is the attitude of an investigator in his own field. And I think it’s important that this kind of attitude be held in a college for every field the student studies. I don’t think you can do it just by standing up and doing a good job in lecturing and giving comprehensive courses. 

You haven’t seen Hexter and Yost’s book? It’s a good book. I’ve a copy of it if you haven’t seen it. (hands book to HWH) It’s very carefully done and very good, but I think some drawings might be improved and they admitted that. It may be that writing a textbook as good as this, is as important as doing active research in biology. 

HWH: You mentioned yesterday and you alluded today to the activity of the chemistry department. You may recall that about a year ago there was a small item of news that Amherst per capita, proportionate to its size, Amherst and Oberlin were producing more professional chemists according to their size than any other institutions. 

PLOUGH: I don’t remember having seen that. 

HWH: They’re very active. 

PLOUGH: This is the kind of thing that was true in biology, too. With the same two institutions. But I don’t know-- my information, at least through Woods Hole, was that Oberlin has slackened up very greatly. They have something like a third negroes in college and it shows in the kind of-- the results-- in the scholarship for students. But I’m sure they’ll work out of that. 

HWH: At the graduate level, Harold, what are the universities that are outstanding in both instruction and research? Would Illinois still be among them? 

PLOUGH: Yes, it’s one of those. I would list Columbia, California, Stanford, Harvard, Princeton, Texas, Illinois, Yale, Johns Hopkins. We had the chief-- he’s still HERE-- the senior man in biology at Illinois, who was here to give some lectures. He’s a visiting professor at the University, he was down here to lecture at Amherst College last week. And he’s a very capable man: Prosser. We went up to hear his lecture. There was a good group of more advanced students but not many people besides them. He’s a good man but I don’t know your question. There are good biologists in every major university. It’s the measure of a university if it doesn’t have a good biological section. That would be true for other fields, too. 

HWH: Did you ever have any desire or think of moving into a university? 

PLOUGH: Oh yes. I was offered a job at Columbia but I didn’t take it from here. I’d just gotten a start here and I would have had to step down a bit in the seniority and so I didn’t move. I was offered a place at Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania. But I’ve stayed here. I’ve had lots of outside activities, particularly with the Atomic Energy Commission in Washington for whom I did work for two years.

HWH: Well, I suspect, too, that Woods Hole has probably been a good professional outlet for you. 

PLOUGH: It has for all biologists, for anybody who’s interested in work that might be done in the field of biology at Woods Hole. What they do down there, at least in the research activity that’s carried on, isn’t necessarily involved with marine work at all. It’s just “biology.” 

HWH: You mentioned a moment ago that you weren’t sure that the administration of the College has given heed to the needs of the various science departments in the way they might. 

PLOUGH: Of course, being out of it, I may be quite wrong about that. But my impression is that science doesn’t receive the stimulus that it used to have at Amherst, but I may be wrong. 

HWH: Well now you have served under seven presidents of the College and there have been only 14-- Bill Ward would be the eighth and I believe you retired the year he came in. Harris was the first of course-- you were a student when he came; then he was followed by Meiklejohn, then Georgie Olds, then Stanley Pease, Stanley King, Charlie Cole, Cal Plimpton. Can you think among those of any who did pay attention to the needs of the College in biology? 

PLOUGH: Oh sure. Stanley King and Charlie Cole-- easily. Particularly Stanley King, curiously enough. He didn’t know anything about it but he did respond to our suggestions of what we were trying to do-- perhaps more than anybody else. 

HWH: Of course it was under him that you got that first grant from the Rockefellers-- whether he had anything to do with it or not 

PLOUGH: He didn’t have anything to do with it. He was as surprised as the rest of us were. But he did support it-- he was enthusiastically in support of it. But that was the point about Stanley King. In spite of the fact that he thought he was a good scholar, he just learned to be a scholar when he was here. And he didn’t quite know what this was all about. But he did realize that they were going to give us some money. Of course he thought this was wonderful and then he went ahead and did get to understand that scientific research, at least, was supported by funds received from agencies on the outside. He worked into this and helped us, helped everybody very greatly, by going along with it. 

