MS – 128: Papers of William C. Darrah as a Faculty Member at Gettysburg College

(1 box, .27 cubic feet)


Inclusive Dates: 1953-1988

Bulk Dates: 1953-1974

Link to Finding Aid - PDF

Processed by: G. Ronald Couchman

Summer 2012



Given to Musselman Library by Mrs. Elsie Darrah Morey, daughter of William Darrah in September 1990


William (Bill) Culp Darrah was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, January 12, 1909.  He earned the degree of Bachelor of Science from the University of Pittsburgh with majors in geology and botany.  From 1934 to 1942 Darrah conducted research and taught at Harvard University in the division of biology and later as research curator of paleobotany at the Harvard Botanical Museum.  In 1942, he joined Raytheon Manufacturing Company, a major war-time technological company, as an engineer and later as Assistant Head in the Research and Development Department.

Because of the loss of vision in one eye which put him at risk in the laboratories, in 1951, deciding to venture out on his own as an independent researcher and writer, Darrah relocated to a farm outside of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.  He soon found himself active in the academic community of Gettysburg College as a lecturer in the freshman and sophomore level general education program, as director of an experimental adult education program, and later as an assistant and then full professor in the biology department. 

Bill Darrah was a renaissance man whose interests ranged widely and whose literary output in the areas of his interest was significant.  His publications included a paleobotany textbook; a biography of John Wesley Powell, a late 19th century scientist and explorer and later Director of the United States Geological Survey; a story of the early days of the petroleum industry; an exploration of Pennsylvania flora; a history of stereographs in America; cartes de visite in 19th century photograph; and the history of the engineering program at Gettysburg College.

Darrah retired from the college in 1974.  Gettysburg College awarded him an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters in 1977.  He married Helen Marie Hilsman in 1934 and they had two daughters Barbara Anne and Elsie Louise.  He died in 1989.

At his memorial service he was remembered as one who had the God-given gift of teaching.  For years, students flocked to his courses which were frequently over-subscribed.  Yet he turned no-one away.  His legacy survives him through the William C. Darrah Endowment fund at Gettysburg College which provides support to the Biology Department, scholarships to students in biology, and a visiting scientist lecture series offered in his name.

Scope and Content Notes

This collection consists of material retained by William Darrah as it related to his position as an administrator and a faculty member at Gettysburg College.  It includes correspondence, primarily from students, former students and parents of students; a report of his administrative activities as director of a continuing education program attempted by the College in the mid-1950s; a review of the varied research and presentation interests of Mr. Darrah while a member of the faculty; and materials that preserves his legacy to his profession, to his interests in the history of photography, science and technology, and to Gettysburg College. 

Series Description

This collection is divided into four Series.  Series 1: Correspondence includes correspondence from September 1957 through January 1988.  The bulk of the correspondence covers the two decades of the 1960s and 1970s when Darrah was the most active as a faculty advisor.  It is worth noting that over two-thirds of the letters from students, former students, and parents of students contain a statement of thanks and appreciation for his advice, support or help.   Series II: Continuing Education Program documents Darrah’s activities within the Adult Education Division, the experimental continuing education program that he directed for Gettysburg College, 1953-1955.  It includes Darrah’s fair and honest assessment of the program in which he recommended that the program be terminated because of low enrollments and increased competition from other area agencies and institutions.  Series III: Research and Presentations provides a glimpse into some of the varied areas of Darrah’s research interests and the presentation of some of that research to the college and community, including some correspondence relative to research for Darrah’s monograph on the History of Engineering at Gettysburg College and a handwritten copy of a lecture which he gave during the Commencement weekend when the College awarded to him the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.  Series IV: Legacy contains material that highlights Darrah’s legacy to his profession as a paleobotonist, to his interest in photography, and to the College where he served as an honored and respected member of the faculty.

Link to Finding Aid - PDF

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