University of Rochester Library Bulletin: Henry A. Ward, Science Teacher

Volume XII · Autumn 1956 · Number 1
Henry A. Ward: Science Teacher

The international campaign for museums sponsored by the International Council of Museums, a UNESCO organization, culminated in a Museum Week, October 7-13. As their share in this cooperative venture, eight Rochester museums and libraries, working through the Rochester Inter-Museum Council, prepared special exhibits and programs designed to draw public attention to their collections and their functions, particularly as they relate to the promotion of international understanding and accord. As its share in this undertaking, the University Library placed on display during the month of October an historical exhibit outlining the career of Henry Augustus Ward, Rochesterian, whose work was of such importance in the development of American museums of natural history during the second half of the nineteenth century. The display was drawn from our own collections—an assortment of fossils and minerals from the original Ward Cabinet of Natural History, many of them with their original labels, and a selection of letters, documents, pamphlets, and photographs from the collection of Ward papers presented to the Library some years ago by Mr. Roswell Ward.

Certainly few, if any, Rochesterians had travelled as widely as Henry A. Ward when he became a member of the University faculty in 1861; and the accounts of his experiences and the results of his collecting activities were important factors in broadening the horizons of the University students and local citizenry. Ward's name was retained on the list of faculty until 1875, but the actual amount of time spent as classroom teacher during those years was relatively short. He devoted most of his life to the collection, arrangement, and display of scientific objects; his ultimate purpose was to develop a medium with which teachers of the natural sciences could make their subjects alive, fresh, and stimulating. His fundamental aim was to teach, whether in the classroom or the public museum.

A letter addressed to President Martin Brewer Anderson on May 1, 1861, was an eloquent appeal for the proper disposition of his "Cabinet of Natural History" which was soon to be housed in the new University building on the Prince Street Campus, Anderson Hall. In addition to this more immediate purpose, Ward took the opportunity to expound his theory of the proper methods of scientific teaching, and to outline his plans for the development of a great Scientific Department at the University of Rochester, housed in separate buildings and properly staffed, which would attract students from far and wide, bring fame to the institution, and encourage liberal gifts for its support. His ideas must have seemed radical to the officers of the small liberal arts college, struggling to keep alive in the midst of wartime hardships and limited financial support, but time has brought many of the changes Ward desired. Portions of the letter follow:

May 1st, 1861

President Anderson.
Respected Sir.

I resort to my pen as a more sure mode of laying before you in their full importance a number of thoughts which have long possessed my heart, and which represent a plan that I most earnestly desire to see carried out.

These thoughts refer in part to my cabinet, but include that only as an important member in the more important plan to establish here in Rochester, & in our University, a centre of scientific study, — a Scientfic Department of the highest & most practical order. This plan is one which I have long cherished, and have considered in all its lights. It accords in nature with the spirit which originated my cabinet. For this cabinet, sir, represents in its origin but one thing, — the difficulties which I had myself encountered in the study of natural science from simple textbooks. It was a desire to have access to nature in a more tangible manner which first led me to collect minerals & shells & plants, and to place them upon a shelf where I could consult them at any moment. And in later years when engaged upon this large cabinet I have thought of only one thing;— a complete illustration of the science there represented, a tangible embodiment of a long series of facts & principles.

Now I had no interest in conceiving & maturing this structure as a simple idea. I only prized it in anticipation as an end fraught with practical value; and now in its accomplishment my only source of satisfaction is that it shall yet do much good, and help many a student of nature in his search after an acquaintance with her wonders.

Is the cabinet going to do this? is my constant question; it is the most weighty consideration connected with it in any manner. It can be so used as to develop all its value, to exercise all that silent yet powerful influence which ever accompanies samples of the Creator's handiwork, to reflect the most wide-spread fame upon the Institution that possesses it, to mark that Institution as enlightend in its conceptions and foremost in its appreciation of practical educational resources…

These specimens teach a science, and they teach that science quite as much,— even more, — by their collective arrangement & display than they do by their individual significancies...

The Geological Cabinet is a grand representation of the History of the Earth from the earliest periods in its existence down to the present time. As age after age rolled away successive geological periods were ushered in, each one representing a new distribution of land & water, new features of rocky cliffs & surface soil, new plants, new animals.

Now all these are features which can & should be represented in a Geological Cabinet. But for this end thought must be taken, and calculation exercised in every step & feature of the arrangement. These specimens must be placed in a room of such shape & dimensions that nothing shall interfere with the continuous consecutive unfolding of the Great History. Continuity is a most essential feature in this plan; — and the student beginning at the earliest stage of the earth's history, shall follow progressively through each successive geological period down to the last one as he walks slowly around the four outer sides of the room.

These successive periods shall be distinct, and present, grouped in the most graphic & expressive manner, all these features of fossil animal & vegetable life, & of lithological varieties, which once characterised them. Fossils, rocks, models, pictures, — all, — must lend their aid to this great end,— to make these distinct histories graphic ones.

Such an arrangement of a geological museum as I have just given, Sir, in scanty outline does not exist to my knowledge anywhere in the world. But the causes for this are none of them such as in any way invalidate the practicability of my carrying out this plan in all its fullness. There are some museums in Europe much richer in material than is mine, but their Directors have never undertaken by a suitable arrangement to give them their full educative value. There is no collection in America except my own which possesses a moiety of the material requisite to the attempt at such an arrangement.

My own cabinet does contain this material, — collected from the very first on a systematic plan to cover all the points involved in such complete illustration

…Give me, Sir, such a Hall and five years of time in which to fully install & develop my plan of arrangement, and I will in turn give to Rochester University the proud distinction of possessing the most extensive & magnificent Geological Museum in America, — the most valuable one, probably, in an educational view in the world…

I speak of this, Sir, simply as an addition to the fame of the Institution, and do believe that it would do more in that direction than would any other appurtenance which they could probably obtain. But I wish to view it particularly in another light, — its powerful force in the educational objects of the University. This educational value is to be greatly enhanced — to receive indeed its main importance, — from a conjunction of other similar appurtenances. The spirit of scientific study, — like science itself — is Universal in its range. We shall be unable, with our splendid Geological Hall all erected & arranged, and our fine lecture-room by its side, to induce students to leave their classical aesthetical, & mathematical studies, and apply themselves with enthusiasm to Geology. But by connecting with this the other Natural Sciences — Mineralogy, Zoology, & Botany, — we shall be able to create a taste for such study, and a disposition among students to enter earnestly upon it. Our building will have there besides its large Geological Hall, a smaller one for the cabinet of Minerals, a third will contain a cabinet of Zoology, and a fourth one of Botany. It would also be fitting that the Chemical Laboratory should be here too, making up one vast edifice filled with scientific appliances.

Under what favorable auspices could we then inaugurate a Scientific Department and how flourishing would it most certainly at once become. We should draw students from all parts of this state, and from the Western States; young men whose natural taste leaned toward scientific study and who were disposed to devote much or all of the time of a college course to this.

I do not propose here a Scientific School in the strictest sense of that term… I do not propose a school to make practical miners or professional chemists; but rather a Scientific Department of Rochester University, where students pursuing the regular college course shall have that liberal instruction in Natural Sciences, including chemistry, which they now obtain at Yale & at Amherst. The University then is in no wise lost in its Scientific Department, but it rather is magnified by the possession of that feature in its educational system…

To state this proposition and respectfully urge its consideration has been the object of this letter, in which I have occupied your attention much longer than I had at first intended.

I remain, Sir,
Yours very respectfully,