President E. Wilson Lyon
With President Edmunds' retirement in 1941, the College turned to a professor of history at Colgate University for its sixth president. Elijah Wilson Lyon would go on to serve for 28 years, still the longest presidency in the history of the College. For that reason, but more importantly because of his vision, dedication, and energy, the nearly three decades of his presidency were exceptionally significant. Indeed, Lyon’s administration was responsible for critical developments in every aspect of the College’s life, including the growth of the campus. Lyon also spent the first eight years of his retirement dedicated to writing the College's history, a remarkable achievement that can be found in The History of Pomona College, 1887-1967. Lyon’s chronicle of the years of his own presidency set a standard for objective scholarship.
Lyon’s presidency, extending from the Second World War to the Vietnam conflict, witnessed extraordinary changes in virtually every area of American life and higher education. The final decade of his tenure was a particularly tumultuous period, encompassing the birth of the Civil Rights Movement; the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy; and the country’s increasing involvement in Vietnam. At Pomona as elsewhere, students demonstrated an unprecedented level of activism and protest directed at both institutional and national issues. That the College not only weathered the crisis-ridden period but emerged stronger, its campus significantly enhanced, was a tribute to Lyon’s leadership. His widow, Carolyn, recalled that the first thing to confront them when they arrived was the U.S. entry into the war, commenting, “One of his outstanding characteristics was his calm disposition in the face of really important and difficult times. He never scared easily. The College was always honorable in all its dealings. Pomona was built on the most solid integrity imaginable.”
After the war, student numbers at Pomona grew from 659 to 1,110 between 1945 and 1947, ultimately leading to the construction of five new dormitories—Della Mulock Mudd Hall (1945–47), Helen R. Walker Hall (1953), Norton Hall (1956), Anna May Wig Hall (1959), and Oldenborg Center (1966). At the same time, the curriculum was revised, with electives restricted and a renewed emphasis on a core curriculum that would provide, in Lyon’s words, “the common fund of knowledge essential for a free society.” Increasing competition with the USSR reinforced the centrality of the sciences—the biological, physical and social sciences were the first three of the seven “pillars of wisdom,” those core areas of study required in the student’s first two years—and at Pomona, as across the country, science facilities were built.
Pomona’s new science buildings—Millikan Laboratory for Physics, Astronomy and Mathematics, and Seaver Laboratory for Biology and Geology (1958–59), soon followed by Seaver Laboratory for Chemistry (1964–65)—reflected this national trend. As Don Pattison, the College’s knowledgeable historian, has noted, the new science facilities put Pomona on the map, enabling it, perhaps for the first time, to claim facilities that rivaled or surpassed those of any liberal arts college in the country. The science quadrant would be remembered as one of President Lyon’s most significant legacies.
The Physics Department developed a focus on “civil aeronautics” to prepare for national defense measures because of the Second World War.
Department of Oriental Affairs
With the addition of Professor Ch’en Shou-Yi to the faculty in 1941, Pomona’s Asian studies program, then called the Department of Oriental Affairs, became firmly established. Ch’en was well known for his courses on cultural relations between East Asia and the West.
The Male Animal
Pomona played the role of Midwestern University during the 1941 filming of The Male Animal, starring Henry Fonda and Olivia de Havilland. The film opens and closes on Marston Quad.
Billy the Kid
When Pomona’s favorite Hollywood son, Robert Taylor ’33 (nicknamed “the Man with the Perfect Profile”) made the movie Billy the Kid, the Western was already the movie idol’s 31st film and 25th starring role.
- Germany invaded the Soviet Union.
- The requirement to wear the Star of David with the word “Jew” inscribed was extended to all Jews over the age of 6 in German-occupied areas.
- The Imperial Japanese Navy launched a surprise attack on the United States fleet at Pearl Harbor, thus drawing the United States into World War II.
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