William Jacob Holland

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William Jacob Holland

William Jacob Holland (August 16, 1848 – December 13, 1932) was the eighth Chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh (1891–1901) and Director of the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh. He was an accomplished zoologist and paleontologist, as well as an ordained Presbyterian minister.[1]


Holland was born August 16, 1848 in Jamaica, West Indies, the son of a minister. He spent his early years in Salem, North Carolina, later attending Nazareth Hall, a Moravian boys' school in Pennsylvania, followed by Amherst College, (A.B., 1869), and Princeton Theological Seminary (1874). At Amherst Holland's roommate was a student from Japan, causing Holland to become interested in Japanese and to learn that language well before it was a common pursuit in the United States.

In 1874 he moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to become pastor of the Bellefield Presbyterian Church in the city's Oakland neighborhood. At this time Holland was also a trustee of the Pennsylvania College for Women (now Chatham University), where he taught ancient languages. He also was active in the sciences, serving as naturalist for the United States Eclipse Expedition, which in 1887, at the bequest of the National Academy of Sciences and the U.S. Navy, explored Japan. In 1879 Holland married Carrie T. Moorhead. They had two children.

In 1891 he became chancellor of Pitt, where he taught anatomy and zoology. His 1890s administration is best known for dramatically increasing the size and scope of the university (then called the Western University of Pennsylvania). In 1901 his friend Andrew Carnegie hired him as director of the Carnegie Museum, where he remained until retirement in 1922. He died on December 13, 1932.


Holland's main interest was in lepidoptery, but he trained himself as a paleontologist when he assumed the directorship of the Carnegie Museum. As director of the Carnegie Museums, Holland achieved international renown for supervising the mounting of several casts of the sauropod dinosaur Diplodocus, a donation by Carnegie to natural history museums throughout Europe. His trip to Argentina in 1912 to install a replica of a Diplodocus, at the behest of Carnegie, is told by Holland in his 1913 travel book To the River Plate and Back.[2] The Diplodocus campaign earned him his share of international recognition as well, in the form of a French legion d'honneur and a German knight's cross, among others.[3]

Holland was America's great popularizer of butterflies and moths in the first half of the twentieth century. Holland's The Butterfly Book (1898) and The Moth Book (1903) are both still widely used. Holland donated his private collection exceeding 250,000 specimens to the Carnegie Museum . He supported active collectors worldwide, obtaining major collections from previously uncollected regions between 1890 and 1930 through the efforts of William Doherty, Herbert Huntingdon Smith, H.L. Weber, J. Steinbach, S.M. Klages and many others.


The University of Pittsburgh's Holland Hall at 3990 Fifth Avenue is named in his honor. It is a student residence for 600 first-year women students and is part of the Schenley Quadrangle complex. The University Book Center is on the ground floor of Holland Hall.

Holland was also interested in the history of his forebears, particularly that of his Moravian and Huguenot ancestors in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, England, and France. He amassed a considerable amount of material, comprising letters, diaries, portraits, and other artifacts, and donated it to the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania in Pittsburgh, now known as the Senator John Heinz History Center. The collection includes 17 linear feet of materials and is known as the Holland Collection.


  1. ^ "HOLLAND, William Jacob". The International Who's Who in the World: p. 608. 1912. 
  2. ^ Holland, W. J. (1913). To the River Plate and Back. The narrative of a scientific mission to South America, with observations on things seen and suggested. New York & London: G. P. Putnam's Sons.
  3. ^ Nieuwland, Ilja (2010). The colossal stranger. Andrew Carnegie and Diplodocus intrude European Culture, 1904–1912. Endeavour 34(26).


  • Alberts, Robert C. (1987). Pitt: The Story of the University of Pittsburgh 1787-1987. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press. ISBN 0-8229-1150-7. 
  • Holland, W. J. (1898). The Butterfly Book: A Popular Guide to a Knowledge of the Butterflies of North America . New York: Doubleday & McClure. (Reprinted by Dover.)
  • Holland, W. J. (1913). To the River Plate and Back: The Narrative of a Scientific Mission to South America, with Observations on Things Seen and Suggested . New York & London: G. P. Putnam's Sons. (on-line)
  • "William Jacob Holland" in American National Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

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Preceded by
Milton Goff
University of Pittsburgh Chancellor
Succeeded by
Samuel McCormick