Cal Polys’ Dawning Steps

By Joshua Manly

As legislatures across the nation start a new term, there is
change on the wind in all parts of the country, from California
Rep. Nancy Pelosi making history each day, in the Midwest the
Barrack Obama freight train continues to pick up speed and
naysayers, and in the East Hilary Clinton contemplates a different
kind of history herself.

However during this time in 1945 when the nation was focused on
a different kind of war, California was beginning to grow in terms
of academia and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo was literally steps away
from becoming a prison.

Henry House had a dream of becoming a vocational agriculture
teacher after being honorably discharged from the Marines; he was
in a unit who had multiple landings throughout the South Pacific
where some of the heaviest fighting occurred.

His dream was realized by Julian McPhee, an upstart president of
a small junior college in northern California, who was part
administrator and part recruiter.

“I remember distinctly the first time I met Julian McPhee,” said
House. “He had come to my high school as part of the regional
Future Farmers of America meeting in 1939 and guaranteed me that I
would be able to receive a bachelors of science from Cal Poly”

House, who was leaning towards agricultural powerhouse UC Davis,
trusted McPhee and enrolled in the program.

In 1942, he was part of the second graduating class of Cal Poly
San Luis Obispo with a B.S. in Agricultural Studies.

However the power of a changing school was too much to pass up
for House and he stayed with the school as registrar.

In a small school responsibilities become more like a family
dinner with everyone sharing as much as they can.

“We didn’t have a lot of people at Cal Poly,” said House.
“McPhee knew that to become something more we would have to have
enrollment with people hanging out of the windows. It was my honor
to help McPhee by driving down to Sacramento each weekend to walk
Chris Jesperson up the capitol steps as well as retrieve the weekly
education committee minutes.”

Jesperson had become ill and his physician recommended someone
walk up the steps with him each time he visited the Capitol
Building, but with each step and day that House helped Jesperson a
trust grew, finally Jesperson told him that Cal Poly would become a
prison if it could not maintain enough students to be a

“I was under the distinct impression that it was the only other
option for Cal Poly,” said House. “However there was never a time
when the faculty or McPhee thought that we would fall short of our

Enrollment began to rise at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, so much so
that Charles Voorhis and W.K. Kellogg were both convinced to help
the cause, creating Cal Poly Pomona after several donations and
trips to Sacramento.

“The state did not always take whatever was offered to it,” said
House. “It was only after a lot of convincing from both sides to
get Charles Voorhis to donate the Boys School after Jerry Voorhis
was elected to Congress.”

The similarities run deep today between both the Cal Poly of
today and the past as well as the nation.

Each has started with a learn by doing philosophy, a pragmatic
approach was taken towards the second World War and the war on
education which saw tumultuous changes throughout the 60’s and

Cal Poly voted not to rename Building 1 after McPhee, using a
secret ballot to decide that Building 1 would keep its namesake for
the time being.

Rumors circulated that it was McPhee’s stance towards women in
education that may have cost him the proud honor.

“It breaks my heart to see Building 1 not renamed after Julian
McPhee,” said House, who became a full-time faculty member from

House’s career saw the introduction of women to the classroom,
Dorothy McNeil in 1957 and poet Virginia Adair later that same
year. Another 327 women would enroll at Cal Poly in 1961.

Later in the century Cal Poly flexed to accommodate more majors
than ever before.

Suddenly a campus that was created as a boy’s school, which
graduated its first class with 57 agricultural majors, was
constructing arts buildings.

House acknowledged the growth of Cal Poly from its humbling
beginnings as a vocational school to its new advancements, such as
the science laboratory building.

“I can say without a doubt or shame in my voice that it brings a
tear to my eye to see where students are starting their educations
now when I think of what we had,” said House.

As of September 2006 there were 20,510 students enrolled at Cal
Poly Pomona and 18,500 students enrolled at Cal Poly San Luis

Josh Manly can be reached by e-mail at or by phone at (909) 869-3747.

Cal Polys

Cal Polys’ Dawning Steps

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