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Identifier: MC 692

Julius Nelson Papers


  • Majority of material found in 1876-1920, 1890-1915)

Scope and Content Note

The Julius Nelson papers span the period 1876 to 1920, with a concentration from 1890 to 1915, and comprise two cubic feet of documents. The papers represent Nelson's work as a biology professor, his speeches and lectures, his day-to-day activities and concerns, and his research and writings. To a lesser extent, they provide insight into his personal and family life, together with a sense of his values and beliefs.

Although Nelson's chief area of expertise was oysters, the papers do not include much oyster experiment documentation or research material. The RESEARCH NOTES AND SKETCHES contain some loose notes and sketches from oyster experiments in 1903, two small notebooks documenting oyster work in 1908 and a notebook of 1910 with "freshening oysters" research. Thus, much significant primary material beginning in 1888 is absent from the collection.

The majority of the oyster culture material present is actually in the form of WRITINGS AND SPEECHES, which convey much factual information and exhibit the results of long-term research. Many of these items represent lectures given to groups with a commercial interest in oysters and shellfish, such as the Oyster Growers and Dealers Association of North America and the National Association of Shellfish Commissioners. They primarily describe studies being conducted in New Jersey, as well as the oyster's nutritional value and specific aspects of its development and life cycle.

One can trace the progress of Julius Nelson's work and interests through the WRITINGS AND SPEECHES that are dated (approximately half). Three lists of publications detail many of his published writings, not all of which are represented in the collection. The topics of his writings and speeches range from the oyster studies already noted to heredity, parasitism, bovine tuberculosis, sex hygiene and general biology subjects.

In addition to materials treating biological topics, the WRITINGS AND SPEECHES include quite a few speeches which document particular views and values from the turn of the twentieth century. Notable topics include 1) "A half-century of Darwinism," which reports on Darwinian theories and declares "no essential disharmony between Darwinism and the gospels" exists, and 2) "The relation of biology to theology," which outlines a "close, and sympathetic relation" between the two fields. Nelson was a devoutly religious man as well as a dedicated scientist; the meshing together of these aspects of his life in his writings provides much interesting material for the historian of cultural or intellectual history.

Nelson believed firmly in the teaching of sex education and proper sex hygiene and used the newspaper to air his views, as documented in his PRESS CLIPPINGS and professional CORRESPONDENCE. His speech of 1911, "Sex and health," is an extremely interesting combination of nineteenth century morality and scientific belief; the talk was delivered before the biological club at Rutgers and shows the progress of the study of sexual behavior during this period.

The Nelson papers contain a wealth of documentation pertaining to the study of biology at Rutgers College, 1888-1915, in the RUTGERS COLLEGE COURSE NOTES, comprised of twenty notebooks and additional loose papers in the form of lecture notes, laboratory manuals and quiz topics. The courses represented include biology, practical bacteriology, physiology, hygiene, sanitary science, botany and veterinary science.

A significant feature of the Julius Nelson papers is the CORRESPONDENCE, particularly the large quantity of drafts of letters that Nelson wrote from 1890 to 1899, mostly in a professional capacity, on New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station stationery. Nelson was a conscientious citizen in the sense that he frequently wrote to newspapers to educate the public about health matters (see also PRESS CLIPPINGS). In his letters, he also exchanged ideas with fellow scientists and dispensed information and advice (such as to shellfish or oyster growers). Many other letters pertain to the operation of the Agricultural Experiment Station, such as the ordering of supplies. In addition, the researcher can find much information in the letters Nelson wrote on the college-level study of biology, biological research and health concerns, information which supplements that found in the RUTGERS COLLEGE COURSE NOTES.

The DIARIES AND JOURNALS in the collection span about twenty years, from 1895 to 1915, with gaps. The entries in them are not extensive, but note day-to-day activities. Much of the information pertains to Nelson's research, including oyster experiments in Barnegat, New Jersey.

The file of PRESS CLIPPINGS is not large, considering the extent of Nelson's letters to the editor and the general acclaim he received. The clippings, which have been photocopied onto acid-free paper, include personal notices about Nelson and his family, reports on papers he presented (many to the New Brunswick-based New Jersey State Microscopical Society), his letters to the editor and general reports on his biological findings.

While a researcher can ascertain the wide breadth of Nelson's interests, as well as his moral beliefs and values, from his writings and letters, the collection does not contain many papers that provide insight into his personal life. The small BIOGRAPHICAL FILE primarily focuses on his professional activities. The CORRESPONDENCE lacks many personal letters received; for example, although Nelson evidently corresponded with his father and brother in Wisconsin, only a small portion of their letters survive in this collection. Nor is much reference made to Nelson's spouse and children throughout the collection, except for brief mentions in his DIARIES AND JOURNALS. The few PHOTOGRAPHS present, which apparently pertain in part to the family, are mostly unidentified. The several items of PERSONAL AND FAMILY MISCELLANY are similarly not very informative with regard to Nelson's personal activities.


