Professor Emeritus of French
Interviewed on October 30, 1979
[This transcript was created at the time of the interview and may contain errors and omissions]
Professor F. King Turgeon
Emeritus Professor of French
25 Grosvenor House
October 30, 1979 — 11 AM
Horace W. Hewlett
For: Amherst College
This is Horace Hewlett interviewing F. King Turgeon, Professor of French, Emeritus, on Tuesday, October 30, 1979, in Grosvenor House on the Amherst Campus.
HWH: King, just for the record, let me put on this tape the fact that you are a 1923 graduate of Bowdoin; you took your M.A. at Harvard in 1924 and your Ph.D. there in 1930; and came to Amherst in 1926 as an instructor. You were advanced to Assistant Professor in 1930, Associate Professor in 1934, full Professor in 1940, and you retired ten years ago-- 1969. I believe when you came that you were appointed to the French Department by Georgie Olds who was president then. Do you have any recollections about him that have stuck in your mind?
TURGEON: Only that he was an extremely agreeable, pleasant person who, I take it, had been put in to make peace after Meiklejohn left, and he was an excellent peacemaker.
HWH: I’ve heard nothing but good about Georgie.
TURGEON: I think that would be true.
HWH: Was there any aftermath in 1926 to the Meiklejohn experience?
TURGEON: A certain amount of-- what shall I say-- comment by some of the older professors who were still here and some of whom had been active in working to get him relieved of the job. Some of them told me some things, but of course nothing that I would know of first-hand at all.
HWH: Was Ralph Williams chairman of the department?
TURGEON: No. He had only just been appointed. I think Atkinson was.
HWH: Geoff Atkinson.
TURGEON: Because Williams was only appointed a year or two before me, I think, but he was brought in as a full professor.
HWH: I think he was. Do you recall any of those who had fairly strong opinions about Meiklejohn that you can identify?
TURGEON: Oh yes. I can. Quite a number of those that are on your list-- Croc Thompson and certainly Mike Smith.
HWH: Otto Manthey-Zorn was fairly close to him wasn’t he?
TURGEON: I think he probably was.
HWH: Well we can get to that later. Would Tom Esty have been one of those?
TURGEON: I think so-- one of those against him. In fact, a great many of those on this list were against him one way or another, Of course, some of them were appointed later.
HWH: When you came, I noted in the catalog for 1926-27, there were six members of the French Department.
TURGEON: Yes. You surprise me a little bit but I think you’re right. There were Atkinson and Williams, the older professors, and Parisi who was assistant or associate professor at that time. Then I was appointed, and Bill Quinn was appointed the same year. We were the two new ones. I’ve only counted up to five.
HWH: George Funnell?
TURGEON: George Funnell was here, too. Yes.
HWH: I think he preceded you.
TURGEON: That year. Yes, he had graduated from Amherst and had put in one year of graduate work at the University of Chicago, then came back here and later went to Harvard to continue further graduate work. He’d had only one year of graduate work at that time.
HWH: It was interesting to me that in 1926 there were six members of the Department, 15 years later, 1941, there were 9 members, and then today in 1979 there are only four.
TURGEON: Well of course, I know nothing about today. I really don’t!
HWR: Well, we’ll come along a little later to some of your experiences. In 1926 twelve courses were offered, but those were all year-long courses.
TURGEON: Were they offered every year?
HWH: I didn’t check for every year.
TURGEON: I think they were apt not to have been. I think they were apt to alternate-- some of them. I doubt if we had twelve courses offered regularly.
HWH: I think you alternated courses, but in 1926 there were twelve listed in the Catalog as being offered that year. I think one difference is that in 1979, this year, there were fifteen courses offered, but each of those is a semester course.
TURGEON: Yes. That makes quite a difference in counting up.
HWH: It certainly does. Do you recall the teaching load in your earlier years?
TURGEON: Yes. I think all of us, until almost the time of my retirement, taught three courses per semester for a year.
HWH: And those met three times a week.
HWH: Do you recall whether any of them were conducted in French?
TURGEON: Probably not in the early stages here. That came in very much later after the War.
HWH: I had a course under you, and also George Funnell, but I had had at least two years of French in high school. I think in those days, however, many students took their elementary French here at the College.
