Braille Monitor                                                    March 2008

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Jacobus tenBroek: Letters to Berkeley

by Lou Ann Blake

From the Editor: Periodically Lou Ann Blake, research specialist in the Jacobus tenBroek Library in the Jernigan Institute, gathers interesting material from the tenBroek papers and offers it to us. Here is her latest collection of snippets from letters that shed light on the young Jacobus tenBroek, his personal struggles, and his whimsical sense of humor:

Jacobus tenBroek at Harvard in 1939Upon completion of the course work for his doctorate in the science of jurisprudence from Boalt Hall Law School at the University of California at Berkeley in 1939, Jacobus tenBroek, with his wife Hazel, embarked on a journey in search of a university teaching position that took him to Harvard Law School and the University of Chicago Law School before returning to his beloved alma mater in 1942. During this three-year hiatus he wrote frequent letters to his Berkeley mentors, Dr. Charles Aikin, professor of political science, and Dr. Gerry Marsh, chairman of the public speaking department. These letters are full of observations and commentary about his work at the two law schools, life in Cambridge and Chicago, and his desire to return to California. They also reveal Dr. tenBroek’s sense of humor, joy of life, and dogged determination to obtain a permanent university teaching position.

The letters upon which this article is based are part of the accumulated papers of Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, founder and president of the National Federation of the Blind from 1940 to 1961 and from 1966 until his death in 1968. As part of the collection of the Jacobus tenBroek Library in the NFB Jernigan Institute, the tenBroek papers are a significant source of information about the early history of and the people behind the development and growth of the NFB and the blind civil rights movement.

Letters from Harvard

While Dr. tenBroek was still a law school student at Boalt Hall, he wrote five articles analyzing the use of extrinsic aids by the United States Supreme Court in constitutional construction. These articles were published in the California Law Review in 1938 and 1939. The originality of the legal analysis contained in these articles earned Dr. tenBroek a Brandeis Research Fellowship at Harvard Law School from September 1939 to July 1940. During this time he continued his research on extrinsic aids and took additional classes. In an October 12, 1939, letter to Gerry Marsh, Dr. tenBroek wrote from Harvard:

There is now no doubt that my articles were what got me the Brandeis Research Fellowship. I had a talk with Dean Landis . . . and he evidenced considerable knowledge as to their content.

Things are now proceeding quite smoothly at the law school. The Dean has spotted me and is giving me a hell of a work out in his seminar. As a matter of fact the burden of the whole seminar is practically being carried by another Californian and myself. Naturally I am glad of this because the Dean is the man who is really in a position to do something for me if I can make him enough of a believer to take affirmative action.

After being around here for this short time, I have tentatively concluded that Harvard is not what it is cracked up to be; at least its preponderance as a law school is undeserved. There are plenty of mediocre boys here although along with them there is a larger number of first rate students.

By October 26, 1939, Dr. tenBroek was already missing California, as evidenced by the following excerpt from a letter to Charles Aikin in which he also describes Harvard’s renowned Constitutional Law Professor Thomas Reed Powell:

Thanks for your note. It set my mind at rest both by its promise of a letter and by re-awakening me to the fact that Cal is still in existence. You have no idea how remote in space and time Cal U. now seems to me.

T.R. Powell is quite the eccentric old devil if ever there was one. He is crotchety and crusty and absolutely indifferent to and uninterested in his students. He has quite a reputation for boozing. He likes nothing more than to shock the staid Harvardians with frequent classroom bursts of blasphemy. Yet Powell really has the stuff. On some days his analysis are [sic] nothing short of brilliant, and on other days he doddles along as if he had been drunk the night before, which he probably was.

Late in 1939 Dr. tenBroek and Hazel took a trip to New York City to visit her relatives, do some sightseeing, and meet with Professor Edward Corwin at Princeton University Law School. Dr. tenBroek’s December 21, 1939, letter to Dr. Marsh and his wife Estelle describes how he responded to an invitation to lunch from Professor Corwin:

One of the things I had in mind in going to New York was to see E.S. Corwin at Princeton. He is one of the big boys in the field of constitutional law, and I had an entree to him by reason of the fact that he had read and favorably commented upon my [extrinsic aids] articles. Before going to New York I wrote him a letter telling him that I would be in New York and asking for an appointment. After a few days of silence . . ., I received a wire inviting me to lunch. This created a dilemma of no mean proportions—did Corwin know I was married, and did he know I was blind? If neither, which seemed to me likely, I thought that he would probably be somewhat embarrassed as to what to do with a blind man at lunch. On the other hand, would this embarrassment to him be so great as the embarrassment to me by taking Hazel along? We resolved this dilemma by wiring that my wife and I would be happy to accept.

