Biography of Francis Huntington Snow

Last Updated on May 1, 2021 by

Francis Huntington Snow. High in the list of names that Kansas honors, statesmen, soldiers, business and industrial executives, farmers and homesteaders, must be placed the name of a scientist and educator, Francis Huntington Snow, one of the greatest of them all.

He came out of New England to Kansas. He was born at Fitchburg, Massachusetts, June 29, 1840, a son of Benjamin and Mary (Boutelle) Snow. He attended the public schools of his native city, and then entered Williams College, from which as valedictorian of his class he was graduated in 1862. He received the degrees B. A. and M. A. from Williams and later Princeton University conferred upon him the degree of doctor of laws. Later in life he received the degree of doctor of philosophy from Williams. After leaving college he taught school, and for a year was principal of the Fitchburg High School. He then entered Andover Seminary, where he was graduated in 1866. In the meantime he had served with the Christian commission in active duty on the battle front in Virginia, and in the hospital and on the battlefield was tireless in ministering to the sick, wounded and dying and treating all alike, white or black, unionist or rebel, with tenderness and sympathy. He was with the armies in this devoted service until after the surrender of Lee.

In 1866 he came west to Kansas to become a member of the first faculty of the University of Kansas at Lawrence. Hundreds of the old-time graduates will recall him in his original researches along the lines of entomology, ornithology, botany and climatology, particularly as applied to Kansas. He discovered over 200 new species of insects of all orders, the most extensive being the lepidoptera and coleoptera, one dozen specimens being named in his honor as the discoverer. He was the first to catalog the birds of Kansas, describing over 300 varieties. For five years he was president of the Kansas Academy of Science and he held membership in numerous learned, scientific institutions.

Doctor Snow was married at Andover, Massachusetts, July 8, 1868, to Miss Jane Appleton Aiken. She was a granddaughter of President Appleton of Bowdoin College, a sister of Charles A. Aiken, former president of Union College, and a niece of Prof. Altheus Packard, long connected with the faculty of Bowdoin. Professor Snow was devoted to his home and home life. He was one of the leading members of the Congregational Church, and for twenty-three years taught one class in the Sunday school. He was an enthusiast in everything. He loved his work and devoted unusual hours to research. He said that he was in “an academic heaven” during the last years of his life. He and his wife had six children: William Appleton, deceased; Martha B., married William Harvey Brown; Mary Margaret, Mrs. Ermine C. Case, now professor of paleontology in the University of Michigan; Edith Huntington Snow; Francis Lawrence, an assistant in the department of agricultural journalism in the State Agricultural College at Manhattan, and Harold Horton, who died when eight months old. William Harvey Brown, a graduate of the Kansas State University, was sent to South Africa by the Smithsonian Institution at Washington and went into Rhodesia in 1890 as one of the pioneers under Cecil Rhodes. He later took a prominent part in the public life of that new country until his death in 1913.

The above are some of the facts usually mentioned in a biographical sketch. Fortunately it is possible to fill in some of the outlines and make the portrait more satisfactory to those who knew and loved Doctor Snow and will better describe his significance as a factor in the life of Kansas during the last half century. For this purpose some quotations are made from a memorial address delivered by Prof. E. Miller of Kansas University.

“From the day of his birth in 1840 until he entered Williams College in 1858, the boy Frank Snow exhibited the same determined, masterful spirit and honorable ambition to win out, the same hatred of shams, and that rugged, vigorous, incorruptible and outspoken sense of honor that ever marked his long and useful career of service. At the age of eighteen he entered college, where for four years the boy gave proof of the stuff that was in him. He seemed to be always keyed up for work or play. And this told in unmistakable terms what kind of man was being fashioned during those four years at college. His thorough mastery of the old classic languages, his clear conception of such scientific subjects as were in the course of study of those days, and his eagerness in the acquisition of philosophy, history and mathematics, proved how conscientiously and carefully he applied himself to everything he undertook. Outdoor life was to him a constant source of enjoyment. He fairly reveled in the pure air about him. He was a lover of physical exercise, and entered into the sports and games of the athletic field of those days with jaws set and muscles hard and tense, and whether defeat or victory came to him he accepted either as a gentleman. There was nothing small, nothing mean about him. When he graduated he stood at the head of his class and was appointed valedictorian by the faculty. To win such an honor, when among his classmates were General Armstrong, Franklin Carter (afterwards president of Williams College), Prof. E. G. Griffin of Johns Hopkins University, Prof. George Raymond of Princeton University and other notable men, was a great achievement for a boy of twenty-two. His standing as a scholar was at that time the highest ever reached by a student of Williams. All these accomplishments, successes and victories were not attained by sudden fits of inspiration, but by honest, earnest work day after day. * * *

“His work in the army was now over. He laid aside his career as a minister of the gospel and accepted a call from the University of Kansas to occupy a chair in that new institution of learning. The call was made mainly through the influence of Governor Charles Robinson. Had he been at liberty to choose, he would have taken the chair of the ancient languages, for his training, his tastes and his power of memory fitted him for that kind of work. * * *

“Williams College never did a better thing than when she gave Snow to Kansas, and Kansas never did a greater thing than when she welcomed to her citizenship so great a thinker. What was it that this man did during the forty-two years of his connection with the University of Kansas? Every Kansan knows the story by heart. Twenty thousand young men and women with one accord testify every day of their lives as to the value of the great institution on Mount Oread, a monument to the genius and guiding hand of this master builder. They know that he was a splendid type of the highest class of educators. Beginning with mathematics of a very elementary kind, and with natural science in its infancy in the university, he moved forward, introducing into the curriculum one after another, entomology, meteorology, zoology, botany, biology and other kindred subjects; cordially supporting the idea of building into a great school the various departments of civil, mechanical, hydraulic mining and electrical engineering; assisting in the evolution of a department of chemistry that now ranks among the best of its kind. * * *

