Albert Davis Mead (1869-1946), professor of biology and vice-president of Brown University, was born in Swanton, Vermont on April 15, 1869. His father was a teacher of Greek and Latin. Mead graduated from Middlebury College in 1890. He had little scientific background, but the summer after his graduation he went to Woods Hole to work at the new Marine Biological Laboratory. There he met Brown professor Hermon Carey Bumpus and came back to Brown with him to receive an A.M. degree in 1891. He went on to study at Clark University under C. O. Whitman, whom he followed to the University of Chicago in 1893. After earning his Ph.D. degree at Chicago in 1895, Mead returned to Brown as instructor in comparative anatomy. The next year he was appointed associate professor of embryology and neurology. In 1900 he was named professor of comparative anatomy and was named chairman of that department in 1901 on the resignation of Professor Hermon Carey Bumpus. In 1905, after the death of Professor Alpheus S. Packard, he became chairman of the reorganized Department of Biology and in 1908 his title was changed to professor of biology. Mead’s research was devoted to the study of the development of worms, clams, and lobsters. He did early experimental work in cytology on the behavior of the centrosomes in the annelid egg and developed a method of raising young lobsters through their early precarious life.
He married Ada Wing, who taught biology to women students from 1896 to 1901. In 1925 Mead was appointed vice-president of the University to assist President Faunce and continued in that position during the presidency of Clarence Barbour. He retired in 1936 and died in Pasadena, California, on December 8, 1946. Robert Cushman Murphy ’11 wrote of Mead, with whom he studied:
“Mead was a many-sided man; research, applied science, organization, and administration were all within his competence, but I think of him first as a teacher. Mead would pound and punch wet clay on a sculptor’s rack so that the unfolding of a vertebrate from egg to birth took place in macrocosm before our eyes. In neurology, we constructed, with occasional jabs from his own skillful thumb, a plasticine human brain seven feet long and fitted on an armature so that it could be taken apart on several planes. Into this we laid colored yarns as nerve tracts running through the stem and corpus striatum, and thinning out as neurons to the sense organs and the pallium. It takes a long while to forget what one learns by such graphic methods and one’s own painstaking manipulation. ... He preferred frequent oral, rather than written tests. They were merciless too, for they not only exhausted every aspect of a subject that we could possibly know, but continued far beyond.”