Professor of Biology
October 3, 1992
Elon Howard Eaton was born in Springville, New York, on October 8, 1868. He spent his early years there enjoying the outdoors, which was the basis for his life’s work. He was graduated with an A.B. degree from the University of Rochester in 1890, having been elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and received the M.A. degree in 1893. While still an undergraduate, he was an instructor in science at the Canandaigua Union School, where he returned after graduation as vice-principal and science instructor until 1895. From then until 1907, he was Master of Science at the Bradstreet School in Rochester. During this time he was working on his first book, Birds of Western New York, which was published in 1901.
Professor Eaton came to the Colleges at the time of the founding of William Smith College in 1908 and taught for 26 years. He established and was head of the biology department, teaching classes in biology, ornithology, and hygiene, among others.
From 1908 to 1914, he was state ornithologist for the New York State Museum and acted as curator. He was selected to write Birds of New York (Vol. I, 1910; Vol. II, 1914). This monumental treatise was the first complete study of birds of northeastern North America and still is considered the standard authority on the topic.
In addition to his teaching and research, he served on the Geneva Board of Health from 1907 to 1916, and also was its president.
Much of Professor Eaton’s time was spent in original research in ornithology, ecology, genetics, migration, and conservation. He presented papers on his investigations before the American Ornithologist Union. In 1927 he was selected to head the biological survey of the Finger Lakes. His prodigious efforts set a standard for work of this sort, being recognized as the most complete investigation of its kind ever conducted. A short time later, he was appointed to the advisory council of the New York Conservation Department and helped formulate policy for the department.
Accolades of Professor Eaton include two honorary degrees from the University of Rochester, an M.Sc. in 1911 and Sc.D. in 1925; naming of the Hobart and William Smith Colleges science building in his honor in 1961; and establishment of the Elon Howard Eaton Scholarship Fund in 1981. Hobart students twice dedicated their yearbook, The Echo, to him.
Students and associates remember him as “Bug.” He was a notable scientist, a true sportsman, and a great teacher. He was a most lovable personality, a valued friend to many, and a constant source of inspiration.
Professor Eaton died at home in Geneva on March 27, 1934.