Jordan, David Starr, 1851-1931

Alternative names
Birth 1851-01-19
Death 1931-09-19

Biographical notes:

Educator, author, and naturalist.

From the description of Papers of David Starr Jordan, 1861-1964. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 71068098

Zoologist David Starr Jordan was elected president of Indiana University in 1885. He left IU in 1891 to become Stanford University's first president. Jordan died in 1931.

From the description of David Starr Jordan papers, 1874-1929, bulk 1895-1929. (Indiana University). WorldCat record id: 61225195

American ichthyologist, naturalist and educator; former president of Stanford University.

From the description of David Starr Jordan letter : Tokyo, to Katherine Knight, 1922 Nov. 30. (University of California, San Diego). WorldCat record id: 32808044

Pacifist, educator, author, and scientist; first President of Stanford University; corresponded with Jane Addams and other peace leaders of his time.

From the description of Collection, 1898-1931. (Swarthmore College, Peace Collection). WorldCat record id: 27995433

David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) was president of Stanford University from 1891 to 1913.

From the guide to the David Starr Jordan's The Stability of Truth, 1910, (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Library. Southern Historical Collection.)

David Starr Jordan, first president of Stanford University (1891-1913), was born in Gainesville, New York in 1851 and received his M.A. in biology from Cornell University (1872), his M.D. from Indiana University (1875) and his Ph.D from Butler University. A teacher and administrator, Jordan served on the faculties of Indiana and Butler Universities and was appointed President of Indiana University in 1885. In 1891, he was asked by Leland and Jane Stanford to come to the newly established Leland Stanford Junior University as its first president. Jordan remained at Stanford until his retirement as Chancellor of the University in 1913. Throughout his career, Jordan remained an ardent conservationist and was a founding member of the Sierra Club. He was also a pacifist, devoting much time to the world peace movement, and was interested in temperance, non-smoking, genealogy and eugenics, and women's suffrage. He lectured thoughout the country on American education, conservation and the natural sciences and on social reform and was a prolific writer of articles, books and correspondence.

From the description of David Starr Jordan papers, 1861-1964. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 122500408

David Starr Jordan was born in Gainesville, New York, on January 19, 1851. He taught natural science at a variety of high schools and universities and was an active ichthyologist who discovered more than 2,500 species of fish. He served as president of Indiana University beginning in 1885 and as president of Stanford University from 1891-1913. He was a charter member of the Sierra Club, was president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and became president of the National Education Association in 1915. Jordan won the Herman Peace Prize in 1925 and also served as chief director of the World Peace Foundation from 1909-1911. He was a proponent of Darwinism and a witness for the defense during the Scopes Trial of 1925. Jordan published a variety of books including Fishes of North and Middle America (1896-1900), Animal life: a first book of zoology (1900), War and waste (1913), and his autobiography Days of a man (1922), in addition to writing poems and children's stories. Jordan died on September 19, 1931.

From the description of Poems of David Starr Jordan, 1894-1896. (Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens). WorldCat record id: 676833198

First president of Stanford University (1891-1913), Jordan was an ichthyologist and naturalist. He was an active conservationist, a founding member of the Sierra Club, and served on numerous governmental commissions.

From the description of Pribilof Island fur seal collection, 1897. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 122369559

American educator and pacifist; president, Stanford University, 1891-1913; chancellor, Stanford University, 1913-1916.

From the description of David Starr Jordan papers, 1794-1950. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 754867080

David Starr Jordan wanted the Koenig Tonometer (sound measure) for the Dept. of Physics. He considered it to be the state of the art tool for research in acoustics. The letters contain details of the negotiating process which was ultimately unsuccessful.

From the description of David Starr Jordan correspondence regarding purchase of Koenig Tonometer, 1901-1902. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 703840537

Biographical Note

  • 1851 January 19: Born, Gainesville, New York
  • 1869: Entered Cornell University
  • 1872: Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts, Cornell University
  • 1872 - 1873 : Instructor in botany, Lombard University, Galesburg, Illinois
  • 1873 - 1874 : Principal, Appleton Collegiate Institute, Appleton, Wisconsin
  • 1874 - 1875 : Science teacher, Indianapolis High School, Indianapolis, Indiana
  • 1875: Married Susan Bowen
  • 1875 - 1879 : Professor of natural history, Northwestern Christian University, Irvington, Indiana
  • 1878: Doctor of Philosophy, Northwestern Christian University
  • 1879 - 1885 : Chairman of the Department of Natural Sciences, Indiana University
  • 1885 - 1891 : President, Indiana University
  • 1885: Death of Mrs. Jordan
  • 1887: Married Jessie Knight
  • 1891 - 1913 : President of Stanford University
  • 1913 - 1916 : Chancellor of Stanford University
  • 1916 - 1931 : Chancellor Emeritus of Stanford University
  • 1931 September 19: Died, Stanford, California

From the guide to the David Starr Jordan Papers, 1794-1950, (Hoover Institution Archives)

David Starr Jordan was born in Gainesville, New York on January 19, 1851 to Hiram J. and Huldah Lake (Hawley) Jordan. After home schooling and attendance at area schools, Jordan won the local scholarship to the newly founded Cornell University. By his junior year in Ithaca, Jordan was named instructor in Botany. Upon completion of his thesis, "Wild Flowers of Wyoming County" in 1872, Cornell awarded Jordan both his BS and MS degrees.

