Nelson, Julius, 1858-1916. Papers, 1876-1920 (bulk 1890-1915).

Manuscript Collection 692

Special Collections and University Archives

Rutgers University Libraries

QUANTITY: 2 cubic feet (5 manuscript boxes)

ACCESS: No restrictions.

PROCESSED BY: Elizabeth W. Brown

Biographical Sketch

Julius Nelson served as biologist of the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station and professor of biology at Rutgers College (now Rutgers University) from 1888 until his death in 1916. Nelson achieved great distinction as a biologist, particularly as an authority on the oyster, and served as State Biologist of New Jersey. In addition to his exhaustive work at Rutgers, Nelson was also actively involved with college and student affairs, New Brunswick's Second Reformed Church and community affairs in Highland Park, New Jersey, where he resided. He also served as a scientific advisor for several organizations.

Born in Copenhagen, Denmark, on March 6, 1858, Nelson came to the United States in 1863 with his parents, Christian and Julia (Jörgensen) Nelson, and his brother Thorwald. The family settled on a farm in a Wisconsin community where everyone spoke Danish. Nelson learned English upon attending public school, from which he was graduated in 1876. He was graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1881 and received an M.S. degree from that institution in 1884. He was a Fellow in Biology, 1886-1888, at Johns Hopkins University, from which he received his Ph.D. in 1888. He married Nellie Cynthia Chase (who held B.L. and M.L. degrees from Wisconsin) in Madison, Wisconsin, on August 9, 1888.

Nelson came to Rutgers in 1888 after the New Jersey legislature enacted a law that year providing funds for the study of oyster culture by the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station. He conducted an extensive study of the oyster for over twenty years, as well as studies on bovine tuberculosis and dairy bacteriology. A favorite retreat for Nelson was Barnegat, New Jersey, where he conducted many of his oyster experiments. He devoted much of his earliest years at the Agricultural Experiment Station to revising a catalog of the vertebrates of New Jersey which was published in 1890 as part of a larger work.

Nelson published and lectured extensively on his research throughout his career. His writings exhibit a very broad training, from his main area of oyster study, to sanitary science, to sex hygiene. As a graduate student, he devoted much of his study to cytology and heredity and published on these topics in American Naturalist and the American Journal of Psychology. His contributions to the published annual reports and bulletins of the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station dealt with diagnosis and prevention of bovine tuberculosis and abortion, egg production of fowls, oyster culture, lactic fermentation and rural disposal of sewage to prevent intestinal parasitic diseases. He also contributed extensively to Chandler's Encyclopedia, the Cyclopedia of American Agriculture and many scientific journals. Unfortunately, his nearly completed manuscript for a book on biology was destroyed by a fire in Rutgers' New Jersey Hall in 1903.

In addition to Rutgers College and the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, the state of New Jersey and private organizations benefitted from Nelson's expertise. From 1894-1895, he was biologist of the New Jersey State Tuberculosis Commission. In 1901 he became the State Biologist in connection with dairy bacteriology under a special act of the New Jersey legislature which was renewed in 1907. In 1910-1911 he worked as vice-president and consulting advisor of the Lederle Laboratories of New York City. During 1911-1915, he cooperated with the chief of the Bureau of Shellfisheries of New Jersey. During the summer of 1914, Nelson lectured by invitation of the Canadian government's Commission of Conservation on oyster culture in Prince Edward Island; he conducted a survey of oyster-bearing zones there the following summer. He also spent a summer at the Biological Laboratory of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, a summer at the Beaufort Laboratory in Beaufort, North Carolina, and a summer at the Maritime Laboratory of the Bahama Islands.

In addition to participating in the aforementioned activities, Nelson was a member of the National Association of Shell Fish Commissioners, the Nature Study Society, the New Jersey State Science Teachers Association and Phi Beta Kappa.

Nelson also sustained great interest in educational matters and often lectured on curriculum issues in education and on sex education. In addition to serving three terms on the Highland Park school board, he prepared syllabi for high school biology and for college zoology. The pre-med course of study at Rutgers College which he devised won wide acclaim and helped place many Rutgers graduates into medical school.

Nelson rarely took vacations from his work, and his papers contain references to his bad health from working too hard. He did, however, enjoy music. While his work occupied much of his time, he was devoted to his family. With his wife, he raised six children, Samuel Maximilian (Max), Thurlow, Theodora, Ingrid, Marguerite and Julius Richards Nelson. He remained close to his father, Christian Nelson, and translated a pamphlet he wrote from the Danish. In 1916 Nelson contracted pneumonia and died on February 15th after being ill for a week.