TURGEON: Well, quite a number, but the big courses were in the second year or third year. I can’t tell you for 1926 because my memory is pretty slender at that point.
HWH: Well, would you have any thoughts on the differences in the approach to the teaching and study of French?
TURGEON: Starting largely under the influence of the Area and Language Army courses that we had here during World War II, and then the New Curriculum, we went to much more intensive oral work than ever before. And the New Curriculum with the language requirement included the passing of an oral examination, at least an oral comprehension examination. We didn’t insist on every student being able to express himself that beautifully, but he had to be able to understand it. That was tested among other ways in the language laboratory, which we started with tape recordings and all that sort of thing, and with a number of native speakers as assistants, some of whom had spent most of the time as undergraduates in the regular college program but then assisted us for a certain number of hours a week in an oral capacity in French.
HWH: You used to call them “chatterers.”
TURGEON: Yes, some people did, or assistants. That system was started, you see, also under the Area and Language program with the soldiers-- the military-- who came here. We didn’t get undergraduates to teach them because there were hardly any undergraduates, but we did get native speakers to carry on in the various languages that were taught by the Area and Language people.
HWH: How did you get these communicators, the native speakers?
TURGEON: Well, for the Army program it was extremely difficult. I can’t even tell you how, but we did stir up a certain number of people. Later, when we had undergraduates in French, they were for the most part Lèvy-Despas fellows, being sent over here by Mme. Jacqueline Lèvy-Despas as scholarship students. But they didn’t give them really sufficient cash for all of their needs and so we made that up by taking them on for part-time work in the French Department. In other departments things were different. In German there was Mrs. Breusch, who just died this week. In Italian, I don’t think they continued, because they didn’t have sufficient registration to carry on the same kind of program as we in French or in German. They had native Italians whom they got to come here to teach the soldiers; I don't quite know how Reg French found them, but he did.
HWH: Did you have many students coming after the War-- I’m thinking really of new curriculum instruction-- who satisfied the language requirement on entrance?
TURGEON: Not a very large number, I should say, who could meet the new oral requirement. But some of them, if they had had, let us say, three years of preparatory school work, could adapt to this program very quickly, I think. I can’t give you any precise figures on the subject.
HWH: Did you have many students who majored in French?
TURGEON: Yes, the majors became rather more numerous. We never had a large number of majors.
HWH: I guess we’re aiming toward a question about the New Curriculum-- whether that had any effect on French.
TURGEON: It had a very considerable effect-- for instance, in the beginning language course, that course met five times a week, I think. The course was three hours of classroom with a member of the faculty and then two hours of oral training with these assistants. That immediately makes a big difference.
HWH: Did the tape-recordings make a difference with the assistants?
TURGEON: I think they helped considerably, but, again, I’ve no absolute way of measuring to know.
HWR: I was fortunate, King. As you know, we used to go to Mexico quite regularly, and I took an elementary course in Spanish with Cal Cannon and there was never a word of English spoken. The whole thing was conducted in Spanish. And I think he did in one semester, with the aid of the language lab, what before the War was a full year’s work.
TURGEON: Yes, I think so.
HWH: I suspect it was the technique of teaching a foreign language that the military introduced during the War that made this change.
TURGEON: It was. Mrs. Cannon taught French for us. She was French, she was one of these instructors, as well as the undergraduate instructors.
HWH: She was Corsican, wasn’t she?
TURGEON: Yes, I think she was native to Corsica.
HWH: Well, it was a very interesting course and I was fortunate in that it came at 8 A.M. so that I could take it and then go to my office.
Did you notice any improvement in the language ability of students after the War entering college?
TURGEON: You mean when they entered?
TURGEON: Yes, somewhat, because some of the preparatory schools had introduced somewhat the same system that we used.
HWH: I was involved in setting up the language lab-- Murray Peppard and I were a committee of two-- and we went to several schools, rather than colleges, because the schools at that point were way ahead of colleges in audio-visual assistance. Do you recall that the first language lab was on the third floor of Walker Hall, then it was moved to the basement of Walker Hall, I think, and then to the basement of Converse?
