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Tarkio college and giving lectures

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Looking for a scholarship
Carl Djerassi Scientist
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After I’d written to Mrs Roosevelt, before I got her reply I started looking around where could I get a scholarship because of course I needed total support. I had absolutely no money to continue school, and there were only two schools at that time strangely enough that had special scholarship programmes for junior college graduates. Because obviously junior college graduate was already a transfer student who would then transfer as a junior into a regular college or university, and most colleges and universities didn’t encourage very much of that. They encouraged people to start as freshmen and to stay for the entire four years. So most of these scholarship programmes were designed to entering students and not to transfer students. Two schools had special programmes that time, fellowship programmes, scholarship programmes and that was the University of Chicago and Kenyon College in Ohio, and I applied to both of them. In fact it was about the only alternative I had, and then I got this postcard from Mrs Roosevlt before of course I even finished my second year of junior college. I still had one year to go, but that was effective immediately at Tarkio College. T-A-R-K-I-O. A minute college in the north-western corner of Missouri. It’s a college affiliated with the Presbyterian Church right in the real bible belt of Midwestern America. A small village that had more churches than it had houses, and more denominations than you could shake your fist at. It was a four-year college so I accepted it. By accepting it I automatically was eliminated from the University of Chicago and the Kenyon College programmes, which were designed specifically at junior college graduates but, you know, I figured I’d better grab whatever I have because again I thought that I’m already moving on sort of an express train and I’d better jump on the next one because that already got me at least in some sort of four-year college. I’d never heard of Tarkio. I didn’t even know where it was and it’s in a minute village. You need a pretty good map of, of the United States, of Missouri to even find it and I did it by bus, which is a very long bus ride. I forgot. 12, 20 hours, something like that. Changing a number of times to smaller and smaller ones until you got to Tarkio. Now, the interesting thing about Tarkio that I only learned then there is that their most distinguished alumnus was in fact one of the most important American chemists, Wallace Carothers, the inventor of nylon. So here you talked about a really- That was rather encouraging because there you see there was a minute school. It had probably 200 students or less than 200 students and a faculty of maybe 15 or 20 that nevertheless had produced one of the chemical giants of America. Giants of the early 20th century, but no one told me that he shortly thereafter committed suicide after he did this work on nylon and plastics at, polymers at Du Pont.

Austrian-American Carl Djerassi (1923-2015) was best known for his work on the synthesis of the steroid cortisone and then of a progesterone derivative that was the basis of the first contraceptive pill. He wrote a number of books, plays and poems, in the process inventing a new genre, 'science-in-fiction', illustrated by the novel 'Cantor's Dilemma' which explores ethics in science.

Listeners: Tamara Tracz

Tamara Tracz is a writer and filmmaker based in London.

Tags: Kenyan College, Ohio, Chicago, Missouri, Tarkio College, Eleanor Roosevelt, Wallace Carothers

Duration: 3 minutes, 33 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008