Scope and Content Note

The Julius Nelson papers span the period 1876 to 1920, with a concentration from 1890 to 1915, and comprise two cubic feet of documents. The papers represent Nelson's work as a biology professor, his speeches and lectures, his day-to-day activities and concerns, and his research and writings. To a lesser extent, they provide insight into his personal and family life, together with a sense of his values and beliefs.

Although Nelson's chief area of expertise was oysters, the papers do not include much oyster experiment documentation or research material. The RESEARCH NOTES AND SKETCHES contain some loose notes and sketches from oyster experiments in 1903, two small notebooks documenting oyster work in 1908 and a notebook of 1910 with "freshening oysters" research. Thus, much significant primary material beginning in 1888 is absent from the collection.

The majority of the oyster culture material present is actually in the form of WRITINGS AND SPEECHES, which convey much factual information and exhibit the results of long-term research. Many of these items represent lectures given to groups with a commercial interest in oysters and shellfish, such as the Oyster Growers and Dealers Association of North America and the National Association of Shellfish Commissioners. They primarily describe studies being conducted in New Jersey, as well as the oyster's nutritional value and specific aspects of its development and life cycle.

One can trace the progress of Julius Nelson's work and interests through the WRITINGS AND SPEECHES that are dated (approximately half). Three lists of publications detail many of his published writings, not all of which are represented in the collection. The topics of his writings and speeches range from the oyster studies already noted to heredity, parasitism, bovine tuberculosis, sex hygiene and general biology subjects.

In addition to materials treating biological topics, the WRITINGS AND SPEECHES include quite a few speeches which document particular views and values from the turn of the twentieth century. Notable topics include 1) "A half-century of Darwinism," which reports on Darwinian theories and declares "no essential disharmony between Darwinism and the gospels" exists, and 2) "The relation of biology to theology," which outlines a "close, and sympathetic relation" between the two fields. Nelson was a devoutly religious man as well as a dedicated scientist; the meshing together of these aspects of his life in his writings provides much interesting material for the historian of cultural or intellectual history.

Nelson believed firmly in the teaching of sex education and proper sex hygiene and used the newspaper to air his views, as documented in his PRESS CLIPPINGS and professional CORRESPONDENCE. His speech of 1911, "Sex and health," is an extremely interesting combination of nineteenth century morality and scientific belief; the talk was delivered before the biological club at Rutgers and shows the progress of the study of sexual behavior during this period.

The Nelson papers contain a wealth of documentation pertaining to the study of biology at Rutgers College, 1888-1915, in the RUTGERS COLLEGE COURSE NOTES, comprised of twenty notebooks and additional loose papers in the form of lecture notes, laboratory manuals and quiz topics. The courses represented include biology, practical bacteriology, physiology, hygiene, sanitary science, botany and veterinary science.

A significant feature of the Julius Nelson papers is the CORRESPONDENCE, particularly the large quantity of drafts of letters that Nelson wrote from 1890 to 1899, mostly in a professional capacity, on New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station stationery. Nelson was a conscientious citizen in the sense that he frequently wrote to newspapers to educate the public about health matters (see also PRESS CLIPPINGS). In his letters, he also exchanged ideas with fellow scientists and dispensed information and advice (such as to shellfish or oyster growers). Many other letters pertain to the operation of the Agricultural Experiment Station, such as the ordering of supplies. In addition, the researcher can find much information in the letters Nelson wrote on the college-level study of biology, biological research and health concerns, information which supplements that found in the RUTGERS COLLEGE COURSE NOTES.

The DIARIES AND JOURNALS in the collection span about twenty years, from 1895 to 1915, with gaps. The entries in them are not extensive, but note day-to-day activities. Much of the information pertains to Nelson's research, including oyster experiments in Barnegat, New Jersey.

The file of PRESS CLIPPINGS is not large, considering the extent of Nelson's letters to the editor and the general acclaim he received. The clippings, which have been photocopied onto acid-free paper, include personal notices about Nelson and his family, reports on papers he presented (many to the New Brunswick-based New Jersey State Microscopical Society), his letters to the editor and general reports on his biological findings.

While a researcher can ascertain the wide breadth of Nelson's interests, as well as his moral beliefs and values, from his writings and letters, the collection does not contain many papers that provide insight into his personal life. The small BIOGRAPHICAL FILE primarily focuses on his professional activities. The CORRESPONDENCE lacks many personal letters received; for example, although Nelson evidently corresponded with his father and brother in Wisconsin, only a small portion of their letters survive in this collection. Nor is much reference made to Nelson's spouse and children throughout the collection, except for brief mentions in his DIARIES AND JOURNALS. The few PHOTOGRAPHS present, which apparently pertain in part to the family, are mostly unidentified. The several items of PERSONAL AND FAMILY MISCELLANY are similarly not very informative with regard to Nelson's personal activities.

