A Day in the Life of Percy Julian: His Years at DePauw
In 1916 less than five percent of all Americans graduated from college. The rate was even lower for African Americans. So when the train carrying Percy Julian pulled into Greencastle, Indiana, in the fall of 1916, and Julian began his studies at DePauw University, he was part of two minorities. Julian quickly found that the discrimination he knew in the South also existed in Indiana. Unable to find college housing, he found an attic room at the nearby Sigma Chi fraternity and had to work as a waiter in the fraternity dining room to pay the rent.
He found himself “hopelessly behind” the other students academically. For his first two years at DePauw Julian had to take remedial high school courses at DePauw’s Ashbury Academy in addition to his regular college courses. His chemistry courses included a general chemistry course and lab, qualitative analysis, quantitative analysis, industrial chemistry, and physical chemistry. Organic chemistry became a full year course in 1915, and it was this course that Julian enjoyed the most. He could often be found in Minshall Laboratory, either working in the one of the labs, in the new balance room, or in the library, where Julian absorbed as much chemistry as he could. The days were long. It was not unusual for Julian to be found studying at 3:00 a.m. most nights.
On top of his studies, he had to work to earn spending money. Shoveling coal, cleaning, and waiting tables were among the jobs he held. Julian did not have a great many friends. Kenneth Hogate and David Lillienthal were two notable exceptions. Hogate later became editor of the Wall Street Journal, and Lillienthal served on the Atomic Energy Commission. In 1918 Julian’s parents moved the entire family to Greencastle, where they lived in a rented house.
The four years of hard work paid off for Julian. He graduated at the top of his class in 1920 with a degree in chemistry.