Brown Logo

Office of University Communications
38 Brown Street / Box 1920
Providence RI 02912

401 863-2453
Fax 863-1650
News_Service@brown.edu

Contact Mark Nickel


Brunoniana

From Martha Mitchell’s Encyclopedia Brunoniana:

Biology

Biology was part of the curriculum during the existence of the early medical school from 1811 to 1827, when undergraduates were admitted to the lectures in anatomy, chemistry, and botany. The importance of these studies was borne out in one of Dr. Usher Parsons’ introductory lectures which was published as “The Importance of the Science of Anatomy and Physiology as a Branch of General Education.” When the medical program ended and its professors departed, President Francis Wayland, who had studied medicine, undertook to continue the courses by delivering lectures in natural history in 1828 and in anatomy and physiology in 1829-30. He seems to have discontinued this practice, and chose instead to turn the scientific courses over to George Ide Chace. Chace, who had been teaching natural philosophy and chemistry, was sent to Philadelphia to attend lectures, and in 1836 was appointed professor of chemistry, physiology, and geology. Chace’s physiology course was described in the laws of 1850, “In the course in Physiology it will be the design of the Professor to teach the classifications of the animal and vegetable kingdom, the most important modifications of organized structure, and the laws to which animal and vegetable life is subjected, with special reference to the subjects of health and regimen.” With limited facilities for demonstrations, he conducted his courses by lectures which were dictated slowly so that the students might take them down verbatim. Chace kept in touch with leading scientists and introduced Agassiz and Gould’s Principles of Zoology as a textbook for his course in 1849, the year after its publication. After 1850 he offered an advanced course for those “who may desire to pursue the science by the aid of the knife and microscope.” Dr. Charles W. Parsons, in an article on the early Brown medical school, observed of Chace’s courses in chemistry, physiology, and geology, that “the instruction in these sciences has been adapted to academic, not to medical, students.”

The physiology course was taught from 1863 to 1865 by Nathaniel P. Hill, who continued to deliver the lectures prepared by Chace. In 1865 Dr. Parsons began teaching the course, apparently by some informal arrangement at first, as he was formally appointed “Lecturer in Physiology” only in 1867, when Chace became acting president. In his first year as professor, Parsons reported that he gave seven lectures in animal classification, 41 lectures in human and comparative anatomy and physiology, seven lectures in vegetable physiology and classification, and five newly introduced lectures on hygiene, a course too wide in range and superficial for his taste. Not receiving a permanent appointment, Parsons left in 1870, at which time the physiology course was simply added to the duties of the new professor of physics, Eli Whitney Blake. With an appropriation of 25 dollars from the Library Committee Blake purchased models of the eye, the ear, and the articulations of the hand to aid in his instruction. In 1875, under President Robinson, a separate professorship of physiology was established and Parsons returned to that position.

The appointments of John Whipple Potter Jenks as professor of agricultural zoology in 1874 in accordance with the requirements of the Morrill Act, of William Whitman Bailey as instructor in botany in 1877, and of Alpheus Spring Packard as professor of zoology and geology in 1878 made it possible for Parsons finally to devote his course to human anatomy and physiology. In 1882 Parsons resigned because of his health, and Charles V. Chapin was appointed in his place. Chapin’s course at first was taught in the junior year, but in 1885 was shortened to two hours per week and offered to sophomores, whose lack of preparation in chemistry and physics disturbed Chapin, as did the short time allotted. When Chapin was ill during the second term of 1884-85, Dr. George Frederic Keene 1875 took over the physiology course. In 1889 the course was restored to the junior year, and after Edmund B. Delabarre began to teach psychology in 1892, Chapin was able to drop the teaching of the nervous system. His title was “Professor of Physiology and Director of Physical Culture” and he reported on gymnastics and sports. He was ill in 1892-93, and after his return the physical culture title was dropped. He continued to teach until 1895, but observed that the course, which had been intended as an elementary course in human anatomy and physiology was now elected chiefly by students intending to study medicine, and recommended that “the time has come to drop ‘Physiology,’ in the meaning that it has had in the past from the curriculum, and to strengthen the department of general biology.”