Related Collections

The repository also holds the papers of Julius Nelson's son Thurlow, which may contain related materials, as the younger Nelson (1890-1960) was also a biology professor at Rutgers who conducted research on oysters.

Arrangement Note

The Julius Nelson papers, as currently organized, integrate two separate accessions received by the repository during the 1960s, both of which were gifts from Mrs. Ingrid Nelson Waller, Julius Nelson's daughter. The collection now comprises nine series, boxed in succession, in five manuscript boxes.

The earlier gift of Nelson papers, received in 1962, was presented to the Rutgers University Libraries through Professor William H. Cole. This portion of the collection included Rutgers College biology lecture notes, letters received, 1890-1920, diaries, 1910-1915, notes on oyster culture, lists of publications, biographical data and photographs of Nelson's laboratory and classroom. The remainder of the collection, received in 1968, consisted of numerous copies of letters sent, 1893-1914, some biology and botany lectures and quizzes from 1891, daily journals, 1895-1911, many writings (both manuscript and printed), press clippings, family letters received, 1907-1910, family photographs and miscellany.

Series Descriptions

BIOGRAPHICAL FILE, 1876, 1916 and 1919-1920. (4 folders)

Documentation of Nelson's life, including a three-page typescript of a biography of Nelson, a Rutgers Alumni Quarterly of 1916 containing an article on Nelson's death plus a separate biographical article, and letters to Nelson's widow and son Thurlow relating to the inclusion of an essay about him in the National Cyclopedia of American Biography. The file also contains a handwritten history of Nelson's high school class of 1876, which includes a biographical sketch of the youthful Nelson.


DIARIES AND JOURNALS, 1895-1896, 1898-1901 and 1908-1915. (7 folders)

Arranged chronologically.

Diaries with brief entries which describe the routine of Nelson's academic work in New Brunswick, New Jersey, his studies and writings, and his oyster research in the marshlands adjoining Barnegat Bay, near the village of Barnegat, in Ocean County, New Jersey. In addition, Nelson noted other trips, social activities and general comments on people, such as his son Thurlow. He also recorded the weather each day.


CORRESPONDENCE, [1881?] and 1890-1914. (17 folders)

Organized into two subseries: Professional and Personal; bulk arranged chronologically within further subunits noted below.

Professional Correspondence: divided between letters sent and received, this subseries, 1890-1914, includes drafts of business letters Nelson wrote concerning the biological department of the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, correspondence with fellow scientists, responses to requests about biological matters and letters to newspapers regarding health matters and sex education. In addition to four or five letters, 1906-1907 and undated, addressed to the Governor of New Jersey (Edward C. Stokes), there is a 1908 letter which Nelson wrote to President Theodore Roosevelt to accompany his translation of a letter from his father Christian Nelson (the original of which is filed in personal correspondence). The professional correspondence also contains a folder of letters Nelson received, 1890-1907, pertaining to biological matters and requests for information.

Personal Correspondence: divided between letters sent and received, this subseries, [1881?] and 1907-1910, consists chiefly of letters in Danish, 1908-1909, received from Nelson's father Christian Nelson in Waupaka, Wisconsin, but also includes a 1907 letter from a friend in Tacoma, Washington, and letters, 1910, from his brother Thorwald in Wisconsin. In addition, there is one letter written by Nelson, as a recent college graduate, to an unidentified woman.


PRESS CLIPPINGS, 1898-1910 and undated. (1 folder)


Clippings which pertain to Nelson's lectures, letters to the editor and scientific findings. Also present are clipped personal notices concerning Nelson and his family. The clippings are mostly from commercial New Jersey newspapers, but a few are from the (Rutgers) Targum and Wisconsin newspapers.


RESEARCH NOTES AND SKETCHES, 1903-1910 and undated. (5 folders)

Arranged alphabetically by title.

Notes and sketches from Nelson's experiments and other research. Most of the notes pertain to oyster research, including oyster experiment notes, a notebook on "freshening oysters" and two small notebooks with general oyster research notes. Also present are a tablet with additional (non-oyster) sketches and notes, plus a sketchbook on sponges.


WRITINGS AND SPEECHES, 1890-[1915?] and undated. (.55 cubic ft.)

Arranged alphabetically by title; first folder contains lists of publications.

