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Oliver C. Lester Papers

Identifier: COU:981

Scope and Contents

Lester’s papers are arranged into seven sections as follows. The majority of the relates to his university years.

I. BIBLIOGRAPHY A list of Lester’s publications and speeches. II. CLIPPINGS Newspaper articles about Lester. III. CORRESPONDENCE 1946-1951 letters to Ms. Kaufman. IV. OBITUARIES Obituaries from various sources. V. SPEECHES/WRITINGS Transcripts and press releases of Lester’s speeches, as well as some of his publications. VI. TRIP TO EUROPE Diaries and other papers from Lester’s 1929-1930 tour of Californian and European colleges. VII. OTHER Correspondence Xeroxes and brief biological information.


  • 1937 - 1951

Biographical Note

Oliver Clarence Lester was born on November 3rd, 1873 in Morris County, Kansas, to parents John Augustus and Mary Virginia Lester.

In 1897, Lester received his BA in Latin and Greek classics from Central College, Fayette, Missouri. Also at Central College, he gained a Master’s degree (1898), in the same field. Then he began studying physics and earned a second Master’s degree in 1902 and his Doctorate in 1904, both from Yale University.

From 1897-1898 he worked as a professor of Latin and Greek at Hendrix College, Conway, Arkansas. He then returned to Central College as an assistant professor of Latin and Greek from 1898 to 1901. After 1901, he came back to Yale, where he remained until 1907 in several roles: assistant in physics, Loomis fellow in physics, and instructor. In 1905, he was given a teaching post at the Sheffield School of Science at Yale. In 1907, Lester was appointed the lone physics professor and head of the department at the University of Colorado.

While at the University of Colorado, Lester served in several prominent professorial and administrative roles. Simultaneous with his post as head of the physics department (1907-1935), he held appointments as Dean of the Graduate School (starting in 1919) and as the first Vice President of CU (starting in 1931). The graduate school grew “by leaps and bounds” under his guidance.

Having “retired” from the University of Colorado prior to the World War II, Lester then taught at the University of Indiana to help cover the teaching vacancies of physics instructors called to war duty. He was recalled from “retirement” to the University of Colorado to perform duties as professor and administrator from 1943 until his death in 1951.

In addition to his academic responsibilities, Lester worked as a physicist for the Colorado State Geological Survey (1914-1918), director of research for Carnatite Products Co (1919-1922), consultant in geophysics for Midwest Refining CO. (1925-30), and General Petroleum Co. (1926-28). Additionally, he served in World War I from 1918-1919.

Lester published on a wide range of topics, with articles on the radioactivity of mineral springs, absorption spectra, and graduate school theory. He also authored The Integrals of Mechanics, a short text introducing theoretical mechanics.

Professor Lester joined and held posts in a number of academic, scientific and professional organizations. From 1933 to 1934, Lester served as President of the Southwestern and Rocky Mountain division of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He served as president for the Colorado-Wyoming Academy of Science from 1929-30. He was a fellow in the American Academy of Science, the American Physics Society, the American Association Science Workers, and the American Geological Society, as well as a member in the American Society of Engineering Education, the American Geophysical Union, the Colorado-Wyoming Academy of Science, the American Association of Physics Teachers, Colorado State Historical Society, Sigma Xi, Sigma Nu, Tau Beta Pi, Alpha Chi Sigma, Sigma Pi Sigma, Boulder Country Club, Chamber of Commerce, and the Boulder Rotary Club.

In 1897 he married Pynk Johnson. They had three children, Katherine, Oliver Clarence Jr., and John, all of whom graduated from the University of Colorado.

In 1941, Colorado College presented him with an honorary LL.D. The University of Colorado established a scholarship fund in his name, immediately following his death in 1951. The Math/Physics Library at CU was named after him in 1972, to commemorate his service to the University and to science.

Lester died unexpectedly in 1951 from a heart attack. He was survived by his three children; his wife had passed away in 1932.


.5 linear feet (1 box)

Language of Materials



O.C. Lester, born in 1873 in Kansas, came to the University of Colorado as a physics professor in 1907. He became Dean of the Graduate School in 1919 and Vice-President of the University in 1931. Lester attempted to retire several times, and he died September 1951, revered as the "elder statesman" of the University. The collection includes 10 handwritten letters to Miss Kaufman, a former student.








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Repository Details

Part of the University of Colorado Boulder Libraries, Special Collections & Archives Repository

1720 Pleasant Street
184 UCB
Boulder Colorado 80503 United States