Earth and Planetary Science
EPS Geophysics

Andrew Cowper Lawson

Andrew Cowper Lawson (1861 - 1952)

Andrew Cowper Lawson was born in Anstruther, Scotland, July 25, 1861. In his sixth year his parents moved to Hamilton, Ontario, where he received his early education. He was granted the B.A. degree in 1883 by the University of Toronto as gold medalist in Natural Science, and joined the staff of the Canadian Geological Survey. Five seasons of field work on Archaean rocks led to new interpretations which were considered rank heresy in Canada. They were, however, well received at the International Geological Congress, London, 1888, and later generally accepted. In later years he returned several times to work in Canada, and his contributions to the earth's primitive history were among the most important in his career. In the meantime, he had continued graduate work and received the M.A. degree, Toronto, in 1885, and the Ph.D., Johns Hopkins, in 1888.

Early in 1890 he resigned from the Canadian Survey and went to Vancouver as a consulting geologist. In October, 1890, he accepted the position of Assistant Professor of Mineralogy and Geology at the University of California and remained with that institution the rest of his life, becoming Associate Professor in 1892, Professor in 1899, and Professor Emeritus in 1928.

Concerning Lawson's appointment, Professor Le Conte explained that he had brought this able young man to the University to develop the scientific side of geology, while he would devote himself to the philosophical aspects. Lawson lived up to the expectation. He organized courses in mineralogy and petrography and developed a systematic field course in geology, the first in the West and possibly in America. He found the unsolved problems of his new surroundings stimulating, and spent all the time available, either alone or with students, in the study of Coast Range geology. He was so wrapped up in his work that the first Mrs. Lawson, when asked what his religion was, said, "He is a geologist."

He established the first scientific publication series at Berkeley, The Bulletin of the Department of Geology, the first number of which appeared in May, 1893. Within the first three decades, besides his Coast Range studies he made contributions based on observations in the Sierra Nevada, the Tehachapi Mountains, the western desert region, and on ore deposits in Nevada and Montana. In 1906, as Chairman of the State Earthquake Investigation Commission, he organized an extensive field program, to which many geologists contributed their services, and prepared the most complete and informative report ever published on a great earthquake. In the early 1920's he became interested in isostasy and its geological consequences, and almost all of his publications from then on were devoted to this subject, eighteen appearing in the following three decades, the last in 1950. From 1900 on, he also served as consultant in economic and in engineering geology.

Professor Lawson took an active interest in faculty affairs, served on various committees, especially the Editorial Committee and the Library Committee, of each of which he was chairman for a number of years. On Dean Christy's death he accepted temporarily the deanship of the College of Mining (December, 1914), which he held for three and a half years, during which he developed a new and more flexible curriculum for the College. In 1919 he took active part in a movement that resulted in a reform of the organization of the University faculty and its relation to the Administration.

He was one of the founders of the Faculty Club and for many years was a regular and active attendant of the Kosmos Club and the Berkeley Club, both discussion groups of wide range.

His hobby was collecting paintings, and he enjoyed building construction; for example, he personally constructed an art gallery annex to his home. He also wrote a number of short poems, some appreciative of the beauties of Nature, others on various themes which gave evidence of kindly, sentimental, and philosophical traits only rarely shown otherwise to his acquaintances.

Lawson was a Fellow of the Geological Society of America (President, 1926); a member of the Society of Economic Geologists, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Seismological Society of America (President, 1909), National Academy of Sciences, American Philosophical Society; and an honorary member of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. He was Chairman of the Division of Geology and Geography, National Research Council, 1923-1924. He was Faculty Research Lecturer, 1926-1927. He was granted the honorary degrees of D.Sc., University of Toronto, 1923; LL.D., University of California, 1935; and the D.Sc., Harvard University, 1936. He was awarded the Hayden Medal of the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences, 1936, and the Penrose Medal of the Geological Society of America, 1938.

In 1889 Lawson married Ludovika von Jansch of Brünn, Moravia. She died in 1929 after a long illness. In 1931 he married Isabel R. Collins of Ottawa. He had four sons by his first wife and one by his second. He died June 16, 1952, and is survived by his widow and three sons.

Andrew Cowper Lawson lived a long and active life, during which he contributed abundantly to geology and to the training of geologists. His was a remarkable personality of many facets--stimulating, provocative, friendly, crusty, kindly, irascible--whose positive influence was felt by all with whom he came in contact.

-- In Memoriam written by G. D. Louderback, N. L. Taliaferro, and H. Williams