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David Starr Jordan

1851-1931  
  • Educator, naturalist, taxonomist, philosopher, university administrator, and eugenecist.
  • A graduate of Cornell and Indiana Medical College (M.D., 1874), Jordan became a professor of zoology and then president of Indiana University. From 1891 to 1913 he served as the first president of Stanford University in California. The author of over 50 books, Dr. Jordan was a member of the California State Fish Commission, and his investigations of the exploitation of the salmon and fur seal populations helped save these species. His later career was devoted primarily to the causes of peace, freedom, and the controversial eugenics movement.

  • In 1878, then teaching science at Indiana University, Jordan enthusiastically read Muir's first Scribner Monthly magazine article, "The Humming Bird of the California Waterfalls" (about the "water ouzel," now known as the "American Dipper") to his classes, and long afterwards he declared it to be "the finest bird biography in existence."

  • When he later met Muir in 1880, Jordan observed of Muir, "Simple-hearted and enthusiastic, possessed of a finely attuned mind, he impressed his personality strongly and without effort upon others." (from Jordan's autobiography Days of a Man.)

  • Jordan's admiration for John Muir led to their close collaboration in saving the Calaveras Big Trees groves and other forest areas.

  • Unfortunately, like so many other scientists of his time, is memory is marred by the fact that he later became a leader in the despicable eugenics movement, which promoted controlled reproduction based on heritage. Jordan wrote prolifically on the subject of human populations and advocated many policy positions, including opposing slavery and imperialism. However, in his writings he also disparaged a broad swath of human populations and forcefully articulated views, unsupported by scientific evidence, of a hierarchy of races, ethnicities and cultures. Acknowledging these unacceptable idealogies, as of 2020 both Indiana University and Stanford University plan to rename spaces named for him.
  • David Starr Jordan was a charter member of the Siera Club in 1892, and served as one of the 9 original board of directors. He was among a group of academics from the University of California and Stanford University, as well as members of the U.S. Geological Survey, who served in the early Sierra Club. In 2021, a special Sierra Club Task Force has made clear that the Sierra Club repudiates Jordan's views on race. The Club recognizes that the now scientifically-repudiated theories of many scientists of the day, like Jordan, "served as a basis for eugenics, eventually leading to policies such as forced sterilizations, Jim Crow laws, internments, and anti-immigration." Accordingly, "the Sierra Club today specifically repudiates such views, and confirms that it is committed to being an anti-racist organization, and recognizes that anti-racism is central to creating a sustainable and livable world." The Task Force also acknowledged that there is no evidence John Muir supported such beliefs.
  • A Tribute to John Muir by David Starr Jordan.

  • For a fascinating exploration of Jordan, warts and all, part biography and part memoir, and part meditation on the meaning of life, see Why Fish Don't Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life by Lulu Miller. In this fascinating book, Miller hopes to find a role model for how to persevere in a world where chaos will always prevail, but instead discovers a man whose passion for "order" led him, in the years following Muir's death, to become a fervent advocate for the depicable idealogy of eugenics.



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