Image of David Starr Jordan


Lifetime: 1851 - 1931 Passed: ≈ 92 years ago




United States

David Starr Jordan

David Starr Jordan was the founding president of Stanford University, serving from 1891 to 1913. He was an ichthyologist during his research career and then served as president of Indiana University.

Starr was also a strong supporter of eugenics, and his published views expressed a fear of "race-degeneration" and asserted that cattle and human beings are "governed by the same laws of selection". He was an antimilitarist since he believed that war killed off the best members of the gene pool, and he initially opposed American involvement in World War I.

Jordan was born in Gainesville, New York, and grew up on a farm in upstate New York. His parents made the unorthodox decision to educate him at a local girls' high school. His middle name, Starr, does not appear in early census records, and was apparently self-selected; he had begun using it by the time that he was enrolled at Cornell. He said that it was in honor of his mother's devotion to the minister Thomas Starr King.

He was inspired by Louis Agassiz to pursue his studies in ichthyology. He was part of the pioneer class of undergraduates at Cornell University and graduated in 1872 with a master's degree in botany.

He wrote in his autobiography The Days of a Man, "During the three years which followed [my entrance as a 'belated' freshman in March 1869], I completed all the requirements for a degree of Bachelor of Science, besides about two year of advanced work in Botany. Taking this last into consideration, the faculty conferred on me at graduation in June 1872, the advanced degree of Master of Science instead of the conventional Bachelor's Degree ... it was afterward voted not to grant any second degree within a year after the Bachelor had been received. I was placed, quite innocently, in the position of being the only graduate of Cornell to merge two degrees into one."

His master's thesis was on the topic "The Wild Flowers of Wyoming County".

Jordan initially taught natural history courses at several small Midwestern colleges and secondary schools.

Jordan obtained a medical degree, M.D., from Indiana Medical College in 1875.

Jordan married Susan Bowen , a biologist and a graduate of Mount Holyoke College in her hometown of Peru, Massachusetts on March 10, 1875. She died at age 39, after 10 years of marriage, following a brief illness. Bowen was six years Jordan's senior.

They had three children: the educator Edith Monica , Harold Bowen and Thora .

On September 19, 1931, Jordan died at his home on the Stanford campus after he had suffered a series of strokes over two years.

Books by David Starr Jordan

Life's Enthusiasms  Cover image

Life's Enthusiasms

Non-Fiction Essays
Nature Philosophical Life Short Works Inevitability Melodies Poetry

That is poetry in which truth is expressed in the fewest possible words, in words which are inevitable, in words which could not be changed without weakening the meaning or throwing discord into the melody. To choose the right word and to discard all...