Jordan, Edwin Oakes

views updated

Jordan, Edwin Oakes

(b. Thomaston, Maine, 28 July 1866; d. Lewiston, Maine, 2 September 1936)


Jordan spent much of his first three years at sea with his parents. His father, Joshua Lane Jordan, was a captain of merchant vessels; his mother, Eliza Bugbee Jordan, had taught school. After his secondary schooling in Maine and Massachusetts, Jordan attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he became one of the early protégés of William Thompson Sedgwick. Following his graduation in 1888 Jordan worked with Sedgwick and Allen Hazen for two years at the new Lawrence Experiment Station of the Massachusetts Board of Health, investigating the bacteria of water and sewage. In 1890 he began grduate studies in zoology at Clark University under Charles Otis Whitman and received his Ph.D. in 1892, in time to accompany Whitman to the University of Chicago. Jordan remained at Chicago for the next forty-one years, moving up from instructor in “sanitary biology” to professor of bacteriology and, from 1914 to 1933, serving as chairman of the department of hygiene and bacteriology. He married Elsie Fay Pratt in 1893; they had three children.

Modest and soft-spoken, Jordan nevertheless was one of the energizers of the second generation of American bacteriologists. As his many graduate students moved to laboratories and teaching positions around the country, his influence within the fields of bacteriology and public health expanded similarly. He helped organize the Society of American Bacteriologists in 1899 and during the 1920’s helped found the American Epidemiological Society. As a trustee and staff member Jordan played an active role in the work of the John McCormick Institute for Infectious Diseases. In particular, he did much to raise the quality of American scientific writing in his capacity as joint editor, beginning in 1904, of the McCormick Institute’s Journal of Infectious Diseases and as editor of its Journal of Preventive Medicine from 1926 to 1933.

An authority on waterborne diseases as well as other aspects of sanitation, Jordan frequently served as consultant to local, national, and international health agencies. Notable were his studies of the self- purification of streams, which he made between 1899 and 1903 for the Sanitary District of Chicago in connection with the controversial Chicago drainage canal and its pollution of the Illinois River. From 1920 to 1927 Jordan was a member of the International Health Board of the Rockefeller Foundation and from 1930 to 1933 served on the Board of Scientific Directors of the Rockefeller Foundation’s International Health Division.

In 1899 Jordan translated Ferdinand Hueppe’s Die Methoden der Bakterien-Forschung into English. Later he wrote Textbook of General Bacteriology (1908). This standard work went through eleven American editions before Jordan’s death and was translated into several foreign languages. Another major publication was his authoritative Food Poisoning (1917), much expanded in 1931. Of comparable significance was Epidemic Influenza (1927). This exhaustive study, which grew out of the frustration experienced by scientists and health officials during the 1918-1919 pandemic, failed to establish the etiology of influenza; but its organization of the voluminous literature proved invaluable for subsequent research efforts on the disease.

Jordan’s authority on public health matters derived at least partly from the continuing basic research in bacteriology which he and his associates conducted. His broad biological view of bacteriology produced a variety of studies on host and parasite populations and on the mechanism of transmitting infective agents. Among his many other studies, he was one of the earliest investigators concerned with the problem of the variation of bacteria. For Jordan, however, the pursuit of fundamental scientific knowledge was never a wholly abstract matter but, rather, an activity which often related intimately to the demands and unsolved problem of practical sanitation.


I. Original Works. A collection of Jordan’s professional correspondence and other papers is deposited in the library of the University of Chicago. Much of his personal library, including books, reprints, photographs, and other materials, is in the archives of the American Society for Microbiology, Washington, D.C.

A complete bibliography of Jordan’s writings, arranged by year of publication, was prepared by William Burrows in 1939 (see below). The list includes several hundred scientific papers. It also includes two book-length works not mentioned in the text: Textbook of General Bacteriology (Philadelphia-London, 1908); and Food Poisoning (Chicago, 1917; enl., 1931). See also A Pioneer in Public Health, William Thompson Sedgwick (New Haven, 1924), written with G. C. Whipple and C. E. A. Winslow; and The Newer Knowledge of Bacteriology and Immunology (Chicago, 1928), edited with I.S. Falk.

II. Secondary Literature. The fullest account to date of Jordan’s life and work is William Burrows, in Biographical Memoirs. National Academy of Sciences, 20 (1939), 197-228. There are informative sketches by Stanhope Bayne-Jones, in Dictionary of American Biography, supp. II, 352-354; and by Paul F. Clark, in his Pioneer Microbiologists of America (Madison, Wis., 1961), pp. 255-261. Among the most useful obituaries are N. Paul Hudson, in Journal of Bacteriology, 33 (1937), 242-248; and Ludvig Hektoen, in Science,84 (1936),411-413. Hektoen’s account also appeared in Proceedings of the Institute of Medicine of Chicago, 11 (1936), 182-185. See also brief accounts in Journal of the American Medical Association, 107 (1936), 2051; and Who Was Who in America, I, 652.

James H. Cassedy

About this article

Jordan, Edwin Oakes

Updated About content Print Article