Scope and Content Note
Language of Material:
Department of Special Collections and University Archives
Title: David Starr Jordan papers
Jordan, David Starr
Identifier/Call Number: SC0058
Identifier/Call Number: 1325
250.5 Linear Feet
Date (inclusive): 1861-1964
David Starr Jordan, the first president of Stanford University, and Orrin Leslie Elliott,
first registrar, used adjacent offices and later shared a common secretary in George A.
Clark during the early years of the institution. Under this arrangement their correspondence
files were intermixed, and although three separate categories were maintained--President's
Office, General Letters, and University Letters--these distinctions were so vague as to
prove meaningless. Thus, many hundreds of the letters of the letters in the combined files
were requests for catalogs or information about the institution by potential students. All
of the incoming letters and loose carbons and drafts of outgoing letters were copied into
letterpress books. It is assumed that these papers, official and unofficial, remained in the
custody of the University.
When Dr. Jordan retired in 1913, a new file was created for his correspondence as
chancellor, and later, chancellor emeritus. The manner of arranging this correspondence is
In 1919, Dr. Jordan gave the Stanford Library a large amount of manuscript material of
which the exact nature has not been determined. Included in this gift were the Papers of the
Fur Seal Commission maintained by Dr. Jordan's and the Commission's secretary, George A.
Clark. In that same year, Dr. Jordan gave the Hoover Collection (now the Hoover Institution
on War, Revolution, and Peace) his award-winning Plan of Education for Peace. Further gifts
to the Hoover Collection followed in 1925-26, 1926-27, and 1928-29.
Dr. Jordan died in 1931, and in 1933-34, his widow gave the Stanford Main Library
manuscripts, journals, poems, and notebooks. In that same year, Mrs. Jordan gave Cornell,
Dr. Jordan's alma mater, books and student mementos, and other materials pertaining to
Jordan's student days.
In September 1934, the University registrar reported that he had employed an assistant to
file the Jordan papers. In reporting to the registrar, the assistant noted that she found so
much overlapping that it is impossible to make a clear segregation. I find that Mrs. Jordan
was arranging the materials in many miscellaneous packages which must all be arranged by
subject. It would be difficult to arrange materials chronologically because dates are
lacking... so the alphabetical arrangement is necessary. In addition to arranging the files,
the assistant segregated several thousand letters of interest to Dr. Elliott, who at this
time was writing a history of the University.
In 1941, the Hoover Library moved into a new multi-story building and assumed the custody
of all the Jordan papers except the official files stored in the President's vault. In
1943-44, Mrs. Jordan sent 36 files and three cartons of correspondence, a diary, and other
papers to Hoover, making a grand total of 107 boxes. In October, 1945, all the cartons
except 24 concerned with peace were returned to the Main Library.
At some unknown date, manuscript record books and some correspondence on fishes was turned
over to the Division of Systematic Biology. These have subsequently been delivered to the
Archives for inclusion in the Jordan files.
In 1965, the Stanford Board of Trustees established the Stanford University Archives, which
absorbed the Stanford Collection, a memorabilia collection long maintained by the Library.
At that time, the Stanford Collection contained 84 boxes of Jordan Papers arranged by
subject. Most of these papers dated after Dr. Jordan's retirement as President, or were his
Less than a year after its establishment, the Archives received the Jordan files from the
President's Office vault, of which three cartons were hopelessly damaged by mildew. A
careful search of accessible campus storage areas brought additional Jordan letters,
including those segregated for Dr. Elliott. After the microfilm edition of the Jordan Papers
was approved by the NHPRC, 59 volumes of Dr. Jordan's letter books (chronological files)
were turned over to the Archives by the Registrar's Office.
Scope and Content Note
The Jordan Papers span 1861-1951, although the bulk of the collection dates between 1891
and 1929. Very few items pre-date Jordan's connection with Stanford University and there is
very little material after the severe stroke he suffered in the summer of 1929. The papers
of Jessie Knight Jordan [Series I-F], cover the two years of Jordan's illness, her
reminiscences and the memoires of his old friends.
The collection consists primarily of Jordan's voluminous correspondence (62.25 linear ft.)
relating to professional and university matters, but also contains other types of material
such as writings (published and unpublished), clippings, journals and diaries, scrapbooks,
financial papers, biographical and genealogical information, and photographs.
The major subjects are those which deeply involved David Starr Jordan during his lifetime.
In his autobiography,
The Days of a Man, he described himself
as A Naturalist, Teacher, and Minor Prophet of Democracy.
