Conant, James Bryant, 1893-1978

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1893-03-26
Death 1978-02-11
German, English

Biographical notes:

James Bryant Conant (1893-1978) was a chemist, educator and public servant. Conant taught chemistry at Harvard from 1917-1933; he served as Harvard's president from 1933-1953. He was the national director of defense research from 1941-1945, and was instrumental in the creation of the atomic bomb. He continued as President of Harvard until 1953, at which time he was made United States High Commissioner for Germany. When allied military occupation of Germany ended in 1955, Conant became the U.S. Ambassador to Germany. Returning home in 1957, Conant turned his attention to education reform and authored seven books on the subject. His broad range of interests are reflected in the title of his memoirs, My Several Lives.

From the description of Papers of James B. Conant, 1862-1987. (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 76972577

University president, diplomat.

From the description of Reminiscences of James Bryant Conant : oral history, 1967. (Columbia University In the City of New York). WorldCat record id: 86147454

Natural Sciences 4 was given in 1949-1950 by President James B. Conant.

Conant taught chemistry at Harvard from 1917-1933; he served as Harvard's president from 1933-1953.

From the description of Lectures in Natural Sciences 4, 1949-1950. (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 228512748

Natural Sciences 11a was given in 1947-1948 by President James B. Conant as part of the new program of General Education.

Conant taught chemistry at Harvard from 1917-1933; he served as Harvard's president from 1933-1953.

From the description of Course material for Natural Sciences 11a, 1947-1948. (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 228512650

Natural Sciences 4 was given in 1949-1950 by President James B. Conant as part of the new program of General Education.

Conant taught chemistry at Harvard from 1917-1933; he served as Harvard's president from 1933-1953.

From the description of Course material for Natural Sciences 4, 1949-1950. (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 228512742

Natural Sciences 4 was given in 1948-1949 by President James B. Conant as part of the new program of General Education.

Conant taught chemistry at Harvard from 1917-1933; he served as Harvard's president from 1933-1953.

From the description of Course material for Natural Sciences 4, 1948-1949. (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 228512701

Natural Sciences 11a was given in 1947-1948 by President James B. Conant.

Conant taught chemistry at Harvard from 1917-1933; he served as Harvard's president from 1933-1953.

From the description of Lectures in Natural Sciences 11a, 1947-1948. (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 228512657

Natural Sciences 4 was given in 1950-1951 by President James B. Conant.

Conant taught chemistry at Harvard from 1917-1933; he served as Harvard's president from 1933-1953.

From the description of Course material for Natural Sciences 4, 1950-1951. (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 228512799

Hans Thacher Clarke studied chemistry at University College, London (1896-1905), worked for the Eastman Kodak Co. in Rochester (1914-1928), and was a professor of biological chemistry at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University (1928-1956). Among other researches, he was involved in the production of penicillin in the U.S.

Hans Thacher Clarke (1887-1972) was born in Harrow, England. From 1896-1905, he attended University College London School, and went on to enter the University as a student of chemistry. There he studied under William Ramsey, J. N. Collie and Samuel Smiles. He also attended courses in physiological chemistry taught by R.H. A Plimmer and physiology with E. H. Starling, but found these studies boring at the time. After receiving his B.Sc. in 1908, Clarke continued to do research at University College under the direction of Smilesand A.W. Stewart. In 1911, he was awarded an 1851 Exhibition Scholarship which he used to spend three semesters with Emil Fischer in Berlin and one semester with A.W. Stewart at Queen's College, Belfast. On his return he was granted the D.Sc. from London University in 1913.

