H.F. Wickham – SUI’s Bug Man.

It’s interesting how different leads come my way for my writings on Our Iowa Heritage. Recently, I picked up a very inexpensive postal cover (see below) on Ebay. As you can see, it’s dated August 31, 1916 and postmarked, of course, in Iowa City. Nothing too special about that, right? But what caught my attention was the return address in the upper lefthand corner.

(C-0304) This postal cover comes from the SUI office of Professor H.F. Wickham, and looks to be addressed to him in Vaughn, New Mexico. Hmm. What’s up with that? Keep reading…

I had not run across the name – H.F. Wickham – before, but a quick search on-line found that Professor Wickham was a close associate with the great SUI naturalist – C.C. Nutting – who, some call the third person in the Great SUI Triumvirate – three SUI professors – Thomas McBride, Samuel Calvin, and Nutting (below) of the late 19th and early 20th century, who helped change the course of the university. And, since I’ve done a write-up on Nutting – read more here – I thought I’d take a chance on Professor Wickham.

So, now that I have shown you the postal cover from Professor Wickham’s office – addressed to the good professor himself when he was in Vaughn, New Mexico, I’m curious to find out more. I hope you are as well…

So, being a music major who graduated from Iowa, my first question was – “So, what in the world is an Entomologist?”

According to Wikipedia – Entomology is the scientific study of insects, a branch of zoology, and in the past the term “insect” was less specific, and historically the definition of entomology would also include the study of animals in other arthropod groups, such as arachnids, myriapods, and crustaceans. Hmm. I guess Wickham was SUI’s very own – Bug Man!

Ahh, now I get why Professors Nutting and Wickham were such close buddies. As co-workers in the Department of Zoology, both worked in the original Science Building (today’s Calvin Hall) and the new Natural Science building (see below) – today’s MacBride Hall – when it opened in 1906.

Henry Fredrick Wickham was born on October 26, 1866 in Shrewton, England – a small village on the Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire (see map above). His parents – George & Sarah Wickham – came to Iowa City in 1871 – when Henry was only age 5 – apparently to pursue George’s work as a Baptist minister.

This 1880 U.S. Census shows Henry F. – age 13 – and his parents – George & Sarah – both age 45, and his four brothers, Charles – age 18, William – age 17, Bernard – age 11, and Edgar – age 4. Family records indicate that two more children – both girls – were born after 1880.

Henry attended Iowa City High School (1884-1887), and apparently, as a young man, began collecting insects – and was particularly drawn to beetles. This interest grew, and by 1887, Wickham was studying zoology and botany at SUI, graduating in 1891. That same year – on September 10, 1891 – Wickham married his sweetheart from Independence, Iowa – Fanny Chastina Thompson, and that fall, Dr. Nutting invited Henry to take the position of assistant curator of SUI’s new natural history museum.

Here is the record of the September 10, 1891 marriage of Henry F. Wickham and Fanny Chastina Thompson (born 1868) in Independence.

Three years later, in 1894, Wickham was appointed as an assistant professor in zoology, and became a fully-tenured professor of Zoology and Entomology in 1903. Over the next 30 years, the good professor earned a national reputation with his research and studies in fossilized insects and beetles. His class on practical zoology was one of the most popular ones on campus, and according to one report, his adoring SUI students called him – Bugs.

(JP-061) This postal cover from May 1905 comes from Wickham’s Iowa City office and is off to Belgium. Indeed, Iowa’s Bug Man has an international reputation!

Professor Wickham’s expertise with insects was utilized by both Iowa farmers and the Department of Agriculture in Washington D.C. Nearly every summer between 1914 and 1921, Henry would work with national survey teams, serving as field director for countless biological studies – many of which took him to all parts of the country. It’s our guess that our postal cover from Wickham’s Iowa City office in 1916, and addressed to Wickham himself while he was in New Mexico, was written during one of these summer tours taken on behalf with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Back home, Henry’s wife, Fanny, took care of their home that was located at 911 Iowa Avenue. From the information found on the 1910 U.S. census (below), it appears that Henry’s mother – Sarah – lived with the Wickhams after Henry’s father died in 1905. Sadly, as best we know, Henry & Fanny had no children, as nothing shows up on family records.

Without a doubt, Professor Wickham – Bugs – was a prolific writer – producing many scientific articles during his 30 years of service at SUI.

Here’s an interesting letter from one of Professor Wickham’s students at SUI – R.M. Anderson – who’s been inspired by Bugs to write a paper on the Birds of Iowa in 1905.

The National Parks Service has paid Professor Wickham a great honor by listing him on their webpage – The Big Five – a page dedicated to the top five early entomologists who worked at the Florissant Fossil Beds in central Colorado – one of the first fossil sites to become well known during early scientific exploration of the American West. Wickham was one of five scientists who contributed to this legacy, and our heritage of scientific knowledge about this valley and its fossils began with their discoveries.

Click here to watch the NPS video about the Florissant Fossil Beds.

Sadly, Professor Henry Fredrick Wickham died of a sudden heart attack on November 17, 1933 at age 67. Nine years later, in 1942, Henry’s wife – Fanny – passed away at age 73.

Both H.F. & Fanny are buried alongside Henry’s parents – George & Sarah Wickham – in Oakland Cemetery in Iowa City.

Here’s a big salute to the “Greatly Beloved” Bugs – SUI’s long-time Professor of Entomology – Henry Fredrick Wickham.


DYK-1/6/23

Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.

Entomology, Wikipedia

Shrewton, Wikipedia

Henry F. Wickham in the 1880 United States Federal Census, Ancestry.com

Henry F. Wickham in the Iowa, U.S., Marriage Records, 1880-1945, Ancestry.com

Henry F Wickham in the 1910 United States Federal Census, Ancestry.com

Experience the Fossil History of Colorado, Floissant Fossil Beds National Monument, nps.gov

Henry F. Wickham, The Big Five, Florissant’s fossils, National Park Service nps.gov

Professor H.F. Wickham, The Proceedings of the Iowa Academy of Science, Volume 19, Iowa Academy of Science, 1912, p 81

NOU, R.M. Anderson, Letter, 1905, Aug. 26, Great Nebraska – Naturalists and Scientists

No. 12. — The Fossil Elateridae of Florissant, H.F. Wickham, biodiversitylibrary.org

Professor Henry F. Wickam obituary, Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 17, 1933, p 2

Veteran SUI Professor Dies, Ames Daily Tribune, November 17, 1933, p 2

Fanny C. Wickham, Find-A-Grave

Henry Fredrick Wickham, Find-A-Grave


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