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David Starr Jordan

David Starr Jordan
President of Indiana University
In office
Preceded by Lemuel Moss
Succeeded by John Merle Coulter
First President of Stanford University
In office
Preceded by none
Succeeded by John C. Branner
Personal details
Born (1851-01-19)January 19, 1851
Wyoming County, New York
Died September 19, 1931(1931-09-19) (aged 80)
Stanford, California
Spouse(s) Susan Bowen Jordan, Jessie Knight Jordan
Children Knight Starr Jordan, Eric Knight Jordan, Barbara Jordan
Alma mater Cornell University
Profession Ichthyologist, University President

David Starr Jordan (January 19, 1851 – September 19, 1931) was an American ichthyologist, educator, eugenicist, and peace activist.[1] He was president of Indiana University and was the founding president of Stanford University.[2]


  • Biography 1
    • Early life and education 1.1
    • Career 1.2
    • Role in coverup of the murder of Jane Stanford 1.3
    • Legacy 1.4
  • Monuments and memorials 2
  • Works 3
  • Eponymy 4
  • Notes 5
  • Further reading 6
  • External links 7


Early life and education

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.[3] He was part of the pioneer class of undergraduates at Cornell University, graduating with a degree in botany. He obtained graduate education from Butler University and the Indiana University School of Medicine.[4] While at Cornell, Jordan joined the Delta Upsilon fraternity.

His first wife Susan Bowen died after 10 years of marriage and he then married Jessie Knight, with whom he had four children.[3][5]


He was inspired by Louis Agassiz to pursue his studies in ichthyology. He taught natural history courses at several small Midwestern colleges before joining the natural history faculty of Indiana University Bloomington in 1879. In 1885, he was named President of Indiana University, becoming the nation's youngest university president at age 34 and the first Indiana University president that was not an ordained minister.[4] He improved the university's finances and public image, doubled its enrollment, and instituted an elective system which, like Cornell's, was an early application of the modern liberal arts curriculum.[3]

In March 1891, he was approached by Leland and Jane Stanford, who offered him the presidency of their about-to-open California university, Leland Stanford Junior University. He had been recommended to the Stanfords by the president of Cornell, Andrew White. His educational philosophy was a good fit with the Stanfords' vision of a non-sectarian, co-educational school with a liberal arts curriculum, and after consulting his wife he accepted the offer on the spot.[3] Jordan arrived at Stanford in June 1891 and immediately set about recruiting faculty for the university's planned September opening. With such a short time frame he drew heavily on his own acquaintance in academia; of the fifteen founding professors, most came either from Indiana University or his alma mater Cornell. During his first year at Stanford he was instrumental in establishing the university's Hopkins Marine Station. He served Stanford as president until 1913 and then chancellor until his retirement in 1916.[4] While chancellor, he was also elected president of the National Education Association.[6]

In addition to his work as Stanford president, Jordan was known for being a peace activist. He argued that war was detrimental to the human species because it removed the strongest organisms from the gene pool. Jordan was president of the World Peace Foundation from 1910 to 1914 and president of the World Peace Conference in 1915, and opposed U.S. involvement in World War I.[4]

In 1925 Jordan was an expert witness for the defense in the Pasadena, California, in 1928 in order to compile and distribute information about compulsory sterilization legislation in the United States, for the purposes of eugenics.[9]

Role in coverup of the murder of Jane Stanford

Eric Knight Jordan in 1920.

In 1905, Jordan launched an apparent coverup of the murder by poisoning of Jane Stanford. While vacationing in Oahu, Stanford had suddenly died of strychnine poisoning, according to the local coroner’s jury. Jordan then sailed to Hawaii, hired a physician to investigate the case, and declared she had in fact died of heart failure, a condition whose symptoms bear no relationship to those actually observed.[10][11] His motive for doing this has been a subject of speculation. One possibility is that he was simply acting to protect the reputation of the university;[10][12] its finances were precarious and a scandal might have damaged fundraising. However, given that Mrs. Stanford had had a difficult relationship with him, and at the time of her death was reportedly planning to remove him from his position at the university, a more personal motive has been suspected.[13] Jordan's version of Mrs. Stanford's demise[14] was largely accepted until the appearance of several publications in 2003 emphasizing the evidence for an unsolved crime.[10][12][13][15]


