Encyclopedia Brunoniana

Jenks, John Whipple Potter

John Whipple Potter Jenks (1819-1894), director of Brown’s museum of natural history, was born in West Boylston, Massachusetts, on May 1, 1819. While a student at Brown, he worked in the garden of President Wayland and the office of Professor Alexis Caswell. He graduated in 1838 and taught in Georgia for a few years. He thought of becoming a missionary and began to study medicine. His plans were changed when he married Sarah Tucker of a prominent and wealthy family in Middleboro, Massachusetts. In 1848, with financial help from his father-in-law, Jenks took over the failing Peirce Academy, which had been founded by his wife’s grandfather, and made it into a outstanding school. He was principal of the academy from 1848 to 1871. In 1872 he came to Brown as curator of the museum, bringing some of his own collections with him. He fitted up the museum of anthropology at his own expense and conducted a volunteer class in taxidermy in the basement of Rhode Island Hall. Jenks was prevailed upon by President Caswell to teach a course in agricultural zoology to satisfy the requirements of the Morrill Act, through which Brown had obtained its agricultural lands. According to Walter Lee Munro 1879, “What he (Jenks) didn’t know about agriculture would fill a library, but his colleagues knew even less, so, as under the conditions of the land grant for educational purposes from the Federal Government, it was necessary to have a course in agriculture, Professor Jenks was selected to fill the chair.” Jenks’s lecture course was composed of interesting recollections and “the points of neat cattle,” drawing and identifying the parts of a cow. On at least one occasion the agricultural students were taken on an excursion to the stock farm and chemical works of George F. Wilson in Rumford. Jenks came weekly from his home in Middleboro, slept in University Hall, and worked from 7 A. M. to 11 P. M. stuffing animals for the museum. He stayed on the job until his death on September 26, 1894, the particulars of which are described by Walter Lee Munro 1879:

“He was in his seventy-sixth year, apparently hale and hearty, his youthful enthusiasm not abated. He had lunched, perhaps too heavily, with some dear friends with one of whom he walked up College Hall, stopped for a minute in conversation on the steps of Rhode Island Hall, started to go upstairs to the Museum, sank down and expired without a moment’s sickness or suffering. One could not ask for a finer end.”