Clarke's father had long been associated with Eastman Kodak Company as European representative. George Eastman occasionally consulted Hans on chemical matter and, at the beginning of World War I, when the company was forced to produce photographic chemicals which they had previously imported from Germany, they turned to Hans for help. Clarke moved to Rochester, N.Y. in 1914 only to discover that he was the sole organic chemist there! The correspondence retained from these years consists largely of requests for chemicals, arrangements for visits, and reports of Clarke's consultancy work which involved scanning the chemical literature (a task which continued to occupy him for two days a week until 1969!) [Box 3, 3 files, c.60 items, 191-1963]

At the suggestion of his friend Henry D. Dakin, Clarke accepted a position offered him as Professor of Biological Chemisty at Columbia's College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1928. When he first took on the post he received much advice from his friend and mentor, A.W. Stewart on how to start one's own academic department (Box 7, c. 20 items, 1926-1935). While at Columbia, Clarke took a personal interest in graduate students, of whom he demanded rigorous qualifications prior to admission (a list of the PhD.s granted from 1913 to 1957, with their positions as of 1955, is in Box 2, "Biochemistry at Columbia"). As time went on, Clarke found less and less time to devote to his own research. Other responsibilities interrupted his work, including the 1953 memorial lectures for his friend Henry Dankin, and subsequent arrangements for this event at Adelphi College every year to 1965 (Box 1, Adelphia Colege, 3 files, 1957-1965).

In 1956, Clarke retired from Columbia, but continued his research and some lecturing and conducting student seminars at the Biochemical Laboratories of the Graduate School of Yale University, to which he had been invited by Joseph Fruton. This arrangement was disrupted when the Medical School needed the space Clarke was occupying in the laboratory to accommodate newly appointed members of its staff in 1964 (Box 5, Dean Vernon W. Lippard). Clarke was able to continue his research at the Children's Cancer Research Foundation Center in Boston until 1970, when ill health forced him to retire.

One of the jobs Clarke valued most was his position, in 1951-1952, as Science Attache to the American Embassy in London. His post permitted him to work closely with Sir Robert Robinson, with whom he had edited a major book on research in penicillin in 1949, after prior government service as Assistant Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development in 1944 placed him in charge of coordinating penicillin production in the U.S. (Box 4, Paul D. Foote, and Box 6, 1959-1960, concern a controversy on patenting of production methods in U.K. and U.S. which casts light on Clarke's role in the penicillin production effort).

Clarke's activities int he NAS, including records of his receipt of the King's medal in 1948 and vitae of nominees from 1942 to 1971 have been retained (Box 6). His activity as chairman of the Rochester section of the American Chemical Society (1921), of the New York section (1946) and of the Organic Chemisty Division (1924-25) as well as his work on the Committee on Professional Training, and the Garvin Award Committee, are well documented (Box 1, 6 files). Clarke was also the president of teh American Society of Biological Chemists in 1947, but the collection contains very little of interest in this regard (Box 2, 5 files, 50 items, c. 1942-1963).

Clarke's activity on grants allocation committees is well documented. As a member of teh Otological Society he served on a grants committee from 1956-1962 (Box 1, 9 files). As Chairman of the Merck Fellowship Board of the National Academy of Sciences in 1957, Clarke retained such interesting correspondence as a letter from Warren Weaver to A.N. Richards recommending the use of the Merck money for two or three research professorships at $15,000 p.a. rather than only for post-doctoral research, and a letter from Kenneth B. Raper at Wisconsin approving of this proposal which was passed on to the Merck Board in March 1957 (Box 5).

Clarke was in much demand for his talents as a lucid writer and was called on to serve as editor or referee throughout his career. He served on the editorial board of Organic Synthesis from 1921 to 1932 (Box 6, 3 files), of the Journal of Biological Chemistry from 1937 to 1951, and as associate editor of the Journal of the American Chemical Society from 1928 to 1938 (JBC, Box 4, 8 files up to 1960, also, Box 3, Clarke's 50th Anniversary article on the Journal).

From the guide to the Hans Thacher Clarke Papers, Circa 1903-1973, (American Philosophical Society)

James Bryant Conant (1893-1978) was a chemist, educator and public servant. The wide variety of his interests and occupations are reflected in the title of his memoirs, My Several Lives. Conant's "several lives" included periods as a chemistry instructor, University president, national director of defense research, ambassador to Germany and as an author of critical works examining secondary education in the United States. Conant's pursuits carried him from his boyhood home in Boston to Harvard University and eventually around the globe.

