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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
University of Florida
Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
University of Florida General Collection
Interviewee: Dr. C. Francis Byers
Interviewer: Robert Johnson
Date: August 2, 1973
J: This is an Oral History interview with Dr. C. Francis Byers.
It's August 2, 1973. We are in the library of the Florida
State Museum on the campus of the University of Florida. Dr.
Byers was long associated with the Department of Biology and
the administration (1927-1959) here in this university. You
are now retired from academic life, although, I am sure, you
still retain an interest in natural history and related matters.
B Yes, to the extent that I watch birds, grow plants in my yard,
and keep a German Sheperd dog.
J: You were born when and where, Dr. Byers?
B: I was born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, November 18, 1902. I
will be seventy-one years old this next November.
J: Were your parents from the Johnstown area?
B: Yes. Both my father and my mother were residents of Johnstown
in western Pennsylvania, and both families were well-established
there in the latter part of the eighteenth century. Both of
my parents survived the Johnstown flood of 1889. Mother died
in 1965 and Father ten years earlier. Her family was German;
his, Scotch and Irish.
J: I see. Very deep roots.
B: Very deep roots indeed. The local cemetery is full of us.
J: So you were reared in and about Johnstown, until you left for...
B: College, in 1921.
J: College. Do you recall (I am always curious) when you first
acquired an interest in biology? Was it as a child or did you
get into it at a higher education level?
B: Both. When I was in grade school--eighth and ninth grades--I
came to know a woman who was really an inspiring teacher, Ellen
Cooper. We called her Aunt Mame long before the stage character.
She was interested in nature and nature study, and made an ef-
fort in getting me interested in it. Also, where I lived the
neighborhood backyards bordered a heavily wooded ravine with
a shallow stream of water at the bottom. I spent almost all
of my free time in these woods. Later, in high school, I lost
all interest in anything biological until my first year at the
University of Michigan (1921). The University of Michigan, at
that time, had a requirement of one year of laboratory science
for the A.B. degree. I selected zoology as the least trouble-
some, probably. My early interests were suddenly revived by
the head professor of zoology at Michigan at that time. A
professor by the name of Dr. A. Franklin Shull.
J: I seei. So your biological interests seem to have been in two
phases: one, childhood under Miss Cooper; later, at the Univer-
sity with Dr. Shull.
B: Yes; and in between, a great dislike for anything scientific;
with a strong interest in literature, history and art. How-
ever, by my second year in college, Dr. Shull and another dy-
namic professor, Alexander Ruthven, changed all that, at least
temporarily. Dr. Shull was the head of the Department of
Zoology and Dr. Ruthven was director of the Museum of Zoology.
He later became president of the University of Michigan and
remained such for about nineteen years. He was a member of
my Ph.D. committee. Both of these men influenced me consider-
ably and deflected me from my interests in the humanities.
J: Were they entomologists, or what were they?
B: Ruthven was a herpetologist and Shull a geneticist. So neither
J: I see. So between your early years, when you played around in
this area, until you got to Michigan, there was a period in which
you lost interest in biology. A long period when anything even
suggestive of this would have repelled you?
B: That is right. I even refused to take biology in high school,
and fought the administration on this requirement until I won.
To me then, science was "for the birds", as I was majoring in
English and felt superior to all of those poor souls who did
not so major. I entered the University of Michigan in September,
1921, as a major in journalism and a minor in history. After
I took the required course in science for my degree with
Dr. Shull, all of that was changed, at least on the books.
All my life I have had the double interests in science and
humanities; and combined them when, for three years, I gave
a lecture course at Rollins College in "Science for the Non-
Science Major". This lasted until my retirement in 1972.
J: What was Michigan like in those days? This was in what--
1924 or so? '23?
B: No, earlier than that. This was in 1921.
B: Michigan was receiving a large number of students in those
days. Its enrollment had gone up to 9,000--most of them vet-
erans from World War I. So it was a large institution in terms
of standards of 1921. And it had grown too fast. It was really
a topnotch institution growing too fast. They had certain
curriculum devices that I'd approved of then.
J: You had approved of?
B: I approved of them then and I tried to get them here at the
University of Florida.
J: Good. I'm anxious to talk about it later.
B: With no results.
J: No results?
B: No results at Florida, no; not in terms of the Michigan system,
which I thought was ideal. I suppose one always does feel that
way about the system that's been successful for yourself as
J: Sure, I can understand. The student body then were made up
in large part of veterans from World War I?
B: The males were, yes.
J: Was biology, or I should perhaps say, zoology, popular in those
days as a discipline?
B: Reasonably, because the people that were running it were pop-
ular as individuals.
J: I see.
B: It wasn't the largest department on the campus, but it cer-
tainly was not the smallest. It was separated from botany--
two departments--zoology and botany. Both of them, along
with English and history were leading areas.
B: Psychology was a small department. Geology, which included
mineralogy and paleontology, was much larger than psychology.
The so-called social sciences were just beginning, with the
exception of a growing emphasis on what later was labelled
"education". Education as a social science was beginning to
blossom primarily on the basis of experiences that these men
had had in World War I. The Army Alpha test, for example.
J: I see.
B: A man by the name of Wheeler was there who was developing
a testing program. He was connected with education, although
his background was sociology. But more particularly his
background was the testing programs developed during World
War I. Classical archaeology, anthropology, yes, but sociology,
as I understand the term today,was almost non-existent.
J: Non-existent in those days.
B: Not quite, except for education.
J: Talking earlier, you mentioned that in 1924 as a junior you
came to Gainesville, I guess for the first time. That was for
collecting specimens, I believe you said?
J: Dr. Shull sent you down?
B: No, he didn't. By that time I'd gone over to the museum
under Dr. Ruthven.
J: Now you say...which museum was that?
B: The Museum of Zoology at the University of Michigan.
J: I see.
B: Some years after this, the various museums--with one or two
exceptions--at the University of Michigan were consolidated
in one building and called the Museums of the University of
Michigan. The Museum of Zoology was one of them. Ruthven
became the director of The Museums. And it was the direc-
tor of the Museum of Zoology, a person by the name of Frederick
Gage, that actually sent me to Florida to collect specimens
that the Department of Entomology in the museum needed to
round out collections and material which I needed for a Ph.D.
thesis. At that time, the South--Southeast, particularly
Florida, but the Southeast in general, was almost unknown
J: I see. From an entomological standpoint?
B: Yes. It was terra incognito simply because very few museum
people had been here. And very few of us had any idea what
was flying, crawling or roaming around.
J: You had not, by this stage, more or less specialized in Odonata,
B: Yes, I had; because Michigan insisted on it. They had this
dual relationship between the Department of Zoology and the
museum. The man in the Department of Zoology was a man by
the name of Paul Welch. Welch was an entomologist and Gage
was an entomologist, and they put me up to studying dragon-
flies, or Odonata,because they thought this was an open
J: In this area particularly, or was it more or less in the
B: The science itself, if you mean entomology, was well-worked.
Open in the sense that there hadn't been too many workers on
dragonflies. There were about half a dozen really superior
dragonfly students in the world at that time. Odonata have
always been one of the non-economic,fairly minor group of
insects. The number of world species is quite small. There
are only about two thousand species, probably, in the United
States, and another four or five thousand in the world. So
it's a very small group as insects go. We had about five
people in North America, at that time, specializing in this
group of insects, and that was all. One of these men was
quite interested in the University of Michigan, particularly
the Museum of Zoology. He was E.B. Williamson. So E.B. Williamson,
I suppose, put Gage and Welch up to sicking me on to the dragon-
flies, and I pretty well roamed over this part of Alachua County.
I had no way of transportation. There were no automobiles
to speak of, and so I made my way on foot.
J: In this area particularly, or was it...? What were some of
your first impressions of Gainesville? This was the first
time you were in Florida, I take it, probably in the South,
B: That's right. I arrived here February 7, 1924--1 remember
the date--in 1924. The train pulled up and stopped right in
front of the hotel, called the White House Hotel, where the
Sun Bank is now located. The train tracks ran down Main
Street, and there was a depot a little further along; but
they stopped and I got off the train and went into the hotel.
Later that day I walked out to the University of Florida to
the Department of Biology. I couldn't find anybody except
a graduate student.
J: What building was that housed in in those days?
B: Something which is now called Flint Hall.