Following his years at Cornell, Jordan held several short-term teaching posts before coming to Indiana in 1874 as an instructor at Indianapolis High School. He joined the Butler University faculty in 1875, and in 1879, he left Butler for Indiana University, where he was a professor of natural history. In a short time, the popular professor received recognition as an outstanding educator and scientist. In 1885, Jordan was named the 7th President of the University. He was the youngest person as well as the first non-clergyman to hold that position. The election to this post came as a complete (and unwelcome) surprise to Jordan, who was really hoping to receive a permanent position with the United States Fish Commission. As reported in the Bloomington Saturday Courier (January 17, 1885), at a scheduled lecture shortly after the election, Jordan stated, "Let me speak frankly, my friends. I enter these new relations to my adopted state with no feeling of exultation or of gratified ambition....If the duties of the President kill the work of the naturalist, these duties must be taken by another hand."

Dr. Jordan served as Indiana University President until 1891. During his tenure Jordan initiated or promoted several important changes at IU. Among the most important changes were 1) Transformation of the faculty. During Jordan's tenure, the number of IU faculty members increased from 18 to 29. Many of these new faculty represented the type of scholar/teacher that Jordan felt was needed in the modern university; 2) Allowing students more freedom in selecting a major and in designing their own curriculum; and 3) Increasing the number of departments and courses.

Jordan was so successful in this position that in 1891 Senator and Mrs. Leland Stanford asked him to head a new university named for their deceased son. He accepted the position, and persuaded 6 IU professors and 37 students to accompany him to Stanford. Jordan held the post of President at Stanford until 1913, when he moved to the position of Chancellor of Stanford. In 1916, he retired and assumed the position of Chancellor Emeritus until his death in 1931.

From the guide to the David Starr Jordan papers, 1874-1929, bulk 1895-1929, (Indiana University Office of University Archives and Records Management

Biographical/Historical Sketch

David Starr Jordan wanted the Koenig Tonometer (sound measure) for the Dept. of Physics. He considered it to be the state of the art tool for research in acoustics. The letters contain details of the negotiating process which was ultimately unsuccessful.

From the guide to the Correspondence regarding purchase of Koenig Tonometer, 1901-1902, (Department of Special Collections and University Archives)

Biographical/Historical Sketch

First president of Stanford University (1891-1913), Jordan was an ichthyologist and naturalist. He was an active conservationist, a founding member of the Sierra Club, and served on numerous governmental commissions.

From the guide to the Pribilof Island fur seal collection, 1897, (Department of Special Collections and University Archives)

Biographical Sketch

David Starr Jordan was born at Gainesville, New York, on January 19, 1851. His father was a farmer of comfortable circumstances who cared a great deal more for poets than for the current agricultural literature. Young Jordan developed a marked distate for the routine labors of the farm, preferring to collect butterflies and flowers to hauling hay. Jordan's schooling provided more freedom than was common for boys of his generation and offered him the opportunity to catalogue the plants of his native country in addition to learning French, Latin, history, and poetry.

In March, 1869, Jordan won a competitive examination for a scholarship from Wyoming County and entered Cornell University to join the first freshman class (which had begun work in the fall of 1868). His progress was such that he was appointed an instructor in botany in his junior year. Upon presentation of his thesis Wild Flowers of Wyoming County, Jordan received the M.S. degree from Cornell in 1872. Thus, in less than four years, Jordan received the master's degree upon completion of an undergraduate course.

After graduation, Jordan became professor of natural history at Lombard University, Galesburg, Illinois, 1872-73, spent the summer of 1873 at Penikese Island with naturalist Louis Agassiz, served as principal of the Collegiate Institute in Appleton, Wisconsin, 1873-74, and was a teacher at the Indianapolis High School in 1874-75.

In March, 1875, Jordan married Susan Bowen. Mrs. Jordan died in 1885, and in 1887, Jordan married Jessie Louise Knight. Jessie Knight Jordan played an important role in Jordan's life, especially during his last years when illnes incapacitated him. Since she conducted his business for him and carried on with some of his causes after he died, the papers of Mrs. Jordan are included in this collection.

In 1875, Jordan received his M.D. from Indiana Medical College and that same year, became professor of biology at Butler University. According to Jordan, the medical degree was obtained with no intention of going into medical practice, but with a view toward better teaching of Biology. In 1878, he received his Ph.D. from Butler. In 1879, Dr. Jordan moved to Indiana University as professor of natural history, and in January, 1885, he became president of Indiana University.

