Edmund B. (Edmund Beecher) Wilson notebooks, 1875-1928


Date: 1875-1928 | Size: 4 Volumes


Three lab notebooks for the period of Wilson's study at the Sheffield Scientific School, Yale University, 1875-1876. The fourth volume is a private journal notebook, 1903-1928, kept by Wilson during his tenure at Columbia University. Included are Department of Zoology records and an interesting and revealing listing of his students, with test scores and brief comments on many of them.

Background note

Edmund B. Wilson was a biologist and zoologist.

Wilson was "among the most important and prolific biologists in the last part of the nineteenth and first part of the twentieth centuries" (Garland Allen). His scientific career may be divided into three major portions. In the first part, 1879-1891, he was concerned with descriptive embryology, morphology, and cell lineage. The second period, 1891-1903, was devoted to experimental embryology, differentiation, and artificial parthenogenesis. In the third part of his career, 1903-1938, Wilson concentrated on the problems of the cellular basis of heredity. Following the line of development of his mentor in Europe, Theodor Boveri, Wilson was concerned with the importance of the chromosomes in heredity. He worked on the prelocalization of formative substances in the egg, on chromosome movements, on spindle formation, on the independence and replication of the chromosomes. His graduate student, Walter S. Sutton, in 1902, on the basis of his studies of the chromosomes in a locust, set forth the basic postulates of the chromosome theory of heredity. After McClung had discovered the existence of sex chromosomes in 1902 but failed to determine the precise way in which they acted, Wilson, at first alone and then in collaboration with Nettie Stevens, worked out the chromosomal distinctions in many different species of insects, some with XY males and others with XO males. Wilson discovered the occasional non-disjunction of the X and Y chromosomes during meiosis, found cytological evidence of crossing over between homologous chromosomes during their synapsis, and was intrigued by the extra-chromosomal inheritance of organelles. His masterpiece was the third edition of The Cell in Inheritance and Development, which summarized and critically evaluated the enormous amount of research done on the cell in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Scope and content

Wilson's papers do not appear to have been preserved, except for these fragments of records from his graduate courses at Columbia University. Those records, however, and his comments on individual students who later became recognized, or even famous, biologists, are invaluable. The notebooks show what careful work in dissection and observation and what elegant drawing were characteristic of Wilson in his early graduate study.

Collection Information

Physical description

4 volumes.


Presented by John A. Moore and accessioned, 12/10/1970 (1970 2048-51ms).

Physiology, Biochemistry, and Biophysics Note

Wilson, Edmund B. (Edmund Beecher), 1856-1939. Laboratory notebooks (Three lab notebooks for the period of Wilson's study at the Sheffield Scientific School, Yale University: Systematic work A, 7 January 1875 (approximately 120 pages); Anatomic work A, 18 September 1876 (approximately 175 pages, including sketches); and Anatomic work B, 17 September 1876 (approximately 150 pages, with sketches).) Notebooks (3 volumes)1875-1876English
Wilson, Edmund B. (Edmund Beecher), 1856-1939. Private journal (Kept during his tenure at Columbia University. Materials include a private journal (1903-1928), a ledger containing administrative information on Columbia's department of zoology, and records of graduate students (among them A. Franklin Shull, Jack Schultz, Hermann J. Muller, Calvin B. Bridges, Alfred H. Sturtevant, Rebecca Lancefield, and Curt Stern). The various details on course enrollments, requirements, exams, and assistants, combined with Wilson's three notebooks (with observations and drawings) form a vivid record of the early period of academic biology in America.) Notebooks (1 volume)1903-1928English

Genetics Note

Wilson, Edmund Beecher -- Laboratory NotebooksNotebooks (3 volumes)1875-1876
Wilson, Edmund Beecher -- Private JournalNotebooks (1 volume)1903-1928

Indexing Terms

Corporate Name(s)

  • Columbia University. -- Dept. of Zoology -- Students.
  • Yale University -- Students.


  • Journals (notebooks).
  • Laboratory notebooks.
  • Sketches.


  • Anatomy -- Study and teaching.
  • Zoology -- Study and teaching.

Detailed Inventory

Edmund B. Wilson notebooks
1875-19284 volume(s)volume 1-4
Laboratory Notebooks
1875-18763 volume(s)volume 1-3

Subject(s): Physiology -- Sketches; Zoology; Yale University; Unpublished manuscripts, notes, etc.

Wilson, Edmund B.(Edmund Beecher) (1856-1939).
Systematic work A
7 January 1875120 p.volume 1
Wilson, Edmund B.(Edmund Beecher) (1856-1939).
Anatomic work A
18 September 1876175 p.volume 2

Includes sketches.

Wilson, Edmund B.(Edmund Beecher) (1856-1939).
Anatomic work B
17 September 1876150 p.volume 3

Includes sketches.

Wilson, Edmund B.(Edmund Beecher) (1856-1939).
Private Journal
1903-19281 volume(s)volume 4

Subject(s): Graduate study -- Bridges, Calvin B.; Graduate study -- Muller, Hermann Joseph; Graduate study -- Schultz, Jack; Educational matters -- Exams; Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole; Columbia University -- Zoology; Unpublished manuscripts, notes, etc.; Physiology -- Sketches; Zoology; Graduate study -- Stern, Curt; Graduate study -- Sturtevant, Alfred Henry