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Bert Bailey

Psalm #104 [From a verse on Coe's faculty in the 1905 Rabbit]

Bailey and Doc. Are other cognomens;
I
name him from the warblers he so loves.
Robin and nightingale and thrush and wren,
Ducks, geese, aye, even turkey cocks and hens
Yield to his trusty fangs.

During the first three decades of Coe's existence, it had on the faculty three skilled biologists of national stature.  Professor Frederick Starr, professor of biological sciences and geology, was at Coe for three years (1884-87).  In addition to his teaching duties, he gave nature talks, led field excursions with the Agassiz Club, and was a leader of boys' work in the YMCA. He later became a student of pigmy tribes in Central Africa and head of anthropology at the University of Chicago He translated a book dealing with pigmy tribes in Central Africa and wrote several books in anthropology, including his Indians of Southern Mexico, one of three books by Starr still available in Coe's library.

Starr was succeeded by Seth Meek, a professor of natural sciences at Coe from 1887 to 1892.  In 1889 he became the curator of the college's museum and he also served as the college's librarian for one year (during a period when Coe had seven librarians in eight years).  Meek's specialty was ichthyology.  He left Coe in 1892 to become curator of the Chicago Museum of Natural History.

The third biologist in this triumvirate was Bert H. Bailey, the son of a Presbyterian minister, who came to Cedar Rapids with his parents when he was twelve years old.  Bailey soon became a student in the Coe Academy, where he developed a life-long friendship with Professors Meek and C. O. Bates, head of the chemistry department.  As S. W. Stookey, a fellow faculty member, later recalled, Bailey from an early age had the "habit of wandering the woods ... sometimes to the detriment of the interests of Latin and Greek, but with ever increasing promise for his future as a naturalist."  As a young man, Bailey enjoyed going on field trips with hunters, providing him with an insights into nature and birds not otherwise available.  He also had the good fortune to meet a man who taught him how to do taxidermy, an art which he "assiduously cultivated" for the rest of his life.

After graduating from Coe in 1897, Bailey spent three years at Rush Medical College, where many Coe grads of the era received their medical education.  He intended to become a medical missionary.  But the discovery of heart problems convinced him that he could not survive the physical challenges of the missionary field.  In the fall of 1900, the 25-year-old Bailey returned to his alma mater as chair of the zoology department.  It was in this same year that he married Anna Condit.

Although Bailey was only at Coe for 17 years, prematurely dying in June of 1917, he was one of the most productive faculty in the history of the college.  As the curator of the museum, he dramatically increased the size of its scientific collection.  In 1905 he traveled to British Honduras and, according to Stookey, returned with "the third largest collection of birds from that region in this country." In addition to birds that he mounted, Coe alumni and associates sent him specimens from all over the world.  From a small collection in Old Main, the collection eventually expanded to house over 2,000 birds, plants, fossils, minerals, and rocks on the third floor of Carnegie Science.  It was probably the second largest museum of natural history in the state, surpassed only by the museum at the University of Iowa.

As might be expected, Bailey was a strong advocate for protection of natural resources.  His thorough familiarity with bird life and natural lore in Eastern Iowa enabled him to understand how many wild birds and animals were disappearing from the state.  His conservation work included appeals to the state legislature for protection of birds, and he vigorously lobbied for a closed season to prohibit the hunting of quail.

In the year prior to his death, Bailey was granted a one-year's leave of absence from Coe so he could complete his doctorate at the University of Iowa.  His research involved collecting data to produce a complete catalog of small mammals in Iowa.  Although Bailey's illness kept him from presenting a final draft of his thesis for the degree, the Iowa Geological Survey did posthumously publish his Raptorial Birds of Iowa in 1918.  Several years before, a local firm had published Bailey's Two Hundred Wild Birds of Iowa, a guide for helping young people learn how to identify birds in the field.

It is evident from the many references to Bailey in the Cosmos and Acorn that students felt a deep admiration for Bailey as instructor and human being.  The editors of the 1909 Rabbit dedicated the yearbook to Prof. Bailey.  They note his many contributions to the student body, including his service as a team doctor for student athletes.

We know no kindlier friend, no wiser counselor, no more willing helper to every high achievement than he is.  No more genial and cheery greetings are given by anyone.  Full of humor, and loving a good joke and a hearty laugh, he never fails to be considerate of the finest feelings and sensitive natures.

At Bailey's funeral, E. R. Burkhalter, long-time member of Coe's Board of Trustees and Bailey's first pastor at the First Presbyterian Church, recalled similar qualities in his portrait of Bailey's "religious view of life":

He has been truly described as a scientist, and such indeed he was but he was a scientist in a constant attitude of worship.  And there was about him that sense of awe, of mystery, of wonder, which always characterizes the religious spirit and denotes a great soul.  But at the same time religion was to him not only worship and mystery and reverence, it was also goodness, kindness, love.  And it was practical helpful goodness, it was service.  His conception of life led him to be good and to do good.

It was during this same service that President Marquis recollected how Bailey would have students in his ornithology class rise before dawn and go into the woods so that they might "see the birds and the natural life of the forest as the sun was coming up."  Following their investigation of the natural world, Bailey and his class would return to campus and he would read to them Psalm #104, giving the text "a meaning and a quiet emphasis that were all his own": "O Lord, how manifold are they works! In wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches." (Psalm 104:24)

 
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