Practically all of Dr. tenBroek’s letters to both of his mentors discussed his search for a permanent teaching position at a university. This search began only a few months after his arrival at Harvard when, as described in a January 12, 1940, letter to Charles Aikin, Dr. tenBroek had a candid discussion with Dean Landis to solicit his support and to make the dean aware of the stereotypical attitudes about blindness that must be overcome:

I just had a talk with the Dean. I told him that I was in the market for a teaching job and asked him bluntly what his attitude was re recommending a blind man. He said he would have no hesitancy whatsoever about recommending me. He gave plenty of evidence of being thoroughly satisfied with my work. He had no notion whatsoever about the difficulties involved, and I thought I had better set him straight on that score. He wanted to know if there were people at Cal who would be willing to affirmatively assert that my teaching experience there demonstrated that I could teach. He questioned me rather closely as to my method of handling a class, but his questions carried no implementation of doubt. He assured me that he would do all that he could and that he would press my case on its merits. He didn’t seem at all convinced that the going would be as rough as I indicated, but I think a little experience with the problem will only stir him to greater activity.

The early start of Dr. tenBroek’s job search was required by the fact that the Brandeis Fellowship was for only one year. In a January 25, 1940, letter Dr. tenBroek wrote: “This being January, the annually recurring search for somebody who is willing and able to support me during the following academic year must be begun. Renewals here are almost never granted, and people aren’t exactly rushing to give me a job.” However, the rare renewal was granted as he triumphantly proclaimed in a letter to Dr. Marsh dated March 15, 1940:

[T]he god professors have promised to replenish the supply of manna. The fellowship renewal was on even more favorable terms than last year’s grant, although it was a hundred dollars less since the expense of traveling from the West Coast is not involved this time.

This would seem to mean another year of Bostonian provincialism. Barring further unexpected events, return to Berkeley is out. However, my acceptance of the renewal doesn’t mean that I’m still not looking for a job or that I would be unable to take one at any time that it was available, or that I would not return to Berkeley for less money on a relatively more permanent arrangement.

Also included in the March 15, 1940, letter to Dr. Marsh is the first of many humorous commentaries by Dr. tenBroek about the winter weather he endured during his three-year absence from Berkeley:

The deposit of the St. Valentine’s Day blizzard is still very much with us and has even been increased by later snows. Boston has paid a million dollars for snow removal, which is a misapplication of term. It should be snow redistribution; all they seem to do is take it out of one place you want to walk and put it on another, which is also where you want to walk. At least the stage where I had to pack the short-legged Hazel through the deeper drifts is passed. In the middle of the day the temperature gets above freezing and melts some of the snow. Most of the drains are clogged up, and the water stands on the sidewalk until it freezes over again at night. It will be a fine thing when the spring comes again and a man can once more walk upright without sliding on his tail. By the way, last November I invested in an overcoat, a hat, and a pair of gloves. I have worn all of these every damn day since.

Dr. tenBroek’s letters also discuss specific instances in which stereotypes about blindness affected his job search. When Charles Aiken revealed that Thomas Reed Powell had expressed the opinion to officials at Boalt Hall Law School that Dr. tenBroek could teach political science but could not teach law, he responded in a March 28, 1940, letter to Dr. Aikin:

His is a familiar reaction among those who have been brought to believe that a blind man can [not] do anything. The steps in the process take an inevitable pattern: Initially blindness is regarded as a completely disabling defect; gradually the notion penetrates to some that it is only partially disabling, and in this stage the view always is that the something which a blind man can do is different from the particular something that the believer does.

