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Owen, Richard, 1810-1890



  • Existence: January 6, 1810 - March 24, 1890

Biographical Information

Richard Owen, first president of Purdue University, was born January 6, 1810 in New Lanark, Scotland. He traveled to New Harmony with his father in 1827. After serving in the Mexican War, he returned to New Harmony to assist his brother David in the geological survey of parts of the Northwest Territory. In 1849, Richard accepted a position as chair of natural science at the Western Military Institute of Kentucky, a position he held for 8 years. In 1858, Owen received his M.D. at the Nashville (Tennessee) Medical College. Richard Owen became the State Geologist of Indiana and in 1861, a member of the Indiana University faculty. Dr. Owen was called from this position at the outbreak of the Civil War, and then returned to his duties as professor at the University in 1864. He held that position until 1879.

Owen became Purdue's first president in 1872, prior to the establishment of buildings, faculty, and students on the West Lafayette campus. After working with the Board of Trustees to structure and begin the campus, he resigned the day before the first class met in 1874.

After his retirement, Owen continued his scientific studies in New Harmony. He died on March 24, 1890, after mistakenly drinking embalming fluid.


Owen family collection, Collection C89, Office of University Archives and Records Management, Indiana University, Bloomington.


"Purdue Past Presidents." Purdue University Family of Sites. Accessed August 16, 2012.

Found in 4 Collections and/or Records:

John Stein correspondence regarding Board of Trustees business

 Unprocessed — Box: 1
Identifier: 20130530.1
Dates: 1873 - 1881; Majority of material found within 1872 - 1875

Horton B. Knoll papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSF 521
Scope and Contents The Horton B. Knoll papers document Knoll's research, working papers, notes and typescripts for his books, A record of a university in the war years, 1941-1945, published in 1947, and The Story of Purdue Engineering, published in 1963. Also included among the papers is research material, working papers, notes and information related to Purdue presidents Owen, Smart, Stone, Elliott, and Hovde. There is also information Knoll compiled for his intended biography of John Purdue, and historical...
Dates: 1865 - 1981; Majority of material found within 1940 - 1963

New Harmony collection

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSP 145
Scope and Contents The New Harmony collection contains materials from and information related to the New Harmony community in Southern Indiana and the family of Robert Owen, one of its leaders. The collection includes correspondence, newspapers, illustrations, maps, pamphlets, and historical research about New Harmony.
Dates: 1820-1980s

Richard Owen papers

 Collection — Box: 1
Identifier: MSP 59
Scope and Contents The Richard Owen papers document the life and career of Richard Owen, his correspondence, and his administrative recommendations to the Purdue University Trustees. They include materials from Owen's time at Indiana University and Owen's tenure as President of Purdue. They also show Owen's various professions as geologist, professor, and administrator. Types of materials include: books, reports, and letters.Owen's diary records his daily affairs from 1873-1878. Events and topics...
Dates: 1866 - 1878