Chamberlain | Charles Joseph | 1863-1943 | American botanist

Biographical Information

Occupation, Sphere of Activity

Charles Joseph Chamberlain, born 23 February 1863 and died 5 January 1943, is known for bringing zoological techniques to bear on plant study, microscopic studies of the tissue and the cell in particular. He systematized the biology and developmental morphology of the angiosperms and gymnosperms. His specialty was the cycad, a fern-like survivor of the Permian era. He learned botany at Oberlin College in Ohio, moved on to graduate study there while part-timing in public schools, then landed at the University of Chicago, where he earned the botany department's first-ever doctorate. There he stayed for half a century, teaching, publishing, and directing the university's labs, leaving only periodically for research trips. He went to Bonn in 1901-1902, then into the wilds, like a true paleobotanist, to see cycads in their natural surroundings: Mexico in 1904, 1906, 1908, and 1910; Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa in 1911-1912; and two subsequent trips to Cuba. Along the way, he also managed to record zoological and even cultural features of the countries through which he passed.

The cytology and histology he had learned at Oberlin turned out to be an inspired way of establishing the ancient lineages of living cycads. His tireless fieldwork made the University of Chicago's garden of specimens the best in the world, representing all the genera and half the known species. A monograph on the complete morphology and phylogeny of the once mysterious cycads was nearly done when he died, a mighty concluding statement to all his numerous seminal studies.


AA Wright was the Oberlin polymath who taught Chamberlain his botany; he taught geology and zoology as well, and is probably responsible for his famous pupil's notion of wedding two of these disciplines. Eduard Strasburger was Chamberlain's research mentor in Bonn.

Young Charles Joseph was the son of Esdell W. and Mary Spencer Chamberlain. Chamberlain the college graduate married Martha E. Life in 1888, and the couple had one daughter. Mrs Charles Joseph Chamberlain died in 1931. Dr Chamberlain the widower married Martha Stanley Lathrop in 1938.

Other Significant Information

Notable publication:

Morphology of Spermatophytes , ( 1901)

Morphology of Angiosperms , (1903)

Morphology of Gymnosperms , (1910)

Methods in Plant Histology , (1901-1932)

The Living Cycad , (1919)

Elements of Plant Science , (1930)

Gymnosperms: Structure and Evolution , ( 1935)

Honours, Qualifications and Appointments

1888: Awarded bachelor's degree, Oberlin College, Ohio

1894: Awarded master's degree, Oberlin College

1897: Awarded doctorate, University of Chicago

1902: Appointed american editor for cytology of the Botanisches Zentralblatt

1915: Appointed Professor of Morphology and Cytology at Chicago

1923: Awarded honorary doctorate by Oberlin College

1923: Served as vice-president and chairman of the botanical section of the American Association for the Advancement of Science

1929: Elected Professor Emeritus at Chicago

1931-2: Served as president of the Botanical Society of America


List of sources for the biographical information:

Gillespie, CC, ed, Dictionary of Scientific Biography, (New York, Scribner's, 1970-1990), s.v. "Chamberlain, Charles Joseph" by Gloria Robinson