While his letters make no mention of the fact, it is likely that Dr. tenBroek took steps to enlighten Professor Powell further, for history indicates that Powell’s attitude about Dr. tenBroek’s ability to teach law changed. This is evidenced by the fact that, with the backing of Professor Powell, Dr. tenBroek received an offer for the position of tutorial fellow from the University of Chicago Law School. His June 11, 1940, letter to Gerry Marsh announces with both relief and trepidation Dr. tenBroek’s acceptance of the offer and describes a “wet” Boston spring:

The might of mighty Harvard has at last cracked through. I have been offered and have accepted a job at the University of Chicago Law School. It pays $1800; it is a half-time job and only lasts for one year. Notwithstanding, it is a job, and the sensation of having it offered was certainly novel, not to say startling. The job consists in supervising the research of the first- and second-year-law men. It involves no classroom teaching except as acts of providence and professional impropriety create occasions for an emergency substitute. This was the fifth and the least of the jobs for which Harvard has pushed me, which indicates the extent of the difficulties and causes me to warn you that after next year I shall probably be pressing you to place me upon your departmental charity list.

I have heard that in some parts of the world the sap begins to run in the spring. I can now testify that Cambridge is not one of those parts of the world. It has been muggy and sunless with scarcely a handful of clear days in the last two-and-a-half months. Sap may run somewhere under those conditions, but it certainly isn’t in human beings in this godawful country. In fact the reaction is quite the converse. All the boys about the law school complain about general lassitude and mental and physical inertia.

The lack of springtime rejuvination [sic] has not been attended with a recent lack of rejuvinating [sic] fluids. It is perhaps not a strange thing that the common element among these diverse grads is a common taste for good scotch. I haven’t yet run across anybody who is willing to buy or even drink anything like cheap liquor or anything less than a damn good grade of scotch. A wild Irishman from South Dakota and an Iowan who has been teaching law in Washington University, together with the Dean’s secretary, have made common cause with me upon frequent occasions lately. First of all, of course, there was the occasion of the orals, the Iowan and I both took them. Then there was the occasion of our Administrative Law exam. Then there was that created by the Iowan having obtained a new job at West Virginia. And then just the occasion. So on and more of it. In more than a meteorological sense it is turning out to be a wet spring.

Letters From the University of Chicago

Dr. and Mrs. tenBroek moved to Chicago in July 1940 to begin his position as a tutorial fellow at the University of Chicago Law School. In a September 7, 1940, letter to Estelle and Gerry Marsh, Dr. tenBroek described their first days in Chicago, his new workplace, and the receipt of his SJD from Berkeley:

Well here we are in Chicago and after many trials and tribulations are finally settled both in our office and living quarters. Our office accommodations here are meagre [sic] after the luxury Harvard squandered on us. After walking for a day and a half, we finally found a satisfactory apartment that was within our price range. In the course of all that exploration we found only three apartments below $45 that had a private bath. Bathing seems to be a Western custom that has only partly penetrated to the Midwest and hasn’t got through to New England at all.

The first-year students, in addition to their regular courses, are required to do research. For this purpose they are divided into groups numbering from seven to ten and allocated to tutorial fellows and interested faculty members. After the initial assignment, the job apparently consists in suggesting and requiring revisions until a comparatively creditable piece of work is presented.

The members of the faculty and everybody else, except the Dean’s secretary, around the law school are extremely friendly, and we are treated very much as if we were in full status on the staff. After ten months of New England frigidity we had forgotten that Westerners were like that.

Before leaving Cambridge, I was given notice that I passed my S.J.D. orals, that I received A’s on the written exams, and that the University of California had conferred upon me the degree of Doctor of the Science of Jurisprudence. If you ever doubted my sanity, this should be the final evidence as to the error of my ways; that upon the completion of my Harvard thesis, I shall be twice a doctor.

Once he was settled in Chicago, it did not take long for Dr. tenBroek’s letters to reflect the reality that his position at the University of Chicago was only temporary and that the need, once again, to take up the search for a permanent teaching position was upon him. Dr. tenBroek’s November 4, 1940, letter to Gerry Marsh, head of the public speaking department at Berkeley, is direct:

Bluntly put, the question is this: Will you give me a job in the Public Speaking Department next year?

