The University of Michigan, an encyclopedic survey ... Wilfred B. Shaw, editor.
University of Michigan.


LIKE most organizations, the Michigan Academy had its inception in the vision and the initiative of a few men. The idea was conceived by Professor Jacob E. Reighard in the early nineties, while he was head of the Department of Animal Morphology of the University of Michigan. His plan was to bring together the college and university teachers and other persons in the state of Michigan who were interested in research. The desirability of founding a state academy was obvious. The only question in Professor Reighard's mind was whether there was sufficient interest at that time. In order to reassure himself he broached the matter to various persons individually. Among them were Dean C. Worcester, then Instructor in Zoology at the University of Michigan, F. C. Newcombe, Instructor in Botany at the same institution, Frank McFarland, Professor of Biology at Olivet College, and W. J. Beal, Professor of Botany at Michigan Agricultural College. These men and others gave Professor Reighard enough encouragement to warrant the taking of further steps.

Page  323On March 22, 1892, Professor Reighard, together with V. M. Spalding, Professor of Botany, W. H. Howell, Professor of Physiology, and J. B. Steere, Professor of Zoology, all of the University of Michigan, addressed to a score of men well known in the state a proposal "to organize in Michigan a state society of naturalists to comprise zoologists, botanists, and physiologists." The chief purpose of this letter was to elicit expressions of opinion on the scope of the work that was to be done and on the character of the membership.

In the spring of 1894 the time seemed ripe for further action, but, owing to Professor Spalding's absence in Europe, Professor Reighard's preparations to go abroad, and Professor Howell's having left the University, the task of organization fell upon others. Under these circumstances Professor F. C. Newcombe, of the Botany Department, prepared, with the help of Professors J. B. Steere and W. P. Lombard, a circular letter, dated June 21, 1894, calling for a meeting of interested persons at Ann Arbor on June 27 for purposes of organization.

This meeting, which was attended by over twenty-five persons, was called to order by F. C. Newcombe, who nominated W. J. Beal for chairman. He was elected unanimously, and F. C. Newcombe was made the first secretary. The need of such an organization and its opportunities for usefulness were recognized by all present. "The general opinion expressed was that the society should hold stated meetings for the reading and discussion of scientific papers, and should also seek to forward the scientific [study of the] resources of the state as well as [that of] the fauna, flora and so forth."

A motion was made and carried "that the officers of the association with the addition of two members be constituted an advisory board to report a constitution and by laws, to arrange a program and to call the next meeting." The problem of a suitable name was referred to this board.

As officers of the temporary organization, W. J. Beal was chosen president, J. B. Steere vice-president, F. C. Newcombe secretary and treasurer. Professor W. B. Barrows, of the Michigan Agricultural College (now Michigan State College), and Professor I. C. Russell, of the University of Michigan, were elected as the two other members of the Advisory Board.

The organization of the society was completed at the first formal meeting, which was held, quite appropriately, in the Pioneer Room of the state capitol at Lansing on December 26-27, 1894. At that time the constitution and bylaws, which had been drawn up by the Advisory Board, were adopted. The constitution declared: "The objects of this Academy shall be scientific research and the diffusion of knowledge concerning the various departments of science."

The society was incorporated as the Michigan Academy of Science on February 6, 1895. Since 1894 meetings have been held annually, except in the years 1896 and 1914. All but the first, second, fifth, and sixth have taken place in Ann Arbor.

For the first few years of its existence the affairs of the Academy were carried on by a president, a secretary, a treasurer, and vice-presidents (chairmen of sections). Together they constituted an executive committee called the Council. In 1898 the past presidents were made members of the Council. The office of librarian was created in 1903, when G. P. Burns became the first incumbent. At that time only three Reports had been published. The offices of secretary and treasurer were combined in 1904, but they were again separated in 1926. In 1924 the title of the officer in charge of a section was changed from "vice-president" Page  324to "chairman," and the office of vice-president as it is now known was established.