J: Flint Hall, yes.
B: It was not called that then. I contacted that afternoon a
graduate student by the name of Red Alexander. Red Alexander
was quite a boy. He took me out to one of the ponds around
here, the department called it"Pond A". I don't know what it
is now, it's probably no longer here. And he showed me how
one could wrestle alligators.
J: I thought he was going to show you larva of Odonta...
B: No, this guy stripped off, completely naked and jumped in this
damn pond, and I was nearly freezing, it was so cold.
J: February, yes, it would be...
B: It was very cold. One of these cold snaps that we can get
at that time of year. Anyway, he grabbed him an alligator,
and they had a big tussle. Impressed? I was really impressed.
J: I wonder if this was the regular routine for impressionable
B: No, I don't think so. No, Red was quite a guy in the sense
that he was very unconventional.
J: Sounds like it.
B: He met a rather sad end. He was shot on the courthouse steps
in one of our north Florida counties by a sheriff's deputy,
because the sheriff's deputy didn't like him. The sheriff's
deputy said he was fleeing and all. He wasn't, of course,
he was just walking up the steps. So that was the end of
Red. That was my first personal contact in Gainesville in
J: How many professors or instructors were in the department?
B: In the department at that time, there were three--Dr. Rogers,
Dr. Hubbell, and Dr. Sherman--all three of them from the Museum
of Zoology at the University of Michigan.
J: Let me check this now, is this J. "Speed" Rogers?
B: J."Speed" Rogers, and T.H. Hubbell.
J: H-u-b-b-e-l-l. Hubbell.
B: That's right.
B: And Harley Sherman. And they were all three from the same
place that I was from, the Museum of Zoology at the University
of Michigan. They'd come down, one after another--Speed
Rogers had brought us here.
J: This was 1924. Was there much overlapping as far as the
curriculum? In other words, did, for instance, Mr. Rogers
teach two or three courses? What was the work load, I should
say, in those days? Do you recall? I realize this goes
B: No, I'm sorry. I can't actually recall how much Speed taught.
I know that they were giving at that time a course in general
zoology. I'm sure that Speed had part of that, Hubbell had
part of it. Sherman never did, because Sherman had a speech
defect. It drove students crazy until they got used to him.
He was a very good teacher, he was a very nice man, but he
could turn off a class quicker than any person I've ever
met. So he taught embryology and comparative anatomy, I
remember. Dr. Hubbell taught chiefly entomology, zoogeography,
and at that time, geology was given by the Department of
Biology. He taught geology. Speed taught the general
course, Hub may have taught in the general course. Speed
also taught what today would be called ecology, genetics, and
the history of biology.
J: Quite a load, and a variety.
B: Yes, it was quite a variety. Now this would be almost a year
program. Some of these were semester courses, some of them
were year courses. And I may have forgotten one or two.
J: A general biology course was mandatory, I assume, for the
A.B. or B.S. degrees in those days?
B: Yes, I think it was, as near as I remember.
J: Let's go back to Gainesville just for a while. Did you take
a room here while you were here in your junior year?
B: Yes, I roomed out at a private home. I don't know what the
street is now. The house is still there, it's back of
what was then the Gainesville High School and which is now
part of the Santa Fe Junior College complex. It was called
Sixth Street then, and I don't know what the number of that
darn street is now...Second Avenue. It was called Masonic
J: Would this be what we would call a motel today, this tourist
camp, or was it just a boarding...?
B: No, it was what you'd call a motel. People'd come there in
autos and were assigned rooms. Quite a complex of them.
J: I didn't realize they went back to the twenties.
B: Oh yes, they did. They didn't call it a motel, they called
it a tourist camp. And there were not too many automobiles,
but people were using them. They'd drive in there in a car
and be assigned a cabin, and that would be it. It was very
J: Did the museum allow you expenses to some extent here, or
did you get by and so forth? In other words, did you have
plenty to live on, or did you have to scrape around like a
lot of students?
B: No, I've always been financially in the position where I never
had a great deal of money; but I always had just enough to
get by on. I never wondered where the next meal was coming
from. It never occurred to me that I could not find a place
to live that I could afford. My parents were sending me clothes
in those days. And by being a little bit careful with money,
I could take a trip like the one from Ann Arbor. No, the
museum paid me little. Later on I did get fellowships and
scholarships at Michigan and the museum, but not at that time.
J: These two professors at Michigan had more or less just talked
you into coming down here...?
B: To some extent. What actually happened was kind of odd. I
had a date February night--this would be the sixth--and I took
her home. We walked--that's the only way of getting around--
and coming home I slipped and fell on the ice, and I sat down
under a street lamp. I remember that it was cold, icy, snowy...
it was snowing heavy and I made up my mind that I was not going
to stay in that climate for more than another twenty-four
hours. The next morning, I went out to the museum and I said
to Mr. Gage, "I'm going to Florida or California or Arizona."
He said, "You go to Florida. I have a job for you down
there and I know the people." He told me, "This is what I
want you to do, and I'll get in touch with them" And so he
fixed it up for me. But I was going either to Florida,
Arizona, or California the next day.
J: So an icy fall in Ann Arbor brought you to Gainesville for
the rest of your life.
B: Yes, I think that's probably it. Plus Mr. Gage, because other-
wise it could have been California or Arizona.
J: The campus was, of course, rather small in those days. Any-
thing outstanding you recall about it as far as some of your
impressions? For instance the student body, were they very
B: There were four buildings and a dormitory. The Science Building.
Right across campus from it was Anderson Hall which was for
language, English, etc. Further south was another building called
Peabody Hall. It housed the library and something today we
would have called social sciences, I suppose. I've forgotten
where history was, I think it was in Peabody.
J: It still is, so I think probably it was.
B: And then coming back across the square, there was a building
on this corner, the Ag building...
J: The Ag building? Hume Hall?
B: Yes. These buildings were not named for people, except Anderson
Hall was later named after Dean Anderson.. Peabody Hall was
named Peabody at that time. The Ag Building was later called
J: I believe so.
B: And the Science Building was named Flint Hall, over the objec-
tions of practically all of us.
J: Why was that?
B: Why did we object, or why did...?
J: Yes, sir. Why?
B: We objected because Flint was a nonentity; nobody we'd ever
heard of. He had an early job on the campus, probably com-
parable to...oh, the director of the infirmary, something of
this kind. I don't believe he had an M.D., but he certainly
was in charge of student health services, in our terminology.
And we had half a dozen people, outstanding biologists, that
we thought would be very much better as a source for a name.
J: This was when, in the forties, when this came about? Of
course, you were on the faculty by then, and so forth.
B: Oh, yes.
J: Well, that's interesting. So you remained here for, I guess,
what? One semester in 1924? Was there a semester system
in those days?
B: Yes, a semester system. I remained one semester, went back to
Michigan for the fall term. Got an A.B. degree in 1925.
J: Now you remained at Michigan to work on your M.S., I believe.
B: Yes, 1925-1926.
J: Was this still with Dr., I'm sorry, what was his name?
B: Welch was actually the chairman of my committee all the way
through the Ph.D., because he represented entomology in the
Arts and Sciences Department of Biology-Zoology. Actually my
major for a Ph.D. was in entomology, because I had to have
something which is academically respectable. My training was
in museum management.
J: Did your research here in Gainesville --of course it was just
for one semester--but did that more or less expand your interest
B: Yes. Because I carried on at Michigan, and I did my doctoral
thesis on Odonata.
J: So you finished there, let's see, I believe in 1929?
B: Yes, but there were some breaks in this. I was at Michigan
my senior year, that would be '24-'25. I got the A.B. in
'25. I stayed on continuously,without a break, for a master's
degree in '26. Then I...let me read these dates in series.
The year 1924-25, I was a senior at the University of Michigan
and I recieved an A.B. degree. The year 1925-26, I continued
at Michigan for a master's degree, taking an M.S. degree at
that time. The year 1926-27, I went to Cornell University
to work on Odonata under Dr. Needham. This was the beginning
of a Ph.D. program. In the fall of 1927, I came back to the
University of Florida as assistant professor on a one-year
appointment as a temporary fill-in for Dr. Hubbell, who was
going back to Michigan to complete his work on a Ph.D. That
was the 1927-28. The fall of 1928, I was back at Michigan
and finished the Ph.D., which I received in 1929, based on a
thesis on Odonata, the work for which I had been doing in
Florida during the two dates mentioned. The fall of 1929,
I had received my Ph.D. in June, and I received a permanent
appointment at the University of Florida as assistant pro-
fessor of biology.
