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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 recorded include faculty meetings, payments, travel, and correspondence. The diary also includes a chart of Owen's laundry washing practices. A letter records communication between Richard Owen and Dr. Blackwell of the Literary Society of Bedford. 

The letter, written during Owen's tenure at Indiana University, details Owen's geological studies and confirms his intention to meet with Blackwell on May 25, 1866. 

Also included is a photocopy of the first Presidential report to the Purdue University Trustees, where Owen provides recommendations regarding faculty and staff, the plan of education, and general administrative affairs.


  • 1866 - 1878


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Copyright and Use Information

Portions of material in this collection are in the public domain. Other material copyrights held by Purdue University or original creator. Consult with Purdue University Archives and Special Collections prior to reproduction of materials.

Biographical Information

Richard Owen, first presient 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.


0.182 Cubic Feet (One letter-size half-width manuscript box)

Language of Materials


Acquisition Information

Richard Owen diary transferred from ASC Indiana Collection; Letter purchased from M. Benjamin Katz Fine Books, July 27, 2012; Library purchased from R.E. Banta, circa 1933.

Existence and Location of Originals

Photocopy of President's Report to Purdue Trustees. Original is located at Indiana University Archives.

Separated Materials

The attached pdf finding aid includes the list of books of Owen's library.  Owen's collection of books has been removed from the papers and cataloged in the general Purdue Libraries collection. Please visit the Libraries Online Public Access Catalog to view detailed bibliographic records

Processing Information

This collection was created by Archives and Special Collections staff. All materials were transferred from existing collections related to Richard Owen. All materials have been housed in polyester sleeves, acid-free folders, and acid-free boxes. Owen’s books have been cataloged and placed in the Special Collections General book collection.
Richard Owen papers
Under Review
Michael Maune and Mary A. Sego
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Edition statement
Third edition. Collection description first completed 2013-01-11.

Repository Details

Part of the Purdue University Archives and Special Collections Repository

504 Mitch Daniels Boulevard
West Lafayette Indiana 47907 United States