Bessey, Charles E. (Charles Edwin), 1845-1915
Charles Edwin Bessey was born on a farm in Milton Township, Wayne County, Ohio, May 21, 1845. He lived on a farm until twenty years of age, attending the common schools of northern Ohio. In 1866, he entered the freshman class of the Michigan Agricultural College (Lansing) from which he graduated with the degree of bachelor of science in November 1869. When Bessey entered the college, he firmly intended to return home to follow the profession of civil engineering or surveying. But he came to love the plants of the fields and forests. Finally, his marked attention to such things became noticeable to others and some of his professors (especially Prentiss) advised him to specialize in botany. Immediately after graduation, Bessey was awarded an assistantship in horticulture and was placed in charge of the greenhouse at the Michigan Agricultural College. In December 1869, he accepted the offer of an instructorship in botany and horticulture at the Iowa State College of Agriculture at Ames. At Ames he took part in the first Farmers' Institute held in Iowa (1870-71). He was the guiding spirit in the founding of the old Iowa Academy of Sciences and was elected its president in 1875 and re-elected regularly for several years. In August 1872, Bessey was elected to membership in the American Association for the Advancement of Science at the meeting in Dubuque, Iowa. There he met for the first time with Dr. Asa Gray ( then the retiring president of the Association), Dr. How, Dr. Winchell and many others who were to be some of his closest scientific friends. During the winter of 1872-73, he spent three months at Harvard studying under Gray. In 1872, he received the degree of master of science from Michigan Agricultural College and was promoted to a full professorship at Ames. In 1879, the University of Iowa conferred the degree of doctor of philosophy upon Bessey in recognition of his publications in botany and a partial reward for what he had already accomplished for the state of Iowa. In 1884, after initial hesitation, he accepted the offer to become professor of botany at the University of Nebraska. In Nebraska, he began at once to collect data with reference to Nebraska grasses and the other plants of the state. With Governor Furnas, he organized the first series of Farmers' Institutes. He was active throughout his life in numerous scientific associations. The crowning scientific honor came at the Minneapolis meeting of the American Association for the advancement of science in 1910-11, when he was elected president. Bessey was on of the pioneers who did much to lay the foundation of American botany. Much of the time Bessey gave to study and writing, was devoted to a painstaking survey of the structure and evolution of the main groups of the plant world. Bessey was also an effective and loved teacher. His powerful presentation of subject matter in the classroom and the laboratory was magnified by a personality which, because of its quaint paternal cordiality, won the admiration of thousands of students. A large factor in moulding Bessey's standing as a botantist and in bringing him success as an educator, was his series of textbooks (Botany for High Schools and Colleges - 3 editions; The Essentials of Botany - 8 editions). Bessey's ability as a college administrator was recgonized at various times by the regents of the University of Nebraska. He went to Nebraska as professor of botany and dean of the Industrial College. Thjis deanship he held from 1884 to 1888 and again from 1895 to 1909, when he was made head dean. he was dean of the College of Literature, Science and the Arts from 1888-1891. he was made acting chancellor of the university in the summer of 1888, being called home from Europe, where he had gone with his wife to spend the summer in study, and again in1899, and still once more in 1907. On December 25, 1873, Charles E. Bessey was married to Lucy Athearn of West Tisbury, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. They had three sons: Edward, Ernst, and Carl, all of whom graduated from the University of Nebraska. Dr. Bessey passed awy at his home in Lincoln on February 25, 1915, after a critical illness of four weeks.
Citation:The above was abstracted from the published materials, in particular from Raymond J. Pool: A Brief Sketch of the Life and Work of Charles Edwin Bessey.
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College of Arts and Sciences