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Joseph LeConte

1823-1901

Joseph LeConte Photograph - 1896
  • Geologist, naturalist, and university professor.
  • With his brother John, took part in organizing the University of California.
  • A.M., M.D., LL.D. Professor of Geology and Natural History, Honorary Professor of Biology in the College of Dentistry, and Lecturer.

  • Elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1874.

  • Joseph Le Conte first visited Yosemite in 1870 with 10 of his first class of students. There were only 40 students enrolled in the entire University of California at that time. It was on this trip that LeConte met John Muir, who joined part of the "University Excursion Party."
  • His son, Joseph N. LeConte, was the photographer of many Sierra Club outings, a trailblazer and map-maker for what became the John Muir Trail.
  • John Muir and LeConte were life-long friends. Joseph LeConte was one of the first professional geologists to support Muir's theory of the glacial origin of Yosemite Valley.
  • Joseph and his brother John, and his son "Little Joe," have been remembered with numerous names in the Sierra Nevada. and elsewhere. Joseph LeConte the elder is memorialized in the mountains with LeConte Cascade, "the most majestic cascade” in the Tuolumne River canyon (named in 1894), and also by Mount LeConte, a peak over 13,900 feet in the Mount Whitney region, named in 1895.
  • The Yosemite Conservation Heritage Center - A 100+ year-old National Historic Landmark in Yosemite National Park originally dedicated to Joseph LeConte, who died in the Valley in 1901 at the age of 76 on the eve of the Club's first High Trip. When LeConte's racial theories came to light in 2015, the Sierra Club Board of Directors decided that this public education center, originally named in honor of a man who promoted theories about the inferiority of nonwhite races was counter both to the Sierra Club's values and to the need to promote inclusivity in our national parks. For that reason, the Sierra Club requested that the National Park Service rename the lodge, which is now called the "Yosemite Conservation Heritage Center."
  • Historical Material:
    • Joseph LeConte Tribute - from the The Blue and Gold (University of California Yearbook), 1896, pp. 126 & 127. At the time of this 1896 edition of The Blue and Gold, there were 1,685 students attending the University of California. The students wrote of him in this edition, "He has made the courses under his supervision so interesting and popular that his lecture hall is always crowded. It is only necessary to hear him lecture once to understand this popularity. "
    • A Journal of Ramblings Through the High Sierra by Joseph LeConte, telling the story of the "University Excursion Party" (1870) (off-site link to Yosemite Online Library by Dan Anderson). The entry for August 5, 1870, notes: "Here found a man in rough miller’s garb, whose intelligent face and earnest, clear blue eye, excited my interest. After some conversation, discovered that it was Mr. Muir, a gentlemen of whom I had heard much from Mrs. Prof Carr and others. He had also received a letter from Mrs. Carr, concerning our party, and was looking for us. We were glad to meet each other. I urged him to go with us to Mono, and he seemed disposed to do so... Mr. Muir is a gentleman of rare intelligence, of much knowledge of science, particularly of botany, which he has made a specialty. He has lived several years in the valley, and is thoroughly acquainted with the mountains in the vicinity. A man of so much intelligence tending a saw mill!—not for himself but for Mr. Hutchings. This is California! ... Mr. Muir gazes and gazes, and cannot get his fill. He is a most passionate lover of nature. Plants, and flowers, and forests, and sky, and clouds, and mountains, seem actually to haunt his imagination. He seems to revel in the freedom of this life. I think he would pine away in a city or in conventional life of any kind. He is really not only an intelligent man, as I saw at once, but a man of strong, earnest nature, and thoughtful, closely observing and original mind. I have talked much with him to-day about the probable manner in which Yosemite was formed."
       



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