Interview with John V. Shankweiler, January 15, 1973

Muhlenberg College: Trexler Library Oral History Repository
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00:00:00 - Oral History Project Introduction

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Partial Transcript: Phillip Secor speaking. I am the Dean of Muhlenberg College, talking to you from the Muhlenberg Room at the college library, on this, the 15th day of January, nineteen hundred and seventy-three. This tape is intended to be part of an oral history of Muhlenberg College, consisting primarily of conversations with senior members of the college community. Dr. Katherine Van Eerde, professor of history at the college, will be conducting this afternoon’s interview conversation with Dr. John V. Shankweiler, Emeritus Professor of Biology at Muhlenberg.

Keywords: Biology; John Shankweiler; Katherine Van Eerde; Philip Secor

00:01:41 - Shankweiler’s first year at Muhlenberg

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Partial Transcript: KVE: It seems appropriate, therefore, that we begin this talk by asking about your role in developing the biology department and, perhaps equally significant, in your work on the pre-medical program here.

JS: Well, I joined faculty in 1921. In the biology department composed of one laboratory, one classroom, on the 3rd floor of the Ettinger building, which was then known, of course, as the Administration building. My appointment to the faculty here, of course, was entirely unexpected ‘cause I taught high school for two years and, uh, in the spring of my senior year at college here, I visited three high schools, was accepted at every one.

Keywords: Administration Building; Biology; Ettinger Building

00:03:14 - Shankweiler's second year at Muhlenberg

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Partial Transcript: KV: This was in 1921?

JS: Yes. But, then, during my second year here (clearing throat), uh, I made a lot of microscope slides. Uh, the department was poorly equipped. If I had a class in the lab, I’d have students working on three, four different things and then pass them back and forth. So, I made enough slides, uh, to use for the whole class. And I kept a careful record of it and at the end of the year, I went to Dr. Haas and showed him this and he looked at it, and he said, “Hmm” and said

Keywords: John A W Haas

00:04:24 - Move into new science building

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Partial Transcript: JS: Then in 1927, of course, the department moved to what was the new science building then, the 3rd floor, but finally, also, to the second floor. And of course, there was a gradual growth in equipment and the staff went from two up to seven,

KV: Very sizable

JS: . . . of which five of the present staff were formal students of mine. Then, uh, of course, uh, I had the honor of having this new building named.

00:05:08 - Forming of Muhlenberg pre-medical club

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Partial Transcript: JS: In 1931, after I came back from Cornell with my Ph.D. degree, I got the idea of organizing what was then called a premedical club. I had a conference with the students and they were very enthusiastic about it and the club was then organized. And my idea was to put the students in closer contact with the medical work, eh, have them find out about, eh, more about medicine. And I had the doctors come in to talk to them, eh, on the various stages of medicine, various specialties and so forth.

Keywords: Pre-medical club

00:07:48 - Inviting Dr. Perrin Long to Muhlenberg

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Partial Transcript: JS: I had some very important people come in as speakers, uh, particularly at those, uh, meetings. For instance, I had Dr. James Walsh, Fordham University; Dr. Stanley Riley, Lankenau Hospital, who was one of the outstanding surgeons in, uh, of the country; Dr. Edgar Miller, professor of biochemistry, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University; Dr. Perrin Long, Professor of Preventive Medicine, Johns Hopkins University. He was the man who was responsible for the sulfanilamides in this country. And, in fact, he published a book and I have an autographed copy of this.

Keywords: Cornell Medical School; Detlev Bronk; Gabriel Nehas; Johns Hopkins University; Mayo Clinic; Perrin Long; Rockefeller Foundation

00:11:54 - Meetings and trips of the Muhlenberg Pre-medical club

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Partial Transcript: JS: Then, for some years, there was a joint meeting of the pre-medical clubs of the colleges of the Lehigh Valley—Lafayette, Lehigh, Moravian, Cedar Crest and Muhlenberg. And some of these speakers which I mentioned with the book, of course, uh, spoke at those too, those meetings. Dr. Clark Wescoe also spoke at one of those meetings and gave possibly the best talk we had, at one of those meetings [clears throat].

Keywords: Allentown State Hospital; Baltimore; Clark Wescoe; Columbia University; Cornell Medical School; Johns Hopkins University; Rittersville Hospital; dental school; medical school; pre-medical club

00:19:00 - Recommending medical students during the War years

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Partial Transcript: JS: During the war years, when there was lack of transportation, it was difficulty, difficult, of course, for people here. So, then I got, uh, movies of operations and things like that which, uh, I could get from the Allentown hospital and other sources.

Keywords: medical school; medical school admissions

00:24:40 - Shankweiler's early life and schooling

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Partial Transcript: KVE: Doc, last, uh, Christmas holidays, you and I were sitting together Andy Erskine’s party, very near, about a mile or so, to the place where you were born and we started talking about the Pennsylvania Dutch background that you, almost uniquely, uh, show forth here at Muhlenberg now. Because Pennsylvania Germans were such a part of Muhlenberg’s history and faculty and among the students and since we still reside in an area rich in memories of Pennsylvania Dutch ancestry and background, would you tell us a little about your early days, your schooling?

Keywords: Pennsylvania Dutch; Pennsylvania German

00:28:45 - Joining the faculty at Muhlenberg

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Partial Transcript: JS: And, uh, at the end of my second year, they offered me the principalship but I had made up my mind to come to Muhlenberg College.Of course, then, Uncle Sam stepped in and took me into the service. But, when I came back, then, I came here to college and, uh, graduated in 1921. In, uh, well I mentioned before how I was told I wouldn’t be here long. But then, uh, after a few years here, I felt I was not getting the breaks I should, so I decided to take my summers and go to Cornell and get my master’s degree, which is what I did.

