Herbert W. Conn: Formative decades of microbiology and evolutionary biology


The Wesleyan Biology Department conference room showcases several portraits of distinguished biologists from its history, including one depicting Herbert W. Conn (1859–1917) as a dashing young man sporting a double-breasted suit, pince-nez, and a perfect Van Dyke beard. Conn made outstanding contributions to both microbiology and evolutionary biology, showing how bacteria share fundamental properties with more familiar animals and plants, and thus making microbes more comprehensible to lay people and scientists alike. His breadth of knowledge comes through in the many books and articles he published, reflecting his intellectual command of several biological disciplines. Conn founded the Wesleyan University Biology Department in 1884 and served as its chairman until he died in 1917. From 1905, he also directed the Connecticut State Board of Health Laboratory, building andorganizing both institutions from the ground up during this formative time for both microbiology and evolutionary biology. By the beginning of his career, microbiologists recognized the bacterial causes of several major diseases, were beginning to realize that the principle of natural selection extends to the microbial world, and also began to appreciate the immense biodiversity of that microbial world.

Cite this paper

@inproceedings{Cohan2014HerbertWC, title={Herbert W. Conn: Formative decades of microbiology and evolutionary biology}, author={Frederick Cohan and Herbert W. Conn}, year={2014} }