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Nutting, Charles Cleveland
(May 25, 1858–January 23, 1927)

–naturalist, professor, curator, and zoological taxonomist—was the fourth of seven children born to Rev. Rufus Nutting Jr. and Margaretta Leib (Hunt) Nutting in Jacksonville, Illinois. Charles was a curious child, whose inquisitive and experimental nature often got him in trouble. He developed a love for nature and began collecting specimens at a young age. He attended high school in Indianapolis, Indiana, where the seed of Darwinism was planted by teacher David Starr Jordan, future president of Leland Stanford University. Darwin would be a paramount figure for Nutting for the rest of his life.

    Nutting attended Blackburn College in Carlinsville, Illinois, where his father taught Greek. In addition to his growing Darwinist and zoological interests, he was also involved in the literary society, drama club, and choir. Nutting graduated in 1880 and went to work as a paymaster for his brother Will's assaying business. He also surveyed the route of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. Upon returning to Illinois, Nutting received his M.A. from Blackburn in 1882. The Smithsonian hired him to travel to Costa Rica, where he collected more than 300 bird skins for the U.S. National Museum. In 1883 he traveled to Nicaragua, again to collect specimens. In all, he collected almost 1,000 skins for the U.S. National Museum.

    In 1885 Nutting's father persuaded him to attend the State University of Iowa for further study. In 1886 a faculty position opened, for which Samuel Calvin, head of the natural science department, recommended him. By 1888 Nutting was an assistant professor of zoology, and by 1889 he was a full professor and curator of the State University of Iowa Museum of Natural History.

    Nutting contributed significantly to the State University of Iowa and its Museum of Natural History through worldwide expeditions, scholarly publications, and public lectures and slide shows. In his years as professor and curator, he undertook many expeditions, from Saskatchewan to Fiji. The purpose of the expeditions was to increase student interest and understanding of zoology through exposure to specimens in their natural environments, and to expand museum collections for a wider public audience.

    During those trips, Nutting developed an interest in hydroids–water-dwelling colonial polyps that form primitive invertebrates, often mistaken for seaweed–upon which he focused much of his scholarship, becoming the leading American authority in his field. By 1899 he had published three works on hydroids and was promoting them to the Smithsonian and the U.S. Fish Commission. In total, Nutting published 15 works on hydroids and discovered 134 new species, four new genera, and one new family. American Hydroids, three volumes written for the Smithsonian and the U.S. National Museum, was his most significant work and the rock on which his reputation was founded. A fourth volume, almost ready for publication at the time of his death, was lost.

    The crowning jewel in Nutting's career at the State University of Iowa was his development of the university's Museum of Natural History. In addition to expanding the museum's collections considerably, he also was responsible for securing adequate housing for them. In 1892 he wrote to the university's Board of Regents, pointing out that much of the collection was stored in boxes in the basement of the zoology building, with no room to display or examine anything, and at risk in the event of a fire. Nutting was a key figure in designing Macbride Hall to house the museum in its center, surrounded by the natural science departments (an ideal that was compromised in practice). Still an active member of the university and international scientific community after retiring from the positions of department head and museum curator in 1926, Nutting died of heart failure in 1927, at the age of 68.

    Charles Nutting's legacy lives on at the University of Iowa and in the science world. He is remembered as a man who strove to make science accessible and appealing to the public, for which he was sometimes criticized by the academic community. He was admired and respected by many, and has been described as a loving husband and father and a caring teacher who concerned himself with the academic and spiritual well-being of each student he met.
Sources Some of Nutting's publications and correspondence are housed in the archives of the University of Iowa Museum of Natural History. See also Wilson L. Taylor, "Charles Cleveland Nutting," Palimpsest 24 (1943), 269–300; Frank A. Stromsten, "The History of the Department of Zoology of the State University of Iowa," BIOS 21 (1950), 8–30; "The Passing of a Great Naturalist," UI News Bulletin, February 1927; and L. H. Pammel, "Prominent Men I Have Met: Dr. Charles Cleveland Nutting," Ames Tribune and Times, 6/4/1927.
Contributor: Cindy Opitz