Lyceum of Natural History

In 1835, Prof. Albert Hopkins and a group of Williams College undergraduates founded the Lyceum of Natural History. Organized originally as a secret society, Phi Beta Theta, the members almost immediately dropped this designation. The stated purpose of the society was “the study of the natural sciences, and the prosecution of antiquarian researches.” It is interesting to note that during this period the Williams curriculum offered the students few lectures and no laboratory classes in the natural sciences.

The Lyceum met every two weeks at which time the members delivered papers written on various scientific topics. Members also cataloged specimens, the majority of which were collected by the students themselves. Profs. Albert Hopkins and Paul A. Chadbourne led most of the Lyceum’s expeditions for specimen collection, including voyages to:

1835 Bay of Fundy

1855 Newfoundland

1857 Florida

1860 Labrador and Greenland

1867 South America

1871 Honduras/Belize

These expeditions secured the Lyceum’s reputation, both in the United States and in Europe.

In 1855, the members moved their records and collections into Jackson Hall, a building which had been donated by Nathan Jackson expressly to house the Lyceum. The society continued periodically to hold meetings until 1909, and the Botanical Section of the Lyceum, organized in 1910, met until at least 1914.

By Allison Marston (Class of 1993)

View the guide to the Lyceum of Natural History Records