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Jordan (David Starr) Papers
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Collection Details
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  • Provenance
  • Scope and Content Note
  • Biographical Sketch
  • Preferred Citation:
  • Provenance
  • Publication Rights
  • Access Restrictions

  • Contributing Institution: Department of Special Collections and University Archives
    Title: David Starr Jordan papers
    Identifier/Call Number: SC0058
    Physical Description: 251.25 Linear Feet
    Date (inclusive): 1861-1964
    Language of Material: English .


    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 unknown.
    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 personal correspondence.
    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 collection consists primarily of Jordan's correspondence relating to professional and university matters, and also contains writings (published and unpublished), clippings, journals and diaries, scrapbooks, financial papers, biographical and genealogical information, and photographs. Materials in the collection reflect Jordan's embrace of and advocacy for eugenics, including his leadership in 19th and 20th century eugenics organizations.
    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 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.

    Biographical Sketch

    David Starr Jordan was born at Gainesville, New York, on January 19, 1851. In March, 1869, Jordan entered Cornell University to join the first freshman class (which had begun work in the fall of 1868). Upon presentation of his thesis, "Wild Flowers of Wyoming County," Jordan received an M.S. degree from Cornell in 1872.
    After graduation, Jordan became professor of natural history at Lombard University, Galesburg, Illinois, 1872-73. He spent the summer of 1873 at Penikese Island with naturalist and eugenicist Louis Agassiz. He 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, who died in 1885. In 1887, Jordan married Jessie Louise H. Knight. The papers of Jessie Louise H. Knight 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. 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. He spent his summers 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 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 Spring of 1891, Leland Stanford offered Jordan the presidency of the university established in memory of the late son of Leland Stanford and Jane Lathrop Stanford. Jordan accepted and in March began to recruit faculty for the soon-to-open institution. Jordan's first choice was John Casper Branner, who became Stanford's second president. Faculty was recruited (in large measure from Cornell and Indiana) and school commenced October 1, 1891.
    In 1892, Jordan helped found the Sierra Club. Later in life he helped establish of Mr. Rainier and Yosemite as national parks, and in conservation movements generally.
    Leland 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. Jane Stanford expended great energy and the restricted resources available to her to keep the University open. During this time Jordan continued his ichthyological work and served as president of the California Academy of Sciences (1896-1904 and 1908-1912). In 1899 the University received its inheritance and legal actions against the estate ceased.
    During his later years as president of Stanford, Jordan served 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).
    Jordan was a leader in the American Eugenics Movement. His support for eugenics impacted many other areas of his life, including through informing his leadership in the world peace movement which occipied much of his later life.
    In 1913 he resigned as president and became chancellor of the University. Following his retirement Jordan continued his travels in the interest of classifying fish and speaking against war. Jordan died on September 19, 1931, after an illness of several years.

    Preferred Citation:

    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.

    Publication Rights

    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.

    Access Restrictions

    The materials are open for research use.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Stanford University -- Presidents.
    Stanford University -- Administration.
    San Francisco Earthquake and Fire, Calif., 1906