I recall a number of faculty meetings at which the question of required language ability was questioned. I was one who was fairly sorry to see the faculty vote to end the language ability among the requirements for graduation. How did you feel about that?
TURGEON: Oh, I felt very strongly about it-- against dropping it. I don’t remember just what year that was.
HWH: I don’t either. It was in the ‘sixties, though.
TURGEON: Yes, and I retired in ‘69 and so I must have been there but I don’t really remember. It was discussed many times.
HWH: I noted too, King, that though you came here in 1926 as an instructor, you had leave in 1928-29.
TURGEON: Yes. What had happened there was that before I came here in 1926, I was well along on my Ph.D. thesis when suddenly an English woman brought out a thesis on the same subject, so it had been stolen from me. And I think it was partly from pity that people said in ‘28, you can have a year off. It was not a sabbatical-- just a leave. And I started a new thesis and finished it up and got the Ph.D. the following year, in ‘30.
HWH: I noticed you got your doctorate in 1930 and you were made an Assistant Professor that same year. The two were obviously tied together.
TURGEON: I think they were. And I don’t actually remember the details or any reason for it, but I think that the Department became smaller. They let Bill Quinn go, though I might be wrong in this, and Parisi left, so perhaps there was room for me you see.
HWH: Well in 1926 there were no assistant professors. One went from instructor to associate professor.
TURGEON: There were no assistant professors in the whole college.
HWH: That’s what I mean. In 1927 two were named: Scott Porter and George Taylor. They were the first in the Catalog listed as Assistant Professors.
TURGEON: Is that so?
HWH: Then that title began to take hold, because in 1930 there were seven; in 1931 nine; and in 1938 thirteen of them. Was this true throughout higher education, or does this more reflect Stanley King?
TURGEON: Frankly, I don’t know. I would judge that it had something to do with finances, that they had some people they wanted to keep on the faculty but they couldn’t afford to raise them to associate professors. That’s just my guess.
HWH: I suspect that’s right. It’s very much like today, however, in that there are no instructors.
TURGEON: No instructors-- and that is obviously for financial reasons.
HWH: Stanley King, in 1933, named Dean Esty, Tom Esty, as acting president-- and Tom Esty of course was Dean of the College at that time-- to take on when President King was not in residence.
TURGEON: Yes, and I don’t remember how long he was away...
HWH: Well, I was an undergraduate at that time and I don’t ever remember Tom Esty presiding in Chapel...
TURGEON: I don’t either.
HWH: ...or doing any other things.
TURGEON: No, I think he really was just a hold-on to keep things running in case of necessity. I don’t think he did anything in particular as acting president.
HWH: I think Tom Esty died just after I graduated in 1936, and for those four years, really three-and-a-half years, I don’t remember him officiating on any occasion.
TURGEON: No, I don’t either. I don’t think King was absent for any extreme length of time in ‘33, was he?
HWH: No, I think he went out to see the Alumni and was in New York often; the latter, of course, was usually just over night, or a couple of nights. But he did make the tour of the Alumni-- not all at once.
TURGEON: He may have appointed him because of the necessity of having the president’s signature on papers or something or other, but I don’t remember any particular action that he took.
HWH: Let’s get on to some of the people whose names we know but there’s not too much written or known about...
TURGEON: Well, I don’t know. Of those on this list I have a lot of personal recollections-- many of them much too personal to talk about-- but these men that you’ve listed here, most of them I enjoyed knowing very, very much and admired. Tom Esty was a wonderful guy.
HWH: Would you say that his sense of humor was one of his greatest assets?
TURGEON: Yes, yes. He was an admirable person in every respect.
HWH: An old Amherst family, too. How about Croc Thompson?
TURGEON: Well, I can tell you a lot more about him, perhaps. I knew him much better, more intimately. I don’t know how much of what I would say will be repetitious. For instance, has anybody told you that when he first started teaching, it was in a school for the blind, and that he taught, of all things, Sloyd-- manual training, carpentry-- to the blind? I think the school was in Philadelphia, but I’m not positive.
HWH: What did you call it?
TURGEON: Sloyd. I think that that’s the name for manual training-- we used to call it that when I was a boy.