When I talked to you about this matter a year and a half ago, I got the impression that your opinion was mildly negative but not conclusive. Since that time a lot of hay has been pitched and a lot of barns cleaned. To date the great god professors of Harvard have pitched me for not less than eight openings. Except for my present, temporary, part-time position at Chicago, their failure was as complete as the reason for it was evident. Moreover, I can scarcely expect their affirmative interest to continue indefinitely: every time they urge my claims, they are losing an appointment that might otherwise be obtained for a Harvard man. With little chance of a renewal at Chicago, and with little hope of breaking in elsewhere, the time has come to test the availability of other alternatives.

You will find me at twenty-nine a man of moderation, given to considerable abdominal distention and full of confidence, that, by training and inclination, I am better equipped than the average to handle any of the analytical courses in your department.

This is the squeeze Gerry; put it to me straight!

In spite of the almost constant pressure to find a more permanent position, the letters that Dr. tenBroek wrote to both Charles Aikin and Gerry Marsh while he was at the University of Chicago reveal that he very much enjoyed his work and the intellectual environment at the law school. They also reveal that he was continuing to cope with winter weather with as much good humor as a transplanted Californian could muster. The following excerpt from a December 24, 1940, letter to Estelle and Gerry Marsh is typical:

So it hasn’t been much colder here than it was in Cambridge. But the fact that we have to walk a mile to school makes a considerable difference in our opinions about the weather. In hilly Cambridge I went through a whole winter keeping the posterior portions of my anatomy above the ground. In perfectly flat Chicago I have already sprawled full length upon the ice once, and the year is just beginning. In this country a man spends half his time putting on and taking off excess clothing that is designed to keep a man dry and warm but doesn’t seem to do much of either. Practically every day I wear a scarf, overcoat, rubbers, a hat, gloves and sometimes even earmuffs and wish I either had a nose muff or no nose.

I am getting a considerable kick out of my work at the University of Chicago. [W]e are given complete faculty status with a rank comparable to instructor in the academic departments. But in fact we are what at Cal would be called glorified readers with the power of making assignments. For the most part I spend my time digging up research problems and reading and analyzing what the students do with them. This is not unpleasant work with the brighter students, but it gets to be awfully tedious with some of them.

A later letter to Gerry Marsh about life at the University of Chicago stated:

Compared with Harvard, this place has been a wormless apple. As against Harvard’s formalism, there is here a stimulating intellectual flexibility and freedom; and, as against Harvard’s abusive indifference, a wonderful friendliness. They have even treated us tutorial fellows as if we weren’t flunkies. Picked up and flopped down in a decent climate, this U. of C. would be a place for an old man to live out his years without vegetating—and almost without vegetation. Another U. of C. that I know of would not require this physical transposition.

In January 1941, with no permanent position in sight, Dr. tenBroek’s thoughts, once again, became preoccupied with the question of his employment for the following academic year. However, as Dr. tenBroek notes, with a touch of humor, in the following excerpt from a January 15, 1941, letter to Dr. Aikin, this annual occurrence was starting to become routine:

Just now there is a considerable disturbance among the tutorial fellows. [Dean] Katz returned from a visit to New York to report that Carnegie is in a disinheriting mood--Carnegie supplied the dough for two of the five tutors this year. Moreover, it is apparently a question whether the money will be forthcoming from the university to maintain all of the other three. You can see from the foregoing that I am now going through a repetition of my experience last year at this time. It discourages me much less this year. It may be that in the course of another decade at it, I will become completely immune.

Dr. tenBroek’s life at the University of Chicago was not focused entirely on his work as a tutor and the search for a permanent teaching position. His letters from Chicago indicate that law school faculty members frequently invited him to social events such as faculty dinners. One such notable occasion occurred, as described by Dr. tenBroek in a February 9, 1941, letter to Charles Aikin, when Thomas Reed Powell, Dr. tenBroek’s constitutional law professor at Harvard, came to town:

Thomas Reed Powell was in town last week to deliver a lecture for the Walgreen Foundation on “Conscience and the Constitution.” The Dean arranged a dinner for him to which he invited me, to the exclusion of some other regular members of the faculty. The Dean has also told me that reports about my work have indicated that it is “highly satisfactory” although in terms of renewal that undoubtedly doesn’t mean very much and may even be a way of saying no. T.R.P. went out of his way to be cordial to me. He also went out of his way to insult everybody else, to the great annoyance of the judges and theological people present and to the great resentment of the law faculty. From the Master’s point of view it must have been a very successful evening.

