Professor Asa Chandler of the Biology Department

OK, this is going to be a little longer and twistier than usual but I promise it will all come together in the end. Stay with me and you will get a pretty good sense of what my job is like, surely a big treat for you. First cast your mind back to last Friday’s post with the picture of the young man on a sofa buried under furniture. Much to my surprise, alert reader Mike Ross managed to figure out precisely which issue of the Thresher the young man was reading and linked to that paper in a comment. It seems to be the first issue of the 1958 school year and it is quite interesting indeed, shedding light on a critical generational turning point in the history of Rice. In the left column there’s an article about the new faculty arriving on campus that fall. Among the new faces are several who would become stalwarts on campus in the coming decades, the kind of people whose hard work, generosity of spirit and commitment to academic excellence made Rice such a remarkable place. Most notable are Bob Curl and Ron Sass in Chemistry and Sidney Burrus in Electrical Engineering.

On the right side of the page, though, there’s a piece about the other piece of the transformation: “Rice Loses Two Famous Scholars.” Two long serving faculty members, present from the earliest years of the Institute, Claude Heaps of Physics and Asa Chandler of Biology, had died that summer. Here’s a photograph of Chandler, probably circa late 1940s:

Asa Chandler clate40s

By coincidence, Asa Chandler is the very person I intended to write about today. A parasitologist and expert on tropical diseases, Chandler came to Rice in 1919 and stayed here until his death in 1958, interrupted only by a three-year stint in the 1920s as head of the hookworm research lab at the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Calcutta. He was a very distinguished scholar and lecturer and also served in various public health capacities, focusing in particular on the control of dengue and yellow fever along the Texas Gulf Coast and Rio Grande Valley. Here he is in a photo taken taken during his  years in India:

Asa Chandler Calcutta

Yesterday I mentioned that I had been digging around in the basement of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. It’s small and pretty packed with stuff, but really extremely well organized.

EEB Basement

I was pretty pleased with several things I found down there and was just about to take my loot back to the archives when I noticed that there was an old cabinet way back in the corner. (It’s in the back right, underneath that big green cooler.) I figured that it was almost certainly empty but I don’t get paid the big bucks for not checking, so I spent some time shifting things around so I could get it open. When I did I was simply astonished–it was full of notebooks and other materials that had belonged to Chandler, some of them remarkable enough that I’ll do another post on them. Well, let me just say that this sort of thing doesn’t happen every day and it’s probably a good thing because it feels like a hand reaching out to me from the Hereafter, both sorrowful and very, very surprising.

On my way out, they showed me a painting that was leaning on top of the faculty mailboxes. No one knew who the subject was, but I was welcome to take it to the archives if I wanted it. I did.


Bonus: Here’s that same jawline on a column at Cohen House.

Asa Chandler Cohen House

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10 Responses to Professor Asa Chandler of the Biology Department

  1. Well, now we know who the painting is of, I guess.

  2. Francis Eugene "Gene" PRATT, Institute Class of '56 says:

    I never studied under Chandler.
    I only know slightly the story of his smuggling a tapeword (I think) inside himself.
    Other particulars I don’t know — when, from where, to where (USA?, TEXAS?, RICE?), etc.
    Maybe some one else can fill in the details, if it seems appropriate to do so.

  3. almadenmike says:

    Apparently Dr. Chandler game the name Homer to his tapeworm. (😉

    • Francis Eugene "Gene" PRATT, Institute Class of '56 says:

      That statement is on p.293 of the Hyperlink.
      I wonder why “Homer”? Anybody still around who once knew the reason.

  4. I found an article my grandmother wrote about Dr. Chandler in the Thrasher. She was a Rice reporter from 1937-1940. I just started a blog based on her scrapbook. I mentioned and linked your fantastic post, I hope that’s OK. I’d like to tell you more about my new blog. Please send me an e-mail.

  5. Katie Hovermale says:

    I am in sitting in the lobby of a care home, in Rock Hill, and have just found this article after meeting a resident here, Emily Chandler Gillis. She was telling me that she was born in Calcutta because her father was an entomologist who travelled there. So I showed her the article and photos. Maybe she would like to see the notebooks?

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