Berkeley's first paleontologist,
Joseph Le Conte, 1869-1901

by Jere Lipps (page 1 of 5)

Joseph Le Conte, c. 1875
Joseph Le Conte, circa 1875. (photo courtesy of the Bancroft Library)

The University of California, chartered on March 23, 1868, immediately began to hire professors and the first of several contentious issues that characterized paleontology at Berkeley emerged. J.B. Cooper, who collected for the Geological Survey of California, wanted the faculty position in natural history and he even obtained support from the Smithsonian Institution. However, the Regents had already appointed Joseph Le Conte as the Professor of Natural History, Geology and Botany. An unhappy Cooper wrote that Le Conte got the position because of the southern influence among the Regents, stating that the university was


"being made into a perfect asylum for ex-rebel professors." Le Conte (left) hadheld the Chair of Chemistry and Geology at South Carolina College in Columbia, SC (Armes 1903), but during the Civil War, Columbia was burned by General T. Sherman. Le Conte and his brother John lost everything, including confidence in the support for the College, so both applied to the newly forming University of California. For the first four years, both of the Le Contes taught in Oakland, then at the university’s South Hall beginning in 1873 (below).
Joseph Le Conte built paleontology at Berkeley: he taught and wrote about geology and paleontology (see photo next page); he acquired important fossil collections; and he inspired important

Joseph Le Conte, c. 1875
South Hall, as it appears today, where Le Conte lectured and started a Museum of Natural History in the 1870s. It has undergone seismic retrofits and internal design changes, but otherwise remains the same as in Le Conte's days. (photo by Jere Lipps)

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