Morse, Edward Sylvester

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(b. Portland, Maine, 18 June 1838; d. Salem, Massachusetts, 20 December 1925)


Morse was the son of Jonathan Kimball Morse, a businessman, and Jane Seymour Beckett Morse, who claimed descent from Thomas à Becket and who was much interested in science. He collected shells when very young, even corresponding with such experts as A. A. Gould and Amos Binney, and showed a remarkable drawing ability.

Morse attended Bethel Academy and Bridgeton Academy, both in Maine, before going to Harvard as one of Louis Agassiz’s special students at Lawrence Scientific School, where he had an assistantship from 1859 to 1862. He then went to the Essex Institute in Salem, Massachusetts; and when the Peabody Academy of Science (later Peabody Museum) was founded there in 1867, Morse became curator of its Radiata and Mollusca. From 1871 to 1874 he was professor of zoology at Bowdoin College, and from 1877 to 1880 was a professor at Tokyo University, before returning to the Peabody Academy as a highly effective director (emeritus from 1916).

Among many other honors Morse received an honorary Ph.D. from Bowdoin (1871) and a D. Sc. from Yale (1918); he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1876. With Alpheus Hyatt, Alpheus Spring Packard, and Frederic Ward Putnam he founded the American Naturalist in 1867.

From his childhood interest in shells, Morse went on to considerable work with mollusks, including pioneering studies on land snails of Maine. He soon specialized in brachiopods, which were then considered mollusks. Through detailed studies on the anatomy and the larval development of this relict group, he proved them to be more closely affiliated with worms.

Having gone to Japan in 1877 to enlarge his brachiopod studies, Morse established one of the earliest marine stations, at Enoshima. Charmed by the country, he delved deeply into its architecture, archaeology, and midden pottery. The Boston Museum of Fine Arts bought his great collection.

Morse illustrated effectively all his own articles and some for others, most notably Gould’s Invertebrata of Massachusetts.


I. Original Works. Morse’s most significant publications on mollusks and brachiopods were “Observations on the Terrestrial Pulmonifera of Maine,” in Journal of the Portland Society of Natural History, 1 , no. 1 (1864), 1–63; and “Systematic Position of the Brachiopoda,” in Memoirs of the Boston Society of Natural History, 15 (1873), 315–372. He also wrote many valuable shorter papers in these fields. The Peabody Museum at Salem has a full bibliography of his publications, in both science and Japanese studies.

II. Secondary Literarure. An account of Morse’s life and interests, by L. O. Howard, is in Biographical Memoirs. National Academy of Sciences, 17 , 1–29; it includes a selected bibliography and citations to shorter memorials on Morse. A fine tribute by J. S. kingsley appeared in proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 61 (1925–1926), 549–555.

Elizabeth Noble Shor

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Morse, Edward Sylvester

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