Charlie Cole, of course, was brought up on this system and it wasn’t any different to him than it had been in other places-- Columbia and other places. I think Stanley King was more enthusiastic about this kind of activity than Charlie Cole was. 

HWH: While you say that Stanley became a scholar after he came here, he was a brilliant man as you know. He went through Amherst in three years, Harvard Law School in two. 

PLOUGH: Yes. That doesn’t always show anything. I’ve seen lots of Jewish people in New York who did just that kind of thing-- did even better. (Laughter) Anyway, that’s an unfair statement. That’s not an indication of his competence. He was very competent and very well informed in many fields. So he brought over from the business into this scholarly activity an extremely capable mind. And I think everybody who met him initially realized that. No, Stanley King was a great help and support and as we began to get funds to develop this kind of work, he was enthusiastic to have it go on. I think Charlie Cole was, too, only he thought everybody did this so this was all right. 

HWH: Now you were here during the Meiklejohn administration. Do you have any recollections about him? 

PLOUGH: Of course, I was in College when he was the President. 

HWH: Well he came in during your junior year? 

PLOUGH: Something like that. Yes. And then he appointed me at Amherst College. And he came down to see the teachers at Columbia when he was trying to find a biologist. He asked several of the younger men, who were just as competent as I was-- like Waldo Shumway who was a very good man; he had him here a year but he didn’t keep him and then he fussed around and finally asked me to come up. I never seemed to have any special difficulty in remaining around while he was here. 

HWH: You weren’t inclined to leave Amherst as others did when he left were you? 

PLOUGH: Of course I ran into this problem and I, as did many others, saw things that were desirable on both sides. It was pretty hard to decide. But then the faculty never had anything to do really with whether a teacher was kept or dropped off. That was a Trustee matter. But there were lots of-- well I didn’t mean to get into this-- there were lots of members of the faculty who were violently against Meiklejohn, and there were others who were extraordinarily favorable to him, and then perhaps the rest more or less in-between thought he was an excellent man-- that he’d made some mistakes and that was it. My guess is that the Trustees, particularly Dwight Morrow, eventually thought they did the wrong thing in forcing him to leave. But this was the decision they made at the time.

HWH: Did you read Seelye Bixler’s article on L’Affaire Meiklejohn in the Alumni News a couple of years ago? 

PLOUGH: I suppose I have but I’ve forgotten it. 

HWH: He said basically what you’ve said: that sides were divided-- mostly very strongly-- but there were some to whom it apparently didn’t matter. 

PLOUGH: Meiklejohn was a very stimulating person. All his life he was still stimulating. I think the difficulties got into other things that were less important-- the fact that his wife couldn’t run their finances and so his image was influenced by that. He forgot to see to it that the College from year to year balanced its budget and so on. 

HWH: Did you happen to be in Johnson Chapel when he was invited to speak in his first return to the College? 

PLOUGH: Yes, yes. 

HWH: Remember Jack McCloy introduced him and said the Trustees had cut their meeting short to come over and hear him and Meiklejohn responded by saying “I’m glad to see I can still stir the trustees from their lethargy.” 

PLOUGH: I don’t remember that he said that. Jack McCloy wasn’t a good man to say that to. Jack McCloy is an extremely capable and active Amherst supporter and very devoted Amherst man. 

HWH: I gather that Mr. Meiklejohn couldn’t let an opportunity like that slip by. 

PLOUGH: Well, he had the same facility at thinking up things of that sort. I don’t remember that particular statement but I probably heard it. 

HWH: Can you recall any other incidents or occasion in your career here, Harold, where the Trustees did actively intervene in affairs of the College? 

PLOUGH: I don’t think so. It would have been on matters that came up during the Meiklejohn administration and there were periods when the Trustees and the President were at odds. When in 1920, for example, Meiklejohn took a year off. 

HWH: That was just during the period of the Centennial, too. 

PLOUGH: Yes. He wasn’t here. You see he did things of that kind that the Trustees didn’t think were quite fair. It was because he didn’t want to be bothered with it-- well, this is all right-- he was the President of the College.

HWH: Harold, we mentioned in passing, Davy Todd, yesterday. He has a reputation of various sorts. Some people think of him with a smile and so on. Others feel that he was a pioneer in some of the things he undertook. 

