The Department of Geology Before 1906
THE Department of Geology is, as regards the time of its founding, one of the oldest departments in the University, for as early as October, 1839, the Regents appointed as Professor of Geology and Mineralogy Douglass Houghton (A.M. and M.D. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute '29), a geologist of distinction and an outstanding personality. The appointment was made without salary stated, and service was to begin when his work for the state survey of Michigan, on which he was then engaged, should be concluded.
Although in the first printed list of the faculty his name comes second, immediately after that of Asa Gray, Professor of Botany, yet, like Gray, he never actually taught classes in the University, for on October 13, 1845, with his survey work still uncompleted, he was drowned from a Mackinaw boat during a storm on Lake Superior.
About a year before Dr. Houghton's death the Board of Regents appointed an assistant to him in the person of Silas Hamilton Douglass (A.M. hon. Vermont '47). Houghton's unoccupied chair was at this time the professorship of chemistry, mineralogy, and geology, and Douglass was an assistant to the Professor of Chemistry. It is not clear just when the actual teaching work in geology was started, for Douglass' primary interest was throughout in chemistry. Douglass' title was many times expanded. In 1845-46 he was Lecturer in Chemistry and Geology; in 1846-47, Professor of Chemistry and Geology; in 1847-48, Professor of Chemistry, Mineralogy, and Geology; in 1850-51, Professor of Chemistry, Pharmacy, and Medical Jurisprudence; in 1851-52, Professor of Chemistry, Pharmacy, Medical Jurisprudence, Geology, and Mineralogy. Whatever the title, chemistry appears to have absorbed the greater part of his attention (see Part III: Department of Chemistry). After 1855, when his connection with the professorship of geology ceased, he became Professor of Chemistry, Mineralogy, Pharmacy, and Toxicology.
Throughout the decade that Douglass conducted the work in geology, it seems to have been restricted to a single three-hour course offered in the last term of the senior year. In 1855 Alexander Winchell (Wesleyan '47, LL.D. ibid. '67), who had been appointed Professor of Physics and Civil Engineering in November, 1853, and had taken up his duties in the University in January, 1854, was transferred to a newly formed chair of natural history. At this time his training had been in mathematics, and his geological experience had been limited to the collecting of fossils in the South with Professor M. Tuomey of the University of Alabama. Since the natural history work occupied a portion only of his time, Winchell taught also elementary mathematics and served as Secretary pro tem of the Board of Regents, though this position he resigned in 1856. In 1859 he was appointed state geologist of Michigan for one year and in 1869 again for two years. In 1859, when he received from the survey a salary of $1,000 for six months' work (Merrill, p. 207), he requested of the Board of Regents the appointment of an assistant to take over his teaching for these months, and the request was granted, though he retained his full University salary.
Although the training in geology of Page 585Dr. Winchell was very deficient, he was a man of remarkable capacity for work, and while he continued to lecture and write on many subjects outside his field of teaching, he eventually became widely recognized as a leader in geological science. The Geological Society of America was founded in 1890, and in 1891 Winchell was elected the second president of the Society in immediate succession to Professor James D. Dana of Yale University. He was an orator of great power, and his lectures to classes reflected this ability rather more than instructional quality. Filibert Roth ('90), former head of the Department of Forestry, was a student in Professor Winchell's classes, and once related to the author that Professor Winchell would enter the classroom, open his text at random, and, his eye alighting upon some word, would make this the text of his lecture. Soon quite absorbed in abstraction, he would be oblivious to the fact that students were slipping away, some by the door and others by the windows. He was also subject to moods in his contacts with students. Harry B. Hutchins ('71, LL.D. '21), afterwards President of the University, related how he went to Professor Winchell and expressed a desire to prepare for a geological career. Winchell was in a happy mood and mapped out the work, so that Hutchins went away enthusiastic. When Hutchins next saw his professor, Winchell's mood had changed, the incident of the earlier meeting had been forgotten, and the student was discouraged from such a course. "So near," said President Hutchins, "did I come to the career of a geologist."
