Biography of James Abram Garfield Shirk

James Abram Garfield Shirk. Now professor of mathematics in the Manual Training Normal School at Pittsburg, Mr. Shirk has filled many important positions in the public schools and colleges of Kansas, and is a recognized authority on his special subject.

A native of Kansas, he was born at McPherson January 12, 1881. His ancestry is Swiss German. The first of the name came from Switzerland to Pennsylvania in colonial days. His grandfather, John Shirk, spent his life in Pennsylvania, was a farmer, and he also contributed fame to the family name by his service in the War of 1812. He was one of the fighting sailors on the flagship of Commodore Perry in the historic battle with the British on Lake Erie. He was one of the six men who, after the flagship Lawrence was disabled, went with Commodore Perry in a small boat to the ship Niagara, while the battle was still raging. For this distinguished service in assisting to drive the British fleet from the waters of the Great Lakes he was afterwards awarded a medal by Congress.

Joseph Shirk, father of Professor Shirk, was born near Meadville in Pennsylvania in 1833. He was rearded and married in his native state, was engaged for a number of years in the lumber business, and he drilled the first well in the Oil Creek oil fields of Pennsylvania. He was one of the pioneers in the oil industry. Afterwards he lived for varying lengths of time in the states of Illinois, Nebraska and was an early settler at McPherson. In that town he was at first in the grain business but later farmed in that vicinity for many years. He finally retired and died at McPherson in 1910. Politically he was a republican, was a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church and one of the trustees, and belonged to the Knights of Honor. Joseph Shirk married. Alvira Clark. She was born at Clark’s Mills in Pennsylvania in 1840 and is still living, being a resident of Dallas, Oregon. Her children are: Pearl, wife of L. G. Miller, who has been engaged in the lumber business until recently, but now gives his attention to his fruit ranch at Dallas, Oregon; Claude Joseph, who is professor of botany in the Wesleyan University at Lincoln, Nebraska; and James A. G.

Professor Shirk spent his early boyhood on his father’s farm in McPherson. While there he attended the district schools and in 1898 graduated from the high school at McPherson. His higher education was acquired in McPherson College, from which he graduated A. B. in 1901 and A. M. in 1902, and later in 1904 he entered the University of Kansas, where he received his Master of Science degree in 1905. In the meantime he had taught mathematics and physics at McPherson College during the two school years from 1902 to 1904. After obtaining his master’s degree at Lawrence in 1905 he remained there until the winter of 1906 and then finished out a term of teaching at Leavenworth. In the fall of 1906 he was elected professor of mathematics at Ottawa University, and remained the incumbent of that position until 1912. While at Ottawa he taught mathematics and later had the courses in engineering and physics. In 1912 he was elected assistant professor of physics at the Manual Training Normal School at Pittsburg, and in 1914 was made head of the mathematical department in that institution.

Mr. Shirk for ten years has been a member of the Kansas Academy of Science and was honored with the office of president of that body in 1915. He also belongs to the American Mathematical Society and the Kansas Association of Mathematics Teachers. He is a member and deacon of the Baptist Church. His home is in Pittsburg and he owns a residence at 116 East Lindburg Avenue and some lots adjacent to his home.

In 1908 at Ottawa he married Miss Anna Gevene McCoy, daughter of Mark and Elizabeth (Wallace) McCoy. Her mother died in 1915, and her father resides at Ottawa, where he is a city inspector. Mr. and Mrs. Shirk have one daughter, Alice Gevene born February 12, 1912.



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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