Scott, William Berryman

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(b. Cincinnati, Ohio, 12 February 1858; d. Princeton, New Jersey, 29 March 1947)

vertebrate paleontology, geology.

The son of William McKendree Scott and Mary Elizabeth Hodge, and a great-great-great-grandson of Benjamin Franklin, Scott lived virtually his entire life in Princeton, New Jersey, where his family moved when he was three years old. He attended the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) and began his scientific career with field trips to Bridger Basin, Wyoming, in 1877 and 1878, accompanied by his lifelong friend, Henry Fairfield Osborn.

After completion of graduate studies in England and Germany (where he obtained the doctorate at the University of Heidelberg), Scott returned to Princeton in order to join the faculty, where he served for fifty years and then for seventeen years more, after his formal retirement. In 1883 he married Alice Adeline Post; they had seven children. In 1884, at the age of twenty-six, he became a full professor, and in 1904, first chairman of the department of geology, a post he held until his retirement in 1930.

Scott devoted a large part of his life to quiet teaching and research on fossil mammals. After a few expeditions at the beginning of his career, he abandoned the search for fossils in the field. although he was an inveterate traveler throughout most of his life. His research, almost entirely devoted to fossil mammals, produced some 177 published contributions. His viewpoint was pragmatic, and little of his attention was devoted to the more theoretical aspects of his subject. Perhaps his two greatest efforts were the editing and writing in part of the impressive Reports of the Princetos University Expeditions to Patagonia (1905–1912) and the writing of several large volumes on the Oligocene mammals of the beds of the White River, South Dakota (1936–1941). He also wrote a standard geology textbook and the widely used History of Land Mammals in the Western Hemisphere (1913).


Scott wrote an autobiography, Memoirs of a Palaeontologis (Princeton, N.J., 1939). The full bibliography of W. B. Scott is G. G. Simpson, “Biographical Memoir of William Berryman Scott,” in Biographical Memoirs. National Academy of Sciences, 25 (1948), 175–203.

Edwin H. Colbert

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