Keywords: Cornell University; John A W Haas

00:34:36 - Reflections on Muhlenberg staff and Faculty from 1921

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Partial Transcript: KVE: Yes, that’s very interesting.
Doc, you’ve been a strong faculty member, a department head, a committee man, certainly far longer than I’ve known the college. Could you tell us what the faculty was like when you came in 1921, how it’s changed, who were some of your friends and not so good friends in the faculty were?

JS: Well, in 1921, the faculty consisted of 16 people plus athletic director. And, at that time, also, as many people may not know, there was a professor of military sciences.

Keywords: Dr. Bailey; Dr. Brown; George Ettinger; Howard Marks; John A W Haas; Oscar Bernheim; Robert C Horn

00:46:41 - Reflections on Muhlenberg faculty in the 1950s

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Partial Transcript: KVE: Well, yes, there’s one more thing about the faculty I’d like to ask. These are people from the earlier part of your time at Muhlenberg. But, now, uh, how about in the fifties? There was a group of you who, I believe, really set the tone and decided curriculum and, uh, policies of various kinds. Who were those people with whom you worked so closely?

JS: Well, it was, uh, Dr. Brown, Dr. Brendes, uh, Dr. Sarkin, uh, (KV prompting JS) Dr. Swain, Professor Deck, [inaudible].

Keywords: Clark Wescoe; Dr. Brown; James E Swain

00:51:42 - Role in athletics and tennis

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Partial Transcript: KVE: I can see a very wise man, right? What you’ve outlined for us, so far, would be enough to keep two or three professors busy, but we’ve only begun to touch the activities you’ve actually been involved with in the years you’ve been at Muhlenberg.

It seems to me that you’ve been deeply involved with two things that have made Muhlenberg nationally known. One we’ve, you’ve covered well with the pre-medical club and its students and their successes in medical school. The other is athletics. Before I came, just before I came, Muhlenberg was nationally known in the athletics world. I know that you were the chairman of athletics committee, for a while. Your picture hangs in Memorial Hall Union where all the athletes can see and be inspired. It’s intriguing that both of these areas should have had you as a dominant figure in them. Could you tell us about the athletics committee in the forties, I suppose it was, wasn’t it?

JS: Yes. Well, in athletics, of course, I really started tennis as an official sport at the college here, in 1934. While students informally had tennis, it was not recognized—

Keywords: Erling Jensen; Memorial Hall; athletic committee; athletics; tennis

00:55:02 - Developing a photography course / photography and film work

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Partial Transcript: KVE: Well, in addition to the athletics, uh, one of things that everyone knows about is your skill in photography and the use you put it to in conveying Muhlenberg life and in making records for the college of what happened. Could you tell us a bit about that?

JS: Well, uh, Dr. Bailey, who’s head of the department, when I joined the faculty, taught a course in photography. And when he left, of course, the students were anxious to have the course continue, so I attempted it. Of course, I had to start from scratch and stayed a couple of weeks ahead of the students, organizing the course. And, well, I taught that course until ’64 when I retired and the course was dropped.

Keywords: Ciarla; Levering Tyson; photography; reels

00:59:53 - Work with the American Red Cross

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Partial Transcript: KVE: It’s an intriguing combination of elements. One last item of your non-professorial activities has to do with one segment of your community activities, I believe particularly during the war. You were involved deeply with the Red Cross and won the American Red Cross Award, for years.

JS: Yes, I was a first aid instructor for the Red Cross during the war. And during the war, the students here had to take the first aid course instead of their physical education. And, uh, myself and Mr. Ritter were the only people qualified to teach this course. But, they brought in some doctors, uh, to help in the course because this involved all the students. And while the doctors knew first aid, this had to be taught the way the Red Cross wanted it. And I had a doctor helping me in the practical work. He’d come to me, asking me how, now how is this to be done. Well, this results that in the final examinations, then, uh, a large percentage of the students flunked it. And, uh, the next year I did practically nothing but teach the first aid because these people had, had to repeat it. And, of course, I also taught the civilian classes. And, as you said, I got a citation. It reads, “For meritorious personal service in behalf of the nation, the armed forces and suffering humanity in the second World War.” Signed by President Harry Truman.

Keywords: American Red Cross; Harry S. Truman

01:02:20 - Work with Muhlenberg Presidents and Deans over the years

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Partial Transcript: KVE: Doc, you’ve had an extraordinary opportunity to work with a number of presidents and deans at Muhlenberg, many of whom are names, but , uh, often are viv, vivid personalities, as well as names to it. Could you give us rundown of some of the presidents and deans, these eminent characters, with whom you’ve worked over the years?

JS: Well, the presidents I worked with, of course, started with Dr. Haas. Then, Dr. Horn was acting president for a year. Then came Dr. Tyson and after he resigned, there was a committee which was composed of Baumer, George Baumer, who was the president of the board, Dean Mercer, and Howard McGregor. Those men were appointed by the Board of Trustees.

Keywords: Dean Mercer; Erling Jensen; George Baumer; George Ettinger; Howard McGregor; J Conrad Seegers; John A W Haas; Levering Tyson; Philip Secor; Robert C Horn

01:04:20 - Bird Museum in the Biology Building

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Partial Transcript: KVE: Alright. Now, I want to go back, uh, and pick up something I forgot to mention before. The museum in the biology building is, uh, of unusual and distinctive quality. Would you tell us a little about that, please?

JS: Well, the, again, I can’t think of the year, but it was in the 30s, early 30s. The college had an open house and they asked me to arrange an exhibit. There’s a big room on the third floor of the science building. Uh, all the bird specimens and everything were just on the floor, no cases or nothing. And, uh, the birds were not catalogued, nothing.

Keywords: Biology Building Museum; Erling Jensen; John Trainer; bird collection; birds