PLOUGH: Really, his activity ended before I came here so I have no real, no competent opinion. He did a lot of things with what was considered an extremely important research apparatus in the telescope. Made it useful. He took it down and carried it all the way to Russia and brought it back again. He was a striking person; he did things which appealed to a good many non scientific people. My impression from others is that he wasn’t a very influential research astronomer, but then, he did use what he had here. 

HWH: Well I gather, too, that much of his activity was more flamboyant than it was useful. 

PLOUGH: Well at least he used the telescope. He did things that were flamboyant because he thought that was part of the activity, but they never, in his case, really amounted-- or very little in the way of publication-- so that probably what you said is true. At the time he was certainly carrying the view that what he was doing was of research importance. The point is that it was just at the end of the time when an 18-inch telescope was considered important-- an important piece of apparatus. Now ALL light telescopes are not used for research. Astronomy uses only radiation data from the stars. 

HWH: This enormous installation out in the Quabbin is a good case in point. You know the 5-College, largely University, radio telescope. 

PLOUGH: Well I only know about it but I don’t know who runs it. 

HWH: It’s run by the 5-College Astronomy Department but it’s dominated, of course, by the University of Massachusetts.

 PLOUGH: I don't know anything about it other than the statement that there is such a thing. 

HWH: Amherst has just one astronomer now and that’s... 

PLOUGH: Didn’t know they had ONE! 

HWH: George Greenstein. And he’s active. 

PLOUGH: He’s jointly at Amherst and where else? 

HWH: No, he’s a member of the Five-College Astronomy Department, but he’s situated at and paid by Amherst. Then Mount Holyoke, I think, has two; Smith has two, I believe; Hampshire has one; and the University must have ten or a dozen.

PLOUGH: I don’t know anything about it. 

HWH: It’s an enormous department. 

PLOUGH: Does it ever appear in the Colleges? Do they give Course Programs or anything of that kind? 

HWH: Yes. But all the advanced work is now centered at the University. Bill Irvine is Chairman of the Department and I think it’s a very distinguished group of astronomers. 

PLOUGH: Well I’ve understood so, yes, but I thought it was all at the University, I didn’t realize that Amherst had any place in it. 

HWH: Yes. Yes, indeed-- and in its budget, too. 

PLOUGH: And do the students get there? 

HWH: Well, they can-- they take courses at the University very easily through the Five-College transportation system. 

PLOUGH: This means that all-- some-- certain important sectors of the intellectual activities have just sifted out and gone up there? They aren’t in the College? Perhaps this is the only way it can be done. 

HWH: I suspect, too, Harold that we can attract some people to Amherst College because the University has strength in certain areas. 

PLOUGH: What a change in 25 years! They come to the University. They never heard of Amherst College. And this is what happens all the way. You have to keep active departments going here if the College is to be any more than an adjunct to the activities at the University. Maybe this is inevitable, maybe this is a good thing. But it has destroyed a large part of the distinctiveness of the College, I think. Perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps I don’t understand it. 

HWH: Yes, of course Amherst College could not consider financing the kind of astronomical research that’s going on at the University now. And I think we’re able to get George Greenstein-- whose father, incidentally, is an astronomer at Stanford-- we’re able to get George because of the attraction of the program at the University to which Amherst College contributes. 

PLOUGH: Well I’m not objecting to a University situation here, it may be that’s the only way Amherst College can be run. The situation has destroyed the individuality of Amherst College and is continuing to weaken its departments. Now what do we have left? We do have a number of reasonably strong departments that students of Amherst College can get into-- it’s a fine set-up, the whole group-- but it’s still destroyed the individuality of the colleges as such. That may be necessary but it isn’t the way we used to run the College. 

HWH: Well, as you know, I’m sure, the College received a grant, I believe from the Mellon Foundation, to establish a program in Neuroscience. 

PLOUGH: This was brought in from the outside, which now becomes the major supporter of the biology department. There’s nothing distinctive about what neuroscience is doing except that they have become the strongest supporters of investigation in the nervous system. I think that Mellon is the agency that has stimulated research studies and continued development. This is very good, but it means that the direction that they are interested in influences what can be done beyond. It has resulted in cutting down undergraduate research studies of genetics and development. Perhaps this is necessary, too. I don’t think they really have dominated the kind of activity that’s carried on in biology but it will be diminished. 

