Stanford University News Service



CONTACT: Stanford University News Service (650) 723-2558

Long-time calculus professor Harold Bacon dies at 85

STANFORD -- Harold Maile Bacon, an elder statesmen of the Stanford faculty who taught calculus to generations of Stanford undergraduates during a career than spanned more than four decades, died of cancer Saturday, Aug. 22, at tanford Hospital. He was 85.

Bacon was widely recognized on campus as the owner of the white colonial-style Row house with the rose-lined driveway.

For many years, Bacon directed the undergraduate program in mathematics, according to Halsey Royden, who took classes from Bacon during his student days and later became a faculty colleague.

To students and fellow faculty members, Bacon was "the embodiment of Stanford ways and history," Royden said. At the time he retired, Bacon, through his calculus classes, probably had taught "more engineering and science underg raduates than anyone else in the history of the university," Royden said.

A friendly, soft-spoken, impeccably dressed gentleman, Bacon joined the mathematics department as a teaching fellow in 1930. The following year he was named acting instructor, and in 1936 he became an assistant professor. His c areer progressed steadily until, as full professor, he reached mandatory retirement age in 1972. He continued to teach part-time until 1980.

In 1965, Bacon was named recipient of the Dinkelspiel Award for outstanding service to undergraduate education.

The Class of 1971 selected Bacon as one of its three favorite professors.

In his speech to the class, which experienced some of the greatest turmoil in Stanford history, Bacon said, "If we are going to solve any of the horrendous problems of modern civilization, we cannot be content with knowing only what happened last year, or the year before, or even in the last dozen years.

"We must know the roots of our problems - what has gone before," he said. "A few weeks' reading about contemporary events, with little attempt to set them against a background of history, is not enough."

He advised the graduating seniors to "continue to study and learn something thoroughly. Then you can go farther and create. Believe in what you are doing. It is relevant to you as well as to the world."

Mathematics career

Bacon earned three math degrees at Stanford. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1928, and earned his master's degree the following year. He then spent one year working as an actuary for an insurance company. In 1930, the math depar tment chairman offered him a teaching fellowship and the chance to start work on a doctorate.

"That changed my ideas about becoming an actuary, which I had already discovered was not for me," Bacon once said in an interview. He completed his doctorate in 1933.

From the beginning, Bacon taught the basic calculus series for engineering and science students.

"By rights, I ought to get bored teaching [it] every year," he once told an interviewer. Instead, he always tried to introduce something new in his presentation.

Bacon also taught junior- and senior-level geometry courses, and was in charge of undergraduate student affairs for the department. He was responsible for a program that offered a master of arts degree in teaching mathematics, a cooperative venture with the School of Education.

From 1955 until 1974, he directed a series of institutes on campus for high school and college teachers of mathematics, and in the mid-1960s, he directed summer institutes in Switzerland supported by the National Science Founda tion for teachers of American students in Europe.

Bacon served two terms on the board of governors of the Mathematical Association of America. In 1988, the association named him first recipient of its Certificate of Meritorious Service for leadership and service to its Norther n California section. Bacon was active in numerous other professional groups.

He was author of Differential and Integral Calculus and co-author with Chester G. Jaeger of Introductory College Mathematics.

Bacon served on many university committees during his long career, including the Advisory Board and the Executive Committee of the Academic Council. He also served for four years on the Faculty Senate after its creation in 1968 . When he retired in 1972, the senate adopted a special resolution expressing its appreciation for Bacon's "many years of effective service in behalf of faculty governance."

A link to Stanford's past

Born Jan. 13, 1907, in Los Angeles, Bacon was an ill 6-month-old child when he first visited the campus house he would occupy for more than 60 years.

Harriet Dunn, a cousin of Harold Bacon's father, Robert, and owner of the distinctive house, suggested that the child be brought to Stanford from Southern California for examination by Dr. Ray Lyman Wilbur, who lived nearby on the site now occupied by Dinkelspiel Auditorium. (Wilbur, who prescribed medicine and a better diet for young Bacon, later became the university's third president.)

In the 1920s, Harold Bacon enrolled at Stanford, following in the footsteps of his father, who graduated in 1902. Bacon lived in the two-story, six-bedroom house during part of his undergraduate years, then moved in permanently , at the invitation of Harriet Dunn, when he returned in 1930 to teach.

In 1946, Rosamond Clarke, '30, came to the house when she married the math professor. Harriet Dunn died a month later, leaving the house and renewable land-lease to the Bacons. Jane Stanford had given permission for Mrs. Dunn a nd her husband, Orrin, to build the colonial-revival house in 1899 as recompense for Harriet Dunn's earlier work building and operating a campus boarding house.

Originally located on the outskirts of campus, the Ionic-columned, green-trimmed house eventually was surrounded by student residences. Both Bacons always insisted that noisy parties at the Beta Theta Pi fraternity next door we re not bothersome. Party givers usually point their giant speakers away from the Dunn-Bacon house, and besides, "our bedroom is at the back of the house," Harold Bacon once said.

Until his recent decline in health, Bacon arose every morning to raise the Stars and Stripes on the flagpole his wife rescued for their garden when the university demolished the old sandstone campus post office in the early 196 0s.

Another frequent sight has been the couple tending the 75 rose bushes - some as old as 50 years - that line the semicircular driveway in front of the house.


In addition to his wife, Bacon is survived by his son, Charles Bacon and daughter-in-law, Cynthia Dusel-Bacon, of Menlo Park, both of whom are geologists at the U.S. Geological Survey. Also surviving is a grandson, Ian.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 27, at St. Bede's Episcopal Church, 2650 Sand Hill Road, Menlo Park. The Rev. Richard Ford will officiate. A reception will follow.

A university service is being planned for early fall quarter, Royden said.

The family prefers contributions to the general gift fund of Stanford's mathematics department. The gifts, which will be used to further undergraduate teaching, may be directed to the Office of Development, 301 Encina Hall, Sta nford, CA 94305-6076.



This is an archived release.

This release is not available in any other form. Images mentioned in this release are not available online.
Stanford News Service has an extensive library of images, some of which may be available to you online. Direct your request by EMail to

© Stanford University. All Rights Reserved. Stanford, CA 94305. (650) 723-2300.