David Starr Jordan

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David Starr Jordan
Picture of Prof. David Starr Jordan.png
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, Edith Jordan Gardner
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 the founding president of Stanford University.[2]


Early life and education[edit]

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 inspired by Louis Agassiz to pursue his studies in ichthyology. He was part of the pioneer class of undergraduates at Cornell University, graduating in 1872 with a Masters degree in botany. He obtained his graduate education from Butler University.[4]

His first wife Susan Bowen died after 10 years of marriage. Jordan then married Jessie Knight. Jordan and his second wife had four children.[3][5]


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

He was then accepted into the natural history faculty of Indiana University Bloomington as a professor of zoology in 1879. Jordan's teaching included his version of eugenics, which "sought to prevent the decay of the Anglo-Saxon/Nordic race by limiting racial mixing and by preventing the reproduction of those he deemed unfit".[6] Six years later, 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. Andrew White, the president of Cornell, had recommended Jordan to the Stanfords based on an educational philosophy fit with the Stanfords' vision of a non-sectarian, co-educational school with a liberal arts curriculum. He quickly accepted the offer.[3] Jordan arrived at Stanford in June 1891 and immediately set about recruiting faculty for the university's planned September opening. Pressed for time, he drew heavily on his own acquaintance; most of the fifteen founding professors came either from Indiana University or Cornell. That 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. The university decided not to renew his three-year-term as chancellor in 1916. As the years went on, Jordan became increasingly alienated from the university.[4]

While chancellor, he was elected president of the National Education Association.[7] Jordan was a member in the Bohemian Club and the University Club in San Francisco.[8] Jordan served as a Director of the Sierra Club from 1892 to 1903.[9]

In retirement, Jordan served as an evolution expert witness for the defense in the 1925 Scopes Trial.[4] He continued promoting his views on eugenics. In 1928 Jordan served on the initial board of trustees of the Human Betterment Foundation, a eugenics organization that advocated compulsory sterilization legislation in the United States.[10]

Role in coverup of the murder of Jane Stanford[edit]

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.[11][12] 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;[11][13] its finances were precarious and a scandal might have damaged fundraising. He had written the president of Stanford's board of trustees offering several alternate explanations for Mrs. Stanford's death, suggesting they select whichever would be most suitable.[11] Given that Mrs. Stanford had a difficult relationship with him and reportedly planned to remove him from his position at the university, he might have also had a personal motive to eliminate suspicions that might have swirled around an unsolved crime.[14] Jordan's version of Mrs. Stanford's demise[15] was largely accepted until the appearance of several publications in 2003 emphasizing the evidence that she was murdered.[11][13][14][16]

Role in promoting eugenics[edit]

Jordan promoted the concept of improving human genetics, through removal from the breeding pool of those deemed unworthy to reproduce,[17] in his series of publications titled The Blood of the Nation. He then chaired the first Committee on Eugenics of the American Breeder's Association, from which the California program of forced deportation and sterilization emerged.[18] Jordan then went on to help found the Human Betterment Foundation as a trustee. The Human Betterment Foundation published "Sterilization for Human Betterment," a text which formed a cornerstone of the Nazi eugenics program. The latter grew to involve not just forced sterilization but also killing, often via gas; this in turn inspired the Nazi genocide programs.

Jordan made a eugenics-based argument against warfare, contending that war was detrimental to the human species because it removed the strongest men 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]


The prominent role Jordan played in the eugenics movement and resulting programs of forced sterilization have received posthumous condemnation. In 2003, the California Legislature unanimously "expressed its profound regret over the state's past role in the eugenics movement ... we must honor human rights and treat others with respect regardless of race, ethnicity, religious belief, economic status, disability, or illness."[6]

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

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

In 1966 the fisheries research ship David Starr Jordan, was commissioned for service with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service's Bureau of Commercial Fisheres. The ship later served in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fleet as NOAAS David Starr Jordan (R 444). In 2010, the David Starr Jordan was sold for scrap.[20]

His son, Eric Knight Jordan (1903–1926), died at the age of 22 in a traffic accident near Gilroy, California.[21] [22] Eric had participated in a paleontological expedition to the Revillagigedo Islands and was considering an academic career.[23]

Starting in 1986, the David Starr Jordan Prize was funded as a joint endowment by Cornell, Indiana University, and Stanford. It was awarded to a young scientist (under 40 years of age) that was making contributions in one of Jordan’s interests: evolution, ecology, population and organismal biology.[24]

Monuments and memorials[edit]


  • (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[edit]



Numerous genera and species bear the name Jordan.