J: I see. You mentioned Dr. Hubbell, or, I should say, Mr. Hubbell,
left in '27 to go back for his Ph.D. In those days already
they were what--strongly suggesting, or more or less even giving
you an ultimatum, either the Ph.D. or perhaps...?
B: No, not too strong, but just enough of Speed Rogers, Hubbell,
Sherman--when I joined the department in the fall of 1929,
I was the only one with a Ph.D. Hubbell got his next. The
next year Sherman went off to get his. The year following
that, which would bring it up to about 1933, Speed Rogers
went off to get his. Now, all four of these degrees came
from the University of Michigan, through working with the
same people, and all were in entomology except Dr. Sherman's.
He was a mammalogist. Speed, Hubbell and I were entomologists.
J: Dr. Sherman was who now, sir? Do you recall his first name,
and so forth?
B: Harley B. Sherman. He now lives in DeLand.
J: Harley Sherman.
J: I see. So you started off here as an assistant professor with
a salary of what? Do you recall, if I may ask?
B: Yes, I do. $2500 a year (9 months).
J: Were biologists paid differently than historians or perhaps
English professors in those days?
B: Probably the best pay scale--and this is just memory, really--
was in Chemistry-Pharmacy, or perhaps in the College of Arts
and Sciences. The next best pay scale in those days was
probably in Economics-Business Administration, which was a
combined department. The third best was probably Biology-
Geology, as a combined title. By a combined title, that
meant these areas were in one department under one head.
Townes Randolph Leigh, who later became dean, was chairman
of the Department of Chemistry-Pharmacy.
J: That's not L-e-i-g-h?
J: I believe it is. Is it not Leigh Hall, sir?
B: It's Leigh Hall, yes.
B: Walter J. Matherly was chairman of the Department of Economics
and Business Administration in the College of Arts and Sciences.
Business administration was later split from economics. Economics
reamined in Arts and Sciences, and Dr. Matherly became Dean
Matherly of the College of Business Administration.
J: Of course, that's Matherly Hall today?
B: Yes, when that building was built, it was named after him.
And the chemistry building was named after Townes Randolph
J: You say these departments, or I should say, these combined titles,
came under one department. What was the organization of the
Department of Biology-Geology in those days? There were four
instructors, or professors rather, in biology.
B: Yes. The geology part of it, Dr. Hubbell taught, and later
I did. Still later, it became a separate department under new
J: You did geology also? Did you find that very difficult, or
did you find it a smooth transition?
B: It was a smooth transition through paleontology. You see,
when you're interested in natural history, you get to be
interested, sooner or later, in fossil forms. And through
paleontology, fossil forms, you have to find out something
about stratigraphy and dating and all this sort of thing which
brings you into geology. Then World War II clinched it.
J: How so?
B: At the time of World War II...
J: We're going a little bit ahead, but we'll go ahead and discuss
B: If you want...
J: No, that's fine. We'll go ahead and discuss it.
B: Well, at the time of World War II, the University of Florida
was not coeducational. There were four or five women on campus
under special conditions. My wife happened to be one of them.
But with the exception of Jeanette, my wife; Clara Floyd Gehan,
who is a lawyer in town now; Mamie Shaw, who later became a
pediatrician in New York City; and two other women whom I've
quite forgotten, the student body was entirely male. So
when World War II was declared, the University of Florida
looked like it was going down the drain. The enrollment
dropped to a point so low that it was hardly possible to keep
the institution open.
J: Was this partly because of the Depression?
B: No, the Depression was nearly over by that time. What really,
I think, more than anything else, bailed us out of the Depression
was World War II. After the Depression, the entry of the United
States into World War II posed a new set of problems. We had
weathered the Depression one way or another. For me, it was
mostly a matter of salary. For example, I came to the University
of Florida at a salary of $2500 a year (nine months). The next
year I recieved $1900 and then $1500. It remained at that figure
for a while. U of F salaries were never very high until
J: Let's see, '27, '28, '29--then $1500 in '29 you were making.
B: That'd be about right.
J: Were many persons so affected?
B: Yes, most of us. During the Depression, many institutions either
closed or were so far in arrears--on paying salaries, for
example-- that they might just as well have closed. The
University of Florida never did. We always got our salary,
but not always on time. It was always in the form of money,
not scrip. Some institutions were paying in scrip. Scrip
was simply an I.O.U. and you could take it to the grocery
store and most would honor it. But I never got that, I
always got money. Sometimes it would be three or four
weeks late, but we got it.
J: Very glad to have it.
B: Very glad to have it, yes. But World War II posed a totally
different set of problems because we were non-coeducational,
just men--young men, most of them. A few of what we call
4-F's were around, but not very many. The enrollment became
an important problem. We finally took on, and you can get
this from the administration better that from me, a training
program for Air Corps Cadets. John J. Tigert was president
and John J. Tigert took a little bit of persuading. Of the
people who did the persuading...there's only one left that
I know of on campus now, that's Dr. Manning Dauer.
J: That was persuasion for this Air Cadet program.
B: Yes, or take on some of this sort of program. Tigert would
not take on the Navy program because his son was in the Navy,
and he didn't think this was fair. A conflict of interest,
maybe. I couldn't see the connection, but John J. did.
The Air Corps at that time was not a separate entity.
There was a Naval Air and an Army Air and so on and so forth.
We had the Army Air, and all these were budding pilots, and
they came here and took a six-weeks course of training. The
six weeks was between boot camp and air field training. I
always felt that the War Department didn't know what to do with
these guys until they could get them out to Houston or someplace
and put them in an airplane, so they let us have them. There were,
let's see, a course in English, a course in history, a course in
physics, a course in math, and a course in geography. It was the
last one that I taught. It was primarily geology, topography, and
meteorology. We were following a syllabus and exams furnished
us by the War Department. But it did give us, every six weeks,
a new bunch of cadets here on the campus, and it really kept
our doors open.
J: I see. This was, more or less, a way-station, in other words,
between their basic training and on out to, say, Wright-Patterson
or some place like that for their actual Air Corps training.
B: Yes, I'm sure it was. What they learned didn't do them any harm,
as many of them were fresh out of high school or even dropouts.
J: Plus, it was a shot in the arm to the university.
B: Oh, yes, the university had to have them. Now I think that
John J. probably felt that somehow or another, this wasn't bona
fide, and one time Dr. Tigert said that he'd rather close the
institution. But again, some of us tried to change his mind
for him. Manning Dauer was one, I was one, and a man by the
name of Stan Wimberly, who was later assistant dean of Arts
and Sciences here. He went to Florida Atlantic, and died a
couple of years ago. And Archie Robertson was involved in
this. Who else...?
J: I take it Dr. Tigert was a very conservative type person and
president. What else do you recall about him? Perhaps we can
speak just for a few minutes on...
B:: My outstanding memory of Tigert! I served under every president
that the University of Florida ever had except the first one, Sledd--
I did not know him--and the latest one, Steve O'Connell. I knew
O"Connell as a student. I also had very indirect contacts with
O'Connell in relation to some of his interest in the alumni,
but I never served under O'Connell in the presidency. All the
others I did. I was appointed by Murphree. Tigert took over
and I existed through Tigert's nineteen years.
J: Did you meet Dr. Murphree?
B: Yes, I knew President Murphree. He was followed by Dr. Tigert,
with a temporary appointment by a man by the name of Jimmy Farr,
but permanently J. Hillis Miller. Following J. Hillis Miller,
there was again a temporary appointment of John Allen. Allen
later became president of Florida Southern. Miller was succeeded
by J. Wayne Reitz. J. Wayne Reitz came to the University of Florida
about the same time I did, as assistant professor of Ag Economics.
They moved Reitz from agriculture into the presidency because
Reitz was very close to an administrator by the name of Wiman
Newell. Newell was "king" of the agricultural interests of the
University of Florida as they pertained to the state of Florida,
not only the College of Agriculture, the Experiment Station,
[but] all of the dozens of substations throughout the state [and]
all the agricultural interests, and Reitz was very close to
J: In these days, in other words, academicians were appointed to
B: Yes, yes.