HWH: Oh, I’ve never heard that.
TURGEON: Well I’m not sure that it’s correct, mind you. And he invented tools and things that blind people could use.
TURGEON: It’s an extraordinary thing for a man who later became a professor of history. His favorite subject for history was Renaissance history, and he was kind of a renaissance man, he knew all kinds of different things.
HWH: He got into American history, too.
TURGEON: Yes, he did, but I think his favorite subject was always Renaissance history. Now where I got to know him particularly was on a Committee that existed in those days called the Fine Arts Committee. Have you had all of this given you?
TURGEON: Well this was before the days of any art department. Everybody knew that Mead was going to leave his money for an art building and we did a good deal of speculation of what would be a good location for a museum when it was built. Practically, this committee arranged a yearly series of exhibitions, for the most part of paintings, oils, but not always. We also hung and showed, if I remember correctly (you ought to have Charlie Morgan here), a collection of etchings and drawings that the Mead Museum still has-- quite a superb collection an alumnus gave. And I can remember also, a little more amusing, among things that we showed was the collection of cricket cages. The paintings that we exhibited came from an intercollegiate organization to which the College subscribed, and they would send us once every six weeks or two months a shipment of paintings, mostly American, and with some distinguished names in it, contemporary or more or less contemporary-- twentieth century for the most part. We would hang them in Morgan Library, the old reading room.
HWH: On the second floor.
TURGEON: On the second floor. We used to have to uncrate them; they would come in elaborate crates. We did more physical labor than anything else-- pulling nails out of crates and storing those in the old stacks until we’d come to take down the particular exhibition and send it off to the next subscriber on the college list.
HWH: I’ll be darned.
TURGEON: The committee was made up of Croc, who was the manager of it, and George Funnell, when he was here, Manfred Kern, and myself. I forget now what others may have been on it for more or less long periods of time. It was quite an arduous job, as a matter of fact, because these thirty or forty crates of paintings had to be taken down and then hung. Croc largely supervised the hanging. And this brings up another interesting idea. On your list here also is a great friend of Croc’s, Harry deForest Smith, who was very active in obtaining paintings and in showing a collection of plaster casts of Greek art. He always gave lectures on Greek art and architecture, so that outside of a specific art department, we had members of the faculty who were very, very, active in teaching art.
HWH: This goes all the way back, I presume, to Dickie Mather.
TURGEON: Yes, I should presume so.
HWH: I think he’s the one who acquired those statues, too.
TURGEON: Most of them. That was long before my time. Croc, for instance, in his course on the Italian Renaissance, did a great deal of teaching of art also.
HWH: So this went on until Charlie Morgan came.
TURGEON: It kept on until Charlie Morgan came and then eventually the Mead building was built, and the collection in the Mead building takes its foundation from certain of these things that I’ve mentioned.
HWH: That’s interesting. How about Dutch Newlin?
TURGEON: A very, very pleasant and interesting guy, who served as admission officer as well as in philosophy. I always enjoyed him very much. I can’t tell you as many special things there. Clarence Eastman was a “kaiser,” as you know.
HWH: “Kaiser” Eastman. Was he a force on the faculty?
TURGEON: Yes, but I don’t think as strong a force as some of these others I’ve mentioned.
HWH: Who would you think were the strongest? Tom Esty?
TURGEON: Esty and Newlin, I should think. And Croc, probably, although Croc was not always as much admired as I admired him. Some people thought he was much more of a dilettante, thought his paying so much attention to art was not what he was hired for.
HWH: And Mike Smith?
TURGEON: Mike Smith was certainly very, very strong. Doughty certainly was. Emerson, of course, was an emeritus by the time I came. I know one or two funny stories about him, but they are just stories that I heard and not that I could guarantee from first hand.
Fobes? Yes. Gallinger, not strong, I think; Warren Green, really not strong; Loomis, probably yes; and Manthey-Zorn and certainly Packard; Rebert, certainly no.
HWH: He was the choirmaster when I came-- and organist.
[BEGINNING SIDE TWO, TAPE ONE]
Continuing the conversation with Professor Turgeon.
HWH: King, we were just talking about a faculty member known as “Roxy” Rebert.
