History of the Department of Biology

Howard University was founded March 2, 1867 during the Reconstruction era after the Civil War. The departments of Botany and Zoology along with Medicine were established to represent the life sciences. The departments joined other academic units in the humanities and the social sciences during the beginning years of the university. The department of Zoology was established in 1907 with Dr. Ernest E. Just as its first Head/Chairman (1907-1938). The Botany department offered its first course in 1867 and was established as a department in 1922. Dr. Thomas W. Turner was the first Head/Chairman of the department. Initially the departments were located in the Physics building (Thirkield Hall).

In 1957 the Biology – Greenhouse building opened. It was a state-of-the-art facility designed by Dr. Marie C. Taylor (Head/Chairman – Botany department 1947-1976) and Dr. Harold E. Finley (Head/Chairman Zoology department 1947- 1969).

The academic programs of the departments offered specializations in cytology, endocrinology, embryology, genetics, parasitology, photobiology, virology, microbiology, bacteriology, immunology, plant physiology, plant populations and environment.

The Departments of Botany and Zoology both began M.S. graduate programs in 1930. The Botany M.S. program begun under the leadership of Dr. Charles Parker (Head, 1922-1947) produced nearly 300 M.S. degrees. Fifteen alumni have gone on to earn doctoral degrees in Botany (17% of all AfricanAmerican Botanists), and 53 have received doctorates in other biological disciplines. The M.S. program in Zoology, established under Dr. Just, produced more than 300 graduates, many of whom have continued on to earn their Ph.D. degrees. The Ph.D. graduate program in Zoology, the third doctoral program at Howard University, was founded in 1958 under the guidance of Dr. Harold E. Finley. T

he department has awarded doctoral degrees to over 125 students who represent more than 12% of the total living AfricanAmerican biology Ph.D. holders in the United States. In addition, the department represented an essential training site for students from other historically black colleges and universities that did not have doctoral programs. The Departments of Botany and Zoology, along with elements of Geology and Geography, merged to form the Department of Biology in July 1992.

Ernest Everett Just (August 14, 1883-October 27, 1941) was a pioneering African-American biologist, academic and science writer. Just’s primary legacy is his recognition of the fundamental role of the cell surface in the development of organisms. In his work within marine biology, cytology and parthenogenesis, he advocated the study of whole cells under normal conditions, rather than simply breaking them apart in a laboratory setting. Just took what seemed to be the best choice available to him and accepted a teaching position at historically black Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Ernest Everett Just - Forgotten Father of Epigenetics

An African American scientist whose recognition of the fundamental role of the cell surface in the development of organisms helped pave the way to modern cell and developmental biology

The Forgotten Father of Epigenetics


A theory put forward in the 1930s by E. E. Just, embryologist and African American,
shares surprising connections with our emerging understanding of development.