J: ...almost totally.
B: Almost totally. But I served under all these men. Now you asked
me about Tigert. I can think of him in comparative terms easier
than I can single him out. He was less conservative than Dr.
Murphree. He was more conservative than Hillis Miller. The
greatest thing that ever happened to the University of Florida
(in my opinion) as far as the presidency is concerned, was the
appointment of J. Hillis Miller. Miller was a dynamic man, and he
took the University of Florida from a second rate "cow college"
and put it in competition with, certainly, southeastern universities
such as the University of North Carolina; and national univer-
sities, with the possible exception of the so-called Ivy League.
We were not Ivy League. We couldn't compete with Harvard, Yale,
Princeton; but we could compete, and did, with places like the
University of Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, University of
North Carolina--this kind of institution.
J: Where was biology now, in this comparison, in those days?
B: During all of this, biology was a department in the College of
Arts and Sciences. But the Department of Botany and the Depart-
ment of Entomology were in the College of Agriculture. You
want to know why?
J: Yes, I do.
B: Well, if I were no longer free of the university, I wouldn't
tell you; but I am free, so I will tell you.
J: By all means.
B: The man who became head of the Department of Entomology was a
man by the name of John Gray. John Gray was hired by Speed
Rogers in the Department of Biology.
J: Was Dr. Rogers the chairman in these days?
B: Yes, he was head of the--we called them "heads" in those days--of
the Department of Biology. He came here as that. It was a one
man department at first. He didn't like Gray, so he kicked him
out. And the only way of kicking him out was to kick him upstairs,
so to speak. He made him head of the Department of Entomology in
the College of Agriculture, which at that time was low man on the
totem pole as far as our colleges went. Agriculture'd take any-
thing it could get, in spite of the great interest and money that
Newell could bring into the college by way of the state. In spite
of all this, the academic level of the student body was very low,
the instructional level was low also.
J: In agriculture.
B: In agriculture, yes. Well, the same thing happened in botany. There
was a man by the name of Cody--what was his first name? I've for-
gotten. Cody was a botanist under J. Speed Rogers, and Speed
couldn't stand Cody, so he shunted him over to agriculture and
made him head of the Department of Botany. So Speed was really
playing ducks and drakes on this deal. That's how all this happened,
and it led to situations later on after Cody was gone, after Gray
was gone, after Speed was gone, that were not good.
J: Was there much animosity, I was about to say, between the two
B: Yes, there was. Cody was weak compared to Speed. Cody couldn't
hold his own at all, and the Department of Botany just went down,
down, down, as the Department of Biology was going up, up, up.
Speed was really a very good administrator. He always caught
onto new ideas when he thought they were sound. He was also the
kind of person who was very well read. Speed could always quote
chapter and verse from the Bible to back any point he wanted to
make, and if he couldn't find it in the Bible, he could find it
in Shakespeare, which is an old trick, I know, but nevertheless,
it happened to be true in this case. Speed was always quoting
out of Shakespeare or the Bible to make a point, and he was the
kind of man who could make a point because he had everybody scared
of him. He was a manipulator, really. I was always very glad that
Speed Rogers was on my side, or I was on his. I'd hate to have
locked horns with Speed Rogers.
J: I take it Dr. Tigert and he got along fairly well. In other
B: Dr. Tigert and Speed Rogers got along very well. Dr. Tigert and
I got along well. Dr. Tigert paid little attention to Hubbell
or Sherman. He paid attention to me, because at that time I
had decided that I had to get into administration to protect
myself. From what? From teaching hours I didn't want, from
year after year of assistant professorship, courses I didn't
want. So I began to move in certain key committees that Speed
would get me on. Speed said, "All right, you can fight this as
well as I can." I got on these committees, and...
J: We're talking about the war years now, around '42, '43, of course...
B: Yes. Biology never lost its position during all this time and during
all these changes in administration. Speed could hold his own.
Later Speed left to head the museum at the University of Michigan,
and he took Hubbell with him. Sherman became acting head of the
Department of Biology, and was not a success at it. That's when
it was offered to me as number four. I turned it down, because
by that time I was chairman of C-6.
J: Okay, sir.
B: When I came to the University of Florida in 1927, there was no
graduate program. Dean Anderson--called "Dean" because he was
appointed officially as dean of a really non-existing graduate
school at the time--began to develop a graduate program. Master's
degrees were being given fairly commonly at the University until...
well, were given commonly, just as they still are, I suppose. But
the Ph.D. program was initiated in the late thirties, I believe,
and the first department that had the privilege of giving a Ph.D.
degree, an approved Ph.D. program, was pharmacy. The second was
chemistry, the third was biology. The fourth was English. These
departments were approved for Ph.D. degrees as they could establish
their competency and interest in handling doctoral material and
students, developed a faculty and library.
J: Of course, in biology, they were all Ph.D.'s.
B: At that time all of the biology professors were Ph.D.'s. We also
had certain commitments from the University of Michigan for help
both in specimens, museum material, library resources, all sorts
J: What type of research facilities were available here at Florida?
For instance, the library?
B: Well, as far as biology was concerned, Drs. Rogers, Hubbell and I
had private libraries and we required very little in the way of
books. What we needed in the way of equipment we could either buy
for ourselves or get from the University of Michigan. We all
carried on research in our own particular field. You can see
from the bibliography of mine that there were a number of years
that I published fairly consistently on the Odonata. Dr. Rogers
was publishing on a group of insects called crane-flies. Dr.
Hubbell was interested in cave crickets.
J: Cave crickets. Was there much available here in this area?
B: Yes, in all three of these fields--dragonflies, cave crickets,
and Speed's crane-flies--yes, a wealth of material, really. But
we did our own collecting, we got our own material, we handled it
ourselves. We didn't really depend on the University for much in
the way of help. No financial help. Oh, maybe a little here and
there in the way of stamps to mail letters or something like this,
but not very much. And no travel at all. The University library
was not adequate, of course. But in dragonflies, I established
my own library, I bought my own books, and at one time in the
early fifties, I had a library that was about 92 percent complete
in all titles published on North American Odonata. This did not
include the world scene, just North America. I had about 92 per-
cent. I still have it. I never gave it to anybody. I gave my
collections to this museum, but my books and so on, my library,
I still have.
J: So there was ample opportunity, materialistically and so forth.
B: Yes. The only difficulty actually, and in a department that
was research-oriented like biology, would be a matter of finding
J: I see.
B: The time element was always there.
J: You had quite a large teaching load?
B: A fairly heavy teaching load.
J: ...with your geology or geography...?
B: My own teaching load--I moved into the general zoology course,
and I also taught invertebrate, and then I introduced a course
called parasitology. Every institution in the country has a
course like that now, but they didn't then. So I taught inver-
tebrate and parasitology, semester courses, general zoology for
a full year. Dr. Hubbell and I would split geology. During the
war years, Hub had gone to Michigan, so I had the entire burden
for geology. This carried over to the geology course we were giving
for the Air Cadets. Dr. Diettrich was in charge of this effort.
The teaching staff was composed of a number of the faculty who
were still on campus, including J. Wayne Reitz. Later, of course,
Dr. Reitz became president; Sig. went to Washington, later to return
here; and I was the geology department. Anything given in geography
or geology here for two years, I gave.
J: Is that right?
B: I tried to get in the Army or Navy or something, but I couldn't
J: About this time, I guess, in the early forties, particularly
having taught some general zoology courses, you began to
realize a textbook was needed, I take it. Did you and Drs. Hubbell
and Rogers collaborate on this text?
B: Yes. What happened here was that in 1936, I believe it was, Dr.
Tigert had gotten the idea that general education--as it was then
called--was being developed at the University of Minnesota, the
University of Chicago, and Colgate. Those were the three places, I
think,at that time, which were outstanding in the developing of a
new idea in introductory curricula called general education. The
basic assumption would be that if a student took a course on the
elementary level in any department, one always assumed he was going
to become a Ph.D. in that field. If I took a course in English,
I was going to be a Ph.D. in English. Our general zoology course
was really oriented to potential Ph.D. people. Well, this was
nonsense, and it didn't take us too long to realize that this was
nonsense. It also did not take us too long to realize that biology--
and the other side, the physical sciences--had something to give
to the education of everybody; that we weren't preparing specialists,
that the university was not fulfilling its duty. It had taught
only potential specialists, yet we had something to give to the
education of all students. So on this basis, the University College--
we then called it the General College--was established about 1935,
'36. One of the six general education areas was ours, and it
happened to be called C-6, as it was the last of the series, the
biological sciences. Dr. Rogers was chairman of it, and Dr. Hubbell
was pulled into it, and so was I. Dr. Sherman, no, primarily be-
cause he simply could not lecture. Hub could lecture, and Speed
was a good lecturer, and I think I was a good lecturer. It was
new ground, you see. All textbooks available were oriented dif-
J: It was what, sir?