HWH: He did have a tragic existence I know.
TURGEON: Oh he really did, and his ending was very sad. He became more of a figure of fun-- well, I don’t know-- but he did live at the Lord Jeff for a year or so at the end, after he had been allowed to leave the faculty, and he wore a suit of clothes which he had darned until there was nothing left of it except the darning, practically. Did you ever see him?
HWH: Not in his later years.
TURGEON: It was very sad, but he really had gone rather weak in the head.
HWH: You said you did have some not first-hand but second-hand stories about B.K. Emerson.
TURGEON: Well, I can remember one, for instance, which I’m sure somebody else must have told you-- about his being asked to stay at the President’s house one night? He was at the President’s house for some kind of a meeting and it was a very, very bad and stormy, rainy night-- so bad that Mrs. Olds, the president’s wife, said, “Oh don’t go home now; it’s too bad weather. Spend the night here with us. There are plenty of beds here in the house.” Well, yes, he’d be delighted, whereupon he disappeared and came back half an hour later. He’d gone home to get his pajamas. [Laughter]
HWH: Delightful story.
TURGEON: Hadn’t you ever heard that story?
HWH: I’ve heard it, yes.
TURGEON: You must have.
HWH: But not in this project. That’s great. Was Billy Bigelow much of a figure on the faculty?
TURGEON: Yes he was...
HWH: Aside from his size?
TURGEON: Yes, he was a figure of size. I don’t think he had a very large influence. Doughty, yes, because it was Doughty who was the moving spirit in building the chemistry building which is now no longer a chemistry building.
HWH: It takes care of a different kind of chemistry.
TURGEON: Yes. [Chuckle] Fobes? Very much liked and admired, but again, I don’t think his influence with the faculty was very strong.
HWH: I thought of him as a retiring, but very brilliant man...
TURGEON: That’s true, and he’d done very brilliant research work in Arabic studies of Aristotle.
HWH: Is that so?
TURGEON: I think I’m right on that.
HWH: Well, I know he had a printing press in the basement of Pratt.
TURGEON: Yes, he had a printing press. His hobbies were always extremely deeply felt and extremely carefully worked out. He had a hobby, also, of making clocks and he made the wheels of a grandfather’s clock out of old cigar boxes. That was fine, except that he made this in the summer at his home and when he brought it up here, the moisture in the atmosphere affected the wheels so they would no longer mesh.
HWH: I recall seeing him flying very esoteric kites.
TURGEON: Oh yes. You heard about the ending of that affair?
TURGEON: Well, he got these kites to fly very high and with a lot of string attachments and he had a big winch. He used to hire a student to carry them down to Hitchcock Field and he’d fly the kites from there. They got so high, that whatever he used for cord, or thread, or string, was not capable of handling the pressure, and so he got an idea of using wire. So he got hold of fine piano wire and had that worked up on this winch. That was fine, until one day he got the kite way, way up in the air-- this was a kite he’d made himself-- it was a large one. It broke the wire, which was all right except that the kite then foolishly went careening off by itself and dragged the wires over the high-powered electric lines down there and shorted half the town!
HWH: I never heard that.
TURGEON: And Fobes’s dismay was something painful to watch. He had attracted more attention to himself than he wanted, because he was a very shy man, as you know.
HWH: How about Scott Porter? You knew Scott intimately.
TURGEON: Oh, Scott was great, as you knew yourself. He was extremely successful, I think, as Dean and very much liked. He was severe but without being painfully so, and he didn’t commit the kind of boo-boo that Geoff Atkinson had done...
HWH: I was going to ask you about Geoff’s term as Dean.
TURGEON: ... saying you can do all of this anywhere if you want to in the Connecticut Valley but not up in the Amherst fraternity houses. That really knocked him right off. The students couldn’t take that, and Geoff only lasted-- was it two years or one?
HWH: I think two at the most.
TURGEON: At the most, two I think. He was unsuccessful and his idea of discipline was not what the students could understand.
HWH: I wonder how he became appointed.
TURGEON: I’ve often wondered myself.
HWH: That would have been under Pease?
TURGEON: I guess it was. It was a mistake of judgment whoever appointed him and a mistake of judgment on Geoff’s part in accepting the job.