While he was at the University of Chicago, Dr. tenBroek, along with his mentor Dr. Newel Perry and seventeen blind men and women from seven states, laid the foundation for a national blind civil rights movement by founding the National Federation of the Blind in November 1940. Soon thereafter carrying out the business of the NFB became a topic of discussion in Dr. tenBroek’s letters from Chicago. As president of the first nationwide democratic organization of blind people, Dr. tenBroek recounted duties in a March 18, 1941, letter to Charles Aikin that included traveling to Washington, D.C., to meet with government leaders and express opposition to government actions that adversely affected blind people:

I have been in Washington for the past week and a half pulling the legs of Congressmen and insulting the administrators. Spring vacation plus a little time off for good behavior have permitted me to be away from the law school for this length of time, and the treasury of the National Federation of the Blind has permitted me to get this far away. As you might guess, I am down here concerning the ruling of the Social Security Board which will result in a withdrawal of the Federal contribution from California’s plan for aid to the blind and also aid to the aged.

By April 1941 the recruitment of young American men to fight World War II was starting to have an impact on enrollment at the University of Chicago Law School. As a result, the tenure of the law school tutorial fellows, as noted by Dr. tenBroek in an April 15, 1941, letter to Charles Aikin, became even more uncertain:

The state of confusion here with respect to tutorial fellows is continuing, if anything, in an intensified form. Even now conscription and the war are raising hob with the enrollment and it is expected that next year the beginning class will be considerably less than half of its normal size. Of course this will mean a proportionate cut in the number of tutorial fellows.

In spite of the increasing impact of World War II on enrollment, the University of Chicago awarded Dr. tenBroek a renewal of his tutorial fellowship for the 1941-1942 academic year. The renewal included additional teaching duties when he became a lecturer in English constitutional history. With little hope of a second renewal, Dr. tenBroek, in a November 30, 1941, letter to Gerry Marsh, makes a bold suggestion on the way materials he prepared for teaching this class could be incorporated into a public speaking class:

Uncle Sam took less of the Law School boys than expected—an overall drop of 18 percent--but the freshman class if [sic] smaller by about one-third. The Dean put me on again as tutor and as a temporary stop-gap in English Constitutional History. He has made it painfully clear that the policy against renewing tutorial contracts will not again be breached. I’m getting a considerable boot out of the English History: in this place I am not regarded as queer because I teach it up-side-down, that is, moving backwards from the present; but the reverse procedure has made it necessary to prepare special materials. I am sending you a copy of these. You are under no obligation to be interested in the content, but you may wish to weigh them. The idea has occurred to me that a collection of this type of the great English political documents which were delivered as speeches might be a proper subject of interest and even action of public speaking teachers.

As the American war effort continued to accelerate into 1942, the continuing decline in student enrollment and the resulting relaxation of academic standards affected faculty morale at the University of Chicago Law School. Dr. tenBroek wrote to Charles Aikin on February 4, 1942:

The morale of the faculty has degenerated considerably. War changes--reducing the length of time required to graduate from law school, granting degrees to students having a half-a-year to go, numerous special arrangements and exemptions, and the recent Hutchins plan to grant a bachelor’s degree after two normal years of college--have been accomplished only after numerous hot faculty meetings and have been accompanied by growing faculty personality problems.

In mid-February 1942, however, the somber tone of Dr. tenBroek’s letters to his mentors had changed as, once again, he was offered the rare opportunity of a second renewal of his fellowship. In a February 19, 1942, letter to Dr. Aikin he announced:

The law school faculty has just voted to keep me on for another year at the same salary, $2500 and with the same status, tutorial fellow and lecturer in English history. The Dean renewed his warning that I should expect my connection with the University of Chicago to be terminated at the end of next year. This time however, he did it with two significant qualifications: One was that this would be the case unless the war ended and enrollment returned to normal; the other was implicit in a comment that the ideal solution of my problem would be a joint law school and political science job and that he was doing his best to persuade the poli. sci. people.

