During the summer of 1921 there was hatched on the farm of Mr. Louis Weiss, near Morganville, Kansas, a duck which appeared normal in every respect except that the feet had no indication of a web.
The owner had a flock of over fifty white ducks of various ages, all having the normal webbed feet except the duckling under consideration. The toes of the duck are rather long and the prominent web is apparently an aid in walking, as well as swimming, since this mutant duck showed some difficulty in running as compared with the normal individuals. When placed in a tank, it floated about, kicking its feet violently in the water, but made rather slow progress as compared with a normal, web-footed companion.
The duck was a female and grew to maturity, but died at the development of her first egg, which was broken in the oviduct. The writer had planned to carry on breeding experiments to determine the true nature of this remarkable character. Unfortunately, not even the feet were preserved.
The owner of the duck, Miss Idella Weiss, and other members of the family reported that this duck developed exceedingly long claws, over two inches long, which interfered greatly with walking.
The writer did not see the animal after the duckling stage, but there is no question as to the reliability of the reports on the long-clawed character. It is to be hoped that if a similar mutation appears at some other time or place the animal will survive, that test may be made to determine the hereditary peculiarities of the character.
The accompanying photograph, although made with a "Brownie" camera, shows the nature of the feet fairly well. There is less web between the toes than in an ordinary chicken. This mutation appealed to the writer as an unusual oddity, for here is a bird that lost, at a single jump, one of the characteristics essential to its normal mode of life and instincts.
Ohio Journal of Science 23:207-208 - 1923
Professor John Henry Schaffner
Adolph E. Waller
Botanist John H. Schaffner (1866-1939) served as
small boy herding cattle in a vast expanse of prairie may not seem
important. Doubtless many small boys have engaged in that not too
difficult task. They have fought flies, chewed straws, and tried to
amuse themselves, perhaps thoughtfully. Most of them have just sat by,
waiting until it was supper time and the end of the day's labors. It
was lonely to some, boring to others, perhaps exhausting their
patience to know that they were prisoners tied to the cattle they were
to guard. Most such boys would not think of themselves or of their
jobs as offering much.
Yet to a mind alive with curiosity such a
contemplative life presents rich possibilities. If a landscape is
somewhat bare, or at least simple, the individual objects take on a
new significance. To a mind eager to question, each rock, each dip in
the terrain, each stream requires exploring. With the passing of hours
and months, the seasons take on a perspective. With growth of plants
the lengthening stems and spray of bloom unfold mysteries that demand
investigation. What wonder that the dense prairie sod with its complex
and teeming life should hold a world for a small boy's mind!
Such a boyhood background in Professor Schaffner's
life circumscribed the making of a great mind. He was born in Marion
County, Ohio, near the Agosta prairie, with forests enclosing it, but
his family moved early in his life to Clay County, Kansas. The prairie
area he had left in Ohio was a mere patch of grassland, an island of
grass in a landscape of trees. In Kansas it was different. Grasses and
grassland forms reached across the horizon, only interrupted where
pioneers had planted some trees near their homes or along streams
where a narrow strip of woodland marked the water course. Grasses and
cattle were his companions in the long hours he had to remain at
watch. Why the flatness? Why the great stretches of sky?
The work of the glaciers was still a new idea and
probably not mentioned in his school. His parents were busy and
perhaps had no time for such wonders. Yet these were the thoughts
uppermost in the boy's mind. Geology became his first love in science,
though he was far from any one who could talk much about it and had
few books that could help him. But no lack of training or of
encouragement from the circumstances in which he grew up could take
away the desire to know all he could know of the grasslands
It would seem that the great expanses of prairie in
which he was so small must have left him with a sense of his own
obscurity. In later life his modesty never permitted his own great
accomplishments to affect him. Like the small boy of the prairie, he
was there, ready to speak or to act if any one was interested. But as
with the small boy on the prairie, only a few came his way. He never
learned to shout to attract the attention of others. The lonely life
with the silent cattle also gave him a sense of his own competence. He
was obliged to rely on himself. He formed the habits of self-dependence. He would act if he
thought he was right.
Having once made up his mind, nothing could move him
to change his opinion as long as he thought he was right. During the
early days in Kansas the Schaffner family had to contend with the
handicap of poverty. The house was the sod house familiar to many
pioneer families of the grasslands. After working two years, the
family had accumulated resources sufficient for the father to make a
journey to Leavenworth, where a supply of lumber to build a more
comfortable frame house was purchased. The lumber was paid for, but
before the house was finished a raging prairie fire consumed it all.
The Schaffner family, coming from Ohio, had not
learned the precaution of plowing furrows to stop fires around the
site selected for their wooden farm house. They were obliged to live
for two more years in the sod house before again having enough money
to buy lumber. This time the necessary strips of plowed land were
prepared. After that, although there were a number of prairie fires,
the house and the family were safe. In a reminiscent mood Professor
Schaffner told this story to several members of the Botany Department
staff as he recalled some of the exciting experiences of his boyhood.
Not only was the first Schaffner home of sod, but the earliest school
house in the Clay Center area was a bank-sod house—a sort of
basement structure. The walls and the roof cover were of sod. This was
the school the elder sisters attended for several years.
John spent most of his school years in a frame school
house. It was a one-room building that served also as a social center,
and in it were held the meetings of the debating society, the spelling
matches, the Sunday School, and the box suppers. These were the
pioneer's fun. There was one other community singing. Schaffner was
musically inclined. He was the only one in the school who could play
the organ. He must have enjoyed this and talked about it for his
parents at one time considered helping him to study music as a career.
This may have been in his college days, as Mr. Thomas A. Evans, Alumni
Secretary of Baker University, Baldwin, Kansas, states that while
Schaffner attended Baker he was in charge of the music at the
Presbyterian Church and adds that Schaffner was gifted in playing the
piano and organ and wrote poetry as a hobby.
The Schaffner family in many ways showed ingenuity
and originality. The boys made mechanical wooden toys, and even a
primitive camera lucida, which was set up for reflecting
pictures on a screen. These amusements and visiting the neighbors
occupied the long winter evenings. The parents were helpful in guiding
their children toward instructive recreations. Mr. D. C. Schaffner
wrote: "By the time John started to high school it was taken for
granted that he would go to college. Although the two older sisters
taught school for a number of years after high school, they did not
share this ambition for themselves but assisted John and my younger
sister and myself in college and graduate schools after each of us had
taught in country schools. We formed a sort of
teaching-and-going-to-college relay team." Of John, his brother
wrote that "he was reticent but friendly. As far back as I can
remember he never showed all of himself to anyone."
Science training was in a chaotic condition when
young Schaffner at last was free to enter college; training in the
classics was the only kind of education available in most of the
colleges in the period from 1880 to 1900, and Schaffner's experiences
were no different from those of many young men of his day. He was
later to have a particular use for his knowledge of Greek and Latin in
his scientific work. The classical tradition gave him a most careful
training in the exact derivation of words, and his papers never
contained new terms that were a polyglot mixture of Greek and Latin.
His interest was captured by natural science, and it was geology that
he first thought of pursuing. As a further tribute to the Schaffner
family it should be remarked that while the farm never was a source of
wealth, it produced sufficient means and talents to be called
The younger sister is a noted attorney in Chicago;
the younger brother, a geologist. The children were not bound down to
the pioneer environment. Probably the greatest inspiration toward
research in botany for the boy John came from Dr. Charles Sylvester
Parmenter, who was the teacher of biology and geology at Baker
University. Dr. Parmenter was doubtless helpful also in securing for
the young graduate of Baker University the job of teacher of natural
sciences in the Methodist College at Mitchell, South Dakota. With all
the delays of his high school and college years, John Schaffner was
twenty-eight years old at the time he went to South Dakota. By then
his path toward modern scientific study seemed to have become clear to
After a year at the college at Mitchell he resigned
his post to take up graduate studies at the University of Michigan. He
remained for two years at Ann Arbor, where, under the guidance of Dr.
Frederick C. Newcombe, he began intensive work in cytology. He plunged
at once into the most controversial subject of the moment, the
question of cell organization at mitosis. His first paper dealt with
the attraction spheres and centrosomes, present outside the cell
nucleus, considered from the standpoint of their possible function
during karyokinesis. This was a deep and difficult subject for a young
research student to undertake. It was all the more ticklish from its
didactic nature, since the most distinguished European cytologists
were at that time at odds over their discoveries.
Young John Schaffner had to master a reading
knowledge of French and German to prepare his paper, since of the
thirty-five references which he lists only two are in the English
While we know that Professor Schaffner was engaged in
teaching the natural sciences at Mitchell College in South Dakota, we
have been unable to trace his associates or to learn much of his
development during the two years (1893-94) he remained in South
Dakota. He published his first two papers after he had gone to
Michigan. The one on the centrosomes was published in 1894, the other
on the embryo sac of the water plaintain, Alisma plantago, in
Both came out in the Botanical Gazette, which
was at that time undergoing revolutionary improvements as a scientific
journal. Dr. Coulter, its editor, had just been called to Chicago by
President Harper. Dr. Spalding, head of the Department of Botany at
Michigan, was on very friendly terms with Coulter, serving as an
associate editor of the Gazette. Young Schaffner's papers were
approved by both Spalding and Coulter, and appeared in the Gazette just
as it was being revised and expanded. It is significant that young
Schaffner came in with the first wave of the swelling tide of interest
in botany in the United States, a tide, the level of which was greatly
raised by the Chicago group of botanists.
It was at Chicago that the young scientist really
began his intensive training in botany. He was attracted by the work
of Dr. John M. Coulter and the Gazette, where his first paper
had appeared. Coulter's success with the old Botanical Gazette, of
which he had been editor while at Lake Forest College, had been marked.
His co-editors, Charles Barnes and J. C. Arthur, were still loyal, but
when the University of Chicago with its rich Rockefeller endowment,
was behind it, it could make the necessary expansion. Dr. Coulter
chose carefully when new associate editors were added Atkinson of
Cornell, Thaxter of Harvard, Spalding of Michigan, and Trelease of the
Missouri Botanical garden.
These were impressive names, and the quality of the
materials Coulter proposed to publish made the new editors willing to
lend their prestige. By 1897, its success having been noted abroad,
and Dr. Coulter having had a chance to visit Europe, foreign associate
editors were added. The beginning of the great botanic center that was
to make the University of Chicago famous for so many years was a
reality. The new names made the editorial board of the Gazette a
roster of botanists of first rank. They were De Candolle of Geneva, De
Toni of Padua, Engler of Berlin, Guignard of Paris, Matsumura of
Tokyo, Noll of Bonn, Marshall Ward of Cambridge, Warming of Copenhagen,
Wittrock of the Academy of Sciences of Stockholm. The editorial staff
in the main had no duties, of course, but their names were on the
fly-leaf of the Gazette. Coulter and the staff of the
University of Chicago and the graduate students in botany, who by this
time numbered ten or more, contributed much of the materials. The
graduate students were not unworthy to contribute to the Gazette. Most
of them became distinguished professors of botany.
In the famous paper on Lilium
Dr. Coulter names nine, of whom Otis W. Caldwell, Henry C. Cowles and
T. C. Frye are perhaps the best known. Coulter did not include the
names of Charles J. Chamberlain and John H. Schaffner in this list
because Chamberlain and Schaffner independently produced the papers on
the pollen sac and the macrospore nucleus of Lilium which were
the features of this paper and to which Coulter's contribution was
mainly the introduction and the organization of the materials to be
In spite of its being thus buried, Schaffner's
studies were the important ones and the ones which today are referred
to as the beginning of the evidence in plants for the studies in
Mendelism and heredity. Schaffner's paper should have been published
as a separate contribution. Everybody knows that now. For it was not
just more details in cytology. It was the one idea that the botanists,
especially the geneticists, needed. But Schaffner knew what he was
doing. In his introductory sentence he said so. "Although a
knowledge of the changes which take place in the reduction nuclei of
plants and animals is of the utmost importance and will no doubt aid
more than anything else in bringing about a correct interpretation of
the facts of heredity, comparatively little has been done in this
field, and the observations that have been reported disagree widely."
There it was. He had done it, but it disagreed with
earlier reports on chromosome behavior. Even Professor Coulter was
afraid of it. The conclusion was too startling. And it was so unlike
the conclusions of the European laboratories, which so authoritatively
dominated the scene. Could it be that young Schaffner was right and
some older famous heads were wrong?
Let us quote some of the statements from the paper on
Lilium: "Thus there is an actual transverse division of
the chromosomes, the half of each original chromatin loop passing to
opposite poles of the spindle. Each daughter nucleus, therefore,
receives about as many chromatin granules as there were in the mother
nucleus, and although there is no diminution in the number of
chormatin granules, only half of the granules originally present in
the mother nucleus are represented in each daughter nucleus. It will
be seen that although the chromosomes are not all of the same size and
length, yet if the chromatin band breaks at practically the middle
point each daughter nucleus receives about the same number of
chromatin granules; and since the chromatin granules are the same in
number as in the mother nucleus it cannot be proper to speak of a
reduction in the amount of chromatin, although only half of the
original chromatin granules are represented. There is no reduction in
number but a reduction of one-half in kind."
Whether Dr. Coulter approved or not, the paper had to
be presented as a continuation of the morphological and cytological
studies in progress, since a whole year's work was involved. But what
would some of the foreign associate editors think of it? Was this
young man too brash? He seemed quiet enough, but he could not be
shaken in his conclusions, and the idea was startling.
Now, forty-two years after it was published, we may
say that Schaffner did not know he was supposed to agree with the
European cytologists so he disagreed. We also may understand that
since it was but a section of the planned program of Lilium studies
it did not have the chance to attract the attention it deserved. It
was true that it contained the history of the embryo sac, as the title
might suggest. But it contained the startling observation of both a
longitudinal and a transverse separation of chromosomes during meiotic
processes. It was this type of division which was needed to account
for Mendelian proportions in offspring that botanists were soon to be
Schaffner was the first botanist to see it. Since the
main point was not fully emphasized, the credit for this first
observation was not entirely awarded to young Schaffner. But if he was
disappointed in this, he had no time to fret.
For the following year he was called to Ohio State
and began the development of a career which was to last for forty-two
Ohio State University Botanical Laboratory
The young assistant in the Department of Botany was
chosen by Professor William A. Kellerman, who had himself been for a
number of years at the University of Kansas before coming to Columbus.
Dr. Kellerman was broadly trained and a ready lecturer, with a special
interest in mycology. Mr. Schaffner was to assume responsibility for
as many of the other phases of botanical science as he felt inclined.
None of them was organized.
The trails needed to be blazed by pioneers in every
department. But few institutions would be fortunate enough to get
young men who could blaze trails in so many different directions.
Before assuming his duties at Ohio State Mr. Schaffner returned to
Kansas. This annual journey in the summers to Kansas became a fixed
pattern in his life, and while no complete record exists, he probably
missed few summer visits to his home.
In 1897 we have a record for this summer that he
visited Cloud County, Kansas, and devoted his studies to the salt
marshes. He lists the plants inhabiting the marked vegetation zones
around the margins of the marsh in a contribution to floristic ecology.
Not only is it recognized today that this pioneer paper on the floras
of our inland salt marshes is a valuable scientific record, but it is
also Contribution Number One from the botanical laboratory of Ohio
State University. This paper appeared in the April, 1898, number of
the Botanical Gazette. Before this, even Dr. Kellerman, who
founded the Journal of Mycology and was for many years a
contributor to it, had not thought of the device of crediting the Ohio
State University's support of his efforts. At that time, of course,
Professor Kellerman was already a man of high professional reputation.
He had influenced many students, both in Kansas and in Ohio, and
played an important part in the development of the work in plant
pathology, which was to rise so brilliantly in the Department of
Agriculture just organized at Washington where, later, his son was to
become the head of the work in plant pathology.
But the plan of crediting the institution which was
paying his salary had apparently not occurred to him. His young
assistant in botany was to give Ohio State its appropriate recognition.
It is symbolic of the fact that Schaffner was entering whole heartedly
into a plan of life that was to bring forth every effort in the
development of his chosen field.
In 1892 Ohio State University had a new Dean of
Agriculture. Professor Thomas F. Hunt, who had previously held the
chair of Agriculture at State College, Pennsylvania, was called to the
post to succeed Doctor Townshend, who had just retired in his
seventy-seventh year. At the same time, the Department of Botany and
Horticulture was divided. Professor W. R. Lazenby, who had long held
the double title, was elected Professor of Horticulture. The title of
Head of the Department of Botany was given to Professor William A.
Kellerman. The building in which the classes in botany were conducted
at that time is described in the catalogue of the university as
follows: Botanical Hall was provided in 1883 by a state appropriation
of fifteen thousand dollars. It is of brick and fifty feet long by
forty feet wide. The whole structure is two stories in height.
The general Botanical Laboratory occupies the second
floor of Botanical Hall. It is 23x33 feet and is furnished with both
movable and fixed tables. The latter are attached to the west and
south walls near windows suitably shaded. Water, gas, and an
evaporating hood are provided. The laboratory is equipped with
compound microscopes of the Bausch-Lomb, the Leitz, and other patterns
and accompanying each is a tray of tools and a case of reagents. There
are more than fifty dissecting microscopes, also charts and several
minor pieces of apparatus for experiments in vegetable physiology.
Three smaller rooms are also provided as laboratories for special work
as well as a dark room for photography. Other facilities for the
illustration of the courses in botany and for practical training in
the same are: a general herbarium including flowering plants, ferns,
mosses, fungi, algae, a State Herbarium, a collection of fruits and
seeds, valuable timbers, woods, grasses and various economic products
of the vegetable kingdom; ornamental grounds and woodlands planted
with a large variety of evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs and a
greenhouse with a fair collection of native and exotic plants.
It should be said for the defense of this meager
collection and the limited space that housed it, as we now may regard
it, that it was representative of the conditions of the struggling
state universities throughout the country. Only a few institutions
were better equipped. In 1897, five years after Professor Kellerman
had arrived, he listed in the department three herbaria, the general
one, the state herbarium, and his own private herbarium of over 20,000
specimens. It had taken much effort and money to obtain these, and
they were "deposited for use in the Botanical Dept."
In addition he had added a complete collection of native Ohio woods
and a collection of native medicinal plants.
But it should be said that botany as a science was
beginning to emerge from the stage of concerning itself exclusively
with description. It was turning to the dynamics of plant life. Dr.
Kellerman was one of the earliest to be aware that physiology needed
to be studied and taught. He introduced a course in physiology and the
text used was the best American volume of the day, written by Dr.
Charles Barnes. Among other innovations this book included the term
photosynthesis to replace the words "carbon assimilation"
used by previous writers. In teaching the plant physiology Dr.
Kellerman is said to have wandered far from his subject during a
lecture hour. He would touch on main points but would leave to his
assistants the job of quizzing. With the limited equipment, the amount
of solid laboratory experimentation remains highly speculative. This
may have developed ingenuity as well as put a severe tax on the
patience of the assistant.
From Cope's History of Ohio State University is
the statement that in 1898 Townshend Hall was completed. No pains or
expense had been spared to make the building complete and satisfactory
in every respect, and it was at that time the finest building of the
kind in the country. It at once became an object of pride and
admiration to the farmers of the state and did much toward awakening
their interest in agricultural education and in reconciling them to
the university. Townshend Hall was formally dedicated by President
Canfield, Dean Hunt, and the Secretary of the Board of Trustees, Mr.
Cope. Townshend Hall was the first building of the Neil Avenue group.
It flanked University Hall and Engineering. Across the oval were
Botanical Hall and Orton Hall, which housed the university library as
well as the geology department. From High Street there were only the
President's Home, the Armory, and Hayes Hall. Except for residences of
faculty members, the rest of the campus was without buildings.
The woodlot at the northeast corner still contained
remnants of the original beech forest. The campus served as a local
flora collecting ground. Legend has it that the showy orchid inhabited
the banks of the small brook that divided the campus. Perennially
Professor Lazenby was asked to landscape the campus, but no funds
except for tree-pruning seem to have been available. Two or three
abortive attempts to start an arboretum or at least a garden were
foredoomed to failure as the demands for buildings and roadways grew.
Botany, however, did not stem from the local
situation. The department somehow became a center of learning, toward
which students were attracted, and all Ohio was its collecting ground.
Professor Kellerman was soon to collect farther afield. He began in
1902 (?) his series of visits to Central America to study tropical
fungi; his records of types new to science became so numerous that he
established the Journal of Mycology to serve for himself and
for others as a medium of publication of the discoveries. While he was
away the main teaching duties fell upon Schaffner. The University
Catalog lists fourteen courses offered during the school year. Some of
these were for students in the Arts College and some for the medical
and pharmacy students, since at that time the applications of
botanical science to medicine and pharmacy were still regarded as more
significant than the applications to agriculture. The field of plant
physiology was still largely unorganized, though Schaffner taught
plant physiology with the slight equipment that the laboratory
The entire university enrollment for the year 1898-99
was 1,149 students. Some of the contemporary members of the faculty
included: Edward Orton, Professor of Geology and State Geologist, who
had "retired" from the presidency of the university in 1881
to go back to his beloved science; Sidney Norton, in chemistry; Samuel
Derby, in Latin; William Rane Lazenby, in horticulture and forestry;
George W. Knight, in history, political science, and constitutional
law; David S. Kellicott, in zoology and entomology, and Albert M.
