About Emil Witschi (1890-1971)
Swiss-American Embryologist, Endocrinologist
Remarks by Sheldon J. Segal Emil Witschi Slide Show 1937 Mexico Diary
My grandfather, Emil Witschi, was a zoologist with a lifelong interest in the biology of sex. His research focused on the mechanisms of sexual differentiation and sexual development. He wanted to know why some embryos are destined to mature into male organisms, and some into females; and he wanted to explain the steps along the way. During the years 1927-1958, he was professor of zoology at the University of Iowa. It was there that he authored or co-authored most of his approximately 200 scientific articles, and there that he guided 38 men and women to the Ph.D. degree. Witschi was the recipient of numerous honors, including the presidency of the American Society of Zoologists (1959-1960), and the Fred Conrad Koch Award of the Endocrine Society (1960).
He was born in Switzerland in 1890 and moved to the U.S. in 1927 with his wife and his two children. He died in New York in 1971.
For more about Emil Witschi's life, see remarks by Sheldon J. Segal, and view the slide show of Witschi's life. Elsewhere on this website, you can read Witschi's historic 1937 Mexico Diary and view nearly 300 photos of Mexico taken by him.
Beams, Harold W.; Kollros, Jerry J.; and Marsh, Gordon, "Memorial Resolution, University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts", undated (probably 1971 or 1972) and unpublished document, forwarded in a personal communication from Becky Birch, Assistant to Jack Lilien, PhD, DEO/Department Chair, The University of Iowa Department of Biological Sciences, Iowa City, Iowa. [Harold W. Beams (1903-1992); Jerry J. Kollros (1917-2007); and Gordon Marsh (1902-1980) were colleagues of Emil Witschi in the Zoology Department, University of Iowa, Iowa City. In this 3-page document, they give an abbreviated CV for Witschi, and a brief summary of his life and work.]
Gorbman, Aubrey, "Emil Witschi and the Problem of Vertebrate Sexual Differentiation", American Zoologist, 19:1261-1270 (1979). Available online (subscription required). [An assessment, 8 years after his death, of Witschi's life and work. Aubrey Gorbman (1914-2003) was a leading reproductive biologist and endocrinologist, at Columbia University and the University of Washington. Although he was a friend of Witschi, this review is not adulatory; it points to some failures of Witschi in addition to his successes.]
Greep, Roy O., "In Honor of Emil Witschi", American Zoologist, 12:175-177 (1972) Available online (subscription required) . [A short scientific obituary of Emil Witschi. Roy O. Greep (1905-1997) was an endocrinologist at Harvard, recipient in 1971 of the Endocrine Society's Fred Conrad Koch Award, the same honor that Witschi had received earlier (1960).]
Segal, Sheldon J., "Life of Emil Witschi", June 17, 1971, published on this website with the permission of the author.
Witschi, Emil, Collected Publications, collected and bound by the author, 1911-1970 (6 volumes). [Witschi's own collection of his scientific papers, in the University of Iowa Library Special Collections.]
Witschi, Emil, Development of Vertebrates, W. B. Saunders, Philadelphia, 1956 (588 pages). [Witschi's embryology textbook for advanced undergraduate biology students.]
Witschi, Emil, Mexico Diary, 1937, edited by Thomas F. Potter, © 2002-2007 Thomas F. Potter. [Diary, with nearly 300 photographs, from a 1937 trip to Mexico by Emil Witschi and his former student Allan J. Stanley. I have published the diary and photos on this Daisyfield.com website, along with a Spanish translation.]
Witschi, Emil, Report on professorship at Tübingen 1948/49, unpublished typewritten report to Rockefeller Foundation, 1949(?), (48 pages). [A fascinating description of science, education, and life in post-war Germany, in the University of Iowa Library Special Collections.]
Witschi, Emil, Von Blumen und Tieren ("Of Flowers and Animals"), Verlag E. Bircher, Bern, Switzerland, 1919 (68 pages). Full title: Von Blumen und Tieren, Naturgeschichtliche Märchen, 1 Teil, Mit Buchschmuck von Schülern der Realschule Basel, herausgegeben von Dr. Emil Witschi. [A book of children's tales related to natural history. The stories, from various cultures and traditions, are retold by Witschi. Contains many illustrations by Witschi's students, some printed in color. Some artwork may be by Witschi himself. It appears that Witschi may have planned a second volume that he never completed.]
My sister, Martha Potter Kim, for helpful comments,
Becky Birch, Assistant to Jack Lilien, PhD, DEO/Department Chair, The University of Iowa Department of Biological Sciences, for sending the Beams/Kollros/March document, and
Pamela Widder, graduate student in biological sciences at Virginia Tech, for correcting the identification of the amphibian on Witschi's arm.
—Tom Potter, December, 2007
Revised: May, 2008