Dean, Bashford

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Dean, Bashford

(b. New York, N.Y., 28 October 1867; d. Battle Creek, Michigan, December 6, 1928)


In early childhood Dean showed keen interest in two fields—natural history and ancient armor—in which he excelled equally. His interests were encouraged by his lawyer father, William Dean; by his mother, Emma Frances Bashford; and by their distinguished friends, who enabled the boy to enter the College of the City of New York at the age of fourteen. Dean taught natural history at the college from his graduation in 1886 to 1891, while working for his Ph.D. (1890) at Columbia University, where he became the protégé of John Strong Newberry and heir to his vast collections of Devonian fishes. In 1889 Dean studied oyster culture for the U.S. Fish Commission. In 1890, as the first director of the summer school of biology at Cold Spring Harbor, New York, he helped establish a major center of biological research. He married Alice Dyckman in 1893.

In 1891 Dean began teaching at Columbia University, where he became professor of zoology in 1904. Through his close association with Henry Fairfield Osborn, in 1903 he became curator of reptiles and fishes (honorary from 1910) at the American Museum of Natural History, where he directed the installation of fine habitat groups of primitive fishes and restorations of fossil fishes.

Through a judicious combination of embryology and paleontology, Dean solved several problems in the evolution of primitive fishes. Working especially with the Devonian Cladoselache newberryi, he deduced that the pectoral and pelvic fins were derived from continuous fin folds, as opposed to Karl Gegenbaur’s theory of feather-like archipterygia as a source. In addition, he concluded that the curious chimaeroid fishes are highly specialized offshoots from the true sharks; he presented in detail the embryology of the Port Jackson shark and the Japanese frilled shark; and he described the embryology, spawning, and nesting habits of several freshwater ganoid fishes. From studies of Bdellostoma (now Eptatretus) he described the development of hagfishes and their distinction from lampreys. He concluded that the Devonian arthrodires constituted an independent class of chordates, although Erik A. Stensiö later showed them to be related to ancestral sharks.

Dean’s meticulous artistry left a wealth of illustrations of fishes and embryology for later workers. His ambidextrous blackboard drawings delighted his students.

His exhaustive three-volume Bibliography of Fishes immortalized Dean’s name in ichthyology and promptly won for him, in 1923, the Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal of the National Academy of Sciences. In 1910 he received the Lamarck Medal and was made a chevalier of the Legion of Honor.

Dean’s childhood interest in medieval armor became a lifelong passion and resulted in many scholarly articles and an outstanding collection for the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), where he was honorary curator of arms and armor from 1906 to 1927. During World War I, as a major in ordnance, he designed protective armor. Dean’s extensive travels and contagious enthusiasm enabled him to collect armor and fishes simultaneously for both museums.


I. Original Works. Dean’s sense of organization led him to index references on fishes from 1890, and he enlisted the aid of the American Museum of Natural History in completing and publishing the Bibliography of Fishes, 3 vols. (New York, 1916–1923), with the aid of C. R. Eastman, E. W. Gudger, A. W. Henn, and others.

Dean’s writing was characterized by compactness and unusual clarity. An early publication was the textbook Fishes, Living and Fossil, no. 3 in Columbia University Biological Series (New York, 1895), which dealt mainly with the lower and older forms. His most valuable paper on hagfishes was “On the Embryology of Bdellostoma stouti,” in Festschrift für Carl von Kuppfer (Jena, 1899). His work on fin origin was summarized in “Historical Evidence as to the Origin of the Paired Limbs of Vertebrates,” in American Naturalist, 36 (1902), 767–776. A significant monograph was Chimaeroid Fishes and Their Development, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Publication no. 32 (Washington, D.C., 1906). Dean’s studies on the development of fish embryos were summarized in “The Plan of Development in Series of Forms of Known Descent and Its Bearing Upon the Doctrine of Preformation,” in Proceedings of the 7th International Zoological Congress (Boston, 1909). Many other papers represent significant contributions on primitive and archaic fishes. In addition Dean published many articles on medieval armor, mainly in the Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

II. Secondary Literature. The Bashford Dean Memorial Volume, E. W. Gudger, ed., 2 vols. (New York, 1930), includes many of Dean’s drawings. The opening article, an account of his life and accomplishments by W. K. Gregory, includes a complete bibliography. Other memorial sketches on Dean are listed in vol. I, p. 35.

Elizabeth Noble Shor