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Encyclopedia Dubuque


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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.

CALVIN, Samuel J.

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Photo source: Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

CALVIN, Samuel J. (Wigtonshire, Scotland, Feb. 2, 1840--Iowa City, IA, Apr. 17, 1911). Calvin came with his family to the United States in 1851 and then to Buchanan County where he taught school at the age of sixteen. He attended Lenox College as a student and teacher and later served as the college president and Delaware County Superintendent of Schools. (1)

Calvin left Lenox College in 1869 to come to Dubuque as a school principal for the Fourth Ward School. (2) He continued, however, to take regular field trips to explore the plant life and geology of the prairies.

As his educational reputation grew, Calvin was invited by the University of Iowa to serve on its faculty in natural sciences. He was also offered the position of curator of the University Cabinet, the collection of geological specimens, fossils, and mounted animals and birds. (3)

Calvin involved photography in his teaching and became a renowned photographer with a collection of over 7,000 photographs. He developed the role of "public scholar" with illustrated talks including his slides given to clubs and schools. This became a predecessor of the school's extension program. (4)

In 1892 Calvin was appointed Iowa's State Geologist. His reputation continued to grow with his leadership of the third State Geological Survey, his discovery of Devonian fish fossils, and his contribution of more than seventy scholarly articles. He established the natural history bulletin and founded and edited the American Geologist. He served as president of the Geological Society of America in 1908. The same year he served as president of the Iowa Academy of Science and was invited to the White House to participate in one of the first national conferences on conservation. (5)



1. Bergman, Marvin; Horton, Loren; Hudson, David. The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, Iowa City, 2008

2. "Is an Ex-Dubuquer" Dubuque Daily Herald, July 10, 1892, p. 8

3. Bergman

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.