For several weeks now, we’ve been plowing through documents released by the Food and Drug Administration, which investigated L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology for a 1963 raid of the Washington DC “Founding Church,” and then continued to gather information during 8 years of intense litigation over health claims made by Scientology for its “E-meter.”
We have found that FDA inspectors looked into every aspect of Hubbard’s life, and in these new documents, we learn that in 1963 they dug up a pretty complete set of Hubbard’s school records. Longtime Scientology watchers know that transcripts of Hubbard’s brief college career have been online for many years. But now, for the first time, we have his high school grades.
And also for the first time, a small mystery about Hubbard’s school years has been solved.
In the great biographical books about Hubbard — Russell Miller’s 1987 book, Bare-Faced Messiah, and Jon Atack’s 1990 volume, A Piece of Blue Sky — there’s agreement that Hubbard suddenly left Helena High School in Montana near the end of his junior year. But why, exactly, was something that even Miller could never be sure of.
Now we have a more definitive answer for that, and a lot more. Let’s dig in!
According to Miller’s fine book (which was republished last year), in 1924 Hubbard moved with his father, Navy Lieutenant Harry Hubbard, and his mother, Ledora May (Waterbury) Hubbard, from Washington DC to Bremerton, Washington. Ron then started the eighth grade at Union High School in Bremerton, so in the academic year 1925-1926, he was a high school freshman.
FDA inspector George D. Tilroe managed to track down just a little about Hubbard’s time at Union High, and found just two course results there: In Spanish II, Hubbard managed to get two ‘D’ grades, and in physical geography a ‘B.’
In the summer of 1926, the Hubbards moved across the Puget Sound to Seattle, and Ron started his sophomore year at Queen Anne High School that fall. He spent just one academic year there, and Tilroe obtained these grades for him:
Advanced algebra II: C
Commercial geography: C
Elementary algebra I: grades D & C
English I: D
English II: C
French I: C
Spanish I: C
World history II: C
In April 1927, Lt. Harry Hubbard was reassigned to Guam. Several weeks later, Ron and his mother May went by ship to Hawaii, Japan, China, the Philippines, and eventually Guam. After he got back, Ron went to Helena, Montana, where his mother’s family lived, and in September he enrolled at Helena High School for what should have been his junior year. (According to what the FDA found, however, he was enrolled on September 6, 1927 as a “sophomore 2.”)
From Bare-Faced Messiah…
At school, he managed to get himself appointed to the editorial staff of The Nugget, Helena High’s bi-monthly newspaper. He would naturally have preferred to have been editor-in-chief, but as a newcomer he had to be satisfied with jokes editor, a position he held jointly with Ellen Galusha. He was photographed with the rest of the editorial staff for the year book, standing in the middle of the group on the steps of the school wearing a suit and a bow tie, eschewing the faintly raffish literary style affected by his colleagues.
Miller relates how that winter was one of Montana’s worst in memory, and there was still snow on the ground when, on May 4, 1928, there was an annual local event, the Vigilante Day Parade, that Ron attended dressed as a pirate. Then, days later, he disappeared, Miller writes….
When he did not show up for school on Monday 14 May, there were excited rumours in the junior year that he had been expelled. ‘Certainly we believed that he had left in a hurry, under something of a cloud,’ said Gorham Roberts. ‘The story was that he had got mad at a teacher and put his butt into a waste-paper basket. Old A.J. Roberts, the principal, was a German from Heidelberg and a strict disciplinarian. Ron knew that he would never put up with such behaviour, so he didn’t trouble to come back.’
Aunt Marnie explained it differently: ‘He just got itchy feet. He wanted to see something new. He was an adventurer at heart. The wanderlust was in him and he couldn’t see himself staying in a little town like Helena when there was adventure ahead. He went off to Seattle to stay with my sister Midgie and her husband Bob. They tried to talk him into staying with them, but he went south, hopped a ship and worked his way back to Guam.’
Whatever the truth, Ron never returned to Helena High.
Miller says that Hubbard’s own version, in his journals, was that coming home from the parade someone had thrown a baseball at him, hitting him on the head. He stopped to confront the perpetrator, and ended up breaking his hand. “My hand was reset four times and life lost its joy. I sold the Ford and went West…” Hubbard wrote.
So which was it? Was he expelled, did he punch out a teacher, did he get “itchy feet,” or had life “lost its joy?” Now, after nearly 87 years, we finally have the answer to this mystery: Helena High School flunked Hubbard on May 11, a week after the parade.
He did, apparently, break his hand on the day of the parade, and then said he couldn’t take his final exams. But the FDA record is unequivocal: “He was dropped May 11, 1928,” the report says, and that language is repeated several times.
Here, for the first time, are Hubbard’s Helena High School grades, as gathered by the FDA in 1963…
And also, from the FDA file: “Another letter in this file indicates that Mr. Hubbard was dropped from Helena High School, Helena, Montana, on May 11, 1928 due to failure of French, Spanish, geometry and physics.”
Miller writes that Hubbard then caught a train west, and eventually sailed to Guam again to join his parents. Over the next year, his mother tutored him in several subjects, and Ron took an exam to get into the Naval Academy, which had been his father’s ardent dream.