HWH: Was Geoff an able teacher?
TURGEON: Oh yes, very, I think. But again, you had to know how to take him. I don’t think he was a popular teacher ever.
HWH: He was austere and kind of frightening in his appearance.
HWH: Which always seemed to me as though some were put on, because he was a very gentle man.
TURGEON: Yes he was.
HWH: Well he was a poetic man. I remember things that he’d written.
TURGEON: Oh yes, and he was a good research man, too. He’d done some very interesting things indeed. Gallinger, I think-- you have his name on the list here-- was a very slight influence.
HWH: I had a course with him in English History. It was a very interesting course, but he taught it straight from a textbook-- Trevelyan.
TURGEON: Did you? Loomis I think was very much admired by all the scientific outfits, certainly, and by others, too, for his personality.
HWH: He was well known off campus.
TURGEON; Yes, yes, oh I think certainly. Amherst has had quite a distinguished group of geologists.
HWH: Well, sticking somewhat to the sciences, how about Hoppy-- Arthur Hopkins?
TURGEON: I knew him, but only slightly. And, of course, I knew nothing about his chemistry.
HWH: It seems to me as many people knew his wife as knew him.
TURGEON: Probably more and partly because of this-- I’ll tell you this story. I was at their house one evening for dinner along about 1930, early ‘thirties, and after dinner we were sitting down in the living room and Mrs. Hopkins had entertained some visiting celebrities shortly before. Not very celebrated, I guess, because she herself turned to her husband and said to him, “Now who were those people, who were those people who were here at the house the other day? Who were those people? You know who they were.” He said, “Margie, I can’t clutter up my mind with the people you bring into this house.” [Laughter] Which I think is a very good story.
HWH: Yes, that is a nice response. Otto Manthey-Zorn we both knew. I had him as a teacher and, of course, came to know him and Ethel well when we returned here. He was universally liked, was he not?
TURGEON: Yes, I think so. And Laurence Packard was certainly universally liked. I think Laurence was very disappointed that he didn’t become president when Pease was named. Now here’s one of those things that probably should be deleted because I’m not positive.
HWH: I don’t think there was a member of the faculty more respected by students than Laurence.
TURGEON: I think that’s true. Unless, perhaps, George Whicher was.
HWH: You probably knew George well, too. I think students felt, however, that Laurence was more exciting.
TURGEON: Well, he was. He was a spellbinder as a lecturer.
HWH: And more students had his courses than any other teacher of that time.
TURGEON: Yes, because there was a requirement, wasn’t there?
HWH: History 1 was required, but History 5, the War, was not; but I think there were almost as many people who were in History 5 as there were in History 1.
TURGEON: Many of whom came back for a second helping of the “Battle of Jutland.”
HWH: The Battle of Jutland, the crossing of the T.
TURGEON: Well that’s about it. Sam Williams I can remember very little about. I liked him all right, but I never knew him very well. Ralph Williams, similarly; of course I knew him very much better.
HWH: Would you care to comment on the administrations you served under?
TURGEON: Yes. Pease I can say very little about. I was away myself part of the time on leave. King I knew very well, and while we differed in some of our ideas, I think he was one of the very great presidents, and I think of that not just because of the building that went on, which was obvious. For instance, I got to know him very well quite early, when the business of doing away with the Latin requirement came up. I differed with him sharply on it because I felt there was still a reason for what we used to call a “classical education” in at least one college in America-- and I can remember that when the matter was going to come up for a vote, he called me up to his house where we had a talk on the subject. I didn’t know him well at that time, and I wasn’t at all prepared for what it was. He put forward his point of view very thoroughly and I put forth my point of view very thoroughly. We shook hands and that was it. But I had been told stories by some of these older members of the faculty about how Meiklejohn had treated young instructors who differed with him, which was apparently a well-known fact. Have you had this all thrown at you?
HWH: No, I’ve not, King.
TURGEON: Again, I’m repeating other people so I don’t guarantee this, but apparently one of the things that some people had against Meiklejohn was that if young instructors didn’t vote the way he wanted them to, they weren’t reappointed. And they had got to know that. King, on the contrary, in this interview with me, not only differed with me, but I never heard another word about it. We came up to the Faculty Meeting when the vote was to be taken and I voted against him. He always remained an extraordinarily good friend of mine, always.