Jordan was a naturalist-first a botanist and secondly and of greater significance an
ichthyologist. In the latter field, his works are still considered authoritative. In this
role he was also interested in conservation, zoological nomenclature and the protection of
fur seals, which endeavor was extremely important and highly documented.
All his life he was a teacher. Even when he was a university president at Indiana and
Stanford he personally taught courses. His career as a public lecturer, beginning in 1871,
was an educational endeavor-to teach natural history, moral goals and standards, the
progress of education and peace and international arbitration.
As an educator Jordan brought the separation of education from religion and the system of
elective courses learned at Cornell to the new western universities. In the field of science
he emphasized the importance of field and laboratory work rather than mere reliance on
textbooks. He developed the idea of a junior college and was responsible for developing
Stanford University into an intellectually competitive university rather than the technical
training school envisioned by the founders.
Social Darwinism was the major cause of Jordan's devotion to peace and his interests in
eugenics, temperance, non-smoking and genealogy. Anything that, to his mind, threatened to
weaken or destroy man's natural abilities and health, Jordan fought against. According to
Jordan, was affected the degeneration of the race by destroying the most promising men and
leaving the least desirable at home to reproduce and create the future generations. He was
limited by his puritan heritage and his belief in the superiority of a biological,
The David Starr Jordan Papers in the Hoover Institution Archives contain the majority of
Jordan's papers relating to politics and pacifism. A guide to that collection is available
in the reading room of the Department of Special Collections.
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.
David Starr Jordan Papers (SC0058). Department of Special Collections and University
Archives, Stanford University Libraries, Stanford, Calif.
Personal papers given by Mrs. David Starr Jordan and others; official papers transferred
from the Stanford University President's Office.
Property rights reside with the repository. Literary rights reside with the creators of the
documents or their heirs. To obtain permission to publish or reproduce, please contact the
Public Services Librarian of the Dept. of Special Collections and University Archives.
The materials are open for research use.
Subjects and Indexing Terms
San Francisco Earthquake and Fire, Calif., 1906
Hearst, Phoebe Apperson.
Carnegie, Andrew, 1835-1919
Harper, William Rainey,
Dole, Nathan Haskell.
Doyle, John T. (John Thomas), 1819-1906
DuBois, William Edward Burghardt.
Bierce, Ambrose, 1842-1914?
Frémont, Jessie Benton, 1824-1902
Otis, Harrison Gray
Cubberley, Ellwood Patterson
Lummis, Charles Fletcher
Hearst, William Randolph, 1863-1951
Wilson, Woodrow, 1856-1924
Wilbur, Ray L. (Ray Lyman)
Hughes, Charles Evans, 1962-1948
Burbank, Luther, 1849-1926
Evermann, Barton Warren, 1853-1932
Voorhees, Daniel Wolsey.
Veblen, Thorstein (Thorstein Bunde)
White, Andrew Dickson,
Camp, Walter Chauncey
Stoddard, Charles Warren.
Taft, William H. (William Howard), 1857-1930
Stanford University -- General subdivision--Students.;
Turner, Frederick Jackson.
Taylor, Edward Robeson.
Sanger, Margaret Higgins.
Stanford, Jane Lathrop
Ross, Edward Alsworth, 1866-1951
White, Stephen Mallory
Anderson, Melville Best
Root, Elihu, 1845-1937
Branner, John Casper, 1850-1922
Barnes, Mary Sheldon
Jordan, Jessie Knight
Rolph, James, Jr.
Phelan, James Duval.
Pardee, George C.
Campbell, Douglas Houghton
Norris, Charles Gilman.
Wheeler, Benjamin Ide
Mills, Sarah Lincoln.
McKinley, William, 1843-1901
MacDowell, Edward Alexander.
McClure, Samuel Sidney.
Field, Charles K. (Charles Kellogg), 1873-1948
Lodge, Henry Cabot.
Dudley, William Russel, 1849-1911
Kellogg, Vernon Lyman.
Bryan, William Jennings
Crocker, Charles Frederick.
Huntington, Collis Potter.
Irwin, Will, 1873-1948
Cleveland, Stephen Grover.
Coolbrith, Ina Donna.
Cooper, Sarah B.
Jordan, David Starr
Anthony, Susan B. (Susan Brownell), 1820-1906
Washington, Booker T.
Adams, Bristow, 1875-1957
Burgess, Frank Gelett.
Stanford, Thomas Welton
Bell, Alexander Graham.
Hoover, Lou Henry, 1874-1944
de Young, Meichel Harry.
Dole, Charles Fletcher.
Muybridge, Eadweard, 1830-1904