His son, Eric Knight Jordan (1903–1926)[16] followed his father's footsteps into the sciences. He had taken part in a successful paleontological expedition to the Revillagigedo Islands and was considered a rising star in the world of paleontology when he was involved in a traffic accident near Gilroy, California, suffering fatal injuries and dying at the age of 22.[17] His death was a severe blow to his father.[18]

Jordan's papers are housed at Stanford University[19] and at Swarthmore College[4]

His later work, The Higher Foolishness was one of the several papers whose opinions inspired philosopher Martin Gardner to write his treatise on scientific skepticism, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science.

The David Starr Jordan Prize was established in 1986 as a joint endowment by Cornell, Indiana University, and Stanford. It is awarded to a "young scientist (40 years of age or less) who is making novel innovative contributions in one or more areas of Jordan’s interest: evolution, ecology, population and organismal biology".[20]

The fisheries research ship David Starr Jordan, commissioned in 1966 for service with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service‍ '​s Bureau of Commercial Fisheres and which later served in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fleet as NOAAS David Starr Jordan (R 444) until 2010, was named in Jordan‍ '​s honor.[21]

Monuments and memorials


David Starr Jordan as a young man (1868) from Days of a Man
Photograph of David Starr Jordan in 1880.
David Starr Jordan.
Portrait of David Starr Jordan, by E. Spencer Macky.
  • (1876). Manual of the Vertebrates of the Northern United States.
  • (1877). Contributions to North American Ichthyology.
  • (1882). Synopsis of the Fishes of North America.
  • (1885). A Catalogue of the Fishes Known to Inhabit the Waters of North America.
  • (1887). Science Sketches.
  • (1888). The Value of Higher Education.
  • (1895). The Factors in Organic Evolution.
  • (1895). The Fishes of Puget Sound.
  • (1895). The Fishes of Sinaloa.
  • (1895). The Story of the Innumerable Company.
  • (1896). The Care and Culture of Men.
  • (1896–1900). The Fishes of North and Middle America [four vols.]
  • (1897). Matka and Kotik.
  • (1898). The Fur Seals and Fur-Seal Islands of the North Pacific Ocean.
  • (1898). Footnotes to Evolution.
  • (1899). The Book of Knight and Barbara.
  • (1899). California and the Californians.
  • (1899). Imperial Democracy.
  • (1899). The Question of the Philippines.
  • (1899). The True Basis of Economics [with J.H. Stallard].
  • (1900). Animal Life: A First Book of Zoology [with Vernon L. Kellog].
  • (1900). The Strength of Being Morally Clean.
  • (1902). American Food and Game Fishes [with B. W. Evermann]
  • (1902). Animal Forms: A Text-Book of Zoology.
  • (1902). The Blood of the Nation [1910, expanded].
  • (1902). The Philosophy of Despair.
  • (1903). Animal Studies [with Vernon L. Kellog and Harold Heath].
  • (1903). The Training of a Physician.
  • (1903). The Voice of the Scholar.
  • (1904). The Wandering Host.
  • (1905). The Aquatic Resources of the Hawaiian Islands.
  • (1905). A Guide to the Study of Fishes.
  • (1905). The Fish Fauna of the Tortugas Archipelago [with Dr. Joseph Cheesman Thompson, published for the US Bureau of Fisheries].
  • (1906). The Fishes of Samoa.
  • (1906). Life's Enthusiasms.
  • (1907). The Alps of King-Kern Divide.
  • (1907). The California Earthquake of 1906.
  • (1907). College and the Man.
  • (1907). Evolution and Animal Life [with Vernon L. Kellog].
  • (1907). Fishes.
  • (1907). Fishes of the Islands of Luzon and Panay.
  • (1907). The Human Harvest.
  • (1908). Description of Three New Species of Carangoid Fishes from Formosa.
  • (1908). The Fate of Iciodorum.
  • (1908). Fish Stories: Alleged and Experienced.
  • (1908). The Higher Sacrifice.
  • (1908). The Scientific Aspects of Luther Burbank's Work [with Vernon L. Kellog].
  • (1909). A Catalog of the Fishes of Formosa.
  • (1909). The Religion of a Sensible American.
  • (1910). The Call of the Nation.
  • (1910). Check-List of Species of Fishes Known from the Philippine Archipelago [with Robert Earl Richardson].
  • (1910). Leading American Men of Science.
  • (1910). The Woman and the University.
  • (1910). Work of the International Fisheries Commission of Great Britain and the United States.
  • (1911). The Heredity of Richard Roe.
  • (1911). The Stability of Truth.
  • (1912). The Practical Education.
  • (1912). The Story of a Good Woman: Jane Lathrop Stanford.
  • (1912). Syllabus of Lectures on International Conciliation.
  • (1912). Unseen Empire.
  • (1913). America's Conquest of Europe.
  • (1913). A Catalog of the Fishes Known from the Waters of Korea.
  • (1913). Naval Waste.
  • (1913). War and Waste.
  • (1913). What Shall We Say?
  • (1914). Record of Fishes Obtained in Japan in 1911.
  • (1914). War's Aftermath [with Harvey Ernest Jordan].
  • (1915). The Foundation Ideals of Stanford University.
  • (1915). War and the Breed.
  • (1916). Ways to Lasting Peace.
  • (1916). What of Mexico?
  • (1916). World Peace and the College Man.
  • (1917). The Genera of Fishes.
  • (1918). Democracy and World Relations.
  • (1919). Fossil Fishes of Southern California.
  • (1919). Studies in Ichthyology [with Carl Leavitt Hubbs].
  • (1920). Fossil Fishes of Diatom Beds of Lompoc, California.
  • (1922). Days of a Man [autobiography].
  • (1922). A List of the Fishes of Hawaii.
  • (1927). A Higher Foolishness.
  • (1929). Your Family Tree.