B: New ground, a new area. All the textbooks available were for
elementary zoology, or elementary--at best, elementary biology.
We didn't want this. We wanted a new approach, something different.
J: A general text.
B: Perhaps. But I don't like the word "general". Realizing that
almost all freshmen and sophomores at the university would take
the course, we had a very special audience to consider with
special educational needs. What will a major in a field other
than biology need to know? What areas and concepts of the life
sciences are meaningful to all students? The educated man, to be
an educated man, should be exposed to the biologists' interpretation
and viewpoint in such areas as human anatomy, genetics, ecology,
evolution. The material should be stimulating, not simply factual,
Latin names and equations. Some of it was controversial, such
as evolution. Some of it was very new, such as the developing field
of ecology. So we made an outline. We taught from the outline
for two years, developing the outline, expanding it. Really the
university --or the Department of Biology-- was publishing it
and selling it to the students as an annotated manual. McGraw-
Hill Publishing Corporation of New York got hold of it and said
this would make a fine textbook if you want to write it up. Speed
said, "Sure". Speed was the senior author. Dr. Hubbell wrote
part of it. I wrote part of it. I was responsible for the il-
lustrations, the format, and the contracts with the publisher;
and I wrote two or three chapters. Hub rewrote all of it, both
Speed's part, his part, and mine, so that the different styles
would not be detectable. In the early editions, you couldn't pos-
sibly know who wrote what portions of the book.
J: I think this was 1942, the first edition.
B: Yes, 1942.
J: Man and the Biological World.
B: That's right. It was republished and revised in 1952.
J: Which says a lot for the book, ten years later, to be even re-
vised and still be used.
B: In the middle forties, even though I was one of three authors, I
was getting more money from the book than the University of Florida
was paying me salary. But we were lucky. We hit a new movement on
the crest, as it crested, at a time pretty much when people were
scrambling for textbooks, around 1948.
J: Was this a general trend? For instance, historians, psychologists,
and so forth were realizing about this time that these courses were
B: Yes, it was a pretty general trend. There was a great deal of
controversy. A considerable amount of discussion.
J: It's like the degree Bachelor of General Studies, and so forth.
B: Yes, so we decided on "University College" because it was required
then of all incoming freshmen and sophomores. It was the lower
division. All colleges, upper division colleges--Arts and Sciences--
all of them--had to construct their programs on top of the so-called
two years of general education.
J: So even though Dr. Tigert was hesitant to accept some so-called
radical innovations, he did have enough insight to realize that
this was the trend.
B: Oh, yes. There were many things that John J. could very easily
grasp and promote. Old-school, well-meaning. And pretty good.
Now Tigert's greatest drawback, when I was working with him, was
that he always looked at the University of Florida as a stepping-
stone to something else. He wanted to be either ambassador to
Cuba--and he developed the Latin American program here with that
in mind--or he wanted to succeed to the presidency or some impor-
tant position at Vanderbilt. His family was from Vanderbilt and
he had grown up in the Vanderbilt tradition, and he wanted to
really succeed. What was he? John J. III? I've forgotten, but
anyhow, his father and grandfather were important. One of them
was president, I know--maybe both of them were--at Vanderbilt
at one time or another. So Tigert wanted the presidency of
Vanderbilt, or an important position on the Board of Trustees;
or he wanted the ambassadorship to Cuba. He never got either of
them. He used the University of Florida directed towards that
end, which was all right. There are many things much worse
than that. At least he had an end, you see, something he was...
J: Positive attitude.
B: Yes, positive attitude. But he was really a kind person. He was
brusque at times, and quite impatient on occasion. I remember a
meeting in his office attended by a committee from A.A.U.P.
(American Association of University Professors) to discuss with the
president a case involving Dr. Miller Leake, then head of History
and Political Science. The problem centered around the fact that
Dean Leigh had not paid Dr. Miller his full monthly salary because
of Leake's absence from classes because of illness. The discus-
sion got kind of hot. I was president of the local chapter at
the time, and was kind of on the sidelines of their argument, and
Dr. Tigert must have felt the same way. Tigert said to me, low
voice, "Come on, let's get out of here. We can go out the back
way and they will never miss us. You don't want to listen to
all of that. I have heard it three or four times and I know ex-
actly what they are saying and so do you." We returned after lunch
and the committee had not missed us. Later the case was resolved.
It is not much of a story, but it does measure the man.
J:i I see.
B: ...university life in those days, and from current newspaper
accounts still is, made up of a whole series of petty things which
become earth-shaking as far as the people involved are concerned.
You don't imagine how earth-shaking these things can become.
[President Alfred A.] Murphree was of the Old South; he was
a gentleman of the Old South. The word "gentleman" in its truest
sense I'd apply to both Murphree and Tigert. As far as administra-
tive ability was concerned, yes, they were all right. Murphree got
me out of a mess, really, on the evolution business.
J: Yes, this was right in the midst of the Scopes thing in the late
B: The Scopes trial was when? It was 1924, wasn't it?
J: I want to say '27, but probably '24.
B: No, I think about '24.
J: Dr. Byers, we mentioned briefly just a few minutes ago about ev-
olution and the teaching of it here at the university. Perhaps
we could take a minute or two just to expand on that, I think it's
an interesting point. This was, you recall, in the twenties, and
what was the philosophy of evolution here at the university in those
B: Evolution was one of the two or three things that come along during
the years that I was involved in higher education here that were
really scare tactics, in the sense that you could not only lose
your job, but you could go to jail. Evolution was one. Later on,
Joe McCarthy and communism was another. One after another, these
followed. But my first introduction to this kind of thing was ev-
olution. I was a young instructor in the late twenties, but I had
been a student here in, I guess, the middle twenties, 1924 anyway.
It was around 1923-24 that evolution became a red flag, some-
thing to fight about in the Southeast. Much of it was due to the
influence of William Jennings Bryan. Bryan was on the campus of
the University of Florida in the early twenties. Certainly I met
him and talked to him here in 1924. The old student union had a
lounge called the William Jennings Bryan Lounge.
J: He was a good friend of President Murphree's, I believe.
B: Yes, he was a very good friend of Murphree's, and Murphree...I think
Murphree--I'm sure, but I've forgotten which convention--nominated
Bryan as a candidate for the presidency of the United States on the
Democratic ticket. I believe it was the convention in Cleveland,
and I've forgotten the year, but it was in the early twenties. And
there was a close relationship between Murphree and William Jennings
Bryan. Very obviously, William Jennings was leading the so-called
Fundamentalist movement, and just as clearly, the Fundamentalist move-
ment was anti-, very anti-evolution. I was convinced, after talking
to Bryan himself about this, that Bryan was absolutely intellectually
honest. This wasn't a gimmickwith him. He really meant it. And
when he showed posters of a good-looking girl in the upper left-
hand corner of the poster, let us say, and a chimpanzee or primate
down in the lower right-hand corner and a banner across it saying,
"Did your daughter come from this?" he really meant it. And the
atmosphere, the anti-evolution atmosphere in the Southeast, was
mounting tremendously to a point that was quite dangerous from
the point of view of personal safety.
J: Is evolution a theory, no doubt, that you had accepted yourself
ever since you had begun your academic career, or was this something
that you more or less came to accept over the years?
B: As a trained biologist I never even realized that there was any-
thing controversial about evolution.
J: I see.
B: It came somewhat as a surprise to me to be suddenly, as a young
instructor, introduced into an environment where it could be even
a fighting word, let alone a dangerous one. And the various states
ofithe Southeast, notably Tennessee, Georgia, and eventually Florida,
passed anti-evolution laws. It became illegal to teach evolution
in those states. This practically, after a period of time, included
most of the states in the Southeast. Now the tightest of these
laws, as I found out later, was the one passed by the State of
Tennessee. The loosest of them was the one passed by the State
J: I believe Tennessee's is still on the books, in fact.