Genera: Jordania Starks, 1895, Davidijordania Popov, 1931, and Jordanella Goode & Bean, 1879



  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". swarthmore.edu. 
  5. ^ "David Starr Jordan". Geni.com. Retrieved 21 June 2012. 
  6. ^ a b Johnsson, L. (19 February 2016). "Guest Opinion: The inconvenient truth about David Starr Jordan". Palo Alto Online. Embarcadero Media. Retrieved 2017-03-20. 
  7. ^ "David Starr Jordan". The Independent. Jul 13, 1914. Retrieved August 21, 2012. 
  8. ^ Dulfer & Hoag (1925). Our Society Blue Book. San Francisco: Dulfer & Hoag, pp. 177–178.
  9. ^ "Roster of Sierra Club Directors" (PDF). Sierra Club. Retrieved 2010-02-02. 
  10. ^ "Human Sterilization Today," Human Betterment Foundation, 1938.
  11. ^ a b c d Romney, Lee (2003-10-10). "The Alma Mater Mystery". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-12-19. 
  12. ^ Morris, A. D. (2004). "Review of The Mysterious Death of Jane Stanford" (PDF). Hawaiian Journal of History. Hawaiian Historical Society. 38: 195–197. Retrieved 2012-12-21. 
  13. ^ a b Cutler, Robert W. P. (1 August 2003). The Mysterious Death of Jane Stanford. Stanford University Press. ISBN 978-0-8047-4793-6. OCLC 52159960. Retrieved 2012-12-19. 
  14. ^ a b Carnochan, W. B. (Summer 2003). "The Case of Julius Goebel: Stanford, 1905". American Scholar. Phi Beta Kappa. 72 (3). JSTOR 41221161. 
  15. ^ Jordan (1922). The Days of a Man. Yonkers-on-Hudson, N.Y.: World Book Co., pp. 156-157.
  16. ^ Wolfe, Susan (September–October 2003). "Who Killed Jane Stanford?". Stanford Magazine. Stanford University. Retrieved 2012-12-19. 
  17. ^ Black, E. "Eugenics and the Nazis -- the California connection," SF Gate, November 9, 2003. http://www.sfgate.com/opinion/article/Eugenics-and-the-Nazis-the-California-2549771.php
  18. ^ McPhate, M."California Today: Wrestling With a Legacy of Eugenics," The New York Times, Dec. 20, 2016. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/20/us/california-today-eugenics-sterilization.html?_r=0
  19. ^ "Guide to the David Starr Jordan Papers". Stanford University archives. Retrieved 21 June 2012. 
  20. ^ noaa.gov NOAA Ship David Starr Jordan
  21. ^ Guérard, Albert (1926). "Eric Knight Jordan". Sigma Xi Quarterly. 14 (2): 55–56. 
  22. ^ Guérard, Albert (1926). "Eric Knight Jordan, 1903–1926". Copeia. 152: S1. JSTOR 1437277. 
  23. ^ Hanna, G. Dallas (1926). "Expedition to the Revillagigedo Islands, Mexico, in 1925. General Report". Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences. Series 4. 15 (1): 1–113. 
  24. ^ "The David Starr Jordan Prize". Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 20 March 2016. 
  25. ^ a b c Clark Kimberling, David Starr Jordan Landmarks on the campus of Indiana University, Bloomington Archived 2012-08-05 at the Wayback Machine.. His source on "Jordan River" is Indiana Alumni Magazine [vol. 18 (June 1956) page 7].
  26. ^ Frances Jackson et al. (1975) Papers of the Ad Hoc Committee on Preservation of Campus Plantings. University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.
  27. ^ "UH Mānoa · Campus Plant Collections". manoa.hawaii.edu. Retrieved 2016-05-02. 
  28. ^ "NOAA Ship DAVID STARR JORDAN". noaa.gov. 
  29. ^ John W. Van Cott (1990). Utah Place Names: A Comprehensive Guide to the Origins of Geographic Names : a Compilation. University of Utah Press. pp. 207–208. ISBN 978-0-87480-345-7. 
  30. ^ 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). "Legionella jordanis: a new species of Legionella isolated from water and sewage". J Clin Microbiol. 15 (2): 290–297. PMC 272079Freely accessible. PMID 7040449. 

Further reading[edit]

  • 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. JSTOR 27787335. 
  • 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. doi:10.2307/2411779. 
  • 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[edit]

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