Manuscript copies of some of Nelson's many articles and public lectures (termed "speeches" here to avoid confusion with course lectures, contained in the RUTGERS COLLEGE COURSE NOTES), as well as author's proofs, printed articles and separately-issued pamphlets.

Included are several speeches on oyster studies which treat the nutritional value of the oyster, its development and life cycle, and spawning and spatting. Other speeches treat a wide range of interests including Darwinism, the relationship of biology and theology, sex hygiene and educational issues. Included also are a syllabus for zoology at Rutgers College and a high school biology syllabus, papers on other biology topics and proofs for Nelson's 1890 article "Heredity and sex" which appeared in the American Journal of Psychology. Not related to this own work are two proof copies of his translation of his father's An Open Letter to the Clergy, 1907.


RUTGERS COLLEGE COURSE NOTES, [189-]-1910 and undated. (.7 cubic ft.)

Arranged alphabetically by title.

Twenty notebooks and additional loose papers comprising course outlines, laboratory guides, quiz topics and lecture notes prepared for biology courses at Rutgers College. Four booklets are laboratory guides written by Nelson, which in 1891 evidently belonged to a student, Richard S. Lull. Specific courses represented in this collection are biology and practical bacteriology; other topics represented include hygiene, insects, sanitary science and physiology.


PHOTOGRAPHS, [187-?]-[191-?]. (5 folders)

Arranged in the order described.

Two portraits of Julius Nelson (one a tintype probably from the 1870s), three depictions of Nelson's laboratory and classroom in New Jersey Hall at Rutgers College (Nelson is present in two of the images), two real-photo postcards of Barnegat, New Jersey (where Nelson conducted research), two copies of a portrait of Nelson's father (Christian Nelson) and several unidentified images of people (presumably family members).

Two of the unidentified photographs were taken in a boat (both depict a woman), perhaps on one of Nelson's oyster research trips.


PERSONAL AND FAMILY MISCELLANY, [187-?]-1913 and undated. (4 folders)

Arranged alphabetically by folder heading.

Miscellaneous notes and lists, [187-?] and undated, school essays, 1913, of Thurlow Nelson, three letters received by the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, 1879-1880, and a printed convention program, 1912, for the National Association of Shellfish Commissioners.


Container List

  1 "Professor Julius Nelson," typescript by T.E. Chidester, 1916
  2 Rutgers Alumni Quarterly, vol. 2, no. 3, April 1916
  3 Correspondence documenting Nelson's inclusion in the National Cyclopedia of American Biography, 1919-1920
  4 "History of class of '76," Waupaka High School, June 1876
  5 September 30, 1895-January 31, 1896
  6 July 27-August 23, 1898

August 23, 1898-January 4, 1899

January 4-May 1, 1899
  7 May 1-June 17, 1899

June 18-September 20, 1899

September 21-October 27, 1899

October 28-December 31, 1899
  8 January 12-June 6, 1900

June 7-September 22, 1900

September 23, 1900-May 1, 1901
  9 September 15, 1908-April 30, 1909

May 1-October 15, 1909

October 1, 1910-March 13, 1911
  10 March 14-November 25, 1911

November 26, 1911-August 31, 1912
  11 September 1, 1912-August 10, 1913

August 11, 1913-September 30, 1914

October 1, 1914-December 20, 1915
(1)   CORRESPONDENCE / Professional
  12-18 Letters sent, 1890-1906

2   CORRESPONDENCE / Professional [continued]
  1-4 Letters sent, 1907-1914
  5-6 Letters sent, undated
  7 Letters received, 1890-1907
(2)   CORRESPONDENCE / Personal
  8 Letter sent, [1881?]
  9 Letters received from his father, 1908-1909
  10 Letters received, 1907 and 1910
(2) 11 PRESS CLIPPINGS, 1898-1910 and undated
  12 "Freshening oysters--oyster research notes begun Mar. 9, 1910"
  13 "Oyster experiments," with table of experiments, loose notes and sketches, 1903
  14 "Oyster notes," two small notebooks, 1908
  15 Sketches and notes, tablet, undated
  16 "Sponges," sketchbook, undated
  17 "Publications," three typescript lists, undated
  18 [Biology department report], holograph copy, undated
  19 Biology syllabus for first year of high school, undated
  20 "Coelenterates (Zoophytes)," holograph copy, undated
  21 "The curriculum in education," holograph copy, undated
  22 "The development of the oyster," holograph copy, undated
  23 "Experiment in spat collecting," Fishing Gazette, vol. 30, no. 18, 1913
  24 "Fermentation and germ life," New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin 134, 1899
  25 ["Fire in New Jersey Hall"], small broadside, 1903
  26-28 ["General biology topics"], holograph copy, undated
  29 "A half-century of Darwinism," holograph copy of speech, 1913
  30 "A half-century of Darwinism," typescript of speech, 1913
  31 "Heredity and Sex," American Journal of Psychology, part I, proof copy, 1890 (2 copies)
  32 "Heredity and Sex," American Journal of Psychology, part II, proof copy, 1890 (3 copies)
  33 [Incomplete holograph manuscript], [191-]
  34 "An investigation of oyster propagation in Richmond Bay P[rince] E[dward] I[sland] during August, 1915," holograph copy with supporting materials, [1915?] [folder 1 of 2]