During these early years, Jordan concentrated more and more on fishes, due to the influential experience at Penikese with Louis Agassiz. He spent his summers, often at his own expense, collecting data for the U.S. Fish Commission, later Bureau of Fish and Fisheries, or the U.S. Census Bureau. In the course of his long career he studied and catalogued fish of the rivers of the United States and Alaska; Pacific Coast salmon, fish of Japan, Sinaloa, Mexico, Samoa, and Hawaii. He also served on numerous commissions, including the joint commission investigating the Bering Sea fur seal.

In the summer of 1881, Dr. Jordan climbed the Matterhorn, and for years thereafter, one of his most popular lectures to general audiences was his description of this exciting event. As a lecturer, Jordan's services were constantly in demand. In addition to his Matterhorn talk, he often spoke about evolution, education, and to youth groups on morality, temperance, and physical well-being.

In the Spring of 1891, Leland Stanford offered Jordan the presidency of the university established in memory of the Senator's late son. Dr. Jordan accepted and in March began to recruit a faculty for the soon-to-open institution. Dr. Jordan's first choice was John Casper Branner, who became Stanford's second president. While in Boston, Dr. Jordan wrote Dr. Branner that he was discouraged about recruiting in New England, where there are men who nothing would induce to go west of Springfield, and men whose regret of their lives is that they were born outside of Boston. Nonetheless, a faculty was recruited--in large measure from Cornell and Indiana--and school commenced October 1, 1891.

Mr. Stanford died in June, 1893, and Stanford University faced an uncertain future. A long probate period and a suit by the federal government for funds advanced to build the Central Pacific Railroad tempered the growth of the University until 1899. During this period, Dr. Jordan stood by Mrs. Stanford, who expended great energy and the restricted resources available to her to keep the University open. During what he called the six pretty long years, Jordan continued his ichthyological work and found time to be president of the California Academy of Sciences (1896-1904 and 1908-1912). In 1892, he helped found the Sierra Club and, henceforth, took personal interest in various efforts to preserve selected stands of redwood trees as parks. He was aslo active in the establishment of Mr. Rainier and Yosemite as national parks, and in conservation movements generally.

In 1899, when the University received its inheritance and legal actions against the estate were a thing of the past, Mrs. Stanford began a six-year building program to complete the physical structure of the University. To Jordan, the stone age was another impediment to improving the scholastic position of Stanford.

Having achieved fame as an ichthyologist and educator, Jordan turned his interest to international peace, that was to occupy much of his later life. The Spanish-American War and the Boer War in Africa provided the vehicles to express his concern. In 1910 he became the chief director of the World Peace Foundation, endowed by Edwin Ginn, and president of the International School of Peace. Events in Europe led Jordan to request extended leaves from the University in order to lecture on the follies of war. In 1913 he resigned as president, became chancellor of the University, and devoted full time to the cause of peace.

During his later years as president of Stanford and in addition to his devotion to the peace cause, Jordan found time to serve as a member of the International Committee on Zoological Nomenclature (1904), president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1909-1910), vice-president of the International Congress of Zoologists (1910), and to receive honorary degrees from Johns Hopkins University (1902), Illinois College (1905), and Indiana University (1909).

During his retirement Jordan continued his travels in the interest of classifying fish and was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun by Japan for his scientific work (1922). His continuing efforts on behalf of peace brought him the Herman Peace Prize in 1924, and his last public address on July 30, 1928, was titled No More War. Jordan died on September 19, 1931, after an illness of several years.

From the guide to the David Starr Jordan papers, 1861-1964, (Dept. of Special Collections & University Archives)


Loading Relationships


Ark ID:


  • Zoologists--Archives
  • Tonometers--History
  • San Francisco Earthquake and Fire, Calif., 1906
  • San Francisco (Calif.)--Earthquake and fire--1906
  • World politics
  • World War, 1914-1918--United States
  • International relations
  • World War, 1914-1918--Peace
  • Poetry, Modern--19th century
  • Pacifists--History--Sources
  • Poetry--Male authors
  • Educators--History--Sources
  • Zoologists--Correspondence
  • Universities and colleges
  • Science
  • Minorities--United States
  • World War, 1914-1918
  • Eugenics
  • Civil rights--United States
  • Neutrality
  • Seals (animals)--Alaska--Pribilof Islands
  • Disarmament
  • Baccalaureate addresses
  • Education
  • Fishes
  • Civil rights
  • Marine fishes
  • Peace
  • Minorities
  • Universities and colleges--United States
  • Knowledge, Theory of--History--20th century
  • Philosophy and science--History--20th century
  • Pacifism
  • Ichthyology


  • Educators
  • Authors, American
  • Conservationists
  • Authors
  • Naturalist
  • College presidents
  • Ichthyologists
  • Editors
  • Biologists


  • Pribilof Islands (Alaska) (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • Japan (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • California--Palo Alto (as recorded)
  • Japan (as recorded)
  • Washington (State)--Pullman (as recorded)
  • Pribilof Islands (Alaska) (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • Indiana--Bloomington (as recorded)
  • California (as recorded)