In memoriam: Willard B. Rising

January 14, 2023

Undated portrait Willard B. Rising. Collection Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley.Willard B. Rising

Summary of Prof. Rising's career from Appletons’ Cyclopaedia of American Biography

Willard Bradley Rising, chemist, b. 26 sept 1839, Meckleenburg, New York. D. 9 Feb 1910, Berkeley, CA. Lived at 2203 Bancroft, Berkeley, CA (now the edge of the University on Bancroft.) Wife Frances; Children: Ruth, Alice, and Lawrence.

He was graduated at Hamilton College in 1864, and at the University of Michigan as a mining engineer in 1867. After a short experience as instructor in the Chemical laboratory in Ann Arbor, he was called in 1867 to the Chair of Natural Science in the University of California, where he remained for two years.

Prof. Rising then spent some time at the University of Heidelberg, where in 1871 he received the degree of Ph.D. and at the University of Berlin, where he made a specialty of chemistry under the direction of August W. Van Hofmann. On his return in 1872 he was appointed professor of chemistry in the University of California, and he has since filled that chair. For several years he was consulting analyst to the state viticultural commission, and was entrusted with important studies connected with the chemistry of wine. In 1885 he was appointed State Analyst of California, with charge of the examination of various food-products. [In 1896 he became Dean of the College of Chemistry.]

Prof. Rising is a member of the Chemical Society of Berlin, and of similar societies in this country. His writings include accounts of original investigations in scientific journals, and, in addition to his official reports, he has published the results of his special studies prepared at the instance of the state board of health and other state bodies.

These commemorative addresses were delivered in Hearst Hall on March 3, 1910. 1

John Maxwell Stillman's memorial address

It was my privilege to be a pupil of Professor Rising when, in 1872, he first began the teaching of Chemistry in the University of California. A year or so later, with Mr. Christy, now Professor of Mining, and Mr. Slate, now Professor of Physics in the University, I became a student assistant in the chemical laboratory; still later I was appointed Instructor in the Department. (Stillman went go on to found the chemistry department at Stanford.)

For ten years I was brought into closest relations with Professor Rising. Those years founded a friendship only terminated by his death. I am grateful for this opportunity to join in this tribute of respect to his memory, and I am glad also to present the sympathy of my associates in the Chemistry Department of Stanford University, who always found in Professor Rising that spirit of courtesy and friendly cooperation which has helped to make the members of the two departments almost as one family.

To the chemistry students of those early years of the University, Professor Rising came with a training of unusual breadtht and thoroughness, bringing with him the inspiration derived from his years of study with the great scientists, Hofmann and Bunsen (Germany). He opened to our vision higher ideals of scholarship and further goals of endeavor than we had yet known. For my own part, it was to this that I owe the determination of my own vocation, and it was with his encouragement and the cordial support of President Gilman (for who Gilman Hall was named) that I was granted a leave of absence to continue my preparation in the German universities.

Willard B. Rising, first dean of the College, in South Hall chemistry lab approx 1880

Rising in the first chemistry lab on campus in South Hall. Photo approx 1880. Collection Bancroft Library.

Looking back across the years, with the perspective that comes frorm experience, I can realize far better than I could then how much we were indebted to Professor Rising. He was teacher and counsellor and companion. He gave himself, his time, and his sympathetic consideration freely and generously to us. Greater than his influence in lecture or classroom was his influence on the individual in arousing his ambitions and in the encouragement of high standards of preparation. he knew the technical literature of his subject, and he showed us how to use it. His own excellent perparation and breadth of knowledge did not permit us to be satisfied with superficial or inadequate equipment. Modest and gentle in manner, his inexhaustible patience, courtesy, and friendliness must have contributed in no unimportant meausre to form in his students ideals of scholarship and of character.

It pleases me to believe that the present Dean of the College of Chemistry (Edmond C. O'Neill) owes to the example of his departed chief much of that friendly and devoted interest in his students that was given him the secure place he holds in their affection.

But in emphasizing the service of Professor Rising as a teacher, we must not forget his services in other directions. He came to the University just on the eve of that great campaign conducted by President Gilman and his co-workers to make sure the future of the University, to place it beyond the influence of partisan politics, to establish high standards of scholarship, to ensure it the material support necessary for its healthy development. To accomplish this, personal ambitions had to be opposed, public prejudice and apathy overcome, and influential friends made, -- and kept. Some of those here present remember and took part in the struggles and anxieties and discouragements of that Sturm und Drang period of the University. It was a time that called for the constant vigilance, the untiring labor, and the sacrafice of many other interests, of all those who realized the importance of the issues at stake.