The FDA investigation managed to track down the scores of Ron’s failed test. “Mr. Hubbard failed to pass regular mental examination for midshipman, 17 April 1929, making the following marks: geometry 1.2, algebra 0.0, English 3.2, U.S. History, 2.5, ancient history 2.5, physics 1.8 (range 4 – 0 with 2.5 required)”
Then, Lt. Hubbard was reassigned again. The family returned briefly to Helena in August 1929, but then went to Harry’s next assignment in Washington DC.
Harry still hoped his son could get into the Naval Academy, so that fall he enrolled Ron in the Swavely Preparatory School in Manassas, Virginia. But those plans soon soured.
According to FDA documents, Hubbard had problems with his vision. “During the first semester at Swavely’s he developed eye strain and was taken to the Washington Hospital. His condition was apparently diagnosed as Myoptic error, and this condition prevented his entry into the U.S. Naval Academy.”
Another school, another disappointment. But Harry was still plotting, hoping to get Ron into George Washington University. As Miller tells us…
While Ron was happily immersed in school life at Swavely, his father was in frequent contact with the Registrar at George Washington University to try and find a way of getting his son accepted as an undergraduate. Lieutenant Hubbard was advised that if Ron could earn sufficient credits at a recognized school — Woodward School for Boys, a YMCA ‘crammer’ in Washington DC, was mentioned — he would not be required to sit the College Entrance Examination for the university. Accordingly, Ron was enrolled at Woodward in February 1930.
The FDA inspectors found that Ron had actually enrolled at Woodward a little earlier, January 30, 1930, and they managed to track down Ron’s grades there…
During his attendance at the school he took courses in English, Spanish, elementary algebra, intermediate algebra, advanced algebra, plane geometry, ancient history, medieval and modern history, world history, U.S. history, economics, physics, physical geography, commercial geography, solid geometry and plane trigonometry. While at the Woodward School he received a grade of “B” in advanced algebra, solid geometry and trigonometry. He also received a grade of “A” in economics.
With that burst of energy and good grades, Ron graduated from Woodward High in June, and enrolled in September at George Washington as a college freshman.
“Mr. Hubbard claims to have received a chemical engineering degree from [George Washington University],” the FDA report from 1963 says, noting that Ron had enrolled on September 24, 1930 in the School of Engineering with a major in civil engineeering.
We’ve seen Hubbard’s college grades before (it’s most often pointed out that he failed a class in ‘molecular and atomic physics’ yet later claimed to be one of America’s first nuclear physicists), but here’s the FDA’s write up of them, in case you haven’t seen them before…
As Miller points out in Bare-Faced Messiah, by his sophomore year, Hubbard was more interested in flying gliders than he was attending class, and he also spent time writing for a literary journal rather than studying engineering. By the end of his second year, it was obvious his college career was in free-fall.
Says the FDA report…
Mr. L. Ron Hubbard did not receive any degree from George Washington University. He was, however, eligible to return for another semester. In September 1931 he was placed on probation due to grades. On April 23, 1932 he was issued a warning relative to his grades in mathematics and physics. A math instructor indicates on a probational report that “failed make up in analytics, failed calculus flatly. Work throughout term was weak, also failed final exam. Apparently loafing. Polite, talkative, but weak student.”
“Apparently loafing.” We have a feeling that’s going to become a meme.
Anyway, that’s the extent of L. Ron Hubbard’s academic record which the FDA dug up. There’s an additional note from his file that in 1947 the VA had asked for a copy of his academic record because Hubbard was applying for disability compensation.
And there was this: “The file also had a copy of a newspaper article which indicated that Mr. Hubbard had discovered gold on the property of his fiance in Bealsville, Md,” which refers to perhaps the greatest tall tale Hubbard ever actually got the newspapers to publish. A lengthier article from the Washington Daily News is better known, but here’s a shorter item from the Washington Post from August 19, 1933 which we don’t think has made the rounds before…
Of course, it was utter bullshit, and Hubbard did not mine a rich vein of gold ore under the Maryland farm owned by the parents of Margaret Louise “Polly” Grubb, who became his first wife.
But still, for a guy who flunked out of both high school and college, he had a way with spinning yarns.
The New York Times on Scientology’s chilling effect
Well, it was nice talking to Joe Nocera for his column this morning about what Paulette Cooper and Richard Behar went through when they wrote about Scientology.
We just wish he’d used the material we sent him about how even today, Scientology is able to scare off some media organizations that are frightened by its lawyers and their scare tactics. We told him about how ABC has repeatedly dropped projects in recent years because of Scientology intimidation, which we wrote about at the Voice (see this story, second item).
But it’s nice to see the Times finally getting back into the game. If the Times hasn’t been afraid of writing about Scientology, it sure hasn’t acted like it.
Bonus photos from our tipsters
In Athens, and Natassa must be Clear — the paper says so!
A Dianetics seminar in Chelyabinsk, Russia looks like a nice winter activity!
Foundation for a Drug-Free World, recruiting Venezuelan school kids like nobody’s business!
CCHR in Japan getting the word out on who was really behind the Holocaust — the psychs!
Dentists and chiropractors and veterinarians partying on the Freewinds for a WISE convention — now that’s a party!
Scientologists are using social media more than ever. Drop us a line if you spot them posting images to Instagram or Facebook!
Posted by Tony Ortega on February 24, 2015 at 07:00
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Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…
BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of LA attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists
GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts