Dr. Rob Dillon, Coordinator

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Legacy of Calvin Goodrich

Editor's Note.  This essay was subsequently published as: Dillon, R.T., Jr. (2019c) The legacy of Calvin Goodrich.  Pp 1-5 in The Freshwater Gastropods of North America Volume 3, Essays on the Prosobranchs.  FWGNA Press, Charleston.

My essay of November 2006 focused on Frank Collins Baker, a modest man of modest means who rose to prominence in twentieth-century American malacology. This month we'll look at the life and contributions of Calvin Goodrich, a contemporary whose career offers a number of interesting comparisons.

Like Baker, Calvin Goodrich came from a middle class background and held no advanced degree. He was born in Chicago in 1874 and spent his youth in Kansas, graduating from the University of Kansas in 1895. Goodrich then embarked on a career in journalism, serving as a reporter and then editor for The Kansas City Star, The Cleveland Leader, The Toledo Blade, The Detroit Journal, and the Newark Star-Eagle.

It was during his tenure with The Toledo Blade (1908 - 1917) that Goodrich initiated correspondence with the two gentlemen who shaped his second career, A. E. Ortmann of the Carnegie Museum and Bryant Walker of Detroit. Van der Schalie (1) reports that during this period Goodrich began riding the street cars out of Toledo into the surrounding countryside to collect mollusks. And in 1913 he arranged to join Ortmann on a field trip to southwest Virginia, an event that seems to have profoundly affected his life, at age 39. Goodrich began publishing short papers on pleurocerid snails in The Nautilus, obtained appointment as an honorary curator at the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology in 1924, and became a full-time curator at UMMZ in 1926, when he formally retired from the newspaper business.

From 1924 until his (second) retirement from the UMMZ twenty years later, Calvin Goodrich traveled widely in the American south and published about 50 works of scholarship, almost entirely on our mutually favorite family of gastropods (2). Between 1934 and 1941, he published a series of eight remarkable papers which deserve to be better known, his "Studies of the Gastropod Family Pleuroceridae." In those works we see a taxonomist born into 19th-century typology struggling with, and ultimately accepting, a modern understanding of intrapopulation variation.

In "Studies" Number IV (1935), for example, Goodrich focused on the Coosa River of Georgia and Alabama, inhabited by six "forms recognizable as subspecies" of Goniobasis caelatura. He tabulated variation in shell sculpture (two categories of plication and three categories of striation) and in overall shape (ratio of shell diameters measured at two spots). He observed that "In a general sense, the variation from conic to cylindrical shape is in a downstream direction. The same thing is true of variation from smoothness to sculpture." He concluded that "These several forms, however unlike one another they sometimes appear, are nevertheless of the same genetic stock, and they constitute a single, fairly compact group of mollusks." For 1935, such an insight was genuinely prescient.

Today Goodrich's reputation rests primarily on the review of the Pleuroceridae of North America he published as a series of brief works - the first six between 1939 and 1942 "in preparation for a molluscan check list undertaken by the American Malacological Union," the ultimate fate of which I am not aware. Two additional works were added to the series in 1944. These papers are short and spare - they include no descriptions, figures, or indeed biological information of any sort, except ranges. What Goodrich did, however, was to boil something in excess of 500 specific nomena of pleurocerids down into a bit more than 100. Many names were synonymized, without comment, and many others were simply omitted. The 100 nomena recognized by Goodrich have survived in the malacological literature to the present day, while those that Goodrich synonymized or ignored have essentially disappeared, except as dusty labels in the forgotten drawers of historic collections (3).

One might argue that such an approach was arbitrary, and heavy-handed. But Goodrich's judgments were informed by the seven-year study of morphological variation in the Pleuroceridae that preceded them, which he published separately. He was one of the first American malacologists to understand intrapopulation variation, and it was on the basis of his 1934 - 41 "Studies" that his 1939-1944 checklists were compiled.

And Goodrich's review has proven to be of great use to malacologists working in American freshwaters today. My 25 years of research on the population genetics of pleurocerids in the South suggests to me that the total number of biological species in this country will prove to be far less than 500, and indeed less than 100. I haven't found a biological species that Calvin Goodrich missed.

Goodrich's career followed that of F. C. Baker by almost exactly a half generation - he was born seven years after Baker and trailed him in death by 12 years, in 1954. This was an important half-generation. Because from the late 1930's to the mid-1950's, the architects of the "modern synthesis" were fashioning the stones cut by Darwin and Mendel into the science of evolutionary biology as we know it today. Frank Collins Baker, for all his tremendous talent, training, and experience, always considered species to be the subjective constructs of taxonomists such as himself. Any new specimen not matching a previously-described type was, to Baker, a new species. But Goodrich was beginning to think of species as populations or groups of populations, not as individual types. And populations vary. And with that revelation came the dawn of modern evolutionary science.

Keep in touch,


(1) Van der Schalie, H. (1955). Calvin Goodrich 1874 - 1954. Nautilus 68: 135-142.

(2) Goodrich's complete bibliography published by Rosewater J. (1959) Calvin Goodrich; a bibliography and catalogue of his species. Occas. Pprs. Mollusks, Mus. Comp. Zool., Harvard 2(24): 189-208. A partial bibliography is available from Kevin Cuming's website at INHS

(3) For a complete catalogue of pleurocerid names, see Graf, D. L. (2001) The cleansing of the Augean Stables, or a lexicon of the nominal species of the Pleuroceridae (Gastropoda: Prosobranchia) of recent North America, north of Mexico. Walkerana 12 (27) 1 - 124.