A Guide to the Genetics Collections at the APS
Major Collections

Theodosius Dobzhansky Papers

b. Jan. 25, 1900, Nemirov, Russia; d. Dec. 18, 1975, Sacramento, California. M. Aug. 8, 1924, Natalia (Natasha) Sivertsev, d. 1969. Daughter, Sophia D. (Coe). Diploma, U. Kiev, 1921; asst. in zoology. Asst. and lecturer, U. Leningrad, 1924-27. Intnatl. Education Ed. Fellow, Rockefeller Fnd., at Columbia U., 1927-29. Asst. prof. genetics, Calif. Inst. Tech., 1929-36; prof., 1936-40. Prof. zool., Columbia U., 1940-62; adjunct prof., 1962-75. Prof, Rockefeller U., 1962-70; emer. prof., 1970-75. Adjunct prof, U. Calif. Davis, 1971-75. Visit. prof., U. Spo Paulo, 1943, 1948-49, 1952, 1953.

Current Biogr. 1962, 105-07; McGraw-Hill Modem Men of Science 1:139-40 (1966-68); McGraw-Hill Modern Scientists and Engineers 1:296-97 (1980); Scienziati e Technologi Contemporanei 1:313-14 (1974); American Men and Women of Science; Who's Who in America and Who Was Who in America; Bio-bibliography for the History of the Biochemical Sciences since 1800. Howard Levene, Lee Ehrman, and Rollin Richmond, "Theodosius Dobzhansky Up to Now," in Essays in Evolution and Genetics in Honor of Theodosius Dobzhansky (Max K. Hecht and Wm. C. Steere, eds.), 1-41 (1970). Lee Ehrman and Bruce Wallace, Nature 260:179 (1976). F.J. Ayala, Ann. Rev. Genetics 10:1-6 (1976). E.B. Ford, Biogr. Mem. Fellows Roy. Soc. 23:59-89 (1977). M.B. Fuller, Mendel Newsletter 18:1-8 (1980). Bentley Glass, Ybk. Amer. Philos. Soc. 1976:49-53; introd., The roving naturalist, 1-10 (1980). Wm. B. Provine, "Origins of the Genetics of Natural Populations Series," in Dobzhansky's Genetics of Natural Populations, 1-76 (1981).

A virtually complete bibliography is appended to the biographical memoir by E.B. Ford, q.v. Two posthumous volumes, Human Culture, by Dobzhansky and Ernst Boesiger (1983), and The Roving Naturalist: Travel Letters of Theodosius Dobzhanslzy, edited by Bentley Glass (1980), should be added.

Sc.D., U. São Paulo, U. Münster, U. Montreal, U. Sydney (Australia), U. Padua, Oxford U., U. Louvain, Wooster C., U. Chicago, Columbia U., Clarkson C., U. Michigan, U. Syracuse, Northwestern U., Kalamazoo C., St. Mary C., Wittenberg U., St. Vladimir Theol. Acad., Mazatlan U., Sorbonne. D.H.L., U. California. Member, Amer. Philos. Sec., 1942; Natl. Acad. Sciences (U.S.A.), 1943; Amer. Acad. Arts & Sci., 1953. Hon. mem., Genetics Sec. Japan. Foreign mem., Roy. Swedish Acad. Sci., Roy. Danish Acad. Sci., Academia Leopoldina, Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Roy. Sec. (London). Natl. Acad. Sci. Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal, 1941; Kimber Gold Medal and Award in Genetics, 1958; Acad. Leopoldina Danvin Medal, 1959. Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, 1963. Lecomte du Nouy Award, 1963. Natl. Medal of Science, U.S.A., 1964. Verrill Medal, Yale U., 1966. Gold Medal, Amer. Museum of Natural History, 1969. Benjamin Franklin Medal, Franklin Institute, 1973.

Pres., Genetics Sec. of Amer., 1941. Pres., Amer. Soc. of Naturalists, 1950. Pres., Soc. for the Study of Evolution, 1951. Pres., Amer. Teilhard du Chardin Assn., 1973. Pres., Behavior Genetics Assn., 1973. Mem., Natl. Acad. Sci. Committee on the Biological Effects of Atomic Radiation, Genetics Panel, 1953-60.

