The Roaring ‘20s: New name and focus for business school

The 1920s were a pivotal time for the fledgling School of Commerce and Finance. The deans leading the school during this era influenced the direction and focus of the business school for years to come.

As the first World War was nearing its end, Washington University was introducing a business school: the School of Commerce and Finance. William Gephart, the school’s founder, served as its first dean until 1921 when, according to Student Life, “He was elected a vice-president of the Third National Bank,” on May 2, 1919.

Dean Leverett Lyons

Dean Leverett Lyons

Leverett Lyon

Dean Gephart was succeeded by Dr. Leverett Lyon, an economist, who served as dean until 1925. During this period, the school’s first building, Duncker Hall, was constructed. Although WashU broke ground for Duncker in 1919, construction was not completed until 1924. “The delay was a result of post-war inflation which had drastically increased labor and materials costs,” according to documents in the WUSTL Archives.
Dean Lyon resigned to join the faculty of Robert S. Brookings’ new school that would prepare students for public service: the Graduate School of Economics and Government. The vision for the school’s three-year program included one year at the School of Commerce and Finance at Washington University in St. Louis, followed by two years in Washington, DC. Due to a restriction in WashU’s charter that limited University activity to the state of Missouri, Brookings’ plan for the graduate school was never realized. Instead, the idea for the school was merged with two other institutes Brookings had founded in the nation’s capital to become the Brookings Institution.

Dean Isador Loeb in 1933

Dean Isador Loeb in 1933

Isador Loeb

WashU Chancellor Herbert S. Hadley was an advocate of public service and wanted to maintain the connection to Brookings in Washington, DC. This likely influenced his choice for the next dean of the School of Commerce and Finance—as well as the school’s name. In 1925, Isador Loeb, acting president of the University of Missouri, was named dean. Loeb was a well-known constitutional lawyer, a skilled political scientist, and an expert on tax laws and Missouri history. With the new dean and a new emphasis on public service, the school was renamed The School of Business and Public Administration.

Loeb introduced bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in public administration to the curriculum at WashU, which had previously offered only BS and MS degrees in business administration.

Dean Loeb saw business administration as “a common art that could be applied to organizations as varied as hospitals and government,” according to a history of the school written in 1967. The book went on to describe Loeb as “a good card player with a quick sense of humor and an articulate spokesman for social and economic reform.”

In 1929, when the business school had 200 students enrolled and 100 candidates for degrees, a yearbook essay on the School of Business and Public Administration read:

“The man with business college education is receiving recognition of a new character. He is succeeding where the so-called ‘practical’ man is failing. After considering this situation and the fact that there are more openings for business men than for any other line of workers, the wonderful scope and possibilities of this school in the future will be seen.”

Dean Loeb, who retired in 1940 after serving longer than the previous two deans, did not retire from public life. Archival documents describe Loeb’s post-deanship career this way, “He accepted the grueling job of the Office of Price Administration (OPA) price administrator for the St. Louis area, served as a special investigator for the National War Labor Board, and became involved in the drive for a new state constitutional convention. He died in 1954 at age 85.”

Sources: “Fifty Years in Business,” by George Monaghan, Washington Magazine, 1967; Washington University in St. Louis, A History, Ralph E. Morrow, 1996; The Hatchett, Washington University yearbook, 1929; WUSTL Archives

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