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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 1 Collection or Record:

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