“In the year of 1890 Professor Snow, then a doctor of philosophy and a doctor of laws, was elected chancellor of the university. The wisdom of the choice was seen at once in the forward steps taken by the university in all of its relations. It was at this time that an insect known as the chinch-bug was doing immense damage to the fields of wheat and corn of Kansas and of neighboring states. How to prevent the impending ruin was the question uppermost in the minds of men all over the infested districts. Relief came just as despair was settling down upon the farmer. Help was extended from a quarter from which such help is seldom expected. Chancellor Snow obtained a fungus growth which by a process of inoculation was communicated to the living bug. It was found that the fungus growth would spread from bug to bug very rapidly, quickly destroying the pest in the grain fields in a most thorough manner. The state Legislature granted a liberal sum for the purpose of carrying on the process of inoculating bugs under the direction of Doctor Snow, thus placing their seal of approval upon what he was doing. His honest efforts in this direction gained for him the confidence and love of every farmer and almost every citizen of the state. * * *

“When Doctor Snow entered upon his administrative duties as the head of the Kansas University he was fifty years old. Robust, and strong in mind and body, he cheerfully but hesitatingly undertook the task of building upon the foundation already laid a great institution of learning. He was a firm believer in the co-education of the sexes. In this he never wavered. * * * With him it was the university first, last and all the time, and the university received the best that he had to give. Those who were closest to him were astonished at the marvelous capacity of the man. Lines of care soon began to make their appearance upon that young face. Weariness settled down upon that vigorous frame, and to add to the burdens his oldest son, William Appleton Snow, was drowned in the Bay of San Francisco in the discharge of his duty as a newspaper reporter at the time of the return of the Twentieth Kansas Regiment from the Philippine Islands. It was a stunning blow, from which the doctor never recovered. Worn out and broken in health, he went to Europe for a year to recover, if possible, his old-time vigor. On his return he resumed his duties as chancellor, apparently as strong as ever in both body and mind, but finding the work heavier than he had anticipated, he resigned in 1901. The board of regents, however, re-elected him to his former chair in the university. He at once resumed his duties among the butterflies, moths and beetles, and making his reports of Kansas weather. He enjoyed it. Frequently he was heard to say, ‘How happy I am, now that I am relieved of the chancellorship, and can do the work that I love best.’ He still looked forward to many days of usefulness; his eye seemed to be as keen as that of an eagle, his mind as bright and clear as ever, and his intercourse with his family and friends as free as in the days of old. But the burdens, the anxieties, and the cares of a busy life could no longer be cast aside. He was compelled to desist from his labors. He went North and East, only to meet everywhere an enemy that would not down at his bidding. On the 21st of September, 1908, the end came. On his monument is inscribed the following epitaph characteristic of the man:

‘Faithful in the least Faithful also in much.’

“Doctor Snow was one of the seventeen men who organized the Kansas Academy of Science in 1868, and he continued to be an active member all his life. He published in the Transactions of the Kansas Academy over 100 scientific articles. He wrote for other scientific journals and magazines, among them the American Naturalist, Science, Transactions of the Kansas Historical Society, Kansas Educational Journal, Bulletin Nuttali Ornithological Club and Kansas Science Bulletin.

“The trend of Doctor Snow’s mind and tastes was along the lines of natural science. Nature was to him an open book, which he read with ever increasing interest. He was a crowned prince in the realm of nature. Doctor Snow was a member of many scientific societies. He corresponded with men of science in other lands and was recognized as a scientist of high rank. His praise was upon the lips of men everywhere. Only a little while ago a widely celebrated man remarked of Doctor Snow: ‘What a grand, glorious, wonderful man he is.’ Snow Hall at the University of Kansas was named in his honor. The Spooner Library Building was erected out of funds left to the university by his uncle, W. B. Spooner, of Boston. The bequest was made because Doctor Snow was in the Kansas University. He saved to the State of Kansas hundreds of thousands of dollars by his discovery of the chinch-bug fungus. The collections that he made from year to year, now in the museum of natural history, have a monetary value of not less than $100,000. Truly the State of Kansas is a debtor to this, her first scientist.

“Doctor Snow lived a blameless life, at peace with all mankind, happy in his family relations, a true Christian–loving God and loving man. He was an earnest, zealous student, a profound scholar, a seeker after truth in the laboratory, in the fields and in the air. In his official character as professor or as chancellor he was a fair and square man, and no respecter of persons. He loved his country and was willing to die for her. He loved Kansas, to which he gave all that he had.

“He was more largely instrumental than any other man in the upbuilding of the University of Kansas. For forty-two years he watched over its growth and in many ways directed its progress. He more than any other gave to the university the lofty position it now holds in the advancement and dissemination of science. As a matter of fact, Doctor Snow had caught the modern scientific spirit on the wing. He impressed it upon all who came under his instruction. Early in his undergraduate course at Williams College he felt its power. Later on, when he was with Agassiz at his marine laboratory, it became more fully developed. Finally, in the university, and on the western plains and mountains, he was under its complete control. It was the passion of his life. No one will question the assertion that at the time of his death Dr. Francis Huntington Snow was the first citizen of Kansas, and as such his name and fame will be more enduring than a monument of brass or marble.”


Connelley, William E. A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans. Chicago : Lewis, 1918. 5v. Biographies can be accessed from this page: Kansas and Kansans Biographies.

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