In 1865 a two-year curriculum in mining engineering was offered (R.P., 1864-70, p. 108), and a few students in that field were later actually graduated. In 1875 the state legislature was memorialized and passed an act to provide for a School of Mines to be located at the University, with professors of mining engineering, metallurgy, and architecture and design, together "with the necessary assistant instructors." The sum of $8,000 was appropriated for salaries and $2,500 for equipment for each of the two years 1875-76 and 1876-77. William Henry Pettee (Harvard '61) was appointed Professor of Mining Engineering, and Silas H. Douglas,* Professor of Metallurgy. Financial support was not continued beyond this two-year period, and though Pettee and Douglas gave the courses for two more years, the project was then given up. The lack of continued support from the legislature was due in part to the rivalry between the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of the state, and in part to the lack of confidence in the University, and especially in its Professor of Metallurgy, occasioned by the Douglas-Rose scandal within the Department of Chemistry (see Part I: Douglas-Rose Controversy). A School of Mines was located in 1885 at Houghton in the Upper Peninsula.
Almost from his arrival at the University in 1854, Dr. Winchell became involved in a bitter controversy with Dr. Tappan, the President, and was charged by the latter with attempts to oppose his authority and obstruct his policies.
In 1873 Dr. Winchell accepted a call to the chancellorship of Syracuse University. Three years before his departure, that is, in the summer of 1870, Mark Walrod Harrington ('68, A.M. '71, LL.D. '94) had been appointed Instructor in Mathematics and Assistant Curator of the Museum of Natural History, but with the title changed in June, 1872, to Instructor in Geology, Zoology, and Botany. When Winchell departed for Syracuse the Regents called to his chair Eugene Woldemar Hilgard (Ph.D. Heidelberg '53) from the University of Mississippi. His title was Professor Page 586of Geology, Zoology, and Botany. Harrington was at the same time promoted to the rank of assistant professor in the same three departments. Thus, for the first time at the University, the Department of Geology was provided with a staff of two who were making it their special line of teaching. This earnest of a stronger department was to prove disappointing, for the next year Harrington was transferred to the Department of Zoology and Botany, and Hilgard himself within two years had accepted a call to the University of California.
For the two years 1875-77 the chair of geology was to remain vacant. In the meantime Pettee continued as Professor of Mining Engineering, and though Joseph B. Steere was made Assistant Professor of Paleontology in 1876, he did no teaching in geological science. In 1877 the Regents appointed Dr. Pettee Professor of Geology in charge of Mining Engineering, and for the next two years he was to conduct the mining engineering work.
In 1879 Dr. Winchell was called back to the University as Professor of Historic Geology and Paleontology, and the title of Dr. Pettee was then changed to Professor of Mineralogy and Economic Geology. Winchell's title the following year was changed to Professor of Geology and Paleontology, and this chair he held until his death at Ann Arbor on February 19, 1891. Professor Pettee had continued to give courses in economic geology and in the geology of the United States. Thus, for the second time, the department included more than one teacher. Winchell gave a course in elements of general geology (lectures two hours weekly and oral exercises one hour additional) throughout the year; one in paleontological investigations (three to five hours weekly) throughout the year; the teachers' course in the elements of geology (two hours weekly), and a course in mining engineering (five hours weekly) throughout one semester.
When Winchell died in February, 1891, William Hittell Sherzer ('89, Ph.D. '01) was teaching at Houghton. He was called as Instructor in Geology and taught the geology courses for the three months still remaining. At the June meeting of the Board of Regents he was reappointed with the same title for the year following (1891-92). He introduced two new courses: Macroscopic Petrography and Microscopical Mineralogy and Petrography.
In May, 1892, Israel Cook Russell (C.E. New York University '72, LL.B. ibid. '97) was called to succeed Professor Winchell, with the title of Professor of Geology. At first he offered but three courses: Elements of Geology (a three-hour course throughout the year), Physical and Glacial Geology (a three-hour course), for one semester, and Paleontology, likewise a three-hour course for one semester. Later he offered four courses each semester, but most of these were not given, and, in fact, could hardly have been given satisfactorily by a one-man department without even an assistant.