Shifting Sands: The Restoration of the Calumet Area

By Kenneth J. Schoon | Go to book overview

14
LOCAL PIONEERING
ENVIRONMENTAL HEROES
AND HEROINES

HENRY CHANDLER COWLES:
THE FATHER OF NORTH AMERICAN ECOLOGY

Henry Chandler Cowles was born on a Connecticut farm in 1869. It is said that he developed his fascination with plants and trees during his childhood there. By the age of sixteen, he was well acquainted with the plants in the area and had read Gray’s Manual of Botany. After earning his bachelor’s degree in 1894 at Oberlin College in Ohio, he went to Chicago to study geology.

Once at the University of Chicago, he realized that his true calling was really in the biological sciences, particularly botany and the new science of ecology, the study of the relationships between organisms and their environment. At that time ecology was a little-known discipline centered in Germany and Denmark—with no English-language texts yet available.1

Henry Cowles visited the Indiana Dunes for the first time in April of 1896 and spent much of the next two years learning more about the fascinating Duneland plant life. His PhD dissertation on the plants of the Dunes was the first major study of ecology in North America. Working in an area where the Glenwood-, Calumet-, and Tolleston-era dunes were so close to one another, he could readily see how the flora of the older dunes was different from that of the younger dunes. He discovered the effects of time on plant life and provided convincing evidence for the theory of succession.

Cowles’s entire career was spent with the university’s Botany Department.2 He helped start the Prairie Club in 1911, was a member of

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