Genetics and the Origin of Species (1937, 1941, 1951); (with L.C. Dunn) Heredity, Race, and Society (1946); (with E.W. Sinnott and L.C. Dunn) Principles of Genetics, 4th and 5th Editions (1950, 1958); Evolution, Genetics, and Man, 1955; The Biological Basis of Human Freedom, 1956; (with Bruce Wallace) Radiation, Genes, and Man, 1959; Mankind Evolving, 1962; Heredity and the Nature of Man, 1964; The Biology of Ultimate Concern, 1967; Genetics of the Evolutionary Process, 1970; Genetic Diversity and Human Equality, 1973; Evolutionary Biology (edited with Max K. Hecht and Wm. C. Steere), vols. 1-7 (1967-74); Evolution (with F.J. Ayala, G.L. Stebbins, and J.W. Valentine), 1977; The Roving Naturalist: Travel Letters of Theodosius Dobzhansky (edited by Bentley Glass), 1980; Dobehansky's Genetics of Natural Populations r-LXIII (edited by R.C. Lewontin, John A. Moore, Wm. B. Provine, and Bruce Wallace), 1981; Essais sur l'évolution (with Ernst Boesiger), 1968; Human Culture (with Ernst Boesiger; completed by Bruce Wallace), 1983.

GRADUATE STUDENTS (not in exact order of time):
Julius Kerkis, Bruce Wallace, Richard C. Lewontin, Elliot B. Spiess, F.J. Ayala, Lee Ehrman, Wyatt W. Anderson, Rollin C. Richmond, Jeffrey R. Powell, D. Weisbrot, David W. Crumpacker, Louis Levine, S. Koref-Santibaez, Ellis B. Page.

Olga Pavlovsky, Boris Spassky.

A. Brito da Cunha, Crodowaldo Pavan, Antonio R. Cordeiro, Chana Malagolokin-Cohen.

Yurii A. Filipchenko, Carl Epling, Ernst Mayr, Victor M. Salceda, Sewall Wright, L.C. Birch, Ernst Boesiger, Alfonso de Garay, Rodolfo F. Estrada, C.D. Kastritis.

Sixteen boxes (8,500 items) of general correspondence, 1927-75. Two unbound volumes (annotated) of the Columbia University Oral History Project, "Reminiscences," transcripts of interviews, 1962; 54 notebooks and diaries. ca. 1917-75; two bound volumes of papers dedicated to Dobzhansky; miscellaneous appointment calendars, diplomas, etc. Shelved separately: 1 box (17 items) of miscellaneous biographical materials; I.M. Lerner correspondence 1971-1975; materials relating to the nomination of Dobzhansky for a Nobel Prize, 1975. Restricted: 1 box (370 items) Ernst Mayr-Dobzhansky Correspondence, 1937-1975.

Theodosius Dobzhansky's professional life can be conveniently divided into five periods: (1) his early years in Russia, at Kiev and Leningrad; (2) his international fellowship at Columbia University in the laboratory of Thomas Hunt Morgan, and subsequent years at the California Institute of Technology; (3) his years of professorship at Columbia University; (4) his professorship at the Rockefeller University; and (5) after retirement, his years as an adjunct professor at the University of California, Davis. Upon the occasion of each major move, Dobzhansky undertook a rather thorough purging of his papers and eliminated whatever he felt to be of little consequence. This was less the case in his final move from New York to Davis; but the overall result is a paucity of records from the first three periods. This deficiency is in part ameliorated by the preservation of his notebooks and diaries (mostly in Russian, except for the late 1940s and early 1950s). There is a hiatus during the period 1936-41. From 1971 on, the documents are in English. A transcript of the Reminiscences derived from the tapes of the Columbia Oral History Project forms a valuable two-volume supplement to the notebooks and diaries, covering Dobzhansky's life up until 1962. The A.P.S. copy of the transcript was annotated and corrected by Dobzhansky with names, dates, and family history. The last of these notes were dated the day before Dobzhansky died.

There is no correspondence prior to Dobzhansky's arrival in the United States in 1927. Earlier correspondence and papers are preserved in Leningrad. The second period, when Dobzhansky rose to fame as the paramount evolutionary and population geneticist of the 20th century, is likewise poorly represented in the preserved documents. There is very little correspondence with Bridges (1 item), Morgan (2 items), or Sturtevant (1 item). There is no correspondence with Robert Boche, of whom James Bonner noted that in 1932 "Dobzhansky was trying to think of a way to study evolution by the methods of modern genetics, and the way didn't occur to him until God gave him Robert D. Boche and Drosophila pseudoobscura" (see Provine, op. cit., 23). The Curt Stern Papers (A.P.S. Library) contain 34 items of correspondence with Dobzhansky during this period. The most extensive correspondence from this time consists of letters from Y.A. Filipchenko, Dobzhansky's close friend and onetime superior in Leningrad. These 47 letters are in Russian, untranslated. There is unfortunately little or no documentation bearing on Dobzhansky's writing of the first edition of Genetics and the Origin of Species beyond correspondence with L.C. Dunn regarding the Jesup Lectures given by Dobzhansky at Columbia University in October, 1936, and the subsequent completion of the book while its author was physically incapacitated by a broken leg. There are 3 items from 1937 (restricted) in the Ernst Mayr/Dobzhansky file. They deal with the phenomenon of "rings of races." No light is thrown on Dobzhansky's relations with T. H. Morgan, on the rift in his once close collaboration with Sturtevant, or on the causes of his increasing dissatisfaction at Cal Tech.

