A Brief History of the Kansas Academy of Science

Lawrence H. Skelton

Kansas Geological Survey, Lawrence, Kansas 66047

This article was published in the Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science,
Vol. 101, no. 3/4, p. 140-145 (1998).

The Kansas Academy of Science was organized as the Kansas Natural History Society at Lincoln College (now Washburn University) in Topeka on September 1, 1868. At the fourth annual meeting, in 1871, the name was changed to its present form, the Kansas Academy of Science (Transactions, 27, 30). The founding date establishes the Academy as probably the second oldest such state institute in the country, being junior only to a similar institution in Connecticut. The first dozen or so annual reports of the Academy were contained in the annual report of the Board of Agriculture since from 1873, the Kansas Academy had been "by law, a coordinate department of the State Board of Agriculture" (Transactions, 20, 10 - 11). In 1920, the Academy formally affiliated with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (Transactions, 30, 25).

From its beginning, the Academy, in accordance with the legislation subordinating it to the Agriculture Board, assembled a publicly available science library which collected scientific volumes from throughout the nation and world. By 1911, the library contained over 6000 bound volumes, most of which had been bound by the State Printing Office. The Printing Office also printed and distributed the Academy's annual Transactions. The library originally was stored in the Academy's offices in the Capitol Building until 1915 when it was moved to the new Memorial Building to be archived with the library of the Kansas Historical Society. That arrangement failed to work. By 1922, legislation required the KAS library to be located at the University of Kansas (Transactions, 31, 20) where it was stored in Fraser Hall. on the K.U. campus. About that time, Chancellor Ernest H. Lindley notified the Academy president, E. A. White, that the library would be moved to moved to the new Watson Library where it would be shelved as a separate collection but would be available to everyone. In an effort to raise money for an endowment fund, the Academy, in 1930, disposed of the library to the libraries of Kansas State University, the University of Kansas and (then) Fort Hays State College for $5000.

Kansas' scientists and educators, men such as Francis H. Snow, Benjamin F. Mudge, John D. Parker, James H. Carruth and Joseph Savage collected geological and biological specimens from the Great Plains and elsewhere from the beginning days of the Academy (Transactions, 22, 11). For some years, the collections were stored in the quarters of the secretary of the State Board of Agriculture. During that period, the Kansas exhibition displayed at the U. S. Centennial in Philadelphia was obtained for the Academy as was the state's exhibit at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition at Saint Louis in 1904 (Transactions, 22, 11). Kansas' mineral resources formed an important part of that display. By early 1913, the museum had been moved from the basement of the Capitol Building to the north corridor of the fourth floor (Figure 1). It remained there until the move to the Memorial Building in 1915. Academy minutes of the January, 1916, meeting reported that, "The museum was boxed and moved also, the work being let to the lowest bidder without regard to competency. The resultant damage to the collections was so serious that it is doubtful that they can ever be put into useable condition again...their loss would be deplorable" (Transactions, 28, 16). In 1917, the remaining mineral samples were sent to the university "to be used in the ore-dressing department" (Transactions, 28, 24). Efforts to re-constitute a museum were unsuccessful. About 1920 or so, the museum's display cases were loaned to the K. U. Art Department for a display and were not returned, apparently being scattered throughout the campus.

Figure 1. Kansas Academy of Science museum circa 1905, looking west on 4th floor north corridor of Capitol Building (from KAS Transactions, v. 20, pt. 1, p. 40).

Beginning in 1914, the Academy had encountered problems having its library volumes bound by the state printer and had a backlog of 500 volumes. Apparently smarting from its unsuccessful coordination of its library with the Historical Society and the loss of the museum, the annual meeting of the Academy in 1917 passed a motion to appoint a committee "to confer with the governor on the future of the Academy" (Transactions, 28, 26). Subsequent minutes do not report of a meeting taking place but events show that something happened. The April, 1919, minutes report, "A bill to abolish the Academy was killed when introduced into the Senate and the House" (Transactions, 30, 20). No issues of the Transactions were printed for three years until the State Printing Office issued a single volume (volume 30) for the years 1919, 1920 and 1921. The 1922 minutes report that "The last legislature failed to appropriate any money for the Academy" (Transactions, 31, 19). The minutes of the 55th Annual Meeting in February, 1923, reported that " Volume 31 [Transactions] was prepared as far as possible for the State Printer but investigation showed that the laws relating to the Academy had been repealed" (Transactions, 31, 24).

