Tuesday, May 31, 2016

William Heiskell Deaderick ~ Finding Time

For some of us, avocational pursuits become rather consuming, demanding more and more time from the rest of our lives.  For me, I’m finding it next to impossible to feed the beast.  And, then, there are the folks who, somehow, manage to do it all.

Over the past couple of months, when I’ve had a free moment and access to my microscope, I’ve been searching for ostracodes and foraminifera in roughly a tablespoon and a half of matrix that I extracted from the Pliocene moon snail shell pictured below.

(I believe this is a Naticarius plicatella but I’m certainly open to correction.  The shell is from the Tamiami Formation in Florida.)

What little I have to show for this effort is nicely captured in these next two photographs – first slide holds several dozen shells from ostracodes (micro-crustaceans) and the second a smattering of very small shells from foraminifera (protists).

Reaching this stage, with paltry results, has required not only about five or so hours on the microscope, but also a couple of hours to prep the material, a process that included gingerly extracting the matrix from the shell with a dissecting needle.  (By the way, I didn't have to spend any time hunting for the fossil moon snail shell, it was a gift.)  Though there are other slides containing broken ostracode and foraminifera specimens, as well as a host of other kinds of small fossils discovered in this matrix, the two slides shown above are basically the total output from this effort so far.  And I haven’t finished going through this bit of matrix, nor have I really begun the process of identifying these specimens.  Time, time, time.

My assessment is that I’ve invested too little time in this and have too little to show for the time that I have spent . . . too little and inefficient.  This issue of time devoted to my paleontological interests has been bothering me recently and, for that, I lay the blame squarely on William Heiskell Deaderick (February 7, 1876 – March 11, 1945).  I first learned about him during some volunteer work at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

Deaderick practiced internal medicine in Clarksville, Tennessee, in Mariana, Arkansas, and, for much of his career, in Hot Springs, Arkansas.  Born in Knoxville, Tennessee, Deaderick attended Southwestern Presbyterian University (now Rhodes College) between 1891 and 1895, and subsequently earned his M.D. from Vanderbilt University in 1898.  The young Deaderick is shown below in an image cropped from a picture of his graduating medical school class, available on the Vanderbilt website.

While fashioning an apparently thriving medical career, Deaderick served on many government and professional organizations and boards.  Among these positions, he was city health officer of Clarksville, and a member of the health boards for Lee County and Mariana.  He served at the Government Free Bathhouse in Hot Springs, and was a member of the medical board of the Leo N. Levi Memorial Hospital Association.  Among other affiliations, he was president of the Arkansas Child Welfare Association, and member or fellow of the National Malaria Commission, London Society of Tropical Medicine, American College of Physicians, and the American Society of Tropical Medicine.

He published widely on various medical subjects, with a particular focus on malaria and syphilis.  He was the associate editor of the American Journal of Syphilis, an editor for the Interstate Medical Journal, and “collaborator” for the New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal.  In addition to journal articles, he wrote or co-wrote two books:  A Practical Study of Malaria (1909) and The Endemic Diseases of the Southern States (1915).  (From a cursory look at some of his medical publications, I am uncertain of the extent to which Deaderick might have shared some of the prejudices of the Southern white society of which he was a part.  Though, for what it's worth, it also appears that he frequently provided medical services to African Americans.)

Deaderick was apparently a busy man, busier than I’ve ever been.  So, where did he find the time, on top of his medical pursuits, to satisfy his avocational interests in natural history?  I’m not sure, though I have a few ideas (more on those later).  Regardless, he went at those other interests full bore.  He was an amateur ornithologist.  The Searchable Ornithological Research Archive (SORA, hosted by the University of New Mexico Libraries), shows that Deaderick reported bird sightings (sometimes in extensive lists) to the publication The Auk on five occasions during the 1930s (often he did more than see these birds, he “bagged” them).  He also wrote a piece titled A Preliminary List of the Birds of Hot Springs National Park and Vicinity which appeared in The Wilson Bulletin (December 1938).  In addition to those publications available from SORA, he authored A History of Arkansas Ornithology that ran in The American Midland Naturalist (Volume 26, Number 1, July, 1941).

But it’s his work on foraminifera that has really given me pause in my thinking about time.  In the 1940s, he was the second author on at least two articles with Joseph A. Cushman, a leading authority on foraminifera during the first half of the 20th century:  Cretaceous Foraminifera From the Marlbrook Marl of Arkansas (Journal of Paleontology, Volume 18, Number 4, July, 1944), and Cretaceous Foraminifera From the Brownstown Marl of Arkansas, which appeared in the Contributions From the Cushman Laboratory for Foraminiferal Research (Volume 18, Part 3, September 16, 1942).  His principal contribution to both, I suspect, was his extensive collection of foraminifera.

Pictured below is one specimen he collected that was featured in the 1942 Brownstown Marl publication.  It's the holotype (the reference specimen for the species) for Darbyella brownstownensis, a new species that Deaderick and Cushman named in 1942.  It’s housed in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History along with the rest of his collection.  (This image is available from the Smithsonian’s Collection Center.)