B: It was until a couple of years ago; I think they got it off.
J: Finally did.
B: Yes. But the Florida one was very, very loose. It simply said,
in essence, that it would be illegal to teach, in schools sup-
ported through taxpayers' money in the State of Florida, the
theory of evolution as a fact. What the law actually said, if I
remember, is that it was illegal to teach anything that denied the
divinity of God, which evolution, of course, does not do. But the
fighting word was evolution, and not what evolution was supposed
to do; because evolution was never really tied up with theology
or theological beliefs, not at all. So one was relatively safe
in Florida, whereas in Tennessee you would not have been, because
the Tennessee law was very tight.
In any case, I wanted to talk about evolution because the
whole structure of biology in those days was and still is tied in-
to, basically, the fact that evolution is taking place. The de-
tails--yes, there's been a great deal of modification and changes
and so forth in details. Darwin had some blind spots. Most of
these have been very well illuminated in the more than [one] hun-
dred years since the book on The Origin of the Species made its
appearance in England. But that life is changeable--there's really
no question about it. So this was the dilemma.
B: This was the dilemma--how to teach biology, and not include the con-
cept of evolution. It had never occurred to me at all that there
was anything here except another principle of biology.
J: Perhaps some of the progressivism of it, but at least the concept
itself...you doubted why anyone would question the basic concepts,
in other words.
B: Well, yes. Once you realized what it was and how it was derived--
not through theological deductions, not through any kind of ex-
traneous logic, but simply by the accumulation of thousands of
But in any case, at the University of Florida, the head of
my department--I'm speaking as a young instructor now, in the
twenties--was not in any way adverse. In fact, he'd been brought
up the same way I had and we were facing a common problem. We
did discuss it, both Speed Rogers and I did, and later he suggested
I go over and discuss it with Dr. Murphree, which I did. And Dr.
Murphree was very interested in my point of view, but he pointed
out to me, he said, "Here is the situation. The University of
Florida is a state-supported institution. The state has not as
yet, but soon will, probably, pass an anti-evolution law. As
president of this university, I cannot permit evolution to be
taught on this campus. But as an intellectual necessity to people
like you and the feeling that you have that a whole science is
constructed on this...now I wish we could find a compromise.
I said, "Well, I think we can. The word that is so trouble-
some is the word 'evolution'. Let's don't use it, let's use a
He said, "What?"
I said, "'Progressive development'. There has been progres-
sive development through evolution from one form of animal life to
He said, "Would that include man?"
I said, "Yes, it would, because man is basically an animal.
We can not deny our animal heritage."
He said, "Well, I wish that you wouldn't stress that part."
I said, "Okay, as a compromise, let's do it that way then."
So that's the way it was done. There was not real trouble
here. Nobody that I know of got arrested and nobody was kicked out
of the university that I know of for involving himself in the evo-
J: What was the attitude that the student body had towards evolution?
B: Very much indifferent.
J: Indifferent, did you say?
B: Very indifferent, except for a few. There were a few students who
were fairly militant about this, but they were not organized.
B: Against evolution, and against the teaching of it, because they were
against evolution. There were students that objected to the
teaching of evolution, because they objected to evolution; because,
I suppose, they were fundamentalists. I don't know what their
religion was, I never inquired. A case in point: years later,
in the fifties, early sixties--no, fifties--I was at a concert
and the man sitting next to me said, "Dr. Byers, you do not re-
I said, "I am sorry, I don't."
He said, "Well, I was a student of yours back in the early
thirties. I took your course. I disliked you so much, and I
was so opposed to what you were saying, particularly in regard
to evolution, that I decided that I was going to find out for my-
self what the truth was, and to prove that you were really, really
I said, "Did you?"
He said, "Yes, I did. I am now the pastor of a large and
fairly rich congregation in a southern state. I have become a
minister. I think you were wrong. I still think you were wrong."
I said, "From a biological or a religious viewpoint?"
He said, "Religious, pure and simple. I never looked at bio-
logy after I left you, but you did stimulate me to pursue my career.
You more than anybody else because I thought you were wrong."
Well, this was the best of the kind of opposition that you
would get--an honest opposition that related to things like this.
This is a very rare case, of course, but nonetheless, it pleased
me no end.
J: I was going to say, as a teacher, you stimulated this person's
mind to inquire into knowledge.
B: Yes. No, I mean it pleased me no end, because I don't expect
people to agree with me.
B: And if I could stimulate a really first-class mind to do what this
man did..I think he meant it as a compliment. So yes, there was
student opposition to the teaching of evolution, but when we stopped
using the word and accumulated biological facts that they could
understand and that led to progressive development--from one species
into another one, the changing nature of species, increasing number
of species, life coming from, on the whole, simpler forms of life
of the past--they had no real argument. There was always a
residue of dissenters.
The evolution issue went very smoothly, contrasted to the
very bad way in which the next of the red flag challenges came to
us, the communism thing as it was originally promulgated by Joseph
McCarthy. Now this was not nearly as well-handled as the evolution
controversy by our administrators.
J: Were there repercussions here on the campus with the Red Scare or,
as Truman said, he thought it was just a red herring type situation;
or do you recall any specific instances?
B: Yes, there were many of them. The repercussions on the campus
of the red herring, the Red Scare, the communism--in contrast to
the evolution--were not only badly handled, but did lead to some
very serious consequences, which I am almost certain the university
hasn't gotten over yet. This was bad. But like all these things,
they start, they develop, then they go away. They become very
important issues, people's lives are changed, and in a few cases,
men's lives are lost. But they do come and they do go. Joseph
McCarthy is buried now in Wisconsin.
J: In the late fifties, I think, wasn't it, he died?
B: Yes, Right.
J: Let's go back to the university itself a little bit more. Around
'47 and '48 the University of Florida became coeducational. Let's
talk a little bit about the events leading up to that, particularly
the women on campus prior to that. I believe you mentioned in
pharmacy, in one discipline as such, women were allowed,in special
circumstances, to attend the university.
B: Yes, prior to, I think the date was 1948, the state legislature
that year made the University of Florida and Florida's College for
Women at Tallahassee both coeducational; so that for the first time
men could go to Tallahassee and women could come to Gainesville.
Prior to that time at the University of Florida, women would be
admitted if they were graduate students only and had attained an
age which you normally associate with graduate students, the early
twenties in age. They also had to be taking programs not given at
the women's college in Tallahassee. More particularly, they had
to be taking specific courses not offered at Tallahassee. There
were at one time, I remember, around five women here under those
circumstances. One of them I remember quite well was Clara Floyd
Gehan. She is a practicing attorney in Gainesville today. Another
was Mamie Shaw. Mamie later became a doctor of pediatrics in New
J: Is it Mrs. G-e-h-a-n? She'd be a very interesting person to speak
B: Yes, Clara is. Another one was Jeanette Radin in pharmacy. Miss
Radin had come to the university from South Carolina with a degree
in pharmacy, on a fellowship offered her to do graduate work in
pharmacy at U of F. She eventually got a master's degree, went on
for a doctor's degree, but never quite attained it because I
married her before she had gotten quite to the Ph.D. I met her
when she was fulfilling the conditions I indicated. She took a
course in parasitology with me because that was a course not
given at Tallahassee, and part of the pharmacy program which was
not given at Tallahassee either. So the coeducation at the Univer-
sity of Florida until 1948 was a pretty hit-or-miss situation,
confined entirely to graduate students, and then [only] in a few
fields such as the ones I mentioned. Medicine or law or pharmacy--
professional fields, by and large. After '48 it was a totally dif-
J: Much to the happiness, I think, for both. We're up to around,
let's see, '43 now..at least during the War or soon after. You
became head of the General College course C-6, Biology, I believe,
about these times into, I think, 1959. You had some experiences,
I know, with Dean Little. Perhaps we could talk about the dean
plus some of your experiences in these years from '44 until about
'59, some of the personalities and also the situation academically
here in the university--temper of the times, so to speak.
B: Well, the mid-thirties, really--it was before the forties, about
1936, I think--Dr. Tigert decided that the University of Florida
would join what was then a developing field of general education.
