Darwin Chicago 2009 U of C
Darwin's Birth October 29-31, 2009
Origin of Species
Darwin Chicago

Darwin Centennial Celebration held at the University of Chicago in 1959

In 1959, the University of Chicago staged a grand celebration of the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and the 100th anniversary of the publication of the Origin of Species.  That celebration, orchestrated by the anthropologist Sol Tax, brought to Chicago a large cast of premier biologists, paleontologists, psychologists, and anthropologists.  The participants included Sir Charles Galton Darwin, Sir Julian Huxley, Theodosius Dobzhansky, Ernst Mayr, Sewall Wright, Louis Leakey, G. G. Simpson, F. Clark Howell, C. H. Waddington, Bernhard Rensch, H. J. Muller, and a host of other scientific luminaries.  Among the special guests was John Scopes, who had been found guilty in 1925 of teaching human evolution in the high school of Dayton, Tennessee. 

From the celebration fifty years ago came three volumes published by the University of Chicago Press, under the general title Evolution after Darwin.  The meeting and the volumes both assessed the state of evolutionary science during the first half of the 20th century and set the agenda for the next decades.

The celebration included the composition and performance of a musical play, Time Will Tell, with original music and lyrics by Robert Pollak and Robert Ashenhurst.  The tunes included:  Homeward Plows the Beagle; I was Born, My Friends in Shrewsbury Town; Mary, Mary, Mary; Meeting of the British Association, and other witty Gilbert and Sullivan-like songs. 

Here is one of the songs from that play of 50 years ago:

“I was born, my friends—Darwin"

For a comprehensive history of the Chicago celebration of 1959, see:  Vassiliki Betty Smocovitis, "The 1959 Darwin Centennial Celebration in America," Osiris, 2nd ser., vol. 14, eds. Pnina Abir-Am and Clark Elliot "Commemorative Practices in Science: Historical Perspectives on the Politics of Collective Memory" (1999), pp. 274-323.

Anyone who was present at the 1959 meeting and has memories they would like to share, send them to rjr6@uchicago.edu.

Louis and Mary Leakey at the 1959 Conference on Darwin at Chicago





Theodosius Dobzhansky and Sewall Wright
Sir Julian Huxley at Rockefeller Chapel:
"The Evolutionary Vision"