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George F. Barker

Wheaton's first professor possessing an earned Ph.D. was George Frederic Barker, professor of Chemistry and Geology. Barker was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts on July 14, 1835.  He was educated in local schools and was apprenticed to a manufacturer of philosophical apparatus, or, equipment used to study natural philosophy--the objective study of nature. In 1856 he entered Yale College's Scientific School. In 1859 Professor Barker was elected a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

In 1861 Jonathan Blanchard personally went east and recruited Barker to teach natural sciences at Wheaton. However, Barker only lasted a year, likely due to his teaching on Charles Darwin and his theories. According to LaRoy Hand, a senior in the college that year, Barker “thinks this theory does not contradict the account we have of the creation nor make us look with less wonder and confidence on the power of God” (November 5, 1861, The Journal of LaRoy Sunderland Hand, Weaton College Archives).

Hand further relates that shortly after this President Blanchard in his Monday morning history class condemned Darwin’s theory of evolution.  “Monday, January 13, 1862.  The President in the history class in speaking of the theories, accounting for the creation spoke disrespectfully of the self- confidence and impudence, as it were of geologists.  It was the occasion of some remark in which the unreasonableness of the church in opposing science was referred to.  I know not why, but it seems true that they have raised a hue and cry and set after every man who had any progressive science to teach.  From the time it tortured Galileo to the present when Geology and geologists are being cursed by every upstart minister.  She has not neglected to frown upon innovation.  Professor Barker says that he considers the proof ample to show that the days mentioned in the Mosaic record are periods and not literally of 24 hours each.  This does not by any means contradict the bible account and presents the creation in a more beautiful light than any other.  God works by laws in all the works of nature we know and it is more reasonable to suppose the creation of a world was the result of immutable law than instantaneous fiat” (The Journal of LaRoy Sunderland Hand, Wheaton College Archives).

A year later he was acting professor of chemistry in Albany Medical College, where he remained for several years, and at the same time pursued a course of medical studies, being graduated in 1863. He was then called to the chair of natural sciences in the Western University of Pennsylvania at Pittsburg. In 1865 he became demonstrator of chemistry in the medical department of Yale College, occupying Professor Silliman's chair during his absence in 1866-'7, and in 1867 was placed in charge of the department of physiological chemistry and toxicology at the same institution. In 1879 Barker was professor of physics at the University of Pennsylvania and that same year became president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. After the International Electrical Exhibition in Paris in 1881 the French government conferred on him the decorations of the Legion of Honor, with the rank of commander.

Professor Barker authored Text-Book of Elementary Chemistry, published in New Haven, 1870 and Physics in 1892.

Barker died in 1910.

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