Since our founding in 1812, the Academy of Natural Sciences has served as a forum for scientific discovery. The contributions of great scientists and members during the Academy’s early days made today’s scientific breakthroughs possible. From Thomas Jefferson to John James Audubon and Marie Curie, the Academy’s early members were explorers, reformers, artists, presidents, soldiers, and scientists. In part two of Famous Members, Academy Archivist Jennifer Vess shares a selection of membership cards that elegantly document these famous individuals’ ties to Academy history.
Many Academy members were intrigued by Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. The book was published in November of 1859 and Joseph Leidy was so impressed that he wrote to Darwin almost immediately after reading it. Darwin wrote back just as quickly, in March of 1860, the same month he was confirmed as an Academy member. We still have that letter in our archives collection as well as a first-edition of On the Origin of Species.
Ulysses Grant’s membership with the Academy was more honorary than active. He never sought out the Academy, nor did he participate in activities or science. Instead, like modern universities’ honorary degrees recognizing famous individuals, this membership was meant to highlight his accomplishments outside the realm of science.
William Thomson, Lord Kelvin was a physicist, best known for his development of an absolute temperature scale (called the Kelvin scale). He was also director of the Atlantic Telegraph Company and pushed for the laying of telegraph cables beneath the Atlantic Ocean, which revolutionized global communication. He visited the United States in 1882.
Marie Curie received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1903 and the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1911. She became a member in 1914. In 1921 she came to Philadelphia. We don’t know if she managed to visit the Academy, but she did give a presentation at the College of Physicians just a few blocks away. It is likely that at least a few of our members packed into the crowded Mitchell Hall to hear her speak.
Are you interested in joining Darwin, Curie, and their famous friends as members of the Academy?
Membership in the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University gives you free year-round general admission to the museum, where you’ll see some of the most surprising and spectacular wonders of the natural world. As a member, you’ll also be providing important support for the Academy’s world-renowned research in biodiversity and environmental science. Your membership dues help:
- Ensure the conservation of the Academy’s unparalleled collections, including treasures such as John James Audubon’s birds and Thomas Jefferson’s fossil collection.
- Bring the best in science education to more than 50,000 Philadelphia students each year.
- Sustain vital scientific research into environmental and species conservation, public education, and discourse around the future of our planet.
- And much more!
Access part one of Famous Members.
A version of this article originally appeared in the summer 2016 issue of Academy Frontiers.