James F. Crow

Photo by Brent Nicastro Photo by Brent Nicastro

On this date in 1916, world-renowned evolutionary biologist and population geneticist James Franklin Crow was born in Phoenixville, Pa. Crow grew up in Wichita, Kan. "The Quaker Church in Wichita was an interesting mixture. I grew up in it and was a regular attender. My father and mother both were very serious about their religion," Crow stated in the Oral History of Human Genetics Project. He received his bachelor’s degree from Friends University. In 1941, Crow earned his Ph.D. in genetics from the University of Texas. Crow began his teaching career at Dartmouth University, where he taught until 1948. He then joined the faculty at the University of Wisconsin, where he remained until his retirement. Crow’s research primarily focused on the field of population genetics. He also loved teaching, and authored two undergraduate textbooks on evolution. Crow met his wife, Anne Crockett Crow, when both were members of the student orchestra at the University of Texas (he played the viola, she played the clarinet). He was a Fellow of the Royal Society of London and the Japan Academy, a member of the American Philosophical Society, the World Academy of Art and Science, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences, where he has chaired several committees, including one to study forensic uses of DNA fingerprinting. That committee’s report helped legitimize use of DNA testing in court. In addition, he was a prolific researcher whose ideas strongly influenced biological science throughout his career.

The gentle Crow, beloved by his students, colleagues and his community, was a lifetime member of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. He spoke at FFRF’s 2010 convention in Madison, Wis., about evolution and religious belief: "My main personal reason for nonbelief is: Why would an all-powerful and especially benevolent creator permit so much sin and suffering?" He played viola in the Madison Symphony Orchestra for many years, performing a concert to celebrate his 90th birthday. In 2009, the James. F. Crow Institute for the Study of Evolution was established at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. D. 2012.

"He is one of the most respected evolutionary biologists in the world, but most importantly, he is also one of the most effective teachers of the subject." 

“For myself, I believe you don’t have to be a nonbeliever to be an evolutionist, but I think it helps.”

—Jim Coors' introducing Dr. James Crow at past-conventions/2010-madison/2010-convention-speakers/

Complied by Eleanor Wroblewski

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