Bleile, in anatomy and physiology. Some of the young men of the
faculty included Wilbur Seibert, Francis Caldwell, Embury Hitchcock,
William McPherson, Joseph Russel Taylor, Charles B. Morrey, Clair Dye,
Thomas French, Charles Bruce, John Bownocker, Francis Landacre,
William L. Evans, C. E. Sherman, Charles Foulk, and William L. Graves.
John F. Cunningham was appointed Fellow and
laboratory assistant in horticulture and forestry at this time. The
improvement of teaching and research was to become a single unified
objective for Schaffner. The slim equipment was to be fully used. More
would come. The collections necessary for a knowledge of the plant
life of the state were to be increased. The various branches of botany
were all to be explored. His papers reported studies in widely
separated fields of the botanical sciences. In ecology appeared a
paper on the origin of timber belts and on the spread of buffalo grass.
These papers, forgotten now, contain subject matter again of interest
to conservation programs. Their suggestive value was forty years ahead
of their time. In plant physiology he wrote about self-pruning of
trees, nutation of sunflowers, maximum height of plants.
On the subject of weeds, already becoming prominent
causes of loss to farmers and adding millions of dollars annually to
operating costs of farms, he described the peculiar method of seed
dispersal in tumbleweeds. To algology he contributed a paper in 1902
on Kansas desmids. These were pioneer works on little-known matters.
They were serving to enlarge the mind of the young investigator and
teacher and to prepare the way for those who would later specialize in
these several fields. General botany was beginning to delve into the
mazes of the fundamentals of plant life. If Professor Kellerman's
lectures possessed breadth and were given in an interesting fashion,
young Schaffner's work would attempt to plumb the depths and provide
the lectures with new perspectives.
He wanted to know how plants live, more than he cared
about their existence as objects to be described. He was beginning the
expansion of not only his own mental equipment, but his insight into
the plant kingdom was also being utilized by the head of the
department and others. There were too many courses offered by the
small staff. The Catalog for 1902-1903 lists twenty-seven
undergraduate and six graduate courses. The general herbarium had
grown to 30,000 specimens, and Professor Kellerman's was still kept as
a separate collection.
Schaffner had found time to do all of this
departmental work by unremitting effort, in which he did not spare
himself. But he wanted more consolidation of effort The Biological
Club offered both a social outlet and a means of consolidating effort.
It was later to become the parent of the Ohio Academy of Science and
of at least two national honorary societies with biology as the major
interest. At the November sixth meeting in 1899 Schaffner was elected
president of the Biology Club. Taking his duties seriously he
presented a paper at the following meeting December fourth entitled
"The higher Phagophytes of Ohio."
In December he went to the Cleveland meeting of the
Academy and read two papers. He was elected a trustee and a member of
the publication committee. At the meeting of June 4, 1900, of the
Biology Club, he was elected Editor of the Ohio State University Naturalist.
This became, with its name altered to the Ohio Naturalist, the
official organ of publication for the Ohio Academy, and in 1916 had
its name again changed to the Ohio Journal of Science. Professor
Schaffner remained Editor through all its changes and expansions from
1900 to 1918. Professor Hine was associate editor and Professor Landacre business manager
through a number of years.
From a diary in possession of Mrs. Schaffner the
following entries are quoted: "Nov. 28, 1901. Thanksgiving Day.
We entertained Prof. W. C. Mills and family for dinner. In the
afternoon I went with Mills to the O. S. U.-Kenyon football game. For
supper we entertained John Bridwell, Frederick Tyler and Otto Jennings
and brother." "Nov. 29. Meeting of the Ohio Academy of
Science. I read two papers entitled, "The self-pruning of woody
plants" and "Plant ecology of Ohio; a general outline,"
the latter in connection with Mr. Tyler." "Nov. 30. Meeting
of the Academy. I read a short paper on "Observations on the
origin of forest belts in Clay County, Kansas." In the afternoon
I went to the meeting of the Columbus Horticultural Society."
These entries along with the remarks of the preceding paragraphs indicate the zeal with
which Assistant Professor Schaffner was executing his duties and
carrying forward the enthusiasm for plant sciences he was developing
at Ohio State. The years 1906 to 1908 brought about many changes in
the now well-established and growing Department of Botany at Ohio
State. Professor Kellerman was devoting his attention more and more to
his chosen life work. He was the editor and proprietor of the Journal
of Mycology and in the habit of furnishing from his own pocket
funds for publication if the subscription was not sufficient. He was
preparing to add the Mycological Bulletin to his sheaf of
duties. The herbaria were growing in importance and interest as many
collections were added. Some of these were the collections of Central
The talk of a new building to replace
the inadequate facilities for teaching and research
had not brought about results, but they would come. Associate
Professor Schaffner's salary was inadequately small, but he and Mrs.
Schaffner both worked in the laboratory (on one salary), and he was
beginning to save money for a trip abroad. Surely he deserved it. He
had three score or so valuable papers published in different highly
reputable journals, and the Ohio Naturalist, which he had
edited from the beginning, was a definite success, largely through his
There were graduate students,
such as Gleason and York, making noteworthy progress
and reputations for Ohio State. Gleason had gone to Illinois, York to
the University of Texas, and Jennings to the Carnegie Museum at
Pittsburgh. Schaffner seemed to have a way with the advanced students,
especially when he was at work with them after class hours. He could
talk to them freely then, and the new problems .of a phylogenetic
system of classification held their interest more than the routine
classroom lectures. The roof leaked whenever it rained, the rooms were
cold on chilly evenings, but physical discomforts were not important
if the work in botany was going forward.
