A portrait of a bearded man.
Image of Darwin

George Platzman Portrait Collection

Charles Darwin (1809-1882) was not the first to propose an evolutionary theory of life, but the mechanism of natural selection that he presented in On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection proved to be seminal. The proliferation of printed portraits of Darwin over time have made him one of the most recognizable scientists in history, bested perhaps only by Albert Einstein.

The inside front cover of a book.
On the Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection, or, The preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life

Charles Darwin (1809-1882). London: J. Murray, 1859. Special Collections, Rare Books

Darwin began drafting On the Origin of Species in the spring of 1856, though he had been collecting data and crafting his theory since his famous voyage on the Beagle twenty years earlier. The first edition of the book was published on November 24, 1859. Its initial reception varied from enthusiastic acceptance on the part of scientists such as geologist Charles Lyell, to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ dismay at the theory’s close mirroring of conservative political theory.

A messy, handwritten note.
Charles Darwin to Miss Buckley, August 16, 18--

Joseph Halle Schaffner Collection in the History of Science

Like many of his contemporaries, Darwin maintained a prodigious correspondence. Scientific communication was international, and Darwin wrote to many scientists within England and abroad. This letter demonstrates that On the Origin of Species had a wide readership, and it shows Darwin’s willingness to respond to the queries of his readers. Speaking of aphids, Darwin responds to Miss Buckley, “I have described in Origin the slave making process, as seen by myself. – I have, however, remarked (speaking from memory) that apparently F. sanguinea does not attend so much to aphides in England as on the continent.”

A program with a picture of Darwin.
Programme of Darwin Anniversary Address

The Biological Club, University of Chicago, 1909. Darwin Centennial Celebration Records

The University of Chicago has a long history of interest in Darwin and evolutionary studies. In 1909, the University hosted a series of lectures, “freely open to the public,” to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of Darwin’s birth. The speakers were members of the University faculty and included philosopher George Herbert Mead, botanist Henry Chandler Cowles, and Dean of the Divinity School Shailer Matthews.

A group of men and one woman sit around a table.
The Darwin Centennial Celebration Committee

Archival Photographic Files

From left to right: Sol Tax (Department of Anthropology) and Chairman of the Centennial Committee; Everett E. Olson (Department of Geology); Chauncy D. Harris (Department of Geography); Alfred E. Emerson (Department of Zoology); Seated: Ilza Veith (Department of Medicine), H. Burr Steinbach (Department of Zoology)

A heavily edited typewritten note.
Draft of Lawrence Kimpton’s letter to Sir Charles Darwin

[1956]. Darwin Centennial Celebration Records

Sol Tax began planning the Darwin Centennial Celebration more than three years before the event. Early in planning, Tax identified Sir Charles Darwin and Julian Huxley as crucial figures for the success of the celebration. Tax drafted an invitation for University of Chicago Chancellor Lawrence Kimpton to send to Darwin and Huxley in 1956. Both speakers, of course, accepted.

A heavily edited handwritten note.
[Sol Tax]. Handwritten note

[1959]. Darwin Centennial Celebration Records

The Darwin Centennial Celebration attracted such wide public attention that members of the public had to be turned away due to space constraints. Though Mandel Hall could hold 1,000 audience members, each panel attracted more than 1,700 interested conference goers.

A typewritten letter with a handwritten paragraph at the bottom.
Sol Tax to Percival Bailey

March 4, 1959. Darwin Centennial Celebration Records

This letter to Percival Bailey, of the University of Illinois College of Medicine, was never sent, but it demonstrates that some Darwin Centennial Celebration participants were not receptive to Julian Huxley’s editorial role. A letter from Tax dated April 7 listed four main comments from “several participants,” including the point that Bailey’s “use of the terms ‘idiot,’ ‘moron,’ etc. in respect to man at certain stages of his evolution confuses two distinct evolutionary processes, genetical and physical versus culturally determined.” Bailey immediately withdrew his paper and did not participate in the Darwin Centennial Celebration.

A typewritten note.
N. Tinbergen to Sol Tax

April 3, 1959. Oxford, England. Darwin Centennial Celebration Records

Dutch ethologist Nikolaas (Nico) Tinbergen was invited to the Darwin Centennial Celebration as an expert on animal behavior. In this letter, Tinbergen explains to Tax what he believes his role will be in the celebration. Specifically, Tinbergen means to speak about the “indirect effects of natural selection, and the compromises resulting from either [straight forward] clashes between more than one type of selection pressure, or joint effects of more than one pressure on the same feature.”

A typewritten note.
Sir Charles Darwin to Sol Tax

August 19, 1959. Cambridge, England. Darwin Centennial Celebration Records

Like the other celebration participants, Sir Charles Darwin submitted his paper, “Can Man Control his Numbers?,” to Julian Huxley for feedback. In addition to his reaction to Huxley’s “trivial” comments, Darwin criticizes Huxley’s essay “The Emergence of Darwinism” for its treatment of “psycho-social” or “cultural evolution,” or human tradition.  Huxley argued that human evolution was not pre-eminently biological, but that it was the “fuller realization of more possibilities by the human species collectively and more of its component members individually.”

