Day 198 - Harvard University
Harvard University that was founded in 1636 is the oldest educational institution in America. It has some 20,000 students and more than 300,000 living alumni in some 190 countries. The 43 current and former faculty members who are Nobel Laureates is not the only connection with Sweden. You can thank Otto Folin and Sissela Bok and many others for that.
Otto Folin was the son of a tanner and the district midwife in Åseda in the province of Småland. When he was 15 he joined an older brother in Minnesota and worked his way towards a higher education. After academic studies at both the University of Chicago and Uppsala in Sweden, he became the professor of physiological chemistry at Harvard University in 1907. He became one of the foremost biochemists of his time and his unique analytical methods are still talked of as the “Folin methods”. “You scarcely can vision medicine without the methods of blood analysis perfected by Folin” said one speaker at his memorial.
Sissela Bok is married to the former principal of Harvard University and as a member of the Myrdal family as close as you can come to academic aristocracy. With an impressive academic career at the Sorbonne, George Washington University, Harvard and Brandeis and a score of books to her name she is the most famous Swede living in New England today. Many years ago she left her chair in philosophy to devote her energies to writing books and being involved in social issues in the tradition of her famous parents. Dad was economist Gunnar Myrdal who wrote “An American Dilemma” and “An Asian Drama”. He was also a professor in economics, a Minister of Trade and a UN expert. He received the Nobel Prize in Economics and more honorary degrees from American universities than any Swede before him. Mum Alva Myrdal published the much-debated “Crisis in the population issue” with her husband and then went on to become an ambassador at the UN and UNESCO, and an expert in disarmament with a Nobel Peace Prize as the crowning glory. With a burning commitment to equality and the social issues of the day, the Myrdals became the privileged “First Family” of the Social Democrats with every bourgeois trapping conceivable whether they lived in the US, India, France, Switzerland or Sweden. The happy family image was eventually shattered when Sissela’s older brother Jan, a controversial socialist, author and debater in his book “Min Barndom” accused his parents of giving priority to their careers rather than to their children. Sissela also concedes in her biography “Alva - Ett kvinnoliv” that all was not right in the family, but she blames her despotic dad Gunnar for forcing Alva to choose him over the three children. Eventually Alva chose a Belgian politician over Gunnar, according to Jan, but returned to the fold after Gunnar had a car accident. In a more recent book “De tre löven - en myrdalsk efterskrift” Kaj Fölster, the youngest of the Myrdal kids, who now lives in Germany, paints a much more positive picture of her mother and throws much dirt on brother Jan.