In 1906 the first Mrs. Schaffner, the beloved Mabel, died. In the March number of the Botanical
Gazette appeared a notable paper on chromosome reduction in Lilium
tigrinum. This paper re-established Schaffner's conclusions on the
relation between chromosomes and Mendelism that he had foreshadowed,
though not completely stated, in 1897. In this 1906 paper he
acknowledged his grateful indebtedness to Mabel, who had prepared the
200 serial slides that his studies had required. She had helped him
toward the recognition that his earlier work should have had.
The July news items of the Gazette briefly recorded her death after a short illness. The notice
mentioned her ability as a botanist of promise. Mabel Brockett
Schaffner had been the constant ally of her husband. In addition to
the preparation of the slides she had studied the embryology of
Shepherd's Purse and paved the way for Schaffner's publication of the
first complete account of the embryology of a seed plant.
Diary entries for May 26-30, 1906, indicate that on his return from the funeral in Kansas he had
stayed at the home of his friends the Mills', had visited Professor
and Mrs. McCall, and on the thirtieth contains the following: "worked
at Mabel's drawings. They are nearly done, only some dotting in one.
She was so anxious to get them done. They are on Bursa, Shepherd's
Purse." Schaffner would bury his grief in his work. There were
many problems he wanted to talk over with others. He would ask for a
leave of absence and complete his work for his Doctorate. But where
and how and who would carry on?
Dr. Kellerman was interested in Central America and
his trips put the teaching burdens on Schaffner. This was undoubtedly
the most trying period, the most confused and confusing. It is not
difficult to foresee what would happen to a shy, affectionate and
lonely man. At church he met Mrs. Mary Morton Sample and in April,
1907, became engaged to her. She was the mother by a former marriage
of a daughter Jean and the courtship as recorded in diary entries
indicate that Schaffner was reviving from his despair and even
becoming gay. He went to the theatre to see Maude Adams in Peter Pan,
took Miss Jean and Mary to the circus, attended church regularly,
often twice in one day, and on May sixth, the first anniversary of
Mabel's death, he and Mary shared with sympathetic tears the emotion
roused by the Columbus Oratorio Society's performance of Haydn's
Dr. Alfred Dachnowski—now Dr. A. P.
Dachnowski-Stokes—was asked to fill Schaffner's place and especially
to teach plant physiology during the leave for the school year
1907-1908. Dr. Kellerman would forego his contemplated fourth
journey to Guatemala to study and collect tropical
fungi. Schaffner was reappointed associate professor at a salary of
$1600 a year. On this and with his savings and perhaps some income
from his share of the Kansas farm he would go abroad. He could live on
In a letter from Professor Daniel C. Schaffner there
is the following statement: "When John went to Europe for
graduate work his intention was to study at Berlin or at one of the
other great German universities. However, he found no one there
interested in or more than even incidentally conversant with the
problems that were uppermost in his mind at that time. Consequently he
spent several months in study in Paris and the greater part of his
year in Zurich. At both of these places he found men
interested in scientific research as he understood it and spent the
months in an atmosphere of friendly and stimulating surroundings."
Comparison of these statements with the diary shows
disagreement of several points. Clearly, reading the diary shows the confusion in John Schaffner's mind at this period in his life.
He was emotionally down and up in rapid succession. His work in the
department was beginning to count with both his students and his
colleagues. He had been editing the Naturalist for seven years
and teaching botanical sciences for ten. He was forty-one years old
and his experiences had matured him. After his return from travel and
study abroad he would be capable of developing the fullness of his
powers. Perhaps he could find the answers to his problems. He was
distinctly turning toward problems of classification and had published
four papers on the subject by this time.
The great exponent of taxonomy in Germany was Engler,
and it may be that Schaffner thought and spoke of systematic botany
and the physogenetic systems he was beginning to develop. But he would
not have found Engler receptive to views from an unknown American who
probably would stir up discord in the views Engler was proposing. The most he could hope for from Engler would be to add
one more monograph to the already extensive series. But this was not
what was in Schaffner's mind. He was not finding fault with detail in
an existing plan of study. He was trying to establish his own grasp on
the plant kingdom as a whole. Anyway, there is no record in the diary
of what his exact views might be. He did not, however, have Germany as
a' main objective.
He sailed from Philadelphia to Liverpool, August 17,
visited Oxford and Stratford. He spent a few days in London, staying
at 21 Montague St., spent a few days in Paris and arrived in Geneva on
September 8. He matriculated in the University of Zurich on October 14. Here he found a group of
co-workers who accepted him and made him welcome. His diary once more
records some of his experiences. He visited a Russian student affair,
the Zurich Botanical Society, went to concerts in the Ton-balle, gave
a talk in German at the Botanical Society, and entered fully into a
delightful and lively gathering of intellectual comradeship. He only
crossed Germany at the end of his stay on his way to Bremen to the
ship for America.
He had enjoyed his period of study in Zurich and made
a warm friend and life long correspondent of Dr. Hans Schinz. But a
curious thing happened in Columbus. Kellerman had an opportunity to go
away that was too fine to be resisted. The Board of Trustees of Ohio State University had
caught the spirit of the investigations that were attracting Dr.
