David Hawkins

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After growing up in New Mexico(1), David Hawkins (1913-2002) went to Stanford University, where, as an undergraduate, he migrated from chemistry to physics to philosophy before receiving a B.A. and M.A. in 1934 and 1936. While at Stanford he met Frances Pockman. They married in 1937.

Starting in 1937, David Hawkins was a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, working on a Ph.D. in philosophy. In a letter to Daniel Ellsberg in 1999 (?), Hawkins stated that he and Frances came of age during the Spanish civil war. “We read events correctly, I think; that they were the opening of a Pandora’s box….”(2) The Hawkins’ joined the Berkeley campus branch of the communist party in 1938.

At Berkeley, as a graduate student, a Ph.D. in philosophy in 1940 (Dissertation: “The Casual Interpretation of Probability”), and then an instructor in philosophy, Hawkins had friends among the students of J. Robert Oppenheimer. Through those students he met Oppenheimer and they had opportunities to talk about many things, such as the civil war in Spain, Plato and Hindu philosophy, the uncertainty principle, and the philosophy of Niels Bohr, the most revered of Oppenheimer’s own teachers.

Robert Oppenheimer disappeared from Hawkins’ acquaintance in 1942. One day in April 1943 Hawkins received a long-distance telephone call from Oppenheimer, now at work on the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Oppenheimer offered Hawkins a job as soon as he could get there. Hawkins arrived at Los Alamos in May 1943, joined by Frances and their 20-month-old daughter, Julie, a month later.

As an administrative aide at Los Alamos, Hawkins’ first job was mostly diplomacy as two cultures, military and academic, built Los Alamos and the program to build the atomic bomb. Soon he was busy getting young physicists deferred from the draft with impressive-sounding misinformation about their jobs. He also attended Governing Board meetings, gaining some grasp of the evolving program. After a year or so, Hawkins was given the job of writing the wartime history of Project Y, the development of the atomic bomb. He had free access to all the top people involved, including project director J. Robert Oppenheimer and physicist Edward Teller. In effect, he was chronicling developments as they happened. David Hawkins left Los Alamos in August 1946, and his history remained classified until 1961.

In 1946-1947 he was Associate Professor of Philosophy at George Washington University. In the fall of 1947 he returned west when he accepted a position in the Dept. of Philosophy at the University of Colorado, where he remained until retiring in 1982.

According to David Hawkins, Los Alamos was an experience that changed the lives of everyone involved, radically and irreversibly, making many there, including himself, into nuclear pacifists. The atomic bomb released roughly one million times the energy of exploding dynamite. This magnitude of change in the destructive power of nuclear weapons was almost beyond comprehension. This new reality crystallized Hawkins’ passion for educating the layman about science. At the University of Colorado, David Hawkins was in charge of a physical science course for non-science students, from 1947 to 1961.

Controversy arose over Hawkins in 1951 when his previous membership in the communist party at Berkeley became front-page news. He testified before the House Committee on Un-American Affairs on December 20, 1950, stating that he had been a member of the communist party, but had left it prior to going to Los Alamos. Demands were made that the University of Colorado dismiss Professor Hawkins. The University’s Senate Committee on Privilege and Tenure investigated the Hawkins Case, and found him to be a valuable member of the faculty at the University of Colorado. The matter was dropped. In the 1999 (?) letter to Daniel Ellsberg mentioned previously, Hawkins wrote: “Immediately after those events of 1945 I became distant from the left groups I had belonged to; they had no more understanding than Harry Truman did, that a radically new danger changed everything among the great powers.”

From 1962 on David Hawkins and Frances Hawkins, a leader in early childhood education, took a special interest in improving science education for elementary school children. First they established the Elementary Science Advisory Center to improve the standard of science teaching in elementary schools.

The scale of their efforts increased in 1970 with the Mountain View Center for Environmental Education, funded with a grant from the Ford Foundation and university money. The Mountain View Center provided training in teaching methods for elementary and pre-school teachers, and became a nationally respected teachers’ center focusing on all the environments in which children live-physical, social, and natural and the environments of books, ideas, and history. The center’s goal was to develop strategies to provide fresh subject matter to extend the range of children’s perception and understanding and powers of analysis and expression. The Mountain View Center also published the quarterly magazine, Outlook, to share its philosophy and methods with educators.

David Hawkins, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the University of Colorado, was a founding member of the Federation of American Scientists, a winner of the MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” in 1981, and a visiting professor at a number of colleges and universities in the U.S., Canada and Italy. He served as a consultant to the National Institute of Education and the National Science Foundation. He authored books and numerous articles on the philosophy of science, mathematics, physics, and science education in elementary schools. He and Frances became known internationally for their writings whose central goal was to find and create rich, diversified environments for learning.


(1)“A Story of Pioneer Days in Southern New Mexico”-stories told by Gardiner Hawkins (DH’s older brother) in 1970 re their father, William Ashton Hawkins, who, as lawyer, designed and chartered the town of Eddy (now Carlsbad). SEE Box 1 Fd 5.

(2)The letter to Daniel Ellsberg was on David Hawkins’ computer. The date of the file is October 3, 1999, but many other computer files were also dated October 3, 1999, implying that this is the date of the directory containing the files. SEE Box 17 Fd 1.

From the guide to the David Hawkins Papers, 1863-2001, 20th Century, (University of Colorado at Boulder Libraries. Archives Dept.)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf David Hawkins Papers, 1863-2001, 20th Century University of Colorado at Boulder Libraries. Archives Dept.
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correspondedWith Association of Los Alamos Scientists corporateBody
associatedWith Hawkins, David, 1913- person
associatedWith Hawkins, Frances Pockman, 1913- person
associatedWith Los Alamos National Laboratory corporateBody
associatedWith Manhattan Project (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith Morrison, Philip person
correspondedWith Mountain View Center for Environmental Education (Boulder, Colo.) corporateBody
associatedWith Oppenheimer, J. Robert, 1904-1967 person
associatedWith Palevsky, Mary, 1949- person
associatedWith Ulam, Stanislaw M. person
associatedWith United States. Congress. House. Committee on Un-American Activities corporateBody
associatedWith Weisskopf, Victor Frederick, 1908-2002 person
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