French, G.H. (George Hazen), (1841-1935.) | Southern Illinois University Special Collections Research Center
George Hazen French was born in Tully, New York, on March 19, 1841, the son of Hazen Miles French and Caroline White French. He had a younger sister, Esther Elizabeth French, and a younger brother, Emery Harris French. While he was growing up, he lived near two of his uncles, Stephen and Russell French, who operated farms in the area. When he was not in school, he often helped his uncles with their farm work. At age eleven or twelve, he moved to Apulia, New York, with his family; two years later to Summit Station. His early formal education consisted of the rural schooling offered at the time. Although he was never university trained, he taught himself mathematics, bookkeeping, and other subjects including French, Greek, and subjects pertaining to natural science.
At the age of 18, he became interested in teaching as a career. He and his cousin, Nelson Hollenbeck, made several unsuccessful attempts to find a school to teach in, in the summer of 1860. Since he could not find a job teaching, he records in his diary that he attended a teacher's institute from October 16-27 in 1860. Upon completion of the institute, and by passing an examination, he was granted a first grade teaching certificate. Instead of teaching, however, he began classes at the Cortland Academy in New York two weeks later. He spent two terms there, which was the only formal education he attained beyond his early rural schooling. The following year, in October of 1861, he began his first teaching job at Christian Hollow, New York, for $14 per month, boarding from week to week with the families of his students in the neighborhood.
He taught in New York until about 1865, when he moved to Illinois. According to the notes on his life published by Wallace St. John, he had been asked to go west to take charge of the South Belvidere Illinois School. At Belvidere, he became interested in the practice of homeopathic medicine. He states that he could have been granted a license in Illinois, but did not apply for one.
He taught at Belvidere until about 1867, when he obtained, with the help of his cousin, a certificate to teach in Wisconsin. He taught for a year at Grand Rapids, Wisconsin, contracted diphtheria, and returned to Illinois. In the fall of the year 1868, he was employed by the Illinois Agricultural College at Irvington as a science teacher. While at Irvington, he met Hattie Ningham, whom he married on September 10, 1872. She was a student of his whose father lived northwest of Makanda, Illinois. He taught at Irvington for nine years; at the commencement of 1874, he was granted the degree of A.M. Emeritus.
On August 11, 1877, he came to Carbondale, Illinois as Assistant State Entomologist. According to his notes he had learned that Cyrus Thomas, State Entomologist of Illinois, had been appointed to the U.S. Entomological Commission, along with C.V. Riley and A. Pakarer (included in his correspondence are letters from Riley and Pakarer). Thinking that Thomas might retire as State Entomologist, French applied for the position. Instead, Thomas asked French to be his assistant, since he didn't intend to retire for at least another year.
In 1878, French joined the faculty of Southern Illinois Normal University as assistant curator of the museum. In 1879, he succeeded Cyrus Thomas, who had been hired by the Smithsonian Institution, as curator of the museum and as a natural science teacher. From 1879 until 1911, he taught natural history, botany, and physiology; from 1911 until 1913, physiology and floriculture.
Most of the museum specimens were destroyed when the first Old Main building burned in 1883. Professor French rebuilt the museum collections in the new building and was responsible for the continuance of the museum.
On June 10, 1913, he was appointed curator and superintendent of the greenhouse at the university. According to Eli G. Lentz, he was with the university until 1917. While at the university, he published a manual of the butterflies of the eastern United States, and a manual of dissection and histology, as well as a number of papers and articles. According to Library Progress, he also wrote a book on mushrooms of the region. However, in his notes on his life, he says he wrote a manual of mushrooms that was included in his annual report to the principal. There is no manuscript of the paper in his papers, and no evidence that it was ever published in book form. He was a nationally know entomologist; his articles and scrapbooks show that he had a special interest in pest control and the use of insecticides. According to the notes on his life, two men helped him most in his entomological work: William Edwards of Coanbury, West Virginia, and Herman Strecker of Reading, Pennsylvania. His papers include correspondence from both men.
About 1910, he became interested in endocrinology after reading articles on the functions of glandular secretions in Science, a publication of American Association for the Advancement of Science. At the end of the notes on his life, Wallace St. John included a section in his book of French's "Notes on Endocrinology."
In 1919, Professor French's wife died. Three years after her death, in 1921, Dr. J. I. Black of the Herrin Hospital asked Professor French to lecture to student nurses at the hospital twice a week and to help in the laboratory doing pathological work. He moved from Carbondale to Herrin in 1921. French was living in Herrin at the time of the Williamson County troubles with the Ku Klux Klan and he records many of the incidents in his diary of 1925. Because of the KKK problems, French states in his notes that Dr. Black sold the hospital and Professor French retired. On February 19, 1925, he notes in his diary that he moved his things out of the hospital laboratory. His diaries and correspondence show that he continued to live in Herrin. He died at the age of 93, on January 2, 1935.
During his career, Professor French became a member of a number of professional societies. He was a member of the Academy of Science of Southern Illinois, organized Dec. 2, 1876 in Carbondale. In 1905, he became a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In addition, he was a member of entomological societies of France, Belgium, Great Britain, and New York; the Southern Illinois Medical Association; and was associate member of the Natural History Society of Lubeck, Germany.
The preceding resume of the life of George Hazen French was primarily derived from two sources: his diaries and the published account of his life, Life Retrospective of George Hazen French, prepared by Wallace St. John. The published account, according to St. John, was prepared from manuscripts of notes sent to him by Professor French between his 88th and 91st year. St. John was apparently unaware that the diaries existed, since he says in his introduction, "there is no sign that he kept any diaries in his youth of later to which he could refer." No copies of the notes on his life appear in Professor French's papers. He was living in Herrin at the time, and it may be that his diaries and earlier papers were even then stored in the house where they were found. It is not possible to say why St. John assumed there no diaries, unless perhaps because they were not used in writing the autobiographical notes.