This was the idea that there was a certain residue of knowledge in
all fields that an educated man, to be an educated man, should be
familiar with--not just the sciences--and we had been training
too long people for professional work or Ph.D.'s in a particular
line without ever thinking about what we could do for those people
who wanted to do something else.[For instance], an English major
who wanted to know a little bit about biology, or an entomologist
who really has some interest or liking for Shakespeare. So general
education had been developing since the early thirties, maybe the
late twenties. It hit the University of Florida about 1936 and
the necessary administrative equipment was set up. The steering
committees, the sub-committees, the recommendations--all of this
to establish what was called a General College at that time at
The General College was headed by a steering committee made
up of Winston Little, A.P. Black in Chemistry, and Walter Matherly
in Economics and Business Administration--the so-called "Little,
Black, Matherly Committee." They were the steering committee;
they carved out the original structure of the General College at
the university. One of the six areas in which the committee
recommended that courses be developed was called C-6, the Biological
Sciences. The other science area was C-2, the Physical Sciences.
The humanities and non-sciences shared the other four, there were
only six areas. Little was made dean of the college, and the college
agreed that students for the first two years--freshmen and sophomores,
all--would have to take each of these six courses, not necessarily
in order, and that they could get out of them, from taking them,
by examination. Not very many students attempted the examinations,
particularly in the sciences. It wasn't that hard, but sciences
always scared students. Maybe still do, I don't know. But in any
case, the structure was set up as a General College; Little as
dean; six areas in the college equivalent to departments in an
upper division college such as Arts and Sciences or Education or
Law, etc. These six areas..we stayed away from terminology, or
traditional terminology, because we wanted to give a feel of some-
thing being done here, and we had to constantly remind ourselves
that it was new.
Well, C-6 was first headed by J. "Speed" Rogers and then later
by myself. It was for this new experience that Dr. Rogers, Dr.
Hubbell and I wrote the textbook because there was nothing like it.
It would cover what we thought, the three of us, people--all students--
should know about the biological sciences. Dean Little was a very
easy man to work with under certain circumstances. If you agreed
with him, well, he agreed with you. And this was not at all hard,
because his philosophy of general education and many of ours--cer-
tainly mine--was not at odds. I had the same general philosophy
that he did. Now sometimes the bitterest arguments arise between
two people who agree on the same fundamentals, so there were arguments.
There were arguments with Little and me, there were arguments
between some of us. It wasn't at all smooth, but Little, in a
very masterful way, saw that none of these reached a breaking
point, that you left his office feeling pretty good about it.
You may not have won, but you also had the feeling that he didn't
win either. And he was quite good at this. As an administrator, he
was good because he was not troublesome. Small things, details,
Winston would simply forget. He'd throw important papers in the
wastebasket--he couldn't be bothered with the minutiae of adminis-
tration. It just never occurred to him. So sooner or later, a
group of us decided we had to protect Winston Little from himself,
or, more particularly, against the students, because he was very,
very rude with students. If a student was an honest student, Little
felt, "Good, he's worth my time," and he could be of ample help.
If a student, on the other hand, was bluffing, Little would simply
throw him out. One time Little was driving from his lake home to
Gainesville. He had to cross a railroad track. A train hit his
car, and Little was taken to the hospital. The students sent
flowers--not to Little, but to the engineer of the train.
J: This is Tape 2, side 1 of an oral history interview with Dr.
Byers. And we were speaking about Dean Little, if you want to
continue, Dr. Byers.
B: Yes, I want to be sure that the tape does record my conviction
that the general education program at the University of Florida
would never have survived the various attacks that were made on it
if Dean Little had not been as adroit as he was in meeting the issues,
day to day, month by month. The attacks came from various places--
both within and outside the university. Though he would lose pat-
ience with students, while many faculty didn't particularly like
him, he was a really adroit person in identifying the core areas.
Not allowing himself to be distracted by tangential matters he
would lay a plan of operation to succeed. Now I think I may have
mentioned, maybe not, such a fundamental thing as the necessity
of the general education college, later called the University
College, being separate and independent from all other colleges on
the campus. The idea that it have its own budget, that it hire
its own faculty, and that the budget be large enough to supply
not only the material, but to give faculty salaries so that one
could select men as good as, if not better than, those in comparable
fields in other colleges were absolutely essential. And it was
because we could do this and did do it, that the University
College and general education were a success, or, I suppose, to
our enemies, a failure. But there it was. But as a failure it
certainly failed very progressively for at least twenty-five years
J: Was it in these years that the University of Florida more or less
got off the ground academically, or do you see it coming earlier
than this or a little bit later?
B: It was about this time, I suppose. The University of Florida under
Dr. Murphree, under Dr. Tigert, was very comfortable, a very nice
place. The issues were minor; nothing more important than the evo-
lution one, at least. People did not really stab each other in the
back. They cut throats now and again, but nothing that couldn't be
repaired rather easily. And J. Hillis Miller ran the college as a
first-rate state university. The university became nationally
known through the efforts of Dr. Miller. I think, of the various
presidents that we have had, that he certainly stands as a mountain
peak compared to the others. Not that the others were inefficient,
they weren't. Nor dislikeable, they weren't that either, but they
just didn't do the job that Miller did. Miller came to the University
of Florida from New York State where he had been assistant commis-
sioner of education for the State of New York. He had had very
broad contacts with higher education both in New York and prior
to that. He brought, as vice-president, John Allen. John Allen
was an astronomer at Colgate, where they were also involved in a
program of general education Miller supported general education
to the hilt, as did also, very obviously, his vice-president. It
was a happy time for us, becuase we were bucking no serious presi-
dential opposition. This was not always true, but for at least the
all too few years with Miller as president, this ideal was allowed
to grow and flourish.
J: Some other personalities perhaps we should mention in these years,
I believe Ralph Page was rather well known by yourself?
B: Yes, Dean Page was brought to the University of Florida by Dr. Miller
as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Page had known Miller,
or they'd known each other at Bucknell College in Pennsylvania.
Another man by the name of Henry Warfel was brought in here as
professor of English. Ralph Page, Harry Warfel, J. Hillis had all
been together at Bucknell University in eastern Pennsylvania. Now
Page was dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. He later had
two assistant deans. One, Stan Wimberly, as assistant dean of
undergraduates. Later I joined the college as assistant dean of
J: Was this about what...':51?
B: Yes, this was around '51, '52,'53. I remained assistant dean of the
college until about 1958. Wimberly stayed on, I think, for a couple
of more years, and then went to Florida Atlantic at Boca Raton to
work under the presidency of a man by the name of Williams. Stan
died there about two or three years ago.
J: This covers quite a long career up to now. We're into the fifties,
or actually the late fifties. Dr. Byers, in one of the works I
was glancing at that you had written some years ago, a work on the
Odonata of Florida, you mentioned in the dedication that it's dedi-
cated to the "type of naive pleasure found in a scientific study of
natural history." I thought that was an interesting comment. Has
it indeed been a pleasure for you? Do you think you've conveyed
this concept to students over the years--the importance, the pleasure
of natural history?
B: Certainly it was pleasurable for me. At the time that that book was
written, it was "naive pleasure", really. It was of more interest
than its contents because the book as a book is Volume 1, Number
1 of the Florida Press, and represented the initiation of the Florida
J: What year are we talking about here?
B: We're talking about the 1929 period.
B: The book, I think, carries the date 1930, but it was written in
'29 and '30. And because it was a new venture, I did everything.
[I was] not only the author, but the editor. I even worked with
the printing company, which I still remember. It was the Record
Printing Company in St. Augustine, Florida. And they were very
sorry that they had ever taken over the assignment because of
technical, what they considered technical, language in the book.
It is, however, as far as Odonata is concerned, fundamental.
There are very few works in natural history dealing with the
Odonata in Florida, or in the United States, or North America,
that can be written without that title appearing in the biblio-
graphy. It did have somewhat of an impact; and at the present
time the work that that initiated is being carried on by Dr.
Westfall, professor of biology, or zoology now, I guess, at the
University of Florida. He was a student of entomology at Rollins
College. He went to Cornell, worked under Needham. I knew him and
brought him to the University of Florida to continue work on
the Odonata after I got bogged down in administration to a point
where I knew that I would never be able to do a good job myself.
J: That's a good point. What place along in here in your career do
you see administration taking over from research?