HWH: No, but it’s a far cry when you think that there are now programs of interdepartmental interests. In Neuroscience, for example, there’s Steve George, who I would think is basically in, well it’s hard to say, because his specializations are biological. 

PLOUGH: Well it’s in Biology. 

HWH: Biology was his origin. Then there is Sorenson, who is in psychology, and then Wagoner who is primarily a chemist. And here they don’t offer many courses but they have stimulated courses giving a definite program in Neuroscience. This is important and a distinctive program in a college. 

PLOUGH: It may be only a “name.” It’s only as strong as the people who are developing it. I think there may be something distinctive in the so-called Neuroscience program. If the College encourages it and the Biology department develops it, there is a possibility of a contribution to Amherst College in the neuroscience program. It takes a lot of planning and additional money to work up a new slant to a course program which was there already. Neuroscience can give a new direction to biology in Amherst College which will strengthen Amherst College biological sciences into a much larger project. How far is the University involved in this? 

HWH: None at all in this. This is all on our campus. 

PLOUGH: Well, that’s something. And I know the Websters, two Websters, they were more or less interested and involved in getting these funds committed to Amherst College.

HWH: Yes, and as you know, they themselves and their mother gave a major contribution to enlarge the laboratory and the equipment. 

PLOUGH: I knew their father, Leslie Webster, very well. Yes, they were responsible for this large gift and this was a very real contribution to biological development. 

HWH: Of course. You spoke on that occasion. 

PLOUGH: Yes, but that was just because I knew Leslie Webster. I never quite understood the purpose of the bequest. I got up there to talk that day and the first thing I had in front of me was a statement, “You will please confine your talk to five minutes I” And at the end of five minutes I hadn’t even finished what I was going to say about Dr. Leslie Webster, so I just stopped. Somebody must have done something queer, there. I never quite understood it. (Laughter) Anyway, I knew the Websters. Perhaps there was a mistake on the part of the people directing the dedicatory program. 

HWH: I’ve wanted to ask if you’d say something about your activities with the Atomic Energy Commission. 

PLOUGH: That’s quite a large subject. It’s hard to see just what it involves with Amherst College. Anyway, I did get off-- they asked me to come down there simply because I was an active biologist who was interested in radiation effects. I discovered when I got down there I didn’t know anything about radiation techniques. I had to learn the whole business. I had never seen an atomic bomb explosion. 

HWH: You were singled out, I presume, because of your reputation as a geneticist who had produced mutations by use of radiation. 

PLOUGH: Yes, just because I’d been doing active work in mutations and genetics. It was their understanding that I would aid in an understanding of radiation and its importance in studies of mutation in different institutions around the country. This got me involved in all sorts of atomic energy programs and particularly in the bomb explosions out in Nevada. I saw nine of those one winter. I went to all that were exploded and so I got to be quite an expert without having had any preliminary experience in that particular field. I went to different institutions like Oak Ridge and the Argonne in Chicago and so on. The Atomic Energy Commission in Washington sent me to all their bomb shots in Nevada in the winter of 1950. I had to integrate them through the Washington Office in the biological research field. This was an interesting experience.

HWH: This must have taken you pretty much around the country. For a couple of years. 

PLOUGH: Oh yes. I said I saw nine shots in Nevada, so I spent two months out there at a time, once. And just ran all these things-- got people in there from one place or another and drove the ninety miles out there from Las Vegas and so I got quite involved in that. It was of some value to Amherst because we managed to get a lot of funds for Amherst through the Atomic Energy Commission to study the genetic effects on the fruit flies and the plants exposed. We got a lot of activities more or less tied up with the atomic shot that would not necessarily have been involved with atomic radiation otherwise. 

HWH: Well, I would think that quite a few people here learned of radiation effects and became familiar with Amherst and what it was doing through your activity. 

