William Louis Jones ("Old Ichthy"),
second Professor of Geology at the University of Georgia

        William Louis Jones was the second person to serve as Professor of Geology at the University of Georgia.  He in fact came and went from the University a number of times, so that his service enveloped in time that of Joseph LeConte, who is considered the University's third Professor of Geology, and the appointment of James Woodrow, who would have been its fourth had he ever arrived on campus.

Origins and early education

        William Louis Jones was born in Liberty County, Georgia, in 1827 and was the son of William Jones and Mary Robarts.  His father was a well-to-do planter whose father Samuel Jones II "gained so much land that he founded the summer retreat of Jonesville, Georgia, providing lots on which his children and neighbors could build gracious homes on high ground safely removed about four miles west of their swampy plantations" (MacKethan, p. xi ).  The children of WIlliam and Mary Jones, including young "Louis", "were spared no luxury or advantage" as they grew up (MacKethan, p. xii ).

        The family lived in the same county as, but were "not related by blood" to, the family of Charles Colcock Jones, father of the Joseph Jones who would also be a Professor of Chemistry and Geology at the University of Georgia (MacKethan, p. xi ).  William Louis Jones was, however, a cousin of Joseph LeConte (Reed, Chapter IV, p. 357/403), another young man from Liberty County, Georgia, who would become a Professor of Geology at the University.  Lester B. Stephens's biography of Joseph LeConte explains that they were half first cousins, in that "Louis, as he was known to Joseph and other close acquaintances, was the son of William Jones, who was married to a half-sister of Joseph's mother."  One has to suspect that, with regard to his middle name, William Louis Jones was named after his uncle-by-marriage, Louis LeConte, who was Joseph LeConte's father.  Joseph LeConte's consistent reference to his cousin as "Lewis" seemingly tells us that William Louis Jones's middle name was pronounced in the English, rather than French, style.

        William Louis Jones enrolled in the University of Georgia in 1842 at the age of 15 and graduated first in his class with a Bachelor of Arts in 1845.  Among his teachers at the University would have been James Wayne Delton Jackson, the University's first professor of geology.  Jones attended the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York (an institution that later became the Columbia University Medical School), where he earned an M.D. degree in 1848.

William Louis Jones, Joseph LeConte, and Louis Agassiz

        In 1850, William Louis Jones went to Harvard with his cousin Joseph LeConte to study under Louis Agassiz.  In his autobiography, LeConte reports that "in the spring of 1850, my cousin Lewis Jones . . . told me of his purpose of becoming a pupil of Agassiz, who had been made professor of geology and zoology at Harvard.  I heartily joined in his plan, our object being special preparation for the teaching of these subjects (Armes, p. 126).  From his side, Jones told much the same story in his 1902 memorial of Joseph LeConte, where he related that LeConte "practiced medicine until 1850, when at the solicitation of a friend he accompanied him to Cambridge, Mass.".  In that version, of course, Jones was the friend who did the soliciting.

        At Harvard's Lawrence Scientific School, they quickly began their studies. LeConte's autobiography (Armes, p. 128-129) says

". . . [Agassiz] was in Cambridge, and Dr. Jones and I went right to work.  The first task Agassiz set us was very characteristic of the man.  He thought a while, then pulled out a drawer containing from five hundred to a thousand separated valves of Unios, of from fifty to a hundred different species, all mixed together, and said, "Pair these valves and classify into species; names no matter; separate the species."  He left us alone, very severely alone.  We worked on those shells for one whole week, the professor looking at our work from time to time but making no remark.  Finally we told him that we had done the best we could; he examined the results carefully and was much pleased.  It so happened that just then there entered the room a friend of his from Europe, Ampère, the son of the great electrician.  He introduced us and remarked that these pupils had just amended correctly the [flawed] classification of Lea, the great authority on Unios.

        Jones and LeConte went on in 1851 to earn Bachelor of Science degrees under Louis Agassiz in the latter's first class there (Lurie, 177 & 179).  LeConte reports that "Thus it happened the Lewis Jones and I, and two others, David A. Wells and John D. Runkle, formed the first graduating class of the Lawrence Scientific School.  The courses of all of us had, however, been strictly post-graduate, and I believe we were the very beginnings of a post-graduate class in Harvard, if not in the United States (Armes, p. 142).  Reed (Chapter IX, p. 2/1094) says of Jones that "for several years he was a research collaborator with the renowned scientist Louis Agassiz".  One of Dr. Jones's sons was given the middle name "Agassiz".

        Jones practiced medicine several years, but he devoted more of his life to teaching and research (Reed, Chapter IX, p. 2/1094).  Reed goes on to report that "Dr. Jones was well known in the leading scientific circles of America.  He was a member of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, the Boston Society of Natural History, the Lyceum of Natural History, and the American Association for Advanced [sic] Science".

