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James Nelson Gowanlock

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James Nelson Gowanloch was born 1895 in Cypress River, Manitoba, Canada. In his youth, Gowanloch became an avid birder; an enthusiasm stirred by the writings of American naturalist and nature essayist, John Burroughs.  So inspired was Gowanloch by the writings of the renowned naturalist he wrote a letter to Burroughs in August 1917, a portion which reads: 

"In ten years time – I began to study birds when I was twelve - I have become familiar with over two hundred and thirty species of our wild-birds and I owe all the large measure of my delight to the first glimmer of the open sunshine caught in the reading of your ‘Sharp Eyes.’ Gowanloch concludes his letter to Burroughs with a note of thanks to the naturalist for kindling his enhanced ability in observing the natural world. And so I close, dear John Burroughs, thanking you for the light which through your books you have given me who have never seen you nor even lived in your country, a light to kindle the capability of observation that each year gives me greater joy."8 

        In 1918, J. Nelson Gowanloch graduated with a Bachelors of Science degree from the University of Manitoba, Canada. The following year, Gowanloch received a scholarship for $600, which allowed him to attend the University of Chicago and enter the graduate program to pursue his Ph. D.

        James Nelson Gowanloch’s time at the University of Chicago was spent in the Department of Zoology, which then included renowned scientists such as Frank R. Lillie, Charles M. Child, Horatio H. Newman, Warder C. Allee, Carl R. Moore, and Libbie H. Hyman. In prior years, each of these scientists had spent summers at the Marine Biological Laboratory of Woods Hole, Massachusetts, as the Atlantic seashore provided access to the marine invertebrates used in their research.  The years to come would see a number of these scientists from Chicago's Department of Zoology travel to Pacific Grove, California to access marine invertebrates common to the Pacific shores and conduct research at the Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station.

Presented within the Annual Report of the President of Stanford University for 1920, is the mention of several visiting scientist from the University of Chicago, Professor Frank R. Lillie, his assistant J. Nelson Gowanlock, and Professor Horatio H. Newman; using the seaside laboratory during the winter and spring quarter for their scientific research efforts: 

    "From January 7 to March 10, [1920] Dr. Frank R. Lillie, Professor of Zoology, University of Chicago, and Director of the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, worked on problems of fertilization using the two species of common sea urchins. Dr. Lillie was assisted by Mr. J. Nelson Gowanlock, University of Manitoba, and assistant in Zoology, University of Chicago.  During the spring quarter, Dr. H. H. Newman, Professor of Zoology, University of Chicago, worked on hybridization and artificial parthenogenesis, using sea stars and sea urchins."10

    Photograph of Frank R. Lillie and James Nelson Gowanloch, taken in January 1920, during their three-month visit to Hopkins Marine Station. Photograph Courtesy of Harold A. Miller Library, Hopkins Marine Station, Stanford University Libraries.

        After receiving his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, Gowanloch served as a member of the faculty at Wabash College, in Crawfordsville, Indiana (1922-1923) and Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, (1923-1930). He was then hired to the position of chief biologist of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. A position he held for the next twenty-two years. 11

    The following remembrance of the Gowanloch was presented in a memoriam published in the Louisiana Conservation Review: Dr. Gowanloch was noted as the “layman’s scientist”.  It was his ability to break down the most rigid technical terms into “every day English” that made him popular with people desiring technical knowledge but handicapped by lack of technical education. His ability in the field of commercial fish drew to him many offers from foreign governments.12 


8. Mercier, Stephen M. (2005). Letters to John O’Birds. Newsletter of the John Burroughs Association at the American Museum of Natural History. 38 (1).  

9. The School, A Magazine Devoted To Elementary And Secondary Education (1920) Volume 8 September 1919 To June 1920, Published at The Faculty of Education Building Bloor and Spadina Toronto Copyright Canada 1919 and 1920 by WJ Dunlop, University Press, 1920.

10. Annual Report of The President of Stanford University for The Twenty-Ninth Academic Year ending August 31, 1920. Stanford University, California.  Published by the University.  

11. Antunovich, Jack. (1952). “Doc” Gowanlock Is Gone. Louisiana Conservation Review.  4 (16).

12. Ibid.