PLOUGH: Yes, I think that’s true. And I tried to keep it up. I got to know a lot of people down there and I got to know a lot about how funds were handled for research because I handled them. I just went around seeing all these institutions and what they wanted and bringing back the programs. Then we’d talk it over with the group down there and figure out how much these tests were justified and whether this activity might be adequately supported and so on. So this was of some interest. We arranged sources for radiation at Amherst College. The work was a little too large to be of extended value to the College, but we did keep a lot of biological experimentation on radiation for quite some time. And we did get funds to carry on the support of the biological experiments at Amherst for a number of years both before and after my Washington term. I think there was some value there. And also, I think it was of some value to show that people from some of the active colleges could get down to Washington and get into the radiation program and be of some service in determining the directions in which it would go. 

HWH: I think it’s interesting. You were invited to undertake this activity on one end of Atomic Energy-- with the administration of Atomic Energy-- and here was George Bain on the other end, who did not work so much for governments, I think, although I know some governments were involved-- on the other end of finding sources of uranium. 

PLOUGH: Quite unrelated. 

HWH: I know they were unrelated, but out of a small college to have two people who were looked on as authorities in those fields... 

PLOUGH: Yes, Bain’s activity was more particularly with geological science groups and mine was very definitely with the government and its control of radiation testing. I mean I was involved with the group down there and got to know how to get support for studies to be done. There was some interest that you could have had two people involved in this from Amherst, but it was always interesting to discover when you got to Washington that Amherst was just another institution like any other active one. We had the reputation of being another university down there-- which was rather interesting. 

HWH: Harold, I’ve wondered, too, if you’d say a little about the book that is in the stage of publication at this time. 

PLOUGH: It should’ve been out long ago. This is the third year now! It’s supposed to be out this month. I haven’t seen anything of it. 

HWH: It must be frustrating, to have it delayed so. 

PLOUGH: Yes, but this is what the Johns Hopkins University Press does regularly, apparently. They get a book and they hold on to it until they feel like publishing it. 

HWH: They did a book for Frank Trapp-- and then recalled it because of poor printing. 

PLOUGH: Well, I’m rather afraid I may have much that same problem. [The book came out in April 1978]. The printing is good but I’m very much afraid that the drawings are not good. [Holds up book as example.] And these are drawings made initially in pencil drawings, and this is just what the Johns Hopkins University is having the greatest trouble with. [Showing book as an example.] Their lines are not good or their line-drawings-- you see those are pencil drawings. A girl right here in Amherst, Maria Fenner, has done all the work for me. It’s beautiful work. 

HWH: But they’re using their own artist, I gather. 


HWH: Johns Hopkins 

PLOUGH: No, no. They use my drawings that I supply. Oh no, the drawings we made are the ones that they are reproducing but they’re still pencil drawings. Ours are mostly single line drawings. I’ll bring you a copy when I get it. 

HWH: Would you just for the record indicate what it is? As I recall it’s concerned with where land and sea meet all over the world. 

PLOUGH: They call it “The Sea Squirts of the Atlantic Continental Shelf.” I gave them the technical title “The Ascidians of the Atlantic Continental Shelf.” Most people have no idea of what ascidians are-- they must be some crazy thing. These are the animals, presumably were the ancestors, in the long millions of years past, of the vertebrates. They’re the first animals that produced little tiny swimming tadpole larvae. And probably from those little sea squirts, that have an egg that develops into a swimming tadpole, originally developed the very first of the fishes. So this is the source stock of the vertebrates. Initially that is why I got interested in sea squirts, but I continued my interest when I saw many species at Woods Hole and other places. Nearly all the species produce tiny swimming tadpoles. 

HWH: So you’ve had this interest for many years. 

PLOUGH: Oh yes. And I’ve published papers off and on about these things in addition to papers in genetics. 

HWH: Now you’ve traced them, tracked them down, as I recall, all over the world. 

PLOUGH: Well, particularly on the Atlantic Continental Shelf from Maine to the Gulf of Mexico. I actually went way around to the end of Texas in the Gulf of Mexico. I’ve studied and seen all the ascidians-- these sea squirts. They’re little round, sac-like beasts that have two little siphons on the top. The seawater is drawn in through one siphon and goes down through the gills and comes out through the other siphon. All these species form eggs which curiously enough develop into little swimming tadpoles. These are the earliest swimming tadpoles. These are the first things that eventually may well have developed into the ancestors of the fish. That’s where they came from. 