After 1921, no issues of the Transactions were printed until 1928. The officers feared that without its published papers, the Academy would lose its reputation in the scientific community and decided to publish the Transactions itself. With exception of some of the 1930's Depression years when the State Printing Office again published the Transactions, the Academy has since continued to publish its journal with its own resources, a practice that may have had some bearing on the 1930 sale of its library. The re-involvement of the State Printer during the 1930's was mutually beneficial. During at least one of the years, efforts by Academy members lobbying the legislature were successful in obtaining funding to operate the printing office which otherwise would have been unfunded. During World War II, the Academy continued publishing the Transactions at its own expense and in 1944, changed it to a quarterly format with the purpose, re-stated from its 1868 charter, of "increasing and diffusing knowledge" (Transactions, 47, 7). Presently, the Transactions are published twice each year although they are still referred to as quarterly.

Whatever the caused the apparent schism between the Academy and the State through the 1920's must have been mended by the 1930's since not only did the State Printer resume publishing the Transactions but also and equally important to the scientists, the Kansas Legislature initiated an annual appropriation. The state universities paid for their purchase of the library over a ten year period and beginning about 1933, the Legislature appropriated an annual $300.00 to the Academy. That continued as an annual appropriation through 1944 when minutes indicate that $600.00 per year was "now received from the state" (Transactions, 47, 285). By 1947, the annual appropriation was a sum of $1250.00, an amount continued through 1955, when it was increased to $3000.00. In 1957, the minutes of the annual meeting record a resolution of appreciation to the state legislature for its continued support and report the reading of a letter from Governor Docking regarding the need to operate with both proper economic measures and frugality. The Academy editor commented in the Fall, 1959 Transactions (62, 217) that the governor had vetoed that year's appropriation and wrote regarding the developments which had ended with the gubernatorial veto of the annual $3000.00 appropriation. The veto was caused by financial irregularities possibly within the Academy grant officer's milieu. During the 1959 meeting, a motion was approved requiring the president and grant officer to hold and handle grant funds and both to sign for any Transactions. Additionally, the question of bonding officers was re-addressed, having first been suggested in the early 1930's. (The Academy treasurer now is required to be bonded and other appropriate measures have been instituted during the past forty years.)

Membership in the Academy has fluctuated during time (Figure 2). Major growth occurred during and after World Wars One and Two. Those increases probably represent increased scientific research emphasis during war periods and a large influx of post-war students into the universities. Membership declined from 252 in 1925 to a low of 176 in 1930. A rebound to 344 during 1935 and 574 in 1940 may represent an influx of federal funds to science during Depression era economic pump priming. The downward membership trend since 1965 may represent both, increased specialization and parochialism and a reluctance of incoming students to major in the sciences because of perceptions of difficulty and inadequate preparation during their secondary education.

Figure 2. Kansas Academy of Science membership (numbers of members) plotted by 5-year totals.

Since the late 1950's, the Academy has continued to publish the Transactions and to conduct annual meetings and multi-discipline field trips. The Academy has continued to sponsor annual cash awards for the best scientific papers presented by undergraduate, masters and Ph.D. students at its annual meetings. Annual meetings continue to rotate among Kansas' publicly and privately funded colleges and universities as they have done for 130 years. Each annual meeting presents a plenary speaker who ordinarily is a world-recognized expert in his or her particular discipline. The speakers not only address academy members but also normally make a free public address of interest to the general community. Speakers during the past decade include: Dr. Robert Bakker, the "dinosaur expert"; Dr. Robert Ballard, deep-sea explorer and discoverer of the Titanic; Dr. Cynthia Friend, an internationally known researcher of chemical catalysis; Dr. Steven Hawley, N.A.S.A. astronaut and Dr. Jane Goodall, founder of the Gombe Stream Research Center and renown researcher on chimpanzee behavior. Doctors Ballard and Hawley, incidentally, are native Kansans.