HWH: Did he invite a number of other faculty members to express their views?
TURGEON: I don’t know. I didn’t talk it over with anybody.
HWH: I’ve never thought and never asked: do you recall whether it was a close or lop-sided vote to do away with the Latin requirement?
TURGEON: All I know is that when the vote was actually to be taken, Stanley left the room and got somebody else to take the chair and said, “I will regard this as a vote of confidence or no confidence, and if it is no confidence, I will resign to the Trustees tomorrow,” or words to that effect.
HWH: That was pretty strong action so early.
TURGEON: That was extremely strong and the meeting was extremely emotional. So, at least he got the vote he wanted, because he didn’t resign. But I don’t think it was an overwhelming vote. I came around later to think that he had done the very wise thing, but it took me some time to feel that.
HWH: This concerned both Latin and Greek.
TURGEON: Yes, the Classics requirement. And, of course, his principal argument-- and he had been justified in it from a purely practical point of view-- was that we began to get many more applications for admission.
HWH: That was his basic reason.
TURGEON: Oh yes, yes. He could see financially, etcetera, that the College could not continue financially to have dropping enrollment, or intellectually to have people come in who had nothing to recommend them except that they had the Latin requirement. And it wasn’t necessarily a very good one either.
HWH: Stanley had been known, as you suggested, for what he did for the physical plant of the College. He also did a superb job in maintaining the College through World War II.
TURGEON: Oh, absolutely. But in addition to that, maintaining the College during the Depression, when Amherst was one of the very few places that didn’t take a salary cut. I don’t say we got raises, but we didn’t take a cut during all of that time.
HWH: It seems to me, too, that he brought in people to the faculty that really strengthened it.
TURGEON: Oh he did, no question about that. I don’t know that I can give you-- I haven’t got the dates here and I can’t do that-- but people like Lamprecht, for instance, were brought in at that time. I can’t tell you all the others.
HWH: I think for the fun of it I’ll look in the catalogs to see who were his appointees.
TURGEON: That would be interesting to see.
HWH: Then I’ll let you know. How about Charlie Cole?
TURGEON: Well again, I had a close personal relationship with Charlie Cole, and he did a great many good things for the College, no question about that. It was under him, of course, that we did bring in the New Curriculum and that was a great deal his influence, I think, although the report by the committee, which was George Funnell and Gail Kennedy primarily, was, of course, very strong, counted a great deal. The greatest difficulty in that came with the science people, but they succeeded in working it out and successfully, I think.
HWH: It should be noted, too, that it was Stanley King who appointed the Committee that came up with the New Curriculum. And I suspect that Charlie was named President in part because he was Chairman of the Alumni Committee that studied post-war Amherst.
TURGEON: Yes I should think that would be so.
HWH: I think Charlie probably left at a very good time. The curriculum had just about disappeared.
TURGEON: And the Chapel was just about disappearing.
HWH: And the whole attitude and atmosphere of the College was changing.
You were active for nine years under Cal Plimpton, too. Do you have any memories of him?
TURGEON: I don’t know that I do, particularly. I’m afraid I can’t add much to what others say to you about that.
HWH: Well, it’s odd. I’ve talked to Rose Olver in this project, and she told of how Cal had been so personally sensitive to problems she had, being the only woman on the faculty.
TURGEON: Yes, I suppose that’s true.
HWH: And how he was extremely thoughtful and concerned for her welfare.
Bill Ward came after you had retired, but you came to know him fairly well.
