Stevens discusses 100 years of biology history at Luther
Luther College has a storied history going back well over a century. On homecoming weekend, retiring Assistant Professor of Biology Wendy Stevens will cover a small portion of that history in a lecture titled “100 Years of Biology at Luther College.”
The first biology-related class on record was a physiology course offered by A.A. Veblen in 1879. This course was only offered for two years, disappearing once Veblen left Luther College. Between 1880 and 1890 there was a zoology course offered as well, but after the ten year period it too disappeared. Then followed a twenty-two year gap before any biology related course showed up as an option in the Luther College curriculum.
In 1912, Luther College hired its first faculty member to explicitly teach biology: Hans Hilleboe. It was only to be taught at a preparatory level for students who did not have enough of a background in schooling, but it marked the establishment of biology as a department at Luther College. The department itself began offering biology courses to regular college students in 1916 and it became apparent that biology was here to stay at Luther College.
While biology was not offered as a degree until 1926, the major milestones within the history of Luther College’s biology department were in the 1930’s and early in the 1960’s. In 1927 a gentleman by the name of William Strunk came to Luther College as a professor.
“William Strunk was a powerhouse,” Stevens said. “He just re-did everything. He taught evolution using Darwin’s ‘Origin of the Species’ as one of his major texts.”
Over the next ten years, Strunk expanded the department and lab space, pushed the development of field research for Luther College students, and started Luther College Health Services among many other things.
This ten-year period during the 1930’s is when the biology department really started to take off under the tutelage of Strunk. Strunk also began teaching an evolution course, even offering a course on genetics and eugenics in the early 1930’s, until he left Luther under mysterious circumstances in 1939.
“In 1960 there was a sort of blow-up on campus and it started in the religion department with one of the religion professors not being happy with the administration,” Stevens said. “He felt that evolution shouldn’t be discussed in the religion department and probably shouldn’t be taught in the biology department.”
The consequences of this drew in the biology department and ended up with half of the religion faculty and all but one of the biology professors leaving Luther College.
Stevens will cover this complex period of history and will make a foray into other interesting aspects of Luther College history.
The lecture will take place during homecoming weekend at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 6 in Valders 206.