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Suggested points for discussion by panel 5

Julian Huxley. October 21, 1959. Darwin Centennial Celebration Records

In addition to providing commentary on the papers submitted by each Celebration participant, Julian Huxley developed possible questions and talking points for each of the five topical panels in advance of the event. Among talking points that Huxley suggested for Panel 5, “Social and Cultural Evolution,” is his own theory of “psychosocial selection in competing ideas, skills, and beliefs.”

A complex chart with various arrows.
Hand-drawn figures for “Physiological Genetics, Ecology of Populations, and Natural Selection

Sewall Wright. Darwin Centennial Celebration Records

Sewall Wright, professor of genetics from the University of Wisconsin, submitted a paper to the Centennial Committee which considered “the mathematical framework of the theory of evolution at a succession of levels of complexity.” In an era before the personal computer, many of Sewall’s diagrams – like the four pictured here – were hand-drawn.

A typewritten note.
Robert Pollak to Robert Ashenhurst

October 26, 1959. Darwin Centennial Celebration Records

Robert Pollak and Robert Ashenhurst were surprised to learn that Julian Huxley wanted to appear onstage during the performance of Time Will Tell, their musical about Charles Darwin. Pollak was even more surprised that Huxley “wasn’t particularly anxious to have Sir Charles Darwin appear on stage at all.” In the end, it isn’t clear if Huxley and Darwin actually appeared onstage.

Sheet music
Script and songbook for the musical production Time Will Tell

Darwin Centennial Celebration Records

Program for the musical production Time Will Tell

Darwin Centennial Celebration Records

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Various photographs of students and adults singing onstage.
Montage of photographs from the performance of Time Will Tell

November 26-28, 1959. Darwin Centennial Celebration Records and the Archival Photographic Files

An old-fashioned ticket, listing panels, performances, and dinners.
Ticket to Darwin Centennial Celebration events

Darwin Centennial Celebration Records

The inside front cover of the Origin of Species.
Program for the Darwin Centennial Celebration

Darwin Centennial Celebration Recorsd

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A packed theater.
A sold-out crowd for the Darwin Centennial Celebration

November 2-?, 1959. Darwin Centennial Celebration Records

Sir Charles Darwin delivering his opening night lecture, “Darwin the Traveler"

November 24, 1959. Darwin Centennial Celebration Records

About ten men with namecards sit onstage behind a table.
Panel 1, “The Origin of Life"

November 24, 1959. Darwin Centennial Celebration Records

From left to right: Sir Charles Darwin, Theodosius Dobzhansky, Earl A. Evans, Jr., Hans Gaffron, Harlow Shapley, G.F. Gause, Ralph W. Gerard, H.J. Muller, C. Ladd Prosser.

About ten men with namecards sit onstage behind a table.
Panel 2, “The Evolution of Life"

November 25, 1959. Darwin Centennial Celebration Records

From left to right: Daniel I. Axelrod, Theodosius Dobzhansky, E.B. Ford, Ernst Mayr, Alfred E. Emerson, Julian Huxley, A.J. Nicholson, Everett C. Olson, C. Ladd Prosser, G. Ledyard Stebbins, Sewall Wright.

A man and a woman speak outside under a lamp.
L.S.B. Leakey talking with an audience member

November 2-?, 1959. Darwin Centennial Celebration Records

About ten men with namecards sit onstage behind a table.
Panel 3, “Man as an Organism"

November 26, 1959. Darwin Centennial Celebration Records

From left to right: Marston Bates, Cesare Emiliani, A. Irving Hallowell, F. Clark Howell, George Gaylord Simpson, L.S.B. Leakey, Bernhard Rensch, C.H. Waddington.

A man speaks at a podium in a Gothic building.
Julian Huxley giving his convocation address, “The Evolutionary Vision"

November 26, 1959. Darwin Centennial Celebration Records

A handwritten note.
Anonymous to L.S.B. Leakey, Julian Huxley, et al

November 26, 1959. Chicago, IL. Darwin Centennial Celebration Records

Discussions of evolution are often controversial. Widespread media attention resulted in an influx of protest letters addressed to Darwin Centennial Celebration participants. The letters questioned the factuality of evolution broadly, and the validity of Darwin’s theory of natural selection more specifically. Many of the letters invoked religious teachings to counter the scientist’s findings.

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Evolution after Darwin: the University of Chicago Centennial

Sol Tax, Editor. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, c1960. University of Chicago Press Imprint Collection

The University of Chicago Press began plans as early as January, 1957 to publish the proceedings of the Darwin Centennial Celebration. The contents of the three volumes include the 45 papers that were submitted to the Centennial Committee, transcripts of the panel discussions, and a memoir of the event by Sol Tax.