  1 "An investigation of oyster propagation in Richmond Bay P[rince] E[dward] I[sland] during August, 1915," holograph copy with supporting materials, [1915?] [folder 2 of 2]
  2 "The life-story of the oyster," holograph copy of speech, 1914
  3 An Open Letter to the Clergy, proof copy of translation by Julius Nelson, 1907 (2 copies)
  4 "Oyster culture," holograph copy, undated
  5 Drawings for illustrations for "Oyster culture," undated
  6 "Oysters are a good food," holograph copy of speech, undated
  7 "Parasitism," holograph copy, undated
  8 "The prevalence, cause and treatment of bovine abortion, milk fever and garget," New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin 127, 1897
  9-13 [Proofs of biological drawings for an unknown publication], undated
  14 "The relation of biology to theology," holograph copy, undated
  15 "Science and the oyster interests," Fishing Gazette, vol. 30, no. 24, "corrected copy," 1913 (2 copies)
  16 "Scientific oyster studies in New Jersey," typescript of speech, 1911
  17 "Scientific oyster studies in New Jersey," Fishing Gazette, vol. 27, no. 25, 1910
  18 "Scope and educational value of the science of biology," holograph copy, undated
  19-20 "Sex and health," typescript copies, 1911
  21-22 "Sex hygiene," holograph copy, undated
  23 "The spawning and spatting of oysters," typescript of speech, 1911
  24 Syllabus no. 6: A Course of Twelve Lectures in Zoology, proof copy, 1892 (3 copies)
  25 "Ways in which scientific research may be of service to oyster culture," holograph copy, 1912
  26 "Biological Laboratory Guide-–Botany, vol. I," handbook for students, [189-] (p. 1-57)

  1 "Biological Laboratory Guide–-Protozoa, vol. II," handbook for students, [189-] (p. 58-107)
  2 "Biological Laboratory Guide–-Coelenterates, vol. III," handbook for students, [189-] (p. 108-175)
  3 "Biological Laboratory Guide, [vol. IV?]," incomplete, [189-] (p. [176]-206 & 1-15 [second count])
  4 "Elective biology, vol. II, Protozoa–-laboratory guide and lectures," notebook, undated (p. 58-107)
  5 "Elective biology, vol. III, Coelenterates–-laboratory guide and lectures," notebook, undated (p. 108-175)
  6 "Essentials of hygiene and sanitary science," notebook, undated
  7 "A first course in practical bacteriology and biological technique, micro-praxis and physiological chemistry," notebook, undated
  8 "General biology, vol. I," notebook, undated (p. 1-57)
  9 "Howell’s physiology (quiz topics)–-neurological portion I," notebook, circa 1910

  1 "Howell’s physiology (quiz topics)–-neurological portion II," notebook, undated
  2 "Howell’s physiology (quiz topics)-–nutritional portion I," notebook, undated
  3 "Howell’s physiology (quiz topics)-–nutritional portion II," notebook, undated
  4-5 "Hygiene," two notebooks, undated
  6 "Insects," loose lecture notes, 1910
  7 "Outlines of veterinary hygiene (from Col. Smith)," vol. I, notebook, undated
  8 "Personal hygiene," notebook, undated
  9 "Sanitary science notes," notebook, [191-?]
  10 "Test questions in hygiene," notebook, undated
  11 "Veterinary physiology and hygiene (based on Mill & Smith Hygiene)," vol. II, notebook, undated
  12 Portraits of Julius Nelson, [187-?] and undated
  13 New Jersey Hall laboratory and classroom, undated
  14 Barnegat, New Jersey, postcards, [191-?]
  15 Portrait of Christian Nelson, undated
  16 Unidentified individuals, undated
  17 National Association of Shellfish Commissioners, convention program, 1912
  18 Notes and lists, [187-?] and undated
  19 School essays of Thurlow Nelson, two items, 1913
  20 Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, three letters received, 1879-1880