Jordan, David Starr

views updated May 21 2018

Jordan, David Starr

(b. Gainesville, New York, 19 January 1851; d. Stanford, California, 19 September 1931)

ichthyology, education.

A childhood in rural New York State provided young Jordan ample opportunity to indulge his early interests in plants, stars, maps, and reading. His parents, Hiram Jordan and the former Huldah Lake Hawley, had both been teachers as well as owners of a prosperous farm, where Jordan, the fourth of five children, took charge of a flock of sheep and later the making of maple sugar. His pre-college schooling was, by special exemption, at the nearby Gainesville Female Seminary. Intending to specialize in botany or animal husbandry, he entered Cornell University, to which he had received a scholarship, in March 1869. Of the staff he was most impressed by C. Frederick Hartt in geology, Burt G. Wilder in zoology, and Albert N. Prentiss in botany. Because of undergraduate work as an instructor in botany, he was awarded the M.S. instead of the B.S. in 1872.

Jordan entered the field of education by teaching natural science for one year at Lombard College in Galesburg, Illinois, and the next year he was principal and teacher at Appleton Collegiate Institute in Wisconsin. He moved on to teach science at Indianapolis High School (1874-1875) and then became professor of biology at Butler University, Indianapolis (1875-1879). That position led to his becoming professor of natural history at Indiana University (1879) and later president of the university (1885- 1891).

Always ahead of his time, Jordan instituted electives and a major field at Indiana, on the premise that “the duty of real teachers is to adapt the work to the student, not the student to the work” (Days of a Man, I, 237). His successful theories of education attracted the attention of Leland Stanford, and in 1891 Jordan became the first president of Leland Stanford Junior University. In 1913, in order to devote more time to outside interests, Jordan became chancellor.

Jordan was inspired to enter ichthyology by Louis Agassiz in the summer of 1873, at the Anderson School of Natural History on Penikese Island, Massachusetts. At Butler University he turned to local fish fauna as the most rewarding undeveloped field in which a young scientist could distinguish himself. He chose well, for from his first paper on fishes in 1874 he dominated ichthyology drew the best science to it.

Descriptive ichthyology was then in its infancy in the United States. The eccentric Constantine Samuel Rafinesque essentially founded it with his descriptions of fishes of the Ohio River frontier country (1820), which were modified by Jared Potter Kirtland twenty years later. In 1850 David Humphries Storer published a Synopsis of the Fishes of North America, and government explorations of the western territories provided a wealth of new material, the fishes of which were mostly described by Charles Frederic Girard and his coauthor Spencer Fullerton Baird. Individual regions were under study by various workers, one of the most significant investigations being Louis Agassiz’s 1850 report on Lake Superior.

Jordan began in Indiana but soon went farther afield. From 1876 he customarily spent each summer collecting, the earliest trips being largely along the rivers of the Allegheny Mountains and in much of the South. He spent three summers on extensive walking and collecting tours in Europe. In 1876 he studied the fishes of Ohio for that state’s fish commission. Later, for the U.S. Fish Commission he collected and presented taxonomic monographs on fishes of the Pacific coast, the Gulf coast, Florida, and Cuba, and the fish faunas of the major American rivers. While at Stanford, besides making many trips within California, Jordan visited Mazatlán, Mexico; the Bering Sea, while investigating the fur seal dispute between the United States and Great Britain (1896); the interior of Mexico; Japan; Hawaii; Samoa; Alaska; and Europe. From 1908 to 1910 he served as the U.S. International Commissioner of Fisheries for the conservation of fisheries along the Canadian border.

The result of Jordan’s work was the naming of 1,085 genera and more than 2,500 species of fishes, as well as synopses of the classification. An uncanny ability to distinguish similar species, an unfailing intuition of diagnostic characters, and a phenomenal memory made Jordan an outstanding taxonomist.

Unlike his mentor Agassiz, Jordan was an early adherent of and contributor to the theory of Darwinian evolution. From his early trips in the southern United States he derived Jordan’s law: The species most closely related to another is found just beyond a barrier to distribution. From his worldwide studies of fishes he concluded that extreme specialization along a given line of development is followed by progressive degeneration. Enlarging on observations by Albert Günther and Theodore Gill, he also found that, almost universally, equatorial fishes have considerably fewer and larger vertebrae than do their polar relatives.

A prolific writer, in addition to his many papers on fish collections and areal faunas, Jordan published thirteen editions of Manual of Vertebrates(1876-1929); several valuable manuals on fish classification; with C. H. Gilbert the useful “Synopsis of the Fishes of North America” (1883), which gave the first great impetus to American ichthyology; and with B. W. Evermann the indispensable “Fishes of North and Middle America” (1896-1900), which for many years almost ended the study, since he and many others considered the subject largely completed.

Jordan’ honors were legion. He received half a dozen honorary degree; was president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1909-1910; president of the California Academy of Sciences three times; and a member of the International Commission of Zoological Nomenclature from 1904 until his death. Among other societies, he was a member of the American Philosophical Society and the Zoological Society of London. The Smithsonian Institution made him an honorary associate in zoology in 1921.