Professor William Louis Jones

        The career of William Louis Jones went something like this, with the professorial appointments all at the University of Georgia:
Professor of Chemistry and Geology
        (but also teaching French (Reed, V, p. 494/554))
        (leaving in a dispute with the University's president, Alonzo Church) (Armes, p. 156) .
Farmer (and presumably doctor) in Morgan County
        (of which Madison is the county seat, and so not far from Athens).
Professor of Chemistry and Geology and of Natural Philosophy and Physics.
        (but for much of this period the University was closed)
1864 Chemist in the Confederate gunpowder works in Augusta.
Professor of Chemistry and Geology and/or of Agriculture.
        (leaving when he was assigned to the Georgia State
        College of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts)
~1866-1885 Owner and/or editor and/or contributor to the Southern Cultivator
Professor of (Natural History and?) Agriculture,
        and teaching Botany, Zoology, and Geology.
Director of the Georgia Agricultural Experiment Station.
        (leaving when he was assigned to work in Griffin)

        Thomas Walter Reed, a graduate and then long-time official of the University of Georgia, called Dr. Jones one of his "beloved professors" (Reed, Chapter V, p. 494/554) , and he wrote the following about Dr. Jones late in his teaching career, thirty-six years after his first appointment as professor: (Reed, Chapter IX, p. 1093)

        Dr William Louis Jones had reached the three-score milepost on life's journey when I first met him in his classroom in 1887. . . . He was of average height, rather thin, [with a] large, well-shaped head, [with] big blue eyes [that were] somewhat watery with a tendency of the lids to droop slightly, giving him a somewhat sleepy look, clear, florid complexion, his skin apparently as soft as a woman's with tiny, blue veins visible in his temples, a slight mustache and thin beard, close cut, his hair and beard as white as the driven snow.

        He held the position [then] of Professor of Natural History and Agriculture, but he did not teach us anything about farming.  He taught us botany, zoology, and geology.  The text-book that he used had been written by Joseph Leconte, of the class if 1841, who was graduated from the University of Georgia just two years before young Jones had entered as a student.

        Though he in no way resembled that pre-historic animal, we boys attached to him the name of Ichthyosauros and shortened it to "Old Ichthy".  That was his favorite name with the boys, though at times we would call him "Old Sleepy". He must have suffered from hay fever or some nasal trouble for he was eternally sniffling.

        Dr. Jones was a quiet, unassuming gentleman, but he had the courage of his convictions and at times plenty of temper.  And when he got mad he was mad all the way through.  In 1892 I was editor of the Athens Banner and was out looking for any news that might come out of a faculty meeting that was being held that afternoon.  I met Dr. Jones just as he was coming out of the campus [he taught in the Academic Building adjacent Broad Street] and we stood and talked for a few minutes under the arch.  "Old Ichthy" didn't look like himself.  His face was white and his lips were quivering.  I could see that he was mad all the way through.  "I'm through with the whole business, Tom.  I've just told Boggs he can have my resignation.   I will not stand his dictating any further.  I can get along with anybody who will treat me right, but I will not be run over.  I love the University, but it can get along without me."

        The teaching of science now is much more thorough than in those days, when there was but little laboratory equipment with which to conduct experiments and when the vast number of discoveries had not been made, but judged by the times in which he lived "Old Ichthy" was a teacher of great knowledge and ability and he gave us an interesting insight into a marvelous world, of which we learn more and more each passing year.

        Dr. Jones's enthusiasm for his subject must have been reflected in the painting of the history of life on the ceiling of his recitation room in the Academic Building, for which either Dr. Jones or Henry Clay White must have been in some way responsible.  The fact that he was re-hired twice by the University, despite his contentious personality, further suggests that he was thought well of as a teacher and scholar.  However, the day in 1892 when Tom Reed found Dr. Jones "mad all the way through" with Chancellor William E. Boggs may have been the effective end of his teaching career, because Jones left the University for good in 1892 and never taught again (Reed, Chapter IX, p. 5/1097).  He thus retired forty-one years after first joining the faculty of the University, and with twenty-one years of service scattered across those forty-one years.

        Dr. Jones spent his last years on his farm. He died in Atlanta on August 22, 1914.




Wiliam Dallam Armes, editor, The Autobiography of Joseph Le Conte: New York, D. Appleton and Company, 1903.

William Louis Jones, "Joseph LeConte", Transactions of the Medical Association of Georgia, 1902, p. 42.

George R. Lamplugh, New Georgia Encyclopedia entry on William Louis Jones.

Edward Lurie's Louis Agassiz: A Life in Science Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988.

Lucinda H. MacKethan, editor, Recollections of a Southern Daughter: a Memoir by Cornelia Jones Pond of Liberty County: Athens : University of Georgia Press, 1998.

Thomas Walter Reed 's History of the University of Georgia, (~1949).

Lester D. Stephens, Joseph LeConte, Gentle Prophet of Evolution:Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1982.


Back to A History of the University of Georgia Department of Geology
Back to the chronological list of UGA Geology faculty members.

e-mail to Bruce Railsback (rlsbk@gly.uga.edu)
Railsback's main web page
UGA Geology Department web page




The content and opinions expressed on this Web page do not necessarily reflect the views of nor are they endorsed by the University of Georgia or the University System of Georgia.