The third period of Dobzhansky's career comprised the 22 years spent at Columbia University. Here Dobzhansky collaborated with Dunn and Sinnott in preparing the fourth edition of Principles of Genetics (1950), which, as Sinnott, Dunn, and Dobzhansky," became for a time the leading textbook in America for instruction in genetics as an undergraduate course. Dobzhansky's assignment was in particular to prepare chapters on population genetics, race formation, and species formation. In 1946, Dobzhansky and Dunn also collaborated in writing a small, but influential, paperback entitled Heredity, Race, and Society.

During these years, Dobzhansky became increasingly the scientific traveler. Not only did he continue the Drosophila collecting trips in the California Sierras and other parts of the Southwest, he began also his numerous trips to Brazil, first as a lecturer at São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, then as a collector and analyst of the numerous Drosophila species of South America and their probable relationships and course of evolution. He was a senior adviser to many of the rising Brazilian geneticists and helped to plan their experimental programs. Some of them came to the United States to spend periods of postdoctoral work with him: A. B. da Cunha, C. Pavan, A.R. Cordeiro. During Dobzhansky's absence on these extended trips abroad, L.C. Dunn took care of Dobzhansky's local correspondence, as necessary. At this time, also, Dobzhansky began his lengthy collaboration with Sewall Wright, who supplied the mathematical basis for the analysis of Dobzhansky's population genetics data. His research assistants, Olga Pavlovsky and Boris Spassky, were coauthors of published contributions. His earliest graduate students in America, Bruce Wallace, Richard Lewontin, and Elliot B. Spiess, dated from these years.

Dobzhansky published a steady, prolific stream of reports on hybrid sterility, developmental rates, genetic responses to environmental change, and the dispersion rates of genetic populations, the forces of natural selection in the laboratory cages used so extensively at this time, and the interaction of the evolutionary forces (natural selection, mutation, migration, and genetic drift). He collaborated also with Howard Levene, a Columbia University colleague who was an expert on statistical analysis. Of the 41 papers in the volume Dobzhansky's Genetics of Natural Populations of which Dobzhansky was sole author or coauthor, no less than 30 were the product of the years at Columbia University. In addition, during this period Dobzhansky published second and third editions of Genetics and the Origin of Species, collaborated in the fifth edition of the Principles of Genetics, collaborated with Bruce Wallace in writing Radiation, Genes, and Man (a book that was a byproduct of Dobzhansky's experiences on the Genetics Panel of the National Academy of Sciences Committee on the Biological Effects of Radiation), and wrote three other books: Evolution, Genetics, and Man (1955), The Biological Basis of Human Freedom (1956), and Mankind Evolving (1962). The two last-named are real masterpieces. At this time Dobzhansky also wrote the majority of the letters collected posthumously as The Roving Naturalist (Bentley Glass, ed.), which he had hoped himself to publish in book form. These last four volumes are evidence of Dobzhansky's strong urge to write, for the general public, books that would embody his scientific philosophy and his religious views, and that would relate science to the evolution and crucial problems of human society.

The correspondence of this third period is remarkably lacking in exchanges with persons of significance in Dobzhansky's own development into the leading population geneticist and evolutionist of his time. There is little or no correspondence with Sturtevant, Patterson, or Stone, with Muller or Crow, or even with Sewall Wright or G. G. Simpson. The richest file is that of correspondence with Ernst Mayr, 12 letters in the Dobzhansky Collection and approximately 130 more in the Ernst Mayr (restricted) file. Correspondence with the Australian ecologist L.C. Birch began in 1961, after Birch had spent a year with Dobzhansky at Columbia University. The two men developed not only strong joint interests in population genetics and ecological adaptation, but also shared a mutual concern for the religious and philosophical implications of evolutionary science.

