Biology Department

In the 1800’s, Biology had little place at Davidson, although some lectures on botany and zoology were a part of the required geology course. The trustees did consider adding a “Professorship of Physiology and Hygiene” in 1892, but any movement toward full acceptance of the biological sciences was still quite controversial, considering the college’s emphasis on the Biblical teachings of creation. In fact, it was not until October 1906 that the trustees finally agreed to add a professorship of biology.

As of 2023, the Biology Department offers 85 courses (27 of which are offered in the Fall of 2023), taught by 16 Biology professors and students can major in Biology.

Professor John W. MacConnell

Professor John W. MacConnell

Professor John W. MacConnell

The first Biology professor was John Wilson MacConnell, Davidson College class of 1902. He completed his medical degree from the University of Maryland, and served as the house surgeon at the Presbyterian Eye and Ear Hospital in Baltimore for several years. He returned to Davidson in 1907 to serve as the Chair of Biology and Physical Training, as well as the town physician. Once biology was accepted as an academic subject, the department and the demand for biology classes grew. By 1925 more than one hundred and ninety-eight students studied biology. By the end of the decade there were three full-time professors of biology, whereas in 1912 there had been only one biology professor. In March of 1921, the trustees created the Department of Biology and the curriculum increased to include courses in zoology, botany, bacteriology-parasitology, and biology.

With each additional year, the Department of Biology has grown both in size and popularity. The courses include genetics, ecology, behavioral neuroscience, and evolution.

In 1958, the Charles A. Dana Foundation gave Davidson a $400,000 challenge gift to be used toward the construction of Dana Science Building. This building is now the hub of Davidson’s Biology Department. According to the original architectural plans, more than 31,000 square feet were designed for laboratory and instructional space. In 1964 and 1974, renovations to the building greatly increased the amount of instructional and laboratory space available to students. The third floor was transformed into a museum and physiology laboratory and two 1,000 square foot laboratories, a 1,500 square foot student research laboratory, several special work areas for handling radio-isotopes and research animals, a seminar room, and an equipment preparation room were added.

In 1999, Davidson finished construction of the Watson Life Sciences Building. This 32,000 square-foot building houses the departments of Biology and Psychology, and is architecturally compatible to the existing Dana Science Building. The focus of Watson Life Science Building is on laboratory-based instruction and interdepartmental cooperation.

The Biology Department sponsors several opportunities for students to study abroad and diversify their education experience. The School for Field Studies' programs accredited by the University of Minnesota allows for field-based learning in research in Panama, Bhutan, Kenya and Tanzania, Australia, New Zealand, Costa Rica and the Turks and Caicos Islands. Every summer Professor Verna Case leads a month-long trip to Mwandi, Zambia as part of the BIO368 course. More opportunities are available through the Danish Institute for Study Abroad and the School for International Training.


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Cromartie, Caroline King. The Physical Development of Davidson, North Carolina: An Historical Analysis. Davidson College Honors Thesis, 1978.

Davidson, Chalmers Gaston. “Davidson Celebrates.” Davidson Journal 1 (1987): 2-7.

Davidson, Chalmers Gaston. Mid-Point for ’28. Davidson, N.C.: Davidson College, 1953.

Kelley, Robert Lincoln. Davidson College: A Diagnosis and a Prescription. Lancaster, PA: Council of Church Boards of Education in the U.S.A., 1926.

Lingle, Walter L. Memories of Davidson College. Richmond, VA: John Knox, 1947.

Logan, Van Lear. “Growing Up in Davidson.” Davidson Journal 1 (1987): 20-23.

Ratliff, Charles E. Economics at Davidson: A Sesquicentennial History. Davidson, NC: Davidson College, 1987.

Shaw, Cornelia Rebekah. Davidson College. New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1923.

Spencer, Samuel R. The First Year. Davidson, NC: Davidson College, 1969.

Author: Molly Gillespie
Date: 1998

Cite as: Gillespie, Molly. “Biology Department ” Davidson
Encyclopedia 1998.

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