In a tribute to Deaderick and his collection, Lloyd G. Henbest, a senior geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, acknowledged that Deaderick’s “principal contribution to paleontology, . . . , was his fine collection of Upper Cretaceous Foraminifera, which he bequeathed to the United States National Museum.”  (Deaderick Collection of Foraminifera, Journal of Paleontology, Volume 20, Number 5, September, 1946.)  Henbest noted that the collection was the product of several years’ work, collecting from upper Cretaceous formations located near Hot Springs.  Deaderick housed the specimens that he collected, prepared, and identified in microscope slides.  According to Henbest, “The mounting and labeling show exceptional care and neatness.”

It’s the sheer size of that collection by this amateur that floors me because I know what’s involved in building a collection of this magnitude.  Deaderick’s bequest to the National Museum of Natural History included some 3,500 slides with shells collected from over 400 localities that he worked.  Based on a randomly selected group of 50 of those slides, Henbest estimated that the Deaderick collection contains 75,000 or more “classified and mounted” individual specimens.

The mind reels.  Following Henbest’s lead, I did some crude estimates of my own.  Say Deaderick devoted a decade to building this collection and, over the course of that period, spent an average of 8 hours a week for 50 weeks each year (I’ll give him a couple of weeks off) doing the following:  trekking to his collection sites, shoveling matrix into buckets or some other containers, hauling the matrix home, washing and screening the material, drying it, searching through it under the microscope, organizing and identifying what he’d found, and, finally, preparing slides on which he mounted and labeled his finds.  That would mean that, over the course of that decade, he mounted and labeled the equivalent of nearly 20 foram shells for each of the 4,000 hours that he gave to the cause.  Expand it to two decades (I suspect this is the more likely period of time) and the production falls to a still good average of roughly 10 forams for each of the 8,000 hours invested.  I might be able to produce at that rate for very brief snatches of time, but it's the apparent intensity and duration of Deaderick's commitment that are truly amazing.

Where in the world did he find the time to do all of the work required to generate an organized, mounted, and labeled collection of that size?

I’ve considered various answers, among them:  someone helped him, he didn’t need much sleep, he had no obligations around the house, he was a workaholic and couldn’t stand down time, he’d retired or was approaching retirement when these interests took hold, . . . .  It’s that love of work and need for continuous engagement that ring truest to me because I see them manifested throughout his professional career.

Perhaps retirement was a significant facilitator, but I have some doubts.  According to various city directories for Hot Springs, Arkansas, as well as Census records for 1930 and 1940, it appears that Deaderick actively practiced medicine until at least 1935.  By 1938, he was no longer practicing, a retirement confirmed by the data for him on the 1940 Census.  Though admittedly some of his work on natural history may well have occurred during his retirement, I don’t believe most of that activity took place in the perhaps ten years when he was no longer serving as a medical doctor until his death in 1945.  The ornithology publications in the 1930s reflect an expertise that would have taken years to develop previously, as does his microfossil collection.  The foraminifera publications may have been issued in the 1940s, close to his passing, but the work upon which they were based wasn’t the product of just a couple of years.  Further, it’s possible that during relatively few of his retirement years was he up to the tasks associated with his natural history pursuits.  According to the obituary notice that appeared in the Southwestern [University] News (May, 1945, p. 8), “he had been in ill health for several years.”

So, I come back to that commitment to work and engagement.  Though most of his adulthood fell in the 20th century, I wonder if Deaderick may have manifested that quintessential 19th century American obsession with the “moral value of work.”  The historian Elizabeth B. Kenney, in her study The Botanizers:  Amateur Scientists in Nineteenth-Century America (1992), observed that in this period there was a strong belief that work was an expression of one’s worth.  She noted,
One especially zealous promoter of the moral value of work was so concerned about avoiding idleness that he regularly shoveled sand from one corner of his basement to another.  (p. 84)
Collecting fossil shells may have been a more productive and enjoyable version of shoveling sand from one spot to another (in reality, that’s often what’s involved in working with foraminifera).  At a minimum, it occupied him.

On the other hand, perhaps he had an irresistible intellectual drive.  Henbest, clearly impressed by the collection’s scope, wrote,
It makes one suspect that his intellectual curiosity gave him little rest, but it is to such restless souls that the better qualities of our civilization owe their existence.
And then there’s this thought.  I’m not sure on what evidence Henbest based the following, but he concluded that Deaderick
. . . hungered for association with naturalists.  Happily for micropaleontology, his frustration in that respect did not discourage him from substantial contribution to that science [through his collection].
I may be reading too much in Henbest’s comment, but, I think it offers another suggestion for what motivated and enabled this great effort:  the amateur was trying to gain recognition from the professionals in the field.

I’ll have to think about all of this, but later.  Right now, there’s email to check and a new television set to connect to my cable service.

Additional Source for Background Information on W.H. Deaderick

Centennial History of Arkansas, Volume III, entry for William H. Deaderick, M.D., 1922, p. 36-37.

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