Skip to main content

William Keith Brooks papers

Identifier: MS-0066

  • Staff Only
  • No requestable containers

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of research notes, reprints and drawings dating from 1880 to 1906. The research notes cover the genus Modera, Eucopidae, Lucifer, and vesiculated Medusae. The reprint series consists of one article, "The Life History of Epenthesis McCradyi."

The drawings form the bulk of the collection and illustrate Brooks' morphological studies from 1880-1906. Most of the sketches are of the tunicates Salpa and coelenterates hydromedusae and Physalia. Brooks's best known work is The Genus Salpa, and the series contains both original sketches for and photolithographic plates from the volume.

The drawings underscore Brooks's talent as both artist and scientist. Working with the naked eye and with the aid of a microscope, he produced accurate representations. Morphological studies and their relationship to evolutionary theory were an important part of late nineteenth century biological studies, since embryological developments served to confirm Darwin's theses. Brook's studies had important implications for the theory of the origin of vertebrates and the origin of pelagic life, because the drawings confirm the reality of individual development and focus attention on the texture of the embryo.


  • Creation: 1880 - 1906


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is housed off-site and requires 48-hours' notice for retrieval. Please contact Special Collections for more information.

Collection is open for use.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. Researchers are responsible for determining any copyright questions. It is not necessary to seek our permission as the owner of the physical work to publish or otherwise use public domain materials that we have made available for use, unless Johns Hopkins University holds the copyright.

Biographical Note

William Keith Brooks was born in Cleveland, Ohio on March 25, 1848, the son of Oliver Allen and Ellenora Bradbury Brooks. He early developed an interest in natural history.

In 1866 he left Cleveland to enroll in Hobart College. He remained there for only two years, leaving in 1868 to finish his degree at Williams. Brooks graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1870. After graduation, he joined his father's wholesale business in Cleveland. After a year it was clear that Brooks lacked interest in becoming an entrepreneur. He instead joined the faculty at DeVeaux College, Niagara, New York. The money he earned teaching allowed him to continue his education.

Brooks attended a summer scientific lab at Nantucket, instructed by Louis Agassiz. After the session, he applied to work on his Ph.D under Agassiz at Harvard. Although Agassiz died before Brooks was formally enrolled, Brooks nevertheless commenced graduate studies and received his Ph.D in 1875.

In 1876, Daniel Coit Gilman offered Brooks one of the first fellowships for advanced studies in biology at Hopkins. Brooks accepted, and remained on the faculty as professor of zoology until his death in 1908. While at Hopkins, Brooks established the first full-fledged marine biological station, first at Fort Wool, Virginia and later moved to Beaufort, North Carolina, for the training of students in morphological studies. The Chesapeake Zoological Lab continued its peripatetic existence, migrating from Beaufort to Hampton, Virginia (1883), Green Turtle Key, Bahamas (1886), Nassau, Bahamas (1887), Woods Hole (1888- 1890), Kingston, Jamaica (1891, 1893, 1896), Alice Town, North Bimini, Bahamas (1892), and Port Antonio, Jamaica (1897).

Brooks married Amelia Katharine Schultz (d. 1901) of Baltimore on June 13, 1878. They had two children, Charles Ernest (1879-1935) and Menetta White (1881-1972).

Brooks died at his home in Baltimore on November 12, 1908, following cardiac and renal failure.

(This biographical information is drawn from Keith Rodney Benson's doctoral dissertation, "William Keith Brooks (1848- 1908): A Case Study in Morphology and the Development of American Biology," Oregon State University, 1979.)


1.98 Cubic Feet (11 containers)

Language of Materials



William Keith Brooks (1848 – 1908) was an American zoologist who studied embryological development in invertebrates. The collection consists of research notes, reprints and drawings dating from 1880 to 1906.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The drawings and notes remained in the Biology Department library after Brooks's death. A few sketches of Lucifer were lent to James S. Gutshell in 1931, and returned to the department in 1947. The departmental holdings were transferred to the Milton S. Eisenhower Library upon its completion.

Related Materials

Three other collections in the Manuscripts Division provide insight into the life of William Keith Brooks. The Daniel Coit Gilman Papers (MS.0001) and the Herbert Baxter Adams Papers (MS.0004) both contain letters from Brooks. The correspondence in the Gilman Papers recounts Brooks's activities at the marine laboratory, discusses negotiations with John Work Garrett to build an aquarium in Druid Hill Park, and documents the ill-fated Jamaica expedition of 1897. The Johns Hopkins University Collection (MS.0137) contains letters to Dr. E. A. Andrews from some of Brooks's colleagues. Andrews edited a memorial volume, and the letters relate anecdotes about Brooks.

Processing Information

Finding aid prepared by Margaret N. Burri in 1987.

Guide to the William Keith Brooks papers
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Repository

The Sheridan Libraries
Special Collections
3400 N Charles St
Baltimore MD 21218 USA