Conant graduated from Harvard College in 1914, completing a three-year program as an undergraduate concentrator in chemistry. He remained at the University, studying with Elmer Kohler, and received his degree two years later. An academic career followed, during which time Conant worked at Harvard as an instructor (1917), assistant professor (1919) and eventually as a tenured professor (1927) of organic chemistry. In 1921 he married Grace Thayer Richards, daughter of chemistry professor Theodore William Richards, whom Conant had met at a dinner for graduate students at Professor Richards' house.

In 1933, despite the fact that his only previous administrative experience was a term as chair of the Chemistry Department, Conant was appointed to succeed A. Lawrence Lowell as President of Harvard University. President Conant worked to enhance Harvard's position as a national institution with an international reputation for academic achievement. He established the National Scholarships which allowed young men of intellectual promise to attend Harvard College regardless of their financial circumstances or proximity to Cambridge, Massachusetts. He also broadened the intellectual scope of the undergraduate student body through the General Education Program. This program required each undergraduate, regardless of his concentration, to take courses in three broad disciplines: the humanities, the social sciences, and the natural sciences. President Conant further promoted intellectual exchange through the establishment of the prestigious University Professorships, which gave leading scholars tenured appointments at the University, unencumbered by ties to specific faculties or departments.

Conant's achievements also included expansion in the teaching of education and of journalism. In the fall of 1935 the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the Graduate School of Education voted to recommend his plan for the establishment of a new degree, the Master of Arts in Teaching (M.A.T.). The M.A.T. required prospective teachers to demonstrate a command of educational theory as well as familiarity with specific subjects by undergoing examination by members from both the teaching faculty and their specific subject faculty. Three years later, Conant helped to establish the Nieman Fellowships. These fellowships fund a year of study at Harvard for professional journalists.

During wartime, Conant balanced his service to the University with a commitment to national affairs. In 1917 he briefly left Harvard to join the Chemical Warfare Service and by the end of the First World War he was promoted to the rank of major. Conant, an outspoken critic of Nazi Germany, played a more prominent role during the Second World War. As a member and chairman of the National Defense Research Committee, he and his colleagues were responsible for the technical direction of military scientific research, including atomic research. At the end of the war he declined to become the first chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, although he continued to serve as Chairman of the National Science Board.

Conant retired from Harvard in 1953. He immediately began another of his "lives," serving as U.S. High Commissioner to Germany and Ambassador to Germany. In 1957 he resigned his diplomatic post and once again turned his attention to American education. In 1957, Conant, along with the Educational Testing Service, administered a large scale study of American high schools. Following this, he studied and reported on teacher education in American Universities. In 1964, he returned to Berlin for eighteen months as an educational advisor under the auspices of the Ford Foundation.

Conant spent his final years as a resident of New York City, Summering in Hanover, New Hampshire. He took ill in Hanover during the spring of 1977 and remained there until his death on February 11, 1978. He was survived by his wife who died in 1985 and his sons James Richards and Thomas Richards.

From the guide to the Papers of James Bryant Conant, 1862-1987, (Harvard University Archives)



Biographical notes are generated from the bibliographic and archival source records supplied by data contributors.

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SNAC ID:
54504984

Subjects:

  • Chemistry--Study and teaching (Higher)
  • Biochemistry -- United States.
  • Science and state
  • Medicine -- United States.
  • Photographic chemistry.
  • College presidents--Interviews
  • Diplomats--Interviews
  • Clarinet.
  • Atomic bomb
  • Education, Secondary--Research
  • Education, Secondary
  • Penicillin.
  • Chemists
  • Military research
  • High school teachers--Training of
  • Biochemistry.
  • Ambassadors

Occupations:

not available for this record

Places:

  • 1945-1955 (as recorded)
  • Germany (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • Massachusetts--Cambridge (as recorded)
  • Germany (West) (as recorded)