The Academy occasionally sponsors special symposia in conjunction with its annual meetings. In recent years, these have included: Swedish Contributions to Science, conducted at Bethany College at Lindsborg; a Symposium on Geospatial Analysis in the Great Plains held at Emporia State University, Symposium on Natural Areas of Kansas, Their Management and Relevance to Education and Research presented at Wichita State University, Natural History and Development of the TransMississippi Region presented during a joint meeting with the Missouri Academy of Science in Kansas City.

In 1989, the Academy initiated a Distinguished Lecture Series to furnish guest speakers at no cost to schools, colleges, universities and other organizations in Kansas. Three speakers, each offering two or more topics, are available each year. The speakers, who are faculty members at Kansas' universities, are nationally or internationally recognized in their areas of expertise. In recent years, speakers have included: Dr. Ramesh Agarwal, Bloomfield Distinguished Professor and Executive Director, National Institute for Aviation Research at Wichita State University; Dr. Terry C. Johnson, University Distinguished Professor of Biology, Director, Center for Basic Cancer Research and Chief Scientist, BioServe Space Technologies, all at Kansas State University; Dr. Mary Hubbard, Associate Professor of Geology, Kansas State University and Dr. Craig C. Freeman, Curator of the R. L. McGregor Herbarium at the University of Kansas.

The Kansas Academy of Science most recently conducted its 130th annual meeting. It was held at Kansas Newman College in Wichita in April 1998. The Transactions continue to be published and over the years have included topics from A to Z...Algae in Kansas Reservoirs to Zinc Content in Kansas Grown Alfalfa among them. More than 3500 papers representing work of over 3800 researchers have been published in the Transactions. Many of the papers represent original research by student scientists who continued their endeavors and became nationally or internationally known. Others are by authors who had already achieved that status. The Kansas Academy provides mutual support on a non-competitive meeting ground for these extremes of scientific experience. The Academy has been and will continue to be a Kansas asset.


Address of the Retiring President 1914. Trans. Kans. Acad. Sci. 27:30-40.

Minutes, 41st Annual Meeting. 1909. Trans. Kans. Acad. Sci. 22:7-16.

Minutes of the 48th Annual Meting. 1918. Trans. Kans. Acad. Sci. 28:16 - 22.

Minutes, 49th Annual Meeting. 1918. Trans. Kans. Acad. Sci. 28: 23 - 26.

Minutes of the 51st Annual Meeting. 1919. Trans. Kans. Acad. Sci. 30, pt. 1: 18 - 21.

Minutes of the 54th Annual Meeting. 1923. Trans. Kans. Acad. Sci. 31: 23 - 24.

Minutes and Reports of the 76th Annual Meeting. 1944. Trans. Kans. Acad. Sci. 47, no. 2: 284 - 287.

Minutes and Reports of the 91st Annual Meeting. 1959. Trans. Kans. Acad. Sci. 62, no. 3, 216 - 219.

Secretary's Report. 1907. Trans. Kans. Acad. Sci. 20, pt.1: 10 - 12.

Secretary's Report. 1920. Trans. Kans. Acad. Sci. 30, pt.1: 23 - 25.

Secretary's Report. 1922. Trans. Kans. Acad. Sci. 31: 18 - 19.

Taft, R. 1944. The Editor's Page. Trans. Kans. Acad. Sci. 62, no. 3: 216 - 219.

Treasurer's Report, 54th Annual Meeting. 1922. Trans. Kans. Acad. Sci. 31: 19 - 20.