How much of the time and energy of his most vigorous years, which Professor Rising might more congenially have given to his laboratory and study, was absorbed in the defensive and constructive work of the University, cannot be measured in physical units; but others, as well as I, know how earnestly he labored in seconding the efforts of President Gilman, and in making friends for the University and for its ideals. Such times were not the most favorable to the hightest fruitage of productive scholarship; but the sacrifices which these men made and the work they did were necessary to prepare the soil which was to bring forth such abundant harvest as we see in the University of today.

Well, then, may we stop for a little while the wheels of this great University, that we may show our appreciation of the services of one of its pioneers, who through forty years of service labored in its interest, and who in the ripeness of years lived to see the fruition of his labors; who has been a wise counsellor, a faithful teacher, and to his fellow citizens, everywhere and in all his relations, a good and upright and gentle man. And to all who held him near and dear these things shall be their abiding consolation.

Bernard Moses2 memorial address

It is fitting that we who live should mark the passing of those who die. When the career of a comrade is finished, it is for us who survive to contemplate not a goal attained, but a course run. For the individual man, life is only a running. The expected goal, the satisfaction which he seeks, is still, when he falls, beyond his reach in the elusive future. Whatever beneficent results proceed from his efforts are achieved not for himself, but for the society that lies within the circle of his influence.

The life of Professor Willard Bradley Rising derives part of its significance from the fact that he was one of the little group of professors gathered here in the early years of the University. The service which these men rendered is not to be measured by their strictly scientific or literary achievements. Their most important work was to give the University practical form and to determine its intellectual character. Their mature activity belongs to the most critical years of California's education history; years when there was need of organized effort to perpetuate here the finer traits of civilization, and to provide for the youth born in this State influences and opportunities like those offered by the older communities from which their fathers had come. These early professors had all been educated under a system that laid stress on the humanities and encouraged the cultivation of the human spirit as well as the acquisition of knowledge. They were, therefore, men with common intellectual sympathies; and whether called to establish instruction in Agriculture, Physics, Geology, Chemistry, or Literature, they were inspired by a common ideal, and the worked unselfishly and in harmony toward the realization of this ideal.

If the products of original investigation in the early years were not abundant, an adequate reason may be found in the lack of facilities for research, the heavy burden of classroom instruction, and in the absorbing task of internal organization. Yet in spite of the obstacles in the way of realizing their personal ambitions as scholars and investigators, the professors of the first decade turned to their great undertaking with peculiar interest.

I recall distinctly the occasion in Berlin when Professor Rising received the notification of his election to the Professorship of Chemistry. He had just come up from Heidelberg, where he had received the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, and where he had been long and intimately associated with the distinguished chemist, Bunsen. We were a little company of students, who were accustomed to dine together after the work of the day was done. Of these, one was the late Professor Seymour, of Yale; another has been for many years the Professor of Greek in the University of Michigan; and still another was lately the president of Rutgers College. After he had been informed of his election, Professor Rising's thoughts were no longer with us. We were free from responsibilities, and our conversation ranged the universe of things and ideas. But every now and then Rising would call us back to listen to remarks about his plans for a laboratory, the work he expected to do, or the University as it rose before his imagination. He had already been in California, and the spell of Arcadia was over him.

With his return to this state, the problem of his career was solved. he had found the work he wished; and his domestic life, then happily begun, was destined to be continued in unbroken affection until the end. The gentleness and consideration which he was accustomed to manifest toward his associates and friends was displayed in its most agreeable form among the members of his own household. Here the old-fashioned virtues prevailed, but not the old-fashioned severity. Few men have ever lived and worked for the welfare of their families with such unselfishness as he displayed from the beginning to the end, and few have found equal joy in their devotion to the interests of others.

In the attention which the professors gave to the work of organizing and directing the internal affairs of the University in the early years, there was a danger that their interest and their efficiency in scholarly pursuits would decline; a danger to which any scholar is liable who turns his mind to the construction of rules and the administrative details of an institution of learning. When a university selects a scholar for its president, scholarship makes an inevitable sacrifice; but when, in addition to this, professors have their time and thought absorbed in the details of administration, the university, to the extent that this is done, all’s short of its high purpose, and the professors become subordinate and sterile parts of a machine that runs for the sake of running.

