Charles Henry Hitchcock

Member of initial Council and Active Founder (sources: Upham, 1919; Fairchild, 1932).

Personal. Charles Henry Hitchcock was born in Amherst, Massachusetts, on August 23, 1836, and died in Honolulu, Hawaii, on November 5, 1919.  He was the sixth child of Edward Hitchcock, then Professor of Chemistry and Natural History at Amherst College, and Orra White, a woman with a classical education and scientific and artistic talent. He graduated from Williston Seminary in 1852, and from Amherst College in 1856. He received his M.A. degree from Amherst in 1859. Originally, Hitchcock had intended to pursue theological studies, as his father had once done, and to become a pastor. After Amherst, however, he became an assistant in his father’s geological work as State Geologist of Vermont. This led Charles Hitchcock to choose geological studies as his life’s work. During 1861-1862, he was State Geologist of Maine. Later, he received perhaps his most important appointments, as State Geologist of New Hampshire (1868 to 1878) and as Professor of Geology and Mineralogy at Dartmouth College (1868 to 1908). After 40 years at Dartmouth, Hitchcock moved to Honolulu, where he had previously made several visits, and where he spent his last 11 years studying volcanic phenomena. Hitchcock married Martha Bliss Barrows, a professor’s daughter, in June 1862. They had two sons and three daughters. Martha died in February 1892 and, in September 1894, Hitchcock married her sister, Charlotte, who then survived him.

Professional. Charles H. Hitchcock is best remembered for his pioneering geological survey of northern New England, especially his work in New Hampshire. He also made important contributions to the burgeoning knowledge of glacial geology in this area, including his recognition of glacially transported boulders on the summit of Mount Washington, with their implications for the former extent of the ice sheet that once completely buried the mountain. He compiled a geologic map of the United States in 1872 (with W.P. Blake), and in 1881 issued a larger scale version for use in schools. His final work stemmed from his residence in Hawaii and involved study of its volcanism.

Role as a Founder. C.H. Hitchcock was one of the most active leaders in the founding of the Geological Society of America. In 1881 he was appointed Secretary of the committee that was formed at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Cincinnati meeting to consider the advisability of establishing a geological society independent of the AAAS. During 1883 and 1884, as Vice-President of AAAS and Chairman of Section E (Geology and Geography), he favored independence. In the June 1888 issue of American Geologist, Hitchcock, with N.H. Winchell, renewed the 1881 initiative by publishing a call for all geologists to assemble on August 14 at the Cleveland meeting of AAAS for the purpose of organizing an American geological society. At that meeting, Hitchcock was a member of the committee charged with drafting a constitution for the new society. He was on the first Council (1889 to 1892) was Second Vice-President (1895), and First Vice-President (1896). Ironically, despite all his efforts on behalf of the new society, C.H. Hitchcock never was elected to serve as President of GSA.