Alpheus Spring Packard joined the department in 1878 and taught electives in zoology and geology. In 1882 a laboratory was set up in the basement of Rhode Island Hall, a place which turned out to be cold and damp and was replaced three years later by a large and well lighted room upstairs in Rhode Island Hall adjacent to the museum. The department was radically changed by the arrival in 1890 of Hermon Carey Bumpus as assistant professor of zoology. He took charge of the zoological laboratory and freed Professor Packard to pursue his interest in anthropology and to offer a course in that subject as a senior elective. Bumpus brought with him Albert D. Mead, recently graduated from Middlebury College, and he attracted others to the department, including Herbert E. Walter, who later became professor of biology at Brown. Walter, who was working with a group of Brown students at the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratories, had a scholarship to continue study at M.I.T., which he relinquished to come to Brown. Bumpus’ teaching methods as described by Walter were quoted in Hermon Carey Bumpus; Yankee Naturalist, by his son, Hermon Carey Bumpus, Jr. ’12:

“Dr. Bumpus had collected under his wing a squad of young disciples, whom he immediately put to work studying Invertebrates. I do not remember much about any lectures or textbooks, educational devices which he had little use for, but I do recall that we willingly worked long hours, studying specimens of all sorts at first hand and ranging through the entire library in pursuit of aid and information as we needed it, while Bumpus was everywhere, helping us to help ourselves.... Early in the 2nd term he appeared one day before us with a brand new copy of W. N. Parker’s translation of Wiedersheim’s Comparative Anatomy of the Vertebrates, which had just been published. He proceeded dramatically to rip off the covers of this new book and to tear it apart into eight approximately equal sections. To each one of us he passed out one of these fragments and told us that we would be held responsible for making plain to the others everything therein contained.... How we went at it, making our own charts, dissections, microscopic slides, demonstrations, and ‘lectures’! Bumpus was constantly at our elbows with suggestions and criticisms, constructive and destructive. Any available material at hand he freely turned over to us. I later much regretted that Tower and I, with his permission, mangled a $35 museum specimen of the rare New Zealand lizard, Sphenodon, in futile dissection.”
Frederic P. Gorham joined the department in 1893 and introduced the study of bacteriology. When Bumpus went abroad in 1893, George W. Field 1887, who had recently received his Ph.D. degree from Johns Hopkins, was appointed to take his place with the title of Associate Professor of Cellular Biology. In 1895 Albert Mead returned with his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, and was appointed instructor in comparative anatomy. The next year it was not possible to keep both Mead and Field. Consequently, President Andrews announced Field’s withdrawal “in consequence of our straitened financial situation,” and Mead was named associate professor of embryology and neurology. Field went to Rhode Island College of Agriculture as professor of zoology and biologist in the Agricultural Experiment Station.

In the spring vacation of 1897 the steamer “John M. Long” was chartered to survey the waters of Narragansett Bay, and the students collected marine animals for the museum. Ten students spent the spring vacation at the Biological Station at Woods Hole. The men students that year contributed fifty dollars that year to support the University Table at the Zoological Station in Naples, and the women students earned an equal amount to support a Women’s Table there. The appointment of Bumpus in 1897 to the Rhode Island Inland Fish Commission and in 1898 as director of research of the Woods Hole station of the U. S. Fish Commission began an involvement of the Biology Department in the study of the protection of young lobsters. When Bumpus left for the American Museum of Natural History, Professor Albert D. Mead took over his appointment on the Fish Commission. A new floating laboratory at Wickford contributed to the success of the lobster hatchery, cutting the time needed for development to the fourth stage at which independent living is possible nearly in half. To raise the young fry required the deployment of the work force at the laboratory in continuous shifts to keep water in the bags stirred without interruption. A great improvement in this situation occurred when Mead, observing a rotating fan over a restaurant table, set graduate student George H. Sherwood (later director of the American Museum of Natural History) to work on the design of a similar apparatus which lifted and agitated the water in the bags. One of the graduate students, Ernest W. Barnes, was named assistant superintendent of the Wickford Laboratory in 1903 and became superintendent in 1906. In 1935 the Commission of Inland Fisheries was discontinued. The lobster hatchery suffered damage in the hurricanes of 1938 and 1944, and the work there was discontinued.