B: About 1950. Between '50 and '53.
J: When you became the acting dean of the Graduate School, I guess.
B: Yes. One of the questions people have asked me over the years is
how one becomes a dean. I have no secret formula, except I know
one thing. If you want to become well known in the academic com-
munity of which you are a part, you seek important assingments,
and if possible chairmanships, of important committees. If you
can bring off one or two or three successful committee assignments,
you become well enough known that if you are appointed dean it
does not come as a shock, at least not too much of a shock, to
your colleagues. Prior to the fifties, I'd been involved in both
college and university committees of one kind or another, some
of them important, some of them not. But enough were important
so that I could work myself up in administration, and bit by bit
this was taking more and more time. I was finally reduced to ad-
ministering and teaching. Research stopped for me in the early
J: I see.
B: As far as imparting "naive pleasure", or pleasure at all, in natural
history to students, of course, yes and no. Some students, yes.
Drs. Rogers and Hubbell and I turned out some very good ones. Some
of them are still here--Archie Carr, for example, or Lewis Berner,
or Coly Gowin. Also, H.K. Wallace, who later became head of the
Department of Zoology. These men, Carr, Berger, Wallace, Gowin
and others were all interested basically in natural history, and I
think that their liking for it came from people like Dr. Rogers,
Dr. Hubbell, and perhaps myself.
J: I see. And speaking of biological science, particularly in the
University College level, with the impact of science nowadays,
do you see any changes coming about in the near future as far as
the way the curricula is set up, or do you think for the time being
it's probably as best as it can be?
B: Looking at the University of Florida now, after having been away
from it as long as I have (I left the university officially in
1958) I see the greatest problem--and this is purely my point of
view--is the unconscionable size of the place. It is really
completely overburdening, if not awe-inspiring, at least something
that gives you the feeling that you're glad you're not part of it.
There are just too many students. And many of the changes that
I've seen between '58, and which I sense now, have been in response
to the increased number of students and the complication that that
is bound to create. I'm almost certain that if education, higher
education, with lasting values to the student; the things that he
will remember, not the facts he will put on the exam, but how
it changes and remolds his life--if that is going to take place,
it is not going to happen in a university of twenty-four to
twenty-five thousand students or more. It can't happen. People
have simply got to face the fact that the University of Florida
in Gainesville on one campus with a student enrollment of better
than 20,000 is a completely unmanageable and completely unsatis-
factory situation when it comes to what some of us oldtimers, I
guess, were taught and concerned--the lasting values of higher
education. Certainly the equipment is here; certainly the faculty
is here; and certainly, beyond any doubts, the students are here,
but you can't make a viable mixture. It just won't work.
J: You'd like to see a set-up perhaps like in California? Like a
University of Florida at Orlando, University of Florida at Boca
Raton, that type of situation? All about the size of Rollins
B : Yes, if it could be managed on a state level. I think that one
of the difficulties that always comes is the increased complication
of administrative duties. You have too many administrators. And
even the California Plan, which I think is much better than the
Florida one, is far from perfect because of the increased number
of administrators and the lack of any concentration at the head
free from politics. Politics comes into this because you cannot
have a university,or any political instrument,taking as large a
portion of the budget, as the University of Florida does, or the
University of California at Berkeley or at Davis does, and not
have it involved in politics. This would be an idle dream. So
if you want to call it the University of Florida at Orlando, in-
stead of FTU, or the University of Florida at Tampa, instead
of the University of South Florida, the names would help. To
increase the number of separate geographic entities under what
name you call it would be helpful; provided that no attempt is
made to coordinate these under one head in Tallahassee, which
would become so politically important.
I'm not one of these people who think politics is bad.
I don't. I think politics is good. But I think that politics
has to be reckoned with in terms of other things which I think are
good, which is the imparting of what I would consider a satis-
factory education on the higher level to mature students. So I
see little change in the University of Florida. It's still
facing the same problems. It hasn't done any better, and I don't
think it's gotten any worse than it did when I was here except
for the very hard nut to crack of increased student enrollment,
which has not been good. It can't be good. The university is
responsible to the people of the State of Florida to supply higher
education. So are the other universities under the Board. But
there should be another way of doing it. To put 20,000 students
together geographically is an impossible dream. It has not been
done anywhere with success.
J: And still retain, as you say, the oldtimers attitude of education
being an education for life besides say, strictly...
B: The students complain. They do it in another way because they
don't quite know what they want. What students say is, "We want
individual attention." They don't want individual attention.
What they want is to have an educational program, an educational
experience, which is meaningful to them. I don't think that they
would care too much whether a professor remembered their name.
Some of them would be thankful if he didn't. And they don't want
the personal sort of thing in the sense that, "You take my course
and I'll give you an 'A'." That kind of thing. No. What they
do want is the feeling that they are part of the on-going educational
process and it is going to do something to them. Change them; they
don't know how. Many of them do, of course, but many of them don't.
Just as the minister I mentioned to you.
B: He took my course; I changed his whole life. You could say, "Well,
you could do this if he were one of a thousand rather than one of
a hundred." I doubt it, really.
J: What about a comparison of, say, Rollins College students compared
to your University of Florida students. Of course, Rollins is
much smaller, and the classes, of course, much smaller. Did you
notice any obvious changes in attitudes of students or...
B: I'd be a very poor one to answer that question in relation to Rollins,
as I had one of the single largest classes there. It was a general
lecture class ,in science for non-science majors. And it was running
about 350-400 enrollment...
J: Oh, I see.
B: ...a year. The course was broken down, we did have a laboratory and
discussion groups, and I had individual contact with them. So I
think that, because it was a smaller student group at Rollins, or
Elmira, or Rippon (Wisconsin), I did know them better. And I
think that as far as imparting the values of a liberal education
(I don't mean "liberal education" in the sense of far left politic-
ally) Rollins is probably doing a better job now than the University
of Florida is now. Not nearly as good a job as the University of
Florida did in, let's say the...
J: For the same enrollment.
B: For the same enrollment, yes. In the thirties, forties, and
B: The early forties were not good because of the World War II, but...
not good for comparison. Probably the best college, this is one of
the small ones I was at, was Elmira College in New York. It was
a college for women only then. It's now co-educational. But in
these small colleges the only drawback, and the colleges attempt
to overcome this, is the amount of money a student or his family
has to have to make a go of it.
J: I see.
B: It is expensive.
B: And the college tries to offset it by scholarships, and usually
J: I noticed Rollins is very good with its scholarships.
B: Yes. Almost all these places are.
B: On reading the transcript of this interview, I am impressed with
how many words that it has taken to say so very little; how un-
structured and how repetitious it is. But, I suppose that taped
and transcribed material, unless carefully outlined to begin with,
may have this condition as a kind of built-in defect. It is a very
difficult procedure at best, and may not be worth the time consumed.
I am speaking, for the most part, of experiences, ideas and re-
actions of a personal nature endured and at times enjoyed at the Univer-
sity of Florida between 1927 and 1958, and more or less limited to
three of its colleges: University College, Arts and Sciences, and
the Graduate School. I have completely omitted the saga of the
J. Hillis Miller Medical Center and my somewhat sorry part in
bringing it to Gainesville, and helping through committees to
establish its curriculum and collect its original faculty. I
have barely mentioned the Colleges of Agriculture, and Education,
and Business Administration; and have completely omitted the
Colleges of Law and Physical Education. At one time or another,
in one way or another, I had experiences with all of these (chiefly
as acting dean of the Graduate School). But my major input
and more vivid memories are connected with Arts and Sciences and
the then-called Department of Biology (Zoology now). People were
always more important to me than the events that they produced,
tried to cure or made worse; this record is full of such names:
presidents, deans, department heads or just people--faculty and
I retired from the University of Florida at the end of
1958, after which I was associated with the B.S.C.S. development
at the University of Colorado, taught biology at the University
of Idaho, went to Elmira College (New York) for eight years as
a biologist, dean of the faculty, and for a short time, acting
president. In 1968 I taught at Rippon College in Wisconsin, and
for three more years at Rollins College at Winter Park in Florida.
I finally retired in August of 1972 and returned to Gainesville
(not the University of Florida). About one year later I consented
to this somewhat haphazard interview.
Some has been said, much unsaid. It is difficult to make
one's way through the mind of another person. The impossible