It is only the rare mind that can turn back successfully to strictly scientific and literary work from a long excursion in the field of practical details. In the attempt to do this, one is often found neglecting all details of a practical character without being able completely to reassume his former attitude with reference to scientific research and exposition. This was essentially the position in which Professor Rising found himself in the later years of his activity. If some of his colleagues showed less positive effects of their experiences, it was largely because either by nature or by conscious determination they were able to prevent administrative detail from taking serious hold on their minds.

But the feature of Professor Rising’s life which especially interested those who knew him well was his character.

I knew him intimately for many years, and in all this period no shadow of a suspicion ever passed over my mind concerning his absolute sincerity and conscientiousness in all his relations with his fellowmen. His honesty was so thoroughgoing that he was apparently never conscious of two possible ways to of acting with respect to any question that involved a moral consideration. This trait with him was fundamental. He surrendered himself of the guidance of his conscience without seeking to know whether there might not be some other way. His moral force was sufficient to have made him especially conspicuous but for the fact that he lacked the aggressiveness needed to bring his qualities into prominence and make them appreciated as they deserved to be. But if this genuine modesty prevented him from appearing in an aggressive attitude – precented the full realization of his power in his public relations – it is not possible to comment on so excellent a virtue except with sentiments of admiration.

One of our friend’s most noteworthy characteristics was his loyalty. But this loyalty is not to be confounded with that show of universal friendliness which makes no discrimination. Between man and man. The constitutionally genial person who greets everybody with the same appearance of cordiality is seldom moved to make great sacrifices for anybody. The loyalty of which I speak is that which leads one to be profoundly interested in those things that interest his friends. It is not a state of personal receptivity, but a disposition to be of service. Such loyalty constitutes one of the elements of our ideal of human character. It attracts us; we rejoice when we discover it in a friend; we regard it as a response to one of our noblest sentiments; and we hail it as the basis of those personal relations between others and ourselves that make life worth the living.

But there was a feature of his character which carried him beyond the circle of his family, beyond his work on behalf of the University, and beyond the association of his intimate friends. This was his patriotism, his love of country, which made itself manifest particularly in a strong desire for the progress and civic righteousness of the community in which he lived. The growth of this community, the development of its institutions, and the thought that it might be maintained as a clean and well-governed city, were real sources of satisfaction in his latest years. He wished the town, as well as the University, to be a place characterized by clean living, and to be known everywhere for its public virtues. His sentiments on this subject were a phase of his genuine and positive patriotism.

The closing of Professor Rising’s career is not merely the ending of a life spent almost entirely in the service of the University; the event is, in truth, a feature of the transition from an earlier to a later generation of university men. In the beginning this University had no recognized position in the State; and the earlier generation of professors had imposed upon them the task of giving the institution standing not only in the state, but also in the country. Public schools of various grades, and other organization for instruction, were already established; and the University, appearing late on the scene came among them with pretensions to superiority. This had the very natural effect of provoking jealousy and hostility. Some heads of secondary schools affirmed there was no need of instruction higher than that over which they presided. The University had, therefore, not only to pretend to superiority, but also to make its superiority known to all the world. There was apparently only one way by which this could be done, and the doubters convinced: that was by making the instruction of such a character that it would justify the highest pretensions. The professors were, consequently, moved by their circumstances, both in season and out o season, to lay stress on intellectual effort, and to establish a regime of severe requirements. Their labors were effective. The University passed from them to the second generation, bearing an enviable reputation, and rejoicing in intellectual effort, and to establish a regime of severe requirements. Their labors were effective. The University passed from them to the second generation, bearing an enviable reputation, and rejoicing in the loyal support of a great commonwealth. Among those who contributed to this result will always be mentioned with high regard the name of him whose life and death we commemorate today.

We turn from this brief and solemn ceremony like soldiers who have halted on the march to take leave of a comrade fallen by the way. And no, as the closing expressions of our loss are uttered, we prepare to take our places once more in line and continue he journey forward, There is a vacancy in the ranks; and s we move on, we leave behind the mortal part of our comrade; but his spirit is with the advancing hose. Others will fall from time to time, and be left behind; but we who survive will receive their heritage, and carry it on to the latest generation.

1 Stillwell, Moses, and O'Neill;  The University of California Chronicle, Volume 12, Issues 2-4; pages 119 - 131, April, 1910, University Press, Berkeley,

2.The History of Economic Thought:  Bernard Moses 1846-1931 (