This Week in Williams History: Malaria drugs, ‘manly toiletries’ and Ralph Nader

Kiara Royer

“This Week in Williams History” is a column dedicated to looking back at memorable moments in the College’s past through articles in the Record. This week in history, a Williams alum announced a treatment for malaria, two students (one of whom would gain infamy for his role in Watergate) sold “exotic perfumes” and Ralph Nader spoke in Chapin Hall.

Nov. 22, 1950: ‘Williams Grad Develops New Drug for Malaria Treatment’

In November 1950, the Record reported on the work of Dr. Robert C. Elderfield ’26, who had just announced the effective synthesis of primaquine, a curative agent for malaria. 

At the College, Elderfield had played an active role in the Science Club and lettered in varsity basketball three times. After receiving his doctorate degree from M.I.T., Elderfield taught chemistry at Colby College while taking part in an association with the Rockefeller Institute of Medical Research.

A professor of chemistry at Columbia at the time of the 1950 Record article, Elderfield had experimented with primaquine since 1945. During World War II, the National Research Council had requested Elderfield to continue the work of studies that had previously ended, as American forces stationed on islands in the Pacific struggled with prevalent cases of malaria.

Primaquine, a chemical derived from corn cobs and coal-tar products, had proved to be particularly effective in treating malaria relapse cases. The successful synthesis of the drug was the culmination of effort by four nations to combat malaria during the mid-20th century. The Record reported that even though this latest drug surpassed other studies and medications in effectiveness, Elderfield hoped that superior methods would be developed in the future. 

Nov. 22, 1957: ‘Ambitious Students Sell Exotic Perfume’

Student salesmen Jeb Magruder ’58 and Dave Stoner ’59 collaborated to “bring the blessings of exotic perfumes, colognes and manly toiletries to Williams,” the Record reported in November 1957. The two students had been making regular trips throughout the College’s dorms and houses in an attempt to sell their products, one of which was described as “part flame, part flower, entirely emotional!”

By selling their products on campus and gaining experience as salesmen, Magruder and Stoner hoped to land coveted summer jobs at the Vick Chemical Company, which would allow them to learn about the work that happens behind the scenes in advertising, sales, production and promotion.

Magruder, at least, did end up getting a summer job at the Vick Chemical Company. After serving as president of two apparently promising cosmetic companies in California, he switched his focus from business to politics, working as a deputy to Herbert G. Klein, President Richard Nixon’s director of communications. 

Magruder would go on to serve as deputy director of the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP) during Nixon’s re-election campaign in 1972 and would later serve seven months in prison for his involvement in the Watergate scandal.

Nov. 22, 1988: ‘Nader speaks on pitfalls of corporate power’

In November 1988, consumer activist (and future presidential candidate) Ralph Nader spoke at a standing-room-only crowd in Chapin Hall about his latest book, The Big Boys: Power and Position in Corporate America, and answered questions from the student body from 7:30 p.m. until 1 a.m. In his speech, Nader discussed the evolution of popular movements and government intervention against corporate power throughout the 20th century.

“The principal source of power in our country…[is] corporate power,” Nader said, adding that the Ronald Reagan administration had rebelled against the country experiencing an increasing centralization of power.

Not taking the opportunity to fight against Reagan’s presidential victory was one of Nader’s biggest regrets. “He has set this country back so far,” Nader said. “He has weakened this country in some basic economic, environmental and community areas. Historians will spend a generation trying to quantify and cover it.”

Nader stressed the importance of Americans taking a stand for what they believe in. “Long ago I realized that nothing is more frustrating than doing nothing,” he said. “[This is] a statement that doesn’t quite attain the level of metaphysics but is nevertheless very operational. It is a vaccine against discouragement, completely … [The greatest danger] is the feeling of millions of Americans that civic action is not worth their while.”