Kellerman and some of his graduate students. Plant life was to be
studied where it grew. The Ohio State University campus was to extend
to Central America. The following quotation is from a notice that
appeared in Science, August 23, 1907:
tropical school of botany
Doctor Kellerman of the Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, has
planned a tropical school of botany for next winter which ought to
attract the attention of some of our young men who are fitting
themselves for their life work as teachers of botany. The session
extends from December 19 to March 19, and will be held in Guatemala,
Central America. The campus will be located at Zacapa, 100 miles from
the coast, Los Amates, 40 miles inland, Izabal, on Lake Izabal, and
perhaps also at Livingston, on the coast. Only a small number of young
men will be accepted, and those who intend joining are advised to do
so at the earliest day possible. The fee for three months, including
traveling expenses, board and lodging, is $226.00. The project is one
that should be of interest to botanists generally, as affording
excellent opportunities for instruction along unusual botanical lines.
There was Kellerman's dream come true. He had been
there on collecting trips three times previously. He saw in a land of
smoking volcanos and great differences in altitude many opportunities
to study a great range of plant life in the field. He would take care
of the fungi and the others could collect specimens in other groups of
the plant kingdom.
So far as I am aware, this is the first time any
university in the United States had authorized a School of Tropical
Botany. Guatemala was a good choice. The railroad was started on the
Atlantic side, and the United Fruit Company had its banana boats
organized with excellent schedules for the journey across the Gulf of
Mexico. Field work in geology and archeology could be fitted into
botanical operations. Our dependence upon the tropics for a number of
valuable and interesting products was just in its infancy. This was
the time to go.
Looking at the exciting possibilities of the newly
authorized School of Tropical Botany, Dr. Kellerman's dream seemed to
have swept him off his feet. He seems now to have forgotten his own
and Schaffner's teaching schedules. Perhaps Schaffner's plans for a doctorate degree could be
adjusted later. Kudos meant little to Schaffner anyway. As Dr.
Kellerman prepared to leave for Guatemala in December, 1907, perhaps
some such thought flashed through his mind. There is no record that he
wrote to Schaffner, nor any mention in the diary that Schaffner kept
that he knew at this time that Dr. Kellerman was leaving. Certainly,
Miss Detmers and Dr. Dachnowski could not manage the overloaded
teaching program unaided. President W. O. Thompson sent for Schaffner.
This confusion meant that Schaffner never obtained his doctorate. Also,
the School of Tropical Botany had its first and last authorized
journey. Dr. Kellerman did not return! He died, presumably of malarial
fever, March, 1908, and was buried in Zacapa.
Three years later Professor Schaffner was appointed his successor as head of the
department. On board the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse in Bremen, March
24, 1908, Schaffner received word of the death of Dr. Kellerman.
The growth of the University during the decade from
1910 to 1920 brought many changes. If the dedication of Townshend Hall
in 1898 had helped "reconcile" the farmers, its expansion by
1910 and the outbreak of the war in 1914 put many unforeseen pressures
upon faculty and student body. The department of botany
under Professor Schaffner's chairmanship was provided
with better space and facilities. In 1914, in Autumn, the present
Botany and Zoology Building was opened for instruction. For the
portion given over to botany there were some changes made that never
suited Professor Schaffner.
The west wings were each shortened about twenty feet
and this curtailed the number of small research laboratories and
instructors offices and scrapped plans for the elevator to the fourth
floor where the enlarged herbarium was to be located. The building was
given a high pitched roof and the spaces under the eaves were to
contain dioramas, stilled life of animals and plants. Funds for these
were never available, so the top floor was left largely unused during
the first ten years the building was occupied. It was said at the time
the building was opened in 1914 that the department would never be
large enough to fill the available space.
Within less than five years of the opening of classes
in the new building the enrollment had reached a thousand. Many
circumstances, including a new appreciation of the relation of botany
to agriculture and horticulture as well as its pursuit as a basic
science contributed to the enlarged demands placed by students on the
staff. Professor Schaffner had built well. Not a building merely, but
his views of botanical sciences were sound, as the contributions now
so steadily flowing from his pen showed. Again at a time when there
were changes in the department and adjustments to be made, Professor
Schaffner was occupied by personal emotional disturbances.
Mary Morton Sample Schaffner died in September, 1914,
and was buried in Washington, Pennsylvania. However, he attended the
meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in
December with Professor W. G. Stover. At the meetings he served as a
delegate to the Sigma XI meeting and was elected to membership in the
recently formed Botanical Society of America.
In June, 1916, Professor Schaffner was married to
Miss Cordelia Garber who became the mother of three children: Grace
Odile, John, and James. In 1918 the diary records "I resigned the
headship of the Department of Botany and am now Professor of Botany
doing mostly research work." This period from 1918 to the close
of his life is the most productive. Here his researches and
publications ripened to display the wisdom that those who knew him at
this time learned to appreciate. His diary of that period no longer
records in detail his publications or his strivings. He has begun to
think about the effect of his writings on others to sit back and plan
with a greater sweep the advances of knowledge.
In the earlier years he may not have perceived that
his efforts in consolidating the research in cytology and morphology
would result in the life cycle studies being widely used by others.
They were published in the Ohio Naturalist and his privately
printed Laboratory Outlines. From there they found their way to
textbooks and have appeared in many places from 1915 on through the
years. The same may be said of the studies that proceeded from the
embryology of Sheperd's Purse for which he always gave the credit of
great help to Mabel Schaffner. All of botany was moving toward a
better understanding of plants.
