Joseph LeConte

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Joseph Le Conte
Joseph LeConte 1823-1901.jpg
Joseph Le Conte
Born (1823-02-26)February 26, 1823
Liberty County, Georgia
Died July 6, 1901(1901-07-06) (aged 78)
Yosemite Valley, California
Alma mater Franklin College, New York College of Physicians and Surgeons, Harvard University
Occupation Physician, scholar, professor and conservationist
Spouse(s) Caroline Nisbet

Joseph Le Conte (alternative spelling: Joseph LeConte) (February 26, 1823 – July 6, 1901) was a physician, geologist, professor at the University of California, Berkeley and early California conservationist.

Early life

Of Huguenot descent, he was born in Liberty County, Georgia to Louis Le Conte, patriarch of the noted LeConte family, and Ann Quarterman.[1] He was educated at Franklin College in Athens, Georgia (now the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Georgia) where he was a member of the Phi Kappa Literary Society. After graduation in 1841, he studied medicine and received his degree at the New York College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1845.[2] After practising for three or four years at Macon, Georgia, he entered Harvard University, and studied natural history under Louis Agassiz.[2] An excursion made with Professors J. Hall and Agassiz to the Helderberg mountains of New York developed a keen interest in geology.


After graduating at Harvard, Le Conte in 1851 accompanied Agassiz on an expedition to study the Florida Reef.[2] On his return he became professor of natural science in Oglethorpe University which was located in Midway, Georgia at the time;[3] and from December 1852 until 1856 professor of natural history and geology at Franklin College.[2] From 1857 to 1869 he was a professor of chemistry and geology at South Carolina College, which is now the University of South Carolina.

On January 14, 1846, he married Caroline Nisbet, a niece of Eugenius A. Nisbet. The Le Conte had four children grow to adulthood: Emma Florence Le Conte, Sarah Elizabeth Le Conte, Caroline Eaton Le Conte, and Joseph Nisbet Le Conte.

During the Civil War Le Conte continued to teach in South Carolina. He also produced medicine and supervised the niter works (to manufacture explosives) for the Confederacy. In his autobiography he wrote that he found Reconstruction intolerable. He referred to "a carpet-bag governor, scalawag officials, and a negro legislature controlled by rascals" and stated that the "sudden enfranchisement of the negro without qualification was the greatest political crime ever perpetrated by any people".[4]

Discouraged by unsettled postwar conditions at the University of South Carolina, in 1868 he accepted an offer of a professorship at the newly established University of California. In September 1869, he moved west to Berkeley, California.[3] His older brother John had come to California in April 1869, also to join the faculty of the new University as a professor of physics. Joseph was appointed the first professor of geology and natural history and botany at the University, a post which he held until his death.

He published a series of papers on monocular and binocular vision, and also on psychology.[2] His chief contributions, however, related to geology. He described the fissure-eruptions in western America, discoursed on earth-crust movements and their causes and on the great features of the Earth's surface.[2] As separate works he published Elements of Geology (1878, 5th ed. 1889); Religion and Science (1874); and Evolution: its History, its Evidences, and its Relation to Religious Thought (1888). This last work anticipates in structure and argument Teilhard de Chardin's "Phenomenon of Man."(1955).[5]


In 1874, he was nominated to the National Academy of Sciences.[6] He was president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1892,[6] and of the Geological Society of America in 1896. Le Conte is also noted for his exploration and preservation of the Sierra Nevada of California, USA. He first visited Yosemite Valley in 1870, where he became friends with John Muir and started exploring the Sierra.[6] He became concerned that resource exploitation (such as sheepherding) would ruin the Sierra, so he co-founded the Sierra Club with Muir and others in 1892.[6] He was a director of the Sierra Club from 1892 through 1898. His son, Joseph N. LeConte, was also a noted professor and Sierra Club member.

He died of a heart attack in the Yosemite Valley, California, on July 6, 1901, right before the Sierra Club's first High Trip.[7][8][9] The Sierra Club built the LeConte Memorial Lodge in his honor in 1904. The Le Conte Glacier, Le Conte Canyon, Le Conte Divide, Le Conte Falls and Mount Le Conte were named after him.[10] LeConte Hall, which houses the Department of Geology at the University of Georgia, was named for he and his brother.[11] LeConte College, which houses the Department of Mathematics and Statistics near the Horseshoe at the University of South Carolina, Le Conte Middle School in Hollywood, LeConte Hall on the UC Berkeley campus, Le Conte Avenue in Berkeley, and Le Conte Avenue bordering the south of UCLA were also named after him.[12] He is buried in Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California.[13]


  1. "LeConte family". New Georgia Encyclopedia. 2003.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Public Domain One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Joseph LeConte". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 Reed, Thomas Walter (1949). History of the University of Georgia. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia. pp. 401–405.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. LeConte, Joseph (1903). Autobiography of Joseph LeConte. p. 238.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Birch, Charles, "Participatory Evolution: the Drive of Creation," Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 40:147-163 (June 1972)
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 "Joseph LeConte: Scientist and Savant". Sierra Club History. Sierra Club. Retrieved 2007-09-13.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Godfrey, Elizabeth H. (April 1946). "Joseph N. LeConte" (PDF). Yosemite Nature Notes. 25 (4): 66–69.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Silliman, Benjamin (1901). "Obituary". American Journal of Science. 12: 248.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Stevenson, J.J. (1902). "Obituary". Annals of New York Acad. of Sciences. xiv: 150.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Farquhar, F.P. (1926). Place Names of the High Sierra. Mountaineers.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "UGA Alumni Heritage". 2015-10-29.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "The impact of Joseph LeConte (1869-1901)". UC Berkeley. 2010-04-11.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "Joseph LeConte". Find A Grave. 2013-04-05.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links