Selected articles

  • (1893). "The Educational Ideas of Leland Stanford," Educational Review 6, pp. 136–143.
  • (1902). "Certain Problems of Democracy in Hawaii," Out West 16, pp. 25, 239.
  • (1906). "The Trout and Salmon of the Pacific Coast," Pacific Monthly 15, pp. 379–389.
  • (1906). "Pelagic Sealing and the Fur Seal Herd," Pacific Monthly 15, No. 6, pp. 517–522 [with George A. Clark].
  • (1906). "Stanford University and the Earthquake of April 18, 1906," Pacific Monthly 15, No. 6, pp. 635–646.
  • (1907). "The Present Status of Darwinism," The Dial, Vol XLIII, July/December, pp. 161–163.
  • (1913). "The Interlocking Directorates of War," The World's Work 26, pp. 277–279.


  • (1893). "Temperature and Vertebræ: A Study in Evolution," in The Wilder Quarter-Century Book. Ithaca, N.Y.: Comstock Publishing, Co.
  • (1912). Foreword to Woman in the United States, by Baron d'Estournelles de Constant. San Francisco, Cal.: A.M. Robertson.
  • (1912). "Relations of Japan and the United States," in Japan and Japanese-American Relations. New York: G.E. Stechert and Company.


Photograph of David Starr Jordan, March 1923.
Drawing of David Starr Jordan, by F. Soulé Campbell.

The genera Goode & Bean, 1879 are named after him.

Species named after him include:


  1. ^ Abrahamson, James L (1976). "David Starr Jordan and American Antimilitarism". The Pacific Northwest Quarterly 67 (2): 76–87. 
  2. ^ "David Starr Jordan '72" (PDF). Cornell Alumni News I (6): 39, 43. May 10, 1899. 
  3. ^ a b c d Johnston, Theresa (January–February 2010). "Meet President Jordan". Stanford Magazine. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f "David Starr Jordan Collected Papers (CDG-A), Swarthmore College Peace Collection". 
  5. ^ "David Starr Jordan". Retrieved 21 June 2012. 
  6. ^ "David Starr Jordan". The Independent. Jul 13, 1914. Retrieved August 21, 2012. 
  7. ^ Dulfer & Hoag (1925). Our Society Blue Book. San Francisco: Dulfer & Hoag, pp. 177–178.
  8. ^ "Roster of Sierra Club Directors" (PDF). Sierra Club. Retrieved 2010-02-02. 
  9. ^ "Human Sterilization Today," Human Betterment Foundation, 1938.
  10. ^ a b c Romney, Lee (2003-10-10). "The Alma Mater Mystery".  
  11. ^ Morris, A. D. (2004). The Mysterious Death of Jane Stanford"Review of" (PDF). Hawaiian Journal of History (Hawaiian Historical Society) 38: 195–197. Retrieved 2012-12-21. 
  12. ^ a b Cutler, Robert W. P. (1 August 2003). The Mysterious Death of Jane Stanford.  
  13. ^ a b Carnochan, W. B. (Summer 2003). "The Case of Julius Goebel: Stanford, 1905".  
  14. ^ Jordan (1922). The Days of a Man. Yonkers-on-Hudson, N.Y.: World Book Co., pp. 156-157.
  15. ^ Wolfe, Susan (September–October 2003). "Who Killed Jane Stanford?". Stanford Magazine.  
  16. ^ Guérard, Albert (1926). "Eric Knight Jordan, 1903-1926," Copeia, No. 152.
  17. ^ Guérard, Albert (1926). "Eric Knight Jordan". Sigma Xi Quarterly 14 (2): 55–56. 
  18. ^ Hanna, G. Dallas (1926). "Expedition to the Revillagigedo Islands, Mexico, in 1925 - General Report". Proceedings of the California Academy Of Sciences XV: 1. 
  19. ^ "Guide to the David Starr Jordan Papers". Stanford University archives. Retrieved 21 June 2012. 
  20. ^ "The David Starr Jordan Prize". Retrieved 21 June 2012. 
  21. ^ David Starr NOAA Ship
  22. ^ a b c Clark Kimberling, David Starr Jordan Landmarks on the campus of Indiana University, Bloomington. His source on "Jordan River" is Indiana Alumni Magazine [vol. 18 (June 1956) page 7].
  23. ^ Cherry, W B; Gorman, G W; Orrison, L H; Moss, C W; Steigerwalt, A G; Wilkinson, H W; Johnson, S E; McKinney, R M; Brenner, D J (February 1982). isolated from water and sewage"Legionella: a new species of Legionella jordanis". J Clin Microbiol 15 (2): 290–297.  
  25. ^ Domning, D. P., 1978, Univ. Calif. Publ. Geol. Sci. 118:21.

Further reading

  • Burns, Edward McNall (1953). David Starr Jordan: Prophet of Freedom. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  • Dickason, David H (1941). "David Starr Jordan as a Literary Man". Indiana Magazine of History 37 (4): 345–358. 
  • Dickason, David H (1942). "A Note on Jack London and David Starr Jordan". Indiana Magazine of History 38 (4): 407–410.  
  • Evermann, Barton Warren (1930). "David Starr Jordan, the Man," Copeia, No. 4, pp. 93–106.
  • Hays, Alice N. (1953). David Starr Jordan: A Bibliography of His Writings 1871-1931. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  • Hubbs, Carl L (1964). "David Starr Jordan". Systematic Zoology 13 (4): 195–200.  
  • Ramsey, Paul J (2004). "Building A 'Real' University in the Woodlands of Indiana: The Jordan Administration, 1885-1891". American Educational History Journal 31 (1): 20–28. 

External links

  • Works by David Starr Jordan at Project Gutenberg
  • Works by or about David Starr Jordan at Internet Archive
  • Works by David Starr Jordan at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
  • Works by David Starr Jordan, at JSTOR
  • Works by David Starr Jordan, at Hathi Trust
  • Works by David Starr Jordan, at
  • History of Stanford motto, with Jordan bio info
  • Biography, Smithsonian website
  • , June 8, 1931Time MagazineCover of
  • David Starr Jordan papers, 1874-1929, Indiana University Archives
  • Indiana University President's Office records, 1884-1891, Indiana University Archives
Academic offices
Preceded by
Lemuel Moss
President of Indiana University
Succeeded by
John Merle Coulter
Preceded by
President of Stanford University
Succeeded by
John C. Branner
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