So I got interested in them early, and there are many of them at Woods Hole, and I studied them all the way from Maine to the Gulf of Mexico. We ought to make a new study of these things and see whether they’re all where they used to be. So I’ve been everywhere from Maine to the Gulf of Mexico and studied them and traced them-- every species. I know every one there is on the Atlantic Coast and I’ve checked to see whether the species still has the same range. I found a lot of them are much broader than they were originally described. Then there are a few sea squirts which live at great depth on the Atlantic Slope, plus or minus 2,000 feet down. 

HWH: Are there a great number of species? 

PLOUGH: About 88 altogether on the American shelf, but twice as many all over the world. I’ve seen all of them in preserved specimens, but I’ve collected living specimens of 50 or 60 of them. And I’ve got them all in the book. This is a lot of work and, often, the best I could do was to reproduce drawings that had previously been published. Anyway they’re all in there and I’ve traced to see how they are distributed now and how the number of them has spread. They have a curious geographic distribution. 

Some of them are found in Maine and all the way down the Coast and around the Florida peninsula into the Gulf of Mexico. Others are very local, found only in the Gulf of Maine and not below that. And still others are found only in or around the Florida peninsula and a little bit up the west coast in the Gulf of Mexico. So you’ve got well-defined species distribution of these-- just like insects on land-- the same kind of thing. They’re not found all over. Certain ones are found in this area others down in this area-- a few come down all the way, and a few come all the way down and around and into the Gulf of Mexico. So I’ve got all of those traced and all of them down; that’s what’s in the book. 

Another biologist has been doing a study of the crabs in Chesapeake Bay, where most of the crabs come from. Seventy percent of the crabs in the United States, Pacific and Atlantic, come from Chesapeake Bay-- and he’s described it. This was well-known-- this is just a new volume-- this is Chesapeake Bay. I’d like to skip Chesapeake Bay. I don’t even know how many sea squirts there are there. I do know which ones are all the way down around the Florida bend and into Texas, and I have traced most of the species.

Well, I had this all ready three years ago. It was going to be published by another publisher in Baltimore who had done a lot of work of this kind. He got it all set up, even got the initial galleys. Then he failed. Completely went out. It was all a loss-- well not quite all a loss because we had the first galley proofs of the book put together for him. So I had to go and find another publisher, and eventually got the Jobns Hopkins Press. They said, yes, they’d take it. Well they made no commitments as to when or how. 

HWH: They have a reputation of being quite independent. 

PLOUGH: Yes they are. And also of being very competent. They have a good group but they do things as they please, not as you please, and the less you say about it the better. And if you don’t like what they do, they’ll take it away and somebody else will have it. So that’s the way it is. I’ve learned, with the assistance of my son [Irvin Plough ‘42], who’s down in Washington and somehow gotten to know them. 

HWH: He was with NIH wasn’t he?

PLOUGH: Yes, he’s now left NIH. He was in the Army and he dropped the Army and came over to NIH for some time. He was rather dissatisfied with the way things were handled in this area so he’s left NIH. He’s not really connected with anybody now. So anyway, he said “Yes, I can help out with this,” and he’s helped out a great deal, because Amherst, by mail, is a long way from Baltimore. Then they have something ready, they send it to him and he gets in his car and drives all the way from Washington up here with it. We sit down and go over it for a day or a day-and-a-half and he takes it and goes back down and carries it over to Baltimore. 


* * * * * * * 

[Not on tape -— which had run out: Plough’s comments on bringing Hermann Joseph Muller to the Amherst Biology Department from Europe (1942-45).

Muller was two years at Amherst. He came as a visitor in 1942. Then Plough had a telegram inviting him to join the U.S. Army (for three-and-a-half years). Muller took over his genetics course. He received an invitation to join the staff at Indiana University while Plough was a bacteriologist in the Medical Corps at Manila in the Philippines. Muller left Amherst for Indiana in 1945 and was awarded a Nobel Prize the following year-- an honor which might have been bestowed when he was at Amherst. Apparently he had developed good connections with the Nobel Committee and they had chosen him as a prize recipient for his demonstration back in the late ‘thirties that radiation produces genetic change or mutation. Plough remembers him as being competent but somewhat abrasive.]

Final transcript completed October 5, 1978