Biology courses for women students were traditionally taught by a woman, beginning with Ada Wing, who was appointed instructor in 1896 and later named assistant professor of physiology and sanitary science. Instruction for women also included a course in hygiene and home sanitation which involved visits to hospitals. Miss Wing resigned in 1901 and married professor Albert D. Mead. Marion L. Shorey was instructor in physiology and household economics from 1904 to 1906, as was Alice W. Wilcox from 1906 to 1913. Florence H. Danielson, assistant in biology from 1909 to 1916, was followed by Helen B. Whiting from 1916 to 1919, and Helen F. Ordway from 1919 to 1921. Magel C. Wilder was instructor and later assistant professor from 1921 to 1947.

Philip H. Mitchell joined the department as instructor in 1907 and taught until 1949. J. Walter Wilson ’18 began as an assistant in 1919, as did Charles Arthur Stuart ’19 in 1921. Stuart retired in 1960 and Wilson in 1966. Faculty and graduate students worked during the summer at Woods Hole, where Professor Mitchell was research director of the Laboratory of the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries from 1917 to 1921, and at Cold Springs Harbor, where Professor Walter was assistant director of the Marine Biological Laboratory of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, later the Long Island Biological Association. A bequest of $50,000 established the Robert P. Brown Professorship in Biology in 1923, and Albert Davis Mead was its first incumbent. Dr. Wilfred Pickles, a physician, was part of the department from 1925 to 1944. Ivon Ray Taylor taught from 1927 to 1943, Arthur M. Banta from 1929 to 1945, and Paul B. Sawin from 1931 to 1947.

In 1929 Dr. Herman C. Pitts of Providence asked for and received help from Professors Gorham and chemistry professor Charles A. Kraus in cancer research to study the uses of lead, radium and x-ray to combat tumors in mice with money collected from local individuals and a fund from Rhode Island Hospital.

The department, which had a staff of three full professors, three assistant professors, and six assistants in 1945, began to expand in the following years with the addition of Frederick G. Sherman in 1946, Herman B. Chase, Mac V. Edds, William Montagna, and Paul B. Weisz, all in 1947, and Paul F. Fenton in 1949. Elizabeth H. Leduc, who came in 1945 as assistant, became an assistant professor in 1953, associate professor in 1957, and professor in 1964, the first woman full professor in a teaching position. In 1973 she was named Dean of the Division of Biological and Medical Sciences and Frank L. Day Professor of Biology. Walter J. Kenworthy joined the department in 1951, Richard J. Goss in 1952, Richard Ellis in 1956, George W. Hagy in 1957, and Seymour Lederberg in 1958.