The paucity of documents from this period of Dobzhansky's life has a simple explanation. Dobzhansky usually wrote to his close friends and colleagues in longhand and kept no copies of his own letters. He must have destroyed even the majority of the letters from Ernst Mayr, of which there are fortunately copies in the restricted file. There is naturally not much correspondence with Dunn, although a plan for the revision of the Principles of Genetics and drafts of Dobzhansky's chapters for that are of interest. Notebooks from 1955 through 1962 record original observations made by Dobzhansky on his travels in South America, Europe, Canada, Mexico, India, Indonesia, and Australia. These notebooks evidently served as the basis of his published travel letters.

Dobzhansky became increasingly dissatisfied with his prospects at Columbia as he and Dunn approached the official age of retirement. Full of energy and plans for future scientific programs, he wanted a place where he could continue his work on the genetics of natural populations with his assistants and graduate students, with research support from federal agencies. The Rockefeller University offered him this opportunity, and in 1962 he transferred to that institution, which would continue him as an active professor until age 70, in 1970.

During the eight years at the Rockefeller University, Dobzhansky's work with fruitflies took several new turns. He became much interested in the South American species Drosophila paulistorum, in which he was able to observe the development of one type of interspecific barrier to breeding. He also became more and more devoted to the investigation of the genetics of behavior. He showed that selection could either greatly enhance or reduce the phototactic and geotactic responses of fruitflies. He worked more and more closely with his graduate students as collaborators during this period, and kept up an astonishing flow of investigation and publication. His major work of a humanistic nature, The Biology of Ultimate Concern, and the final version of Genetics and the Origin of Species, which now acquired a new title to indicate its considerable growth and alteration, were both completed during these years.

Dobzhansky hoped that after retirement as a professor, he would still be permitted to retain his laboratory at the Rockefeller University and to work with his graduate students. That was not to be, as new administrators and new policies at the institution took shape. Fortunately, he was able within months to find a new position, as an adjunct professor, at the University of California, Davis, where his former graduate student F. J. Ayala was a member of the Genetics Department. One graduate student, Jeffrey Powell, went with Dobzhansky to Davis. Here the work continued unabated. In spite of the handicap of ill health from an overactive thyroid, and later leukemia, Dobzhansky seemed untiring. Asked to help establish a program in ecological genetics in Mexico, he willingly undertook that major task. Another book was published, of a reflective, social biology sort. The series of volumes Evolutionary Biology was started, and a new textbook of evolutionary genetics was prepared with his Davis colleagues Stebbins and Ayala as coauthors. Much of the preserved correspondence in the Dobzhansky Papers relates to the foregoing activities. In addition, he spent a semester as a guest at the University of Hawaii working with Hampton L. Carson on the extraordinary profusion of Hawaiian Drosophilas and their evolution, and several months of 1974 at the University of Paris, where he lectured and collaborated with Ernst Boesiger on the book relating human culture to evolution, a book that neither of them was to see to final publication. Dobzhansky's final trip to Brazil was also in these years (1973). He spent much time and thought on the problem of the revival of Russian genetics after the downfall of Lysenko as arbiter of all biology in the U.S.S.R., and kept up an active correspondence with Zhores Medvedev, I.M. Lerner, Thomas Jukes, and others about that situation. He remained keen and active to the end, and was correcting and adding to the Reminiscences of the Columbia Oral History until the day before his demise. There was also a voluminous correspondence during this period with his former graduate students Lee Ehrman, R. C. Lewontin, Jeffrey Powell, R. C. Richmond, E. B. Spiess, Bruce Wallace, W. W. Anderson, D. W. Crumpacker, and J. Weisbrot. His active interest in their continuing careers was one of the most characteristic aspects of his genial, paternal concern. Other aspects of his diverse interests during these last years were shown by his active correspondence on matters of scientific philosophy and its relation to his views of human evolution, and secondly, his deep concern over the rise of opposition from creationists to the teaching of evolution.

Detailed finding aid

Selected files
View the key to abbreviations

Alpatov, V.V. 21:1971-74 [untrans., Russian]

Anderson, W.W. 14:1971-75 PG, BD

Astaurov, B.L. 6:1969-74 PRS, EV, HE, Chetverikov, Koltsov

Ayala, F.J. 12:1970-75 PG, PB, NAS

Birch, L.C. 45:1961-75 PG, EV, EC

Boesiger, E. 63:1973-75 PB, EV, HE, CS, TR

Brazil 2 fold.:1943, 69-75 TR T, PG, PI, Powell

Burhoe, R.W. 27: 1970-73 CS, PB

Carson, H.L. 54:1970-75 PG, CS, NAS, EI, BD+

Cordeiro, A.R 4:1967-73 PG

Crow, J.F. 15:1961-71 NAS, EV, BG, Shockley, Wallace,

Crumpacker, D.W. 24: 1969-75 Muller, Wright

Da Cunha, A.B. 18:1962-75 PG, TR, RS, RC (Richmond)