TURGEON: Oh yes, I came to know him very well, but I wouldn’t have any personal memories of that. You were speaking of Plimpton being particularly thoughtful about personal matters; Stanley King with me was thoughtful about personal matters. For instance, I guess my first sabbatical was in ‘35 [as the first faculty Sherman Pratt [‘73] Scholar (HWH)] -- and I suppose some people would hear this and say it was favoritism or something, I don’t know-- but we didn’t have very much money to manage this with. We were gone for a year travelling on a shoestring, Charlotte and I and the baby, whom we boarded in Switzerland. We were in Italy and down just about to the last penny on the letter of credit that we had-- not quite that but almost-- when, in Naples, a letter arrived from Stanley King with a check for $100. He said this is from the President’s discretionary fund and “I think probably you need this right now.” And did we need it!! Oh, he also was very helpful when I proposed marriage to Charlotte and she had accepted me, but her father hadn’t completely. But Charlotte’s father knew Stanley quite well-- both businessmen in Boston-- and so Mr. Snyder called Mr. King and asked him about this young fellow. He gave me a good recommendation and that was that. That’s a personal thing. I don’t think it should go into this, except, I think, a lot of people didn’t realize what an important part Stanley played not only in my life, but in a good many other people’s lives.
HWH: I know they were very generous with their home on Martha’s Vineyard, too, inviting members of the faculty and administration to visit.
TURGEON: Yes, yes.
HWH: That’ s interesting. I did want to ask you how you managed to weather World War II, because it must have been chaos.
TURGEON: Oh, it was a terrific job! I started out that period by being in the mathematics department in the Pre-Meteorology course that they had here. I, with Sterling Lamprecht and Charles Sherman and Newt McKeon; we all converted to mathematics.
HWH: A great mathematical department!
TURGEON: Well we had, of course, the enormous advantage of having Bailey Brown as chief of the mathematics group. He lectured to them every morning as a whole group, which was 120-odd or something like that. It was a big group. Then they divided into sections of only maybe 20 or 30, and we fellows worked with them in the section meetings as they went over the math lecture that had been given, and then did examples, and took tests, and so on.
HWH: What level of mathematics was this?
TURGEON: Well it began with analytic geometry and went up. I stopped when it got into calculus a little way.
HWH: This was very advanced.
TURGEON: You bet it was! And I was having to keep one day ahead of each one of these.
HWH: Did you teach French?
TURGEON: Not then. After about, say, six months, but I can’t be absolutely sure. But come along April/May and I came down, of all things, with whooping cough and I was whooping around in class until finally the doctor said, “You’ve got to stop this.” So I got out of it and they appointed Bob Breusch, who’s been here ever since. He came and took my place.
HWH: So that’s when Bob came to Amherst. I hadn’t realized that.
TURGEON: I took off a couple of weeks, by which time I was no longer whooping, and just at that time I was down on Cape Ann when I got a phone call or a letter from Stanley King saying, “We’re having a group of Germans, Italians, French, and I guess Spanish come here for Area and Language courses-- students, soldiers. You come home and organize it.” So I did. That’s when they started the French course, you see.
HWH: So this probably was in the summer of ‘42.
TURGEON: It was late spring, I think. You asked how I got these native speakers and so on. Well, I got on the telephone, so did Peppard and Tony and so on. So did Reg.
HWH: So for the remainder of the war you were concerned more with language than other things.
TURGEON: Yes. By this time it was getting fairly on toward the end of the War and we were finishing up. There were three three-month periods; I think we were supposed to have them for nine months. At the end of the six-month period, they sent up some inspectors from the Army who took the best of them out, those who were really good, more than that, but...
HWH: The best of the students?
TURGEON: Yes. They took them out and there were four out of my group of forty, I guess, who were sent to France. This was just after the landing in France and four of my group went to France. The rest of them were taken out a week or two later and our unit was dissolved. They sent them all to the Philippines where nobody spoke French.
HWH: That sounds like the Army.
TURGEON: Just like the Army, absolutely. Gosh, they’d spent all that time and money. Now, there were a number of them who learned enough French, got along well enough in French, so that they may have gone on with it later. In fact, I had a note in French just the other day from Vernon Gotwals, who was one member of that group.
HWH: Is that so?
HWH: The organist and music...
TURGEON: Music Department at Smith. At the concert the other night, he’d written a little note-- it was all in French, a few mistakes in it, but nonetheless it was pretty darned good.
HWH: [Chuckling] That’s great.
TURGEON: We had everything in that group from Ph.D.s to one of the most interesting young fellows that I knew and he was a postal clerk.
[END OF SIDE TWO, TAPE I]
Final transcript completed 12/15/80