Biology has had many homes at Brown. In 1915 the department moved out of Rhode Island Hall into the new Arnold Laboratory built especially for biology. The building was adequate for its time, providing quarters for four professors, Mead amd Walter on the second floor, Gorham and Mitchell on the third, and, on the first floor, the office and laboratory of the woman instructor who taught elementary biology to students at the Women’s College. After J. Walter Wilson ’18, and Charles Arthur Stuart ’21 joined the faculty, more space was provided by the building of a penthouse. In the late 1920s, when the space problem was again critical, the house at 91 Waterman Street was acquired, and was equipped with electricity and plumbing with funds which Dr. Herman C. Pitts had obtained to promote cancer research. The building provided room for graduate students, one classroom, and a laboratory for experimental cytology. With a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation the basement was improved to provide animal quarters. When Psi Upsilon fraternity moved out of its house at 15 Manning Street, the building was renamed Angell Hall and made into a laboratory for elementary biology, freeing up space in Arnold Laboratory. With a grant from the National Cancer Institute the house at Brown and Waterman Street, a bequest of Dr. Herbert Partridge 1892, was converted into a laboratory named Partridge Hall. When Psychology moved out of Walter Hall at 80 Waterman Street, this building also became a laboratory with the help of matching funds from the Health Research Facilities program of the United States Public Health Service. All of these arrangements helped to provide space for the ever expanding biology program, but only temporarily. A new building, designed by Conrad Green ’36 of Robinson, Green and Beretta, to house the laboratories of Biochemistry, Physiology, Microbiology, and Plant Physiology, was opened in 1962 and named for J. Walter Wilson.

In 1989 a one-million dollar grant was received from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and assigned to such purposes as thematic biology courses, summer research by Brown undergraduates and minority students from other colleges, sabbatic leave programs for secondary-school teachers, student-faculty collaboration, and upgrading equipment. The program in biology consists of the Section of Artificial Organs, Biomaterials and Cellular Technology, The Section of Molecular and Biochemical Pharmacology, the Section of Biochemistry, the Section of Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology, the Section of Neurobiology, the Section of Physiology, and the Section of Population Biology, Morphology, and Genetics. The department offers undergraduate concentrations leading to the A.B. or Sc.B. degree with programs in human biology, biochemistry and molecular biology, biophysics, and aquatic biology, and interdepartmental programs in Geology-Biology and Bioengineering. Chairmen of the department have been Frederic P. Gorham from 1928 to 1933, Philip Mitchell from 1933 to 1945, J. Walter Wilson from 1945 to 1960, Mac V. Edds from 1960 to 1963.

Division of Biological and Medical Sciences

The Division of Biological and Medical Sciences was formed in 1965 under the administration of an Executive Council chaired by Professor Paul F. Fenton. Professor Mac V. Edds, who had been chairman of the Division of Medical Science since 1963, became Director of Medicine and Professor Herman B. Chase became Director of Biology. Dr. Pierre Galletti, M.D. was chairman of the division from 1968 to 1972. During this time he established and chaired an Executive Committee to plan and oversee the development of the curriculum and the faculty both on campus and in the hospitals. This Executive Committee conisted of the chairpersons of sections within the Division which represented the professional specialties of the faculty.

In 1972 Dr. Galletti was named University Vice President (Biology and Medicine). Dr. Elizabeth Leduc, Ph.D. as Dean of the Biological and Medical Sciences, was in charge of the faculty and curriculum and was chairperson of the Executive Committee which continued to consist of both campus and hospital section chairpersons. In 1973 Dr. Stanley Aronson, M.D. was named Dean of Medical Affairs, responsible for the development of the the six-year program leading to the Master of Medical Science degree. The Deans reported to Vice President Galletti. In 1977 Dr. Richard Goss, Ph.D. was named Dean of Biological Science, and Dr. David Greer, M.D. succeeded Dr. Aronson as Dean of Medicine. Dr. Frank G. Rothman succeeded Goss as Dean of Biology from 1984 until he was named Provost of the University in 1990.

In 1992 the sections in Biology were: Artificial Organs, Biomaterials, and Cellular Technology (Patrick Aebisher, chair), Biochemistry (John Biggins, chair), Molecular and Biochemical Pharmacology (Edward Hawrot, chair), Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology (Paul M. Knopf, chair), Neuroscience (Robert Patrick, chair), Physiology (Leon Goldstein, chair), and Population Biology, Morphology, and Genetics (Douglass Morse, chair).

The above entry appears in Encyclopedia Brunoniana by Martha Mitchell, copyright 1993 by the Brown University Library. It is used here by permission of the author and the University and may not be copied or further distributed without permission.


Return to Encyclopedia Index  |  University Home Page