At a meeting of the Advisory Board held prior to September 15, 1894, it had been unanimously agreed that the principal object of the Academy should be "the study of agriculture, archaeology, botany, geography, geology, mineral resources, zoology, etc., etc., of the state of Michigan, and the diffusion of the knowledge thus gained among men. It is not the opinion of the advisory board, however, that the work of the society should be restricted to the subjects named, but should be enlarged from time to time as occasion may require." In 1921, when plans were being formulated to have the University take over the publication of the Academy volumes, it was decided to widen the scope of activities by the formation of sections in arts and letters, an addition which caused the name of the Academy to be changed to "Michigan Academy of Science, Arts, and Letters." At the present time there are sections in anthropology, botany, economics, fine arts, folklore, forestry, geography, geology and mineralogy, history and political science, landscape architecture, language and literature, philosophy, psychology, sanitary and medical science, sociology, and zoology.

The enormous growth of the Academy in the half century since its founding is evidenced by the programs. Nineteen titles were announced on the first program, but some of the recent ones have listed as many as three hundred. The number of authors now far exceeds the total attendance ("thirty to fifty") at the first meeting. One may well recall the words of Seneca: "The world is a small place unless there is in it a subject for everybody to investigate."

The struggle for an adequate vehicle of publication, which began at the first meeting of the Academy, was destined to be a long one. It was not until 1900 that the First Report of the Michigan Academy of Science, consisting of 180 pages and a few illustrations, made its appearance. Twenty-two volumes of Reports were printed with the aid of appropriations made by the state legislature. When the University assumed the publication of the volumes the title was changed to Papers of the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts, and Letters. Twenty-five volumes have been printed to date (1940). Reports are still being published, but they are devoted to the proceedings of the society.

At the present time a board of section editors, under the supervision of the general editor for the Academy, passes upon the manuscripts submitted for publication. The work of preparing the articles for the printer and of seeing them through the press is done by the editor of scholarly publications of the University of Michigan Press.

One of the most valuable results of the increased facilities for publication has been the growing exchange list. Before the outbreak of the second world war restricted communication with foreign nations the volumes of the Papers were being sent to about 550 learned societies and institutions. At the turn of the century the Reports were striving to attain state-wide importance; the Papers have now become cosmopolitan.

The influence of the Academy in proposing and encouraging certain kinds of legislation has been marked. It has always had among its members scientists thoroughly familiar with the natural resources of the state of Michigan and alert to the dangers which threatened them. If it was the first body which recognized some of the state's most complex problems and took action in regard to them, the explanation is simple, for it was organized just after the lumber industry in Michigan had passed its peak Page  [unnumbered]

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Henry Philip Tappan
Page  [unnumbered]Page  325and when the adverse results of destructive lumbering, with its corollaries of idle land and taxation problems and of great changes affecting the fauna and the flora of the state, were beginning to be noticed and felt.

At the first meeting there were resolutions relating to a topographic map of the state, better registration of births and deaths in Michigan, passage of a bill in regard to forest reservations, endorsement of the work of the Michigan Fish Commission, increased appropriation for the continuance of the biological examination of the waters of the state by the Michigan Fish Commission, and the inauguration of a natural-history survey of the state. This was an ambitious program. Not a great deal was accomplished immediately as a result of it, but it was important in blazing the trail for future sessions.

Since the first meeting the Academy has never ceased to follow the precedent so well established by its early members. Copies of resolutions take up an increasingly large part of the minutes as the years go by. The Academy has urged or furthered legislation for topographical, archaeological, biological, geological, and land-economic surveys. It has worked for the protection and conservation of plant and animal life; the establishment of parks to preserve things of scientific, historical, and recreational value, as well as the setting aside of areas of natural scenic beauty; and the restoration to productivity of idle and waste lands caused by deforestation. Perhaps no subject has received more consideration than forestry and its attendant problems.

There are now about a thousand members of the Academy. Both officers and members deeply appreciate the University's part in fostering its growth and in enabling it to attain its present position in the world of scholarship.


McCartney, Eugene S."The Beginnings and Growth of the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts, and Letters."Papers Mich. Acad., 19 (1934): 1-19; Repts. Mich. Acad., 35 (1933): 118-33.
Papers of the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts, and Letters, Vols. 1-25 (1923-40).
Reports of the Michigan Academy of Science, Vols. 1-22 (1900-1921).
Reports of the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts, and Letters, Vols. 23-42 (1924-40).