Schaffner was no longer alone in his work as he had
been when he started. And in the more intensified studies that
developed in the twenties respectful recognition of the pioneering
work of the early days of Schaffner was not lacking. Perhaps the most
satisfactory evidence of the soundness of Schaffner's views came in
the field of taxonomy. The series, "The Classification of Plants,"
was begun in 1905 and continued until 1922. The series entitled "Principles
of Taxonomy" ran from 1924 to 1931. In both series a total of
twenty-two papers appeared in the twenty-six years.
His studies were based on an examination of the
fundamental structures of plants. Surely this topic was not new to
botanists, yet in Schaffner's hands it began to yield amazing results.
He seemed to have an almost uncanny ability to rearrange plant series
that clarified the many evolutionary problems. From an entirely
unrelated field of studies, namely the study of serum reactions,
European workers, notably Mez and his co-workers, of the University of
Breslau, proposed an evolutionary sequence which in its main features
agreed with the Schaffner system.
In passing rather briefly over this noteworthy
contribution, since it is too loaded with a vocabulary and technical
details to expand the subject here, one may say that the difference
between Schaffner's treatment and the older works on taxonomy is the
application of the newer knowledge of plants to a phylogenetic system.
His insight into the developments of plants enabled him to go forward
rapidly where others had been misled by the mazes of detail. As a
young graduate student at Chicago he had accepted the Engler system
enthusiastically as a great improvement. Later he found that a new era
was initiated by Bessey's use of the Bentham and Hooker system in
In 1905 Schaffner published an outline of the
classification of plants. In 1910, in the second edition of his Laboratory
Outlines, he included a "tree" of the sixteen phyletic
groups. In 1928 his Field Manual of the Flora of Ohio followed
his phylogenetic treatment consistently. His statement of the
fundamentals may be found in the following quotation from his "Phylogenetic
Taxonomy of Plants."
Botanical science has at last advanced far enough that a rather
conclusive taxonomy can be established on a true evolutionary basis.
But in order to discern the taxonomic system of plants properly, so as
to avoid reasoning from the particular to the general, the botanist
must certainly be familiar with the general characteristics of the
whole plant kingdom, have a knowledge of life cycles, and also must be
somewhat acquainted with paleontology and with ecological relations.
The principle of organic change along definite lines
will then become profoundly evident. From the broad canvas on which he
painted the parade of the whole plant kingdom through the ages, he
looked on at the struggles of the newly rising and dynamic subject of
genetics. After his discovery of the behavior of chromosomes in Lilium
that contained the basis for Mendelian heredity, the account of
the relations was published by Sutton in 1902. Schaffner did not
return to the subject in a publication until 1905, when he used the
title that should have been employed in the Lilium paper,
"The Nature of the Reduction Division and Related Phenomena."
There were five papers intervening, and in 1910
appeared the paper, delivered when he had been president of the Ohio
Academy of Science at its 1909 meeting. Its title was, "The
Nature and Development of Sex in Plants." This subject occupied
him more or less consistently for the rest of his career. More than
any other single subject, it showed how definitely he maintained his
position in controversy if he thought he was right. It is of
fundamental interest to biologists to see how from the beginning
Schaffner's non-Mendelian view of sex was close to being the correct
view. There were in all, twenty papers published on the nature and
determination of sex. In these he was mainly upholding his position
that sex is an expression of a physiological state and must be viewed
as male, female, and neuter and that it cannot be determined by the
chromosome structure as in ordinary shifting Mendelian phenomena.
Instead, the chromosome and its transfer was to be regarded as a
manifestation of some larger control in the set-up of the complicated
life processes of the cell. It was only a step, but an important one,
to pass from such a concept of sexuality to the experimentation in sex
reversals. Here he found the way to demonstrate in many different
plants that sex reversals could occur either in the presence or
absence of the extra chromosome. In all there were sixteen papers on
the subject of the control and reversal of sex.
At the beginning of the series of publications most
biologists were indifferent or actually hostile to the concept of
non-Mendelian sexual phenomena. Toward the end he had many followers
who saw in the idea of ecological control of sex the explanations of
their own specialized fields of investigation. As a result of his
endeavors, I for one, feel that Schaffner's work has broadened the
researches in genetics to admit some of the concepts of physiology and
ecology hitherto lacking. Again looking for a short statement which
may serve to summarize Schaffner's position, I take the liberty to
quote his words: Any attempt to seek an explanation of sexuality and
sex in terms of a balance of genes instead of a balance of
physiological states would be beside the mark, since in all of these
processes the balance of genes apparently remains the same.
This paper ends with the suggestion that the study of the principles
of reversal as worked out in plants may throw some light on human
cases as they occur in medical history. The eleventh paper in the
series on determinate evolution contains perhaps Professor Schaffner's
only quotation from the Bible, although he was throughout his life a
constant church member.
He had completed a series of extreme evolutionary
trends in plants and compares some of these to the human brain. He
ends the paragraph with the remark quoted from Psalms: "I am
fearfully and wonderfully made." Here is for Schaffner an
expression of the intense curiosity that animated his long and useful
 This fact and much of the material at this point was kindly furnished by Mr. D. C. Schaffner, the younger brother, now Professor of Geology at Emporia College.
Gazette, Vol. 23, p. 412.
State University Catalog 1893.
State University Catalog 1897.
 Quart. Rev. Biol. Vol. 9, p. 131.
 Bull. Torrey Bot. Club, Vol. 60, p. 96.