2 cubic feet (5 manuscript boxes)

Language of Materials


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The Julius Nelson papers span the period 1876 to 1920, with a concentration from 1890 to 1915, and comprise two cubic feet of documents. The papers represent Nelson's work as a biology professor, his speeches and lectures, his day-to-day activities and concerns, and his research and writings. To a lesser extent, they provide insight into his personal and family life, together with a sense of his values and beliefs.

<emph render="bold">Biographical Sketch</emph>

Julius Nelson served as biologist of the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station and professor of biology at Rutgers College (now Rutgers University) from 1888 until his death in 1916. Nelson achieved great distinction as a biologist, particularly as an authority on the oyster, and served as State Biologist of New Jersey. In addition to his exhaustive work at Rutgers, Nelson was also actively involved with college and student affairs, New Brunswick's Second Reformed Church and community affairs in Highland Park, New Jersey, where he resided. He also served as a scientific advisor for several organizations.

Born in Copenhagen, Denmark, on March 6, 1858, Nelson came to the United States in 1863 with his parents, Christian and Julia (Jörgensen) Nelson, and his brother Thorwald. The family settled on a farm in a Wisconsin community where everyone spoke Danish. Nelson learned English upon attending public school, from which he was graduated in 1876. He was graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1881 and received an M.S. degree from that institution in 1884. He was a Fellow in Biology, 1886-1888, at Johns Hopkins University, from which he received his Ph.D. in 1888. He married Nellie Cynthia Chase (who held B.L. and M.L. degrees from Wisconsin) in Madison, Wisconsin, on August 9, 1888.

Nelson came to Rutgers in 1888 after the New Jersey legislature enacted a law that year providing funds for the study of oyster culture by the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station. He conducted an extensive study of the oyster for over twenty years, as well as studies on bovine tuberculosis and dairy bacteriology. A favorite retreat for Nelson was Barnegat, New Jersey, where he conducted many of his oyster experiments. He devoted much of his earliest years at the Agricultural Experiment Station to revising a catalog of the vertebrates of New Jersey which was published in 1890 as part of a larger work.

Nelson published and lectured extensively on his research throughout his career. His writings exhibit a very broad training, from his main area of oyster study, to sanitary science, to sex hygiene. As a graduate student, he devoted much of his study to cytology and heredity and published on these topics in American Naturalist and the American Journal of Psychology. His contributions to the published annual reports and bulletins of the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station dealt with diagnosis and prevention of bovine tuberculosis and abortion, egg production of fowls, oyster culture, lactic fermentation and rural disposal of sewage to prevent intestinal parasitic diseases. He also contributed extensively to Chandler's Encyclopedia, the Cyclopedia of American Agriculture and many scientific journals. Unfortunately, his nearly completed manuscript for a book on biology was destroyed by a fire in Rutgers' New Jersey Hall in 1903.

In addition to Rutgers College and the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, the state of New Jersey and private organizations benefited from Nelson's expertise. From 1894-1895, he was biologist of the New Jersey State Tuberculosis Commission. In 1901 he became the State Biologist in connection with dairy bacteriology under a special act of the New Jersey legislature which was renewed in 1907. In 1910-1911 he worked as vice-president and consulting advisor of the Lederle Laboratories of New York City. During 1911-1915, he cooperated with the chief of the Bureau of Shellfisheries of New Jersey. During the summer of 1914, Nelson lectured by invitation of the Canadian government's Commission of Conservation on oyster culture in Prince Edward Island; he conducted a survey of oyster-bearing zones there the following summer. He also spent a summer at the Biological Laboratory of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, a summer at the Beaufort Laboratory in Beaufort, North Carolina, and a summer at the Maritime Laboratory of the Bahama Islands.

In addition to participating in the aforementioned activities, Nelson was a member of the National Association of Shell Fish Commissioners, the Nature Study Society, the New Jersey State Science Teachers Association and Phi Beta Kappa.

Nelson also sustained great interest in educational matters and often lectured on curriculum issues in education and on sex education. In addition to serving three terms on the Highland Park school board, he prepared syllabi for high school biology and for college zoology. The pre-med course of study at Rutgers College which he devised won wide acclaim and helped place many Rutgers graduates into medical school.

Nelson rarely took vacations from his work, and his papers contain references to his bad health from working too hard. He did, however, enjoy music. While his work occupied much of his time, he was devoted to his family. With his wife, he raised six children, Samuel Maximilian (Max), Thurlow, Theodora, Ingrid, Marguerite and Julius Richards Nelson. He remained close to his father, Christian Nelson, and translated a pamphlet he wrote from the Danish. In 1916 Nelson contracted pneumonia and died on February 15th after being ill for a week.

Related Materials

The repository also holds the papers of Julius Nelson's son Thurlow, which may contain related materials, as the younger Nelson (1890-1960) was also a biology professor at Rutgers who conducted research on oysters.

Inventory to the Julius Nelson Papers
Edited Full Draft
Elizabeth W. Brown
July 2012
Language of description note
Finding aid is written in English.
Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University received an operating support grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, a division of the Department of State.