I. Original Works. In 1883 a fire at Indiana University destroyed some of Jordan’s collections and incomplete MSS. From then on, he published promptly. A list of his works compiled by Alice N. Hays, “David Starr Jordan. A Bibliography of His Writings,” Stanford University Publications, University series, 1 (1932), contains 1,372 general writings and 645 on ichthyology. Mentioned in the text are his most valuable references on ichthyology: Manual of the Vertebrates of the Northern United States (Chicago, 1876), 13th ed. entitled Manual of the Vertebrate Animals of the Northern United States Inclusive of Marine Species (Yonkers, N.Y.., 1929); “A Synopsis of the Fishes of North America,” Bulletin. United States National Museum, 16 (1883), written with C.H.Gilbert; and”The“The Fishes of North and Middle America,” pts. 1-4, bied., 47 (1896-1900), written with B. W. Evermann. In addition, “The Genera of Fishes,” Stanford University Publications, monograph series, 27, 36, 39, 43 (1917-1920), and “A Classification of Fishes,” bied., Biological Science, 3 (1923), reissued in book form (Stanford, 1963), are standard tools of ichthyologists.

Monographs on the fishes of specific regions are catalogued in Bashford Dean, A Bibliography of Fishes (New York, 1916), pp. 643-661. Jordon’ law is expounded in “The Law of Geminate Species,” in America Naturalist, 42 (1908), 73-80. His conclusions on degeneration after specialization appear in Evolution and Animal Life (New York, 1907), written with V. L. Kellogg. His observations on numbers of vertebrae are in “Temperature and Vertebrae; A Study in Evolution...,” in Wilder Quarter-Century Book (Ithaca, N.Y.), pp. 13-36.

Jordan’s general works, ranging from international relations, philosophy, evolution, and education to poetry and children’s books, can be found in Hays (see above) and in Days of a Man.

The life of an unbelievably busy man is presented in Jordan’ The Days of a Man, Being Memories of a Naturalist, Teacher and Minor Prophet of Democracy, 2 vols. (Yonkers, N.Y., 1922).

II. Secondary Literature, Insights on Jordan as a leader and teacher are given in B. W. Evermann, “David Starr Jordan, the Man,” in Copeia (Dec. 1930), pp. 93- 105. An excellent analysis of his influence on ichthyology is Carl. L. Hubbs, “History of lchthyology in the United States After 1850,” ibid.(Mar.1964), pp. 42-60.

Elizabeth Noble Shor

David Starr Jordan

views updated May 17 2018

David Starr Jordan

David Starr Jordan (1851-1931), American scientist and university administrator, distinguished himself as a teacher of biology, an ichthyologist, and an influential college president.

David Starr Jordan was born in Gainesville, N.Y., on Jan. 19, 1851. In 1869 he entered Cornell University and was awarded both his bachelor of arts and master of arts degrees 3 years later. He served as instructor in botany in Lombard University, Galesburg, Ill., in 1872-1873, and the following year he was principal of the Appleton Collegiate Institute in Wisconsin. After attending a school of science established by the famous scientist Louis Agassiz, Jordan became professor of natural history at Northwestern Christian College (later Butler University) in 1875. He received a medical degree in 1875 and 3 years later a doctorate in philosophy.

In 1879 Jordan became chairman of the department of natural sciences at Indiana University, where he distinguished himself as a teacher of organic evolution and bionomics. His research in ichthyology resulted in numerous publications, of which the most famous is Synopsis of Fishes of North America (1882).

Jordan became president of Indiana University in 1885 and during his 6 years in office instituted the concept of a major field of academic study for college students. In 1891 he became president of Stanford University and served in this position until 1913, when he became chancellor. Jordan's speeches and writings gained him a place among the great leaders in American higher education. His recognition of the need and importance of students' selecting their own subjects for study from the total range of the university program led to the introduction of the elective system at Stanford.

Many of Jordan's critical and scholarly assessments of higher education are contained in The Voice of the Scholar. This book consists of addresses delivered on such subjects as "The Personality of the University," "The University and the Common Man," "The Woman and the University," "The University of the United States," and "College Spirit."

Jordan held numerous important positions as an ichthyologist. He was assistant to the U.S. Fish Commission, head of the American commission to study the fur seals in the Bering Sea, and member of the International Commission for Fisheries. He was also chief director of the World Peace Congress and one of the original trustees of the Carnegie Foundation. He died Sept. 19, 1931, having served as chancellor emeritus of Stanford for 15 years.

Further Reading

A carefully written, detailed account of Jordan's life and work is his own The Days of a Man (2 vols., 1922). A biography, as well as an exposition of Jordan's social and political ideas, is in Edward McNall Burns, David Starr Jordan (1953). For his role as university president see Orrin Leslie Elliott, Stanford University: The First Twenty-five Years (1937).

Additional Sources

Moran, Hugh Anderson, David Starr Jordan, his spirit and decision of character, Palo Alto, Calif., Daily Press, 1969. □

David Starr Jordan

views updated May 18 2018

David Starr Jordan


American botanist and administrator. After attending Cornell University, Jordan secured a permanent position at Indiana University, where he quickly rose to president. Jordan instituted major reforms that substantially raised the quality of the institution's faculty and students. In 1892 he was chosen as the first president of Stanford University, a position that earned him a national reputation as a progressive reformer and administrator. Trained as a botanist, Jordan made his scientific reputation as an ichthyologist by studying and cataloging fish in the upper Midwest and the Pacific Coast. He was also a strong advocate for Darwinian evolution, and he argued for the significance of isolation as a factor in evolution as well as the importance of natural history in studying evolution.