The efforts of Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Aikin, and Dr. Marsh to secure Dr. tenBroek a permanent teaching position at Berkeley began to bear fruit in late winter of 1942. As indicated by Dr. tenBroek in his March 3, 1942, letter to Charles Aikin, discussions were underway regarding a position in either Berkeley’s public speaking department or the political science department:

An instructorship in public speaking sounds good to me--good, at least, as against a tenure here which surely must end in a year if the war keeps going. I am relatively satisfied in my own mind that but for the dropping enrollment I would have been given a regular faculty position, but I can scarcely gamble on the war ending in time to do me much good here. My notion is that it would be well for you to push full steam ahead on the public speaking angle. If it turns out that you can’t swing a full-time deal in poli. sci., the possibility of part time in both departments might then be more easily workable; and if even that proves impossible, long range shifts in the poli. sci. department might gradually be turned to my advantage.

The discussions about a permanent position for Dr. tenBroek in the Berkeley public speaking department became more specific with a hastily handwritten note postmarked March 20, 1942, from Gerry Marsh to Dr. tenBroek. The note inquires if Dr. tenBroek would be interested in a possible opening in 1943 in the public speaking department at $2,000 per year to teach Intercollegiate Debate (2 credits), Use of the Library (3 credits), History of British and American Public Address (3 credits), and Speech 1A-1B (3 credits). A draft of the reply from Dr. tenBroek states, “I am not only interested but anxious” and ends in a more playful tone with, “I think the whole thing is a scheme by which you will avoid pangs of conscience when you take my money at poker.”

On April 13, 1942, Dr. tenBroek wrote to Gerry Marsh:

Wired an acceptance to [Dean] Deutch and will follow up with a confirming letter. The [University of Chicago] law school was so shocked by the thought that somebody else might want me that they immediately set about trying to cook up a deal here. I had given a few lectures in the College in the Social Science Survey course for Lawes, who is on leave. The people in the College have since been angling to get me tied up with the course. At one time they were on the verge of offering me about $3,000, but in the end the College administration withdrew altogether. The Law School, however, stuck with its offer of a more or less indefinite continuation of my present salary and status.

This was great sport while it lasted! I pulled the cow’s tail for all it was worth, not expecting and in the end not receiving anything remotely resembling milk, and always realizing that a cow’s tail is dangerously close to other parts of the anatomy which yield products entirely not as sustaining and probably not as savory, although as to the latter--query.

With his return to Berkeley only awaiting confirmation from university officials, Dr. tenBroek wrote his final letter to Charles Aikin from Chicago on April 30, 1942. The letter is full of anticipation for the tenBroeks' return to Berkeley and ends with the hope that the transportation of troops headed for battle does not interfere with their travel plans:

I have heard nothing from Cal as yet. The last thing I had was Gerry’s note, which I received considerably over a month ago. I have assumed from your silence that the matter moved through the committee without any hitches, and I infer from your inquiry appended to Ogg’s last letter that the committee made its report to the president some time ago.

Hazel and I are still laying on the line for the Doctor’s. My gastritis is gradually getting better, but last Friday the dental surgeon got hold of me for the second time in a month and a half to chisel out an impacted wisdom tooth. Hazel is undergoing a series of treatments allegedly designed to cure her migraines. I don’t know what we’re going to do when we return to Cal and have to lay out real money for this sort of thing.

Yesterday and today we have had our first warm spell of the season, and as usual when the temperature and humidity begin to rise, Hazel and I are brushing up on our plans to return to Berkeley. I hope civilian travel doesn’t get choked off just about the time we’re ready to jump on the train.

Three months later Dr. tenBroek described the return trip to Berkeley in an August 5, 1942, letter as follows:

We have finally landed back in Berkeley! [N]either we nor the town seems to have changed much. We had a pretty hectic trip out, what with trying to catch trains that don’t give a hang about schedules and what with trying to find seats after you catch them. We spent eight days with my sister Lill, who is stationed at the Fitzsimmons Hospital near Denver. She had every minute planned and a sufficient number of drinking partners assembled. These latter were all army officers, and my experience with them has caused me to amend my previously held conviction that there are no drinkers like those of the Harvard Law School faculty.

With his new job as an instructor in the public speaking department during the 1942-1943 academic year, Dr. tenBroek had returned home to the University of California, Berkeley, and his search for a permanent university teaching position was over. He would go on to become a full professor in 1953 and was chairman of the public speaking department from 1955 to 1961. Dr. tenBroek moved to the Berkeley political science department in 1961 and remained there as professor until his death on March 27, 1968.

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