William Berryman Scott
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William Berryman Scott

William Berryman Scott (b. 1858, d. 1947) was born in Cincinnati on February 12, 1858. His ties to Princeton University began before his birth and lasted throughout his lifetime. His father, Rev. McKendree Scott, was a student at the Princeton Theological Seminary and his mother, Mary Elizabeth Hodge, was the daughter of a Princeton Theological Seminary professor.

A sickly child, he spent his early years reading under the tutelage of his mother. When he was 15 years old, Scott passed the oral entrance examination to enter Princeton as a member of the Class of 1877. It was at Princeton that Scott began a life-long friendship with Henry Fairfield Osborn and Francis Speir; the 3 were inseparable and were given the nickname “The Triumvirate” by their classmates.

In their junior year, they were inspired by a Harper’s Magazine article describing O.C. Marsh’s Yale College Scientific Expeditions and decided to undertake their own expedition to the West in search of fossil vertebrates. Planning continued throughout their senior year, and in the summer of 1877 the first Princeton Scientific Expedition set out for Colorado and Wyoming.

Scott continued to lead similar expeditions for a short time thereafter, but found no enjoyment in the hardships of fieldwork. With the arrival of John Bell Hatcher in 1893, Scott basically gave up fieldwork altogether, leaving Hatcher to oversee that aspect of the E.M. Museum’s burgeoning vertebrate paleontology collection.

As was the practice of the day, Scott went to Europe a year after graduating from Princeton to continue his studies under such notables as Huxley, Balfour and Gegenbauer. He returned in 1880 to his alma mater, accepting a faculty appointment to teach geology. Osborn, having followed a similar path, accepted an appointment to teach biology. Scott spent the next 50 years teaching at Princeton, holding the appointment of Blair Professor of Geology and Paleontology from 1884 until his retirement in 1930 and similarly serving for 26 years as Chairman of the Department of Geology from its inception in 1904. His teaching was mostly confined to undergraduate courses, but he did oversee a few graduate students during his long career, including E.S. Riggs, J.W. Gidley, L.S. Russell, and Glenn L. Jepsen.

Scott published some 150 scientific papers and reports, as well as several nontechnical books, during his lifetime. He was editor for the Reports of the Princeton University Expeditions to Patagonia, authoring the Astrapotheria and Primates sections, as well as the overview on the “Nature and Origin of the Santa Cruz Fauna.” His autobiography, Some Memories of a Paleontologist, tells of his early life and his years at Princeton; his An Introduction to Geology was used for years as one of the standard classroom college level texts; his A History of Land Mammals in the Western Hemisphere is considered a classic in mammalian paleontology.