What began as a summer project
for me, became something much more meaningful when I was introduced to a man
named Charles Cleveland Nutting. The 265-page narrative of a scientific expedition
seemed quite a diversion to what I had been studying up until that point.
As an art history major, I was much more likely to understand the terms chiaroscuro
and baroque rather than gastropod and bivalve.
Surprisingly I quickly found that I was picking up C. C. Nutting's book to read for pleasure rather than out of duty. The leader of the expedition's hilarious accounts of the expedition made me laugh aloud. Not one word in his narrative was unkind, and no one who was on the trip went unmentioned. In addition to duly thanking every member of his crew, he often included humorous, sometimes salutary stories about his fellow scientists.
I became enthralled with C. C. Nutting as a person and did some digging about his life outside of scientific expeditions. He was an influential man on campus and a loving man to his children. My research confirmed that this man was a popular and well-respected scientist and individual. Books and articles championed him as a modern man, a pioneer, an interesting orator whose lectures sold out of space every time he gave speeches about his expedition. In fact, the only fault I could find about him was that he wrote a little too sentimentally in some of his accounts. One cannot fault him for that, as I am wont to do the same when I write about the man.
As you get older, it seems that you acquire fewer heroes in life. I was lucky to quite unexpectedly discover one this summer. I found a hero in Charles Cleveland Nutting.
Charles Cleveland Nutting
C. C. Nutting, as he signed his papers, was
born Charles Cleveland Nutting, May 25, 1858 in Jacksonville, Illinois. The
future naturalist who would later champion Darwin was born to a long line of
religious men. His father Reverend Rufus Nutting Junior was Doctor of Divinity.
Charles was an early adventurer. In high school he was already planning expeditions with his friends. One such expedition was to go to Central America with two of his classmates. "They were going to paddle down the Mississippi and across the Gulf of Mexico."(Taylor, 1943, p. 272). It comes no surprise to find out that later in Nutting's life his library would hold the complete works of Mark Twain.
Charles met his future wife Lizzie Hersman at Blackburn College. They were married, August 10, 1886, the same year that Charles came to Iowa City to work as curator of the museum and instructor in Natural Science under Samuel Calvin. Before this was to occur, however, Charles had some exploring to do. He spent a year in Colorado before he went to Costa Rica in 1882 to study birds. He brought back to the United States National Museum (Smithsonian) over 300 birds.
Charles Nutting's main interests were marine life and museum work. In 1889 he became head of systematic zoology. His work and his passions led him on expeditions around the world. His most famous expedition was one organized by him and two other professors, which took them to the Bahamas and Dry Islands in 1893. The twenty one-member expedition included students who graduated while on the trip (Stromsen, 1950, p. 19). Other expeditions included the Albatross expedition in 1902, The Laysan Island Expedition (1911) and a trip to Fiji and New Zealand (1922) that he organized with two of the professors who were involved in the Barbados and Antigua Expedition (1918).
Nutting felt very strongly about having a wide variety of specimens for his
students to observe and learn from.
"The best, and ordinarily the only, satisfactory way to secure material is to go after it yourself, or send thoroughly competent men. These men should be not only naturalists, but highly trained collectors." (Nutting from Museum Methods, 1917). In this case Nutting was one of the most competent men in his field. His expert opinion was held in the the highest regard. His expertise came from his willingness to seek out his own specimens.
The modern scientist is not likely to be branching out of his specialty to study adjacent subjects. The old school naturalist, epitomized by Nutting was free to preserve and classify birds, insects, plants, and other specimens brought back from numerous field trips. Nutting was interested in everything; he asked questions, wrote things down and pursued information about them with passion. Nutting believed in popular science and that by interesting the average person in his projects, he felt that he was fostering a growth of science. (Taylor, 1943, p. 279).
No wonder Nutting was popular as an instructor. In addition to taking students with him to different parts of the globe, his knowledge and passion for education extended into the classroom. His lectures were always interesting and included photos from his trip to help with the narration. The packed assemblies indicated his success as an orator.
Professor Nutting was concerned with the values that a student gained as well as their standard education. "Darwin was right when he said that the very worst method of imparting scientific instruction was the lecture system. Natural science can be taught properly only when the student, the specimens, and a competent instructor are brought together; and this can not be done by mass instruction." This quote is taken from Nutting's book Values, published July 27, 1920 in which he describes real soul values. Nutting expresses his concern for the turn that education is taking. He worried that institutions of learning were turning out students who were prepared to make a living, without the guidance in how to live.
There is no doubt that students under Professor Nutting's instruction, were given the opportunity to really live. In fact they helped build the University's collection of biological specimens. The collection expanded and took systematic form under Professor Nutting's care as curator of the museum, a position he held until 1926.
As the museums collection grew, so did Nutting's concern for their storage. The collection consisted of hundreds of boxes piled in the attic. He persistently asked for proper conditions to house the valuable specimens but his true and great goal was to have a complete museum in which the entire collection could be displayed. Professor Nutting dreamed of a museum with a great zoology department with a "study" museum and a "collection of animals so complete and arranged that it would illustrate the evolutionary progress of life in order that students could see that progress graphically, vividly illustrated." (Taylor, 1943, p. 286).
The ideal museum would
be a beautiful building, strong and fireproof and adorned outside with animal
heads, turtles, fish and leaves. And indeed, in 1905 a fine stone building was
competed and was to be called the Natural Science Building (now Macbride
Hall). It was supposed to house all branches of the old "Cabinet of
Natural History" as well as the museums and herbarium. This plan went up
in smoke when fire struck the old North Hall and the library was moved to the
new science building taking over the first floor and basement while an auditorium
took what space was left on the second and third floors. Only the two ends were
given to the museum and zoology department while the geology and botany were
left across the street to be moved later (Iowa Alum. 21). In 1926, the year
before Professor Nutting died, his department was moved completely out of the
Natural Science Building and into a vacated medical college building (Taylor,
Professor Nutting stood behind his department and the museum through everything. When fighting for what he believed in, Nutting was known to stand up to the President of the University. "He was not afraid to antagonize the whole world if in that manner he thought he could accomplish a desirable purpose. His sincerity was never questioned, he was respected for it, and no one seems to have been appointed to more committees than he. (Taylor, 1943, p. 289)."
While things changed at the University, so did Charles Nutting's personal life. Lizzie passed away after the birth of their daughter Caroline, and Charles' sister Catherine moved in to help with the family. Charles was a loving father and respected his daughter so much that it was her permission he sought when he wished to ask Eloise Willis to be his wife (Taylor, 1943). It was Caroline who proposed to her future step-mother and in addition to a new mother, she later gained two step-brothers. Willis Nutting and Charles (Carl) Nutting went with Charles and his new wife on expeditions and helped a great deal with the Barbados and Antigua expedition.
C. C. Nutting died January 23, 1927 at his home in Iowa City. He had been with the University of Iowa for over forty years (Taylor, 1943). While it is true that he did suffer health problems during the last years of his life he staunchly ignored them and continued to go about his daily life never making reference to them. It was the changing outlook on science by others that hurt him more than any physical ailments. People refer to him as one of the "great triumvirate" of the University which included Professors Calvin and Macbride (Taylor, 1943). Nutting left a legacy at the University that will not be forgotten despite the lack of a building in his honor. His ideals and real soul values influenced everyone with whom he came into contact. His work and his words continue to inspire people today.