Fall 2012 Newsletter| Biology | Marquette University




Science Hall
Science Hall (Now Marquette Hall)

Throughout the 1940’s the Biology Labs were still on the 3rd floor of Science Hall. In 1942, the department faculty consisted of William Steil, Professor of Botany; Eugene McDonough, Associate Professor of Botany; James Perry, Associate Professor of Zoology: and the head of the department, Father Raymond Reis S.J., Assistant Professor of Zoology. Even though the Biology Department was small compared to today, the faculty still covered a wide range of research topics. In the early 1940’s Dr. Perry’s research looked at the effects of adrenalin on the endocrine systems of rats and sparrows. Dr. Steil, meanwhile, was studying the morphology and reproductive structures of ferns, and Dr. McDonough was researching the cytology of fungi. A new science library was opened on the 5th floor of Science Hall in October of 1942. This library held over 2000 volumes, and could “supply students with almost anything pertaining to science”.


Biology Honor Society 1942
Phi Sigma Biology Honor Society, 1942: FIRST ROW: Dorothy Wittheck, Marian Dellers, Ruth Dornfeld, Sister Mira, O.S.F., Rita Thorpe. SECOND ROW: A. Joseph Gillan, Joseph Wocasek, Charles Rhode, Robert Wilde, Robert Esser, William Weishar

 During the 1940’s the Alpha Omicron Chapter of Phi Sigma Biology Honor Society met regularly and hosted lectures on research. In 1941, on the 25th anniversary of Marquette’s Phi Sigma chapter, 11 Junior and Senior undergraduates were honored with induction. Robert Esser, who was a graduate student at the time, served as Phi Sigma’s president. In May, 1942, just prior to graduation with his Ph.D., Esser was awarded the gold medal of Phi Sigma for “most outstanding research and study in the field of Zoology during the last year”. Esser’s research was on the structure and function of fern cells.  He went on to teach at Marquette’s medical school during World War II in an accelerated program for Navy doctors, and then the UW extension in Racine, and lastly at UW-Parkside. Esser died in 2010.

The early 40’s brought problems that had been brewing in the graduate school for years to a head. Due to overextension in graduate offerings, the Association of American Universities recommended that Marquette University reduce the number of MA offerings to programs that could guaranty excellence and terminate all doctoral programs entirely by 1943. Reasons for these troubles included excessive teaching loads in many departments, a weak salary structure for senior faculty, and the absence of promotion guidelines, although the public explanation for the Graduate School’s problems was the weakness of library’s book collection. The enrollment numbers for the Graduate School reflect these issues. In 1941 the total enrollment was 411 students (182 men, 229 women), but by 1944, enrollment had dropped to only 249 students (186 men, 156 women).    


It’s difficult to assess from Marquette’s records how World War II affected the Biology Department. Some clear trends are evident, some of which can be attributed to problems in the Graduate School but this does not explain the changes in Bachelor’s degree numbers. In 1941, 58 students obtained Botany or Zoology B.S. degrees, but by 1944, the number of students who were awarded their Bachelors of Science Degrees in either Botany or Zoology plunged to 27. Masters of Science Degrees also dipped in the early 1940’s. In 1940, 10 students graduated with an M.S. from the department, but by 1944, only 1 student graduated with their masters. Only 2 Ph.Ds.’ were awarded in the 1940’s, one in 1941 to Sister Thomasine Patterson, and the other to Robert Esser in 1942.


James Perry Endocrinology
Dr. James C. Perry leads a lab discussion on endocrinology

In 1946, the 2 associate professors were making $275 a month, and the full professor’s salary was $316.  In September, 1948 there were 5 faculty members and their monthly salaries had increased to $316 -$400.

Master’s students in biology were eligible for Service Scholarships that required 4-6 hours per week teaching and supervising labs. These scholarships remitted tuition and granted a $900 stipend for 2 semesters.

An exciting new opportunity brought the decade of the 40’s to a close. A scholarship was established to the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. This opened research facilities and course scholarships to Marquette faculty and graduate students. Two graduate students were now able to apply for this program in the summer months.

As Marquette University left the war years behind, the Graduate School looked forward to rebuilding its graduate programs, and the College of Liberal Arts was bursting at the seams with record enrollment. In 1949, the president of the university, Fr. O’Donnell wrote in the Hilltop Yearbook, “To rescue mankind from possible bankruptcy in our national and international life calls for creative activity on the part of those best qualified for the task – our University graduates.”

Image credit: Department of Special Collections and University Archives, Marquette University Libraries: All images taken from Hilltop Yearbooks.




Biological Sciences Department

Marquette University, Wehr Life Sciences
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P.O. Box 1881
Milwaukee, WI 53201-1881
(414) 288-7355