James F. Crow

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, Kansas. “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 in 2005, adding, “My own views are atheistic, but I don’t go around preaching atheism. You don’t get very far trying to do this.”

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 FFRF Member. He spoke at age 94 at FFRF’s 2010 national convention in Madison, Wis., about evolution and religious belief. 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)

Freedom From Religion Foundation