Darlington, C.D. 6:1933-61 PG, PB, TR (Brazil), BD

de Garay, A.L. 27: 1970-75 CYG, WWII, PI, RV, TR (India, Japan)

Demerec, M. 7: 1936-39 PG, IV, EV

Dubinin, N.I. 9:1968-69 DG, CU, CSH, RS

Dunn, L.C. 31:1936-74 G, BD

Dobzhansky, Th. 53 notebooks: 1928-1975 DG, CU, BD

Ehrman, L. 23:1971-75 [Russ., Eng.] + family letters, diplomas, memorabilia

Epling, C. 3:1963 PG, PB, BD, LE, Ayala

Estrada, RF. 17: 1961-75 EI, TR (Ecuador), BD

Evolutionary Biology 236:1970-75 DG, PG, PB, TR (Mexico)

Filipchenko, Y.A. 48:1927-30 EV, PB, BDIT

Gottesman, I.I. 7: 1970-76 BD, CU, CalTech [Russ.]

Green, M.M. 7: 1970-75 SO, Shockley

Greetings (75th birthday) 6 fold.:1969 DG, PRS, TR (Jugoslavia, Russia, Israel, Timoféeff-Ressovsky, Dubinin, Astaurov)

Gustafsson, A. 5:1969-74 CG

Havender, W.R 7: 1975 IV, TR L, PRS, BD, Timoféeff-Ressovsky, Dubinin

Hirsch, J. 4: 1961 PB, BG, Jensen

Jensen, A.R 15:1972-75 PG, BG, SO, GS (Kessler)

Jukes, T.H. 20: 1969-75 PG, BG, HG (race), IV

Kastritis, C.D. 13:1970-73 PRS (Lysenko, Medvedev), PB, BC, T, EV, FL, MLG

Kerkis, J. 37: 1969-75 PG, CYG, PI (Greece), RC, PB, U. Thessalonika, EV, UT, BD

King,T+L. 17: 1970-74 BD, DG [Russ.]

King, RC. 28:1971-75 PG, EI, EV, RS, T (EV)

Koref-Santibañez, S. 16:1970-74 PG, PB

Lerner, I.M. 47: 1970-79 FS, PG, TR PI, BD

Levine, L. 21:1973-75 BG, NAS (Shockley), PRS (Medvedev) , B D (Timoféeff-Ressovsky)

Levit, M. 6:1930-35 DG (Mexico), PG, PB, Photos

Lewontin, R.C. 44:1961-75 G, PRS

Malagolokin-Cohen, C. 31:1970-75 PG, BG, EI, PI, NAS, PB, Powell

Mayr, E. 67: 1960-72 PG, BD, RS

Medvedev, Zh.A. 32: 1969-72 EV, PG, HE, RS, NAS (Lewontin, Wallace, Allard, Ayala, Carson)

Mexican trip 26:1973-74 BD, PRS (Lysenko)

Moore, I.A. 8:1930-75 PG, RS, TR

Müntzing, A. 5:1970-74 BSCS, EV, HE, CU, PG

Patterson, l.T. 7: 1936-39 PRS, PB, TR

Pavan, C. 6:1956-70 UT, SO

Petit, C. 27: 1969-75 PG, DG, RS, TR, BD

Powell, J.R 66:1972-75 PG, PB

Richmond, RC. 62:1970-75 PG, PB, RU, IV, Muller, Lewontin, Powell, Ayala, Venezuela

Salceda, V.M. 12:1973-75 DG, PG, RS, Mexico

Scarr-Salapatek, S. 17: 1973-75 BG, EI

Schmalhausen,I.I. 1:1930 [Russ.]

Simpson, G.G. 24:1957-74 EV, HE, PB, HE, BD

Spiess,E:B. 23:1961-75 PG, RS, PB, Weisbrot

Stebbins, G.L. 35:1961-75 EV, HE, PB, TR (Chile, France)

Timoféeff-Ressovsky, N.W. 2:1970 [Russ.]

Wallace, B. 23:1971-75 DG, RG, NAS, Crick

Weisbrot, D. 12:1971-75 PG, PI (Israel), BD

Wright, S. 7:1937-75 PG, BD

There are 36 letters to or from Dobzhansky in the Caspari Papers; 171 in the Demerec Papers; 353 in the Dunn Papers; 280 + 9 fold. in the Lerner Papers; and 101 in the Stern Papers.


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