Monday, April 13, 2015

Amanuensis Monday - Howard Matthews' Story #19-Chicago University

Change came to the Oriental Institute and my grandfather would spend the war years working over at the University itself as you will read below in the 19th installment of his story.

In 1938 the Rockefeller Foundation decided not to continue their support of the Oriental Institute beyond the then existing balances of their commitments (several millions) because, as they explained, they had been supporting a man, Dr. James Henry Breasted, now deceased, rather than an institution. This meant a sharp reduction in the field work of the Institute, eventually the termination of all except the Epigraphical Survey at Luxor, Egypt. Naturally, this presented me with a question as to my future but this was immediately solved when the Chancellor of the University, Robert M. Hutchins, urged me to stay on to assist with the necessary reorganization of the Institute and then to move over into the administration of the University of Chicago as a whole, as assistant to the then Business Manager, William B. Harrell. Initially I spent half time in each position but in less than a year I moved across campus to the office of the Business Manager, full time. This proved to be a good decision for by 1949 I had progressed from Assistant to Associate and finally to Business Manager, Special Projects, concerned with Government sponsored research projects.

These were interesting and very busy years, initially concerned with the normal operations of the University of about 8,000 students, the majority of whom were doing graduate work for advanced degrees in many fields. In addition the University operated Billings (general) Hospital, Lying-In Hospital, Bobs Roberts Hospital for Children, the Goldblatt Memorial Cancer Hospital, the Orthogenic School for retarded [sic] children, International House, etc., all of which were on campus. There were fine dormitories for both men and women, fraternities in their own houses, excellent dining facilities, gymnasiums, libraries, laboratories, etc. In addition it operated its own Laboratory Schools, kindergarten through high school.


Howard B Matthews, Christmas 1949
My early years in the Office of the Business Manager were of necessity learning years for even the physical plant, which extended for a half dozen blocks along the Midway and for three blocks in depth, all connected underground by tunnels through which steam heat from a central plant and electricity from transformer vaults were carried, was a formidable layout to learn. But my boss, William B. Harrell, was a good teacher. Over a period of time he gradually relinquished one after another project and turned them over to me. Thus eventually I had under me the Departments of Buildings & Grounds, Residence Halls and Commons (5 dining halls), the Bookstore, Faculty and Staff Housing (apartment houses), the University of Chicago Press which had its own printing plant and bindery, the Bursar who collected all student fees. Of course, each of these was headed by very responsible individuals. In addition, I had to deal with several Unions representing all of the non-academic employees of the aforesaid departments, plus the hospital employees, exclusive of the doctors. It all added up to an interesting, diversified responsibility.

World War II (1941-1946) changed many things. For the few male students left on campus we rented fraternity houses to house them. The women's halls and dining facility were retained but all of the mens' were vacated and turned over to the armed forces. In addition, Bartlett Gym and Sunny Gym, outfitted with double-decker beds and greatly expanded toilet facilities were used to house Army, Navy and Air Force men. Hutchinson Commons was their dining facility. The Orthogenic School was used for Navy Signal training. We rented the Ford Airport, south of the City, and equipped it with 12 light planes for Navy Pre-Flight training. Medics were in training in our Medical School and Meteorology training was given on campus. All of this involved not only the preparation of the spaces (and they never relinquished any of their rules, like so many square feet per man and so many men per toilet), and the obtaining and preparation of food, for all of which I had a very loyal and competent staff, but also the hours of negotiating contracts with each of the services involved and this latter was my responsibility.

At the same time, the Physical Science Departments of the University were involved in the research called the Manhattan Project, which resulted, on December 2, 1942, in the first successful chain operation of an atomic "pile", located under the West Stands of Stagg Field, one block from my office. Involved in this project were such men as Nobel Prize winners Arthur Compton, Enrico Fermi and James Franck. Everything was highly secret; some of these men didn't even use their own name on campus; they were renamed, like in this telegram which Fermi sent to Conant at Harvard to announce the successful pile reaction: "The Italian navigator has just landed in the New World."



Energy.gov - Government Photo/Plaque installed on the 5th anniversary of the chain reaction.



Energy.gov - Government Photo/End of Stagg Field WWII

My connection with the aforesaid was in providing space for what was going on and seeing that these areas were restored to their former condition when the project ended. (This included determining that the buildings were free of contamination. For this purpose I had a team of scientists, headed by Professor Walter Bartky, on whose advise I relied.) Whole buildings had to be vacated [for the Manhattan Project], - Ryerson Physical Laboratory, the Mathematics Building, etc and additional space had to be acquired in the Museum of Science & Industry, and the entire Armory on the edge of Washington Park was rented and altered for the Army Corps of Engineers.

The end/purpose of this was so secret that until the day of the first atomic reaction under the West Stands I did not know what that was, although I had been "cleared" of course and was issued the necessary ID badge. And when we rode the night train to Washington on matters of a secret nature we were not permitted to be in the same sleeper with Fermi and others for fear a slip of the tongue might identify him.

Eventually, as the war ended the University resumed its normal operations, the dormitories and other academic buildings were restored to their former uses, the lease to the Ford airport was terminated and the planes were sold. But the University of Chicago was not a place that stood still for very long. Mr. Hutchins activated his "4-year College" plan for which very bright students combined the last two years of High School with 2 years of College level study and thus offered a savings of two years to attain a Bachelors degree. We provided a special dormitory for these students. A Research Institutes Building, a Social Science Center, and a new Administration building were constructed. The Lasker estate with its large estate house, a complete golf course and club house, greenhouses, and acres of fields in which chrysanthemums were grown, was given to the University by this wealthy retired advertising man. We operated this for several years as a private golf course and each autumn sold mums, but it was a losing operation and eventually the estate was subdivided and sold as building lots. Many of my weekends were tied up in this.

Next time, another move.





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