Herman T. Spieth, ESA Fellow (1952)

Herman T. Spieth (deceased 20 October 1988), professor emeritus, provost, and chancellor at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) and Davis (UCD), was elected Fellow in 1952. His work established many foundations in the systematics, mating behavior, and evolutionary ecology of Ephemeroptera and subsequent innovations in the early development of fruit fly, Drosophila spp., research.

Spieth was born 21 August 1905 in rural Indiana. His life on the family farm inspired his interest in biology at a young age and motivated his academic direction. Following high school, Spieth attended Indiana Central College and graduated with a B.S. in zoology in 1926. Spieth went on to pursue graduate study at Indiana University, studying taxonomy of mayflies under Alfred Kinsey and achieving his Ph.D. in 1931. He promptly took on teaching several biology courses at the College of the City of New York and later Columbia University. He was a passionate educator and scientist but the onset of WWII briefly drew him from academia and assigned him captain of the Army Air Corps. In 1953, following his military service, Spieth moved to Riverside, CA to become the first professor of zoology at the new University of California branch there. He sat as chairman of the division of life sciences, directed the organization of the school’s first faculty, was appointed provost in 1956, and became the first chancellor of UCR in 1958.

Spieth’s research laid the major groundwork for mayfly systematics. He provided a broad description of ephemeropteran life history by directing attention towards ecological perspectives. His thorough analysis of mayfly mating behavior expanded the scope of taxonomic description and the understanding of evolutionary ecology within the order. As provost and chancellor at UCR, Spieth oversaw the transition to a research-driven, general campus; he established the Philip L. Boyd Desert Research Station and promoted an increase in the number of graduate programs offered. After resigning as chancellor in 1964, Spieth returned to a professorial position as chair of the zoology department at UCD but his research interests shifted to the fruit fly. He created and implemented novel experimental methodology for studying the evolution of mating behavior and sexual isolation in the genus. This transition of interest provided early support for the research of this crucially important model organism, exhibiting Spieth’s eye for innovation and lifelong commitment to science. The work encouraged the expansion of a promising new field, and Spieth helped found the Hawaiian Drosophila Project in 1963.

Appointed to the American Institute of Biological Science’s Committee on Biological Science Curriculum and several accreditation committees in the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Spieth was a respected advocate of quality education and carried a deserving reputation of excellence in teaching. In his later years, this reputation and his quality research kept him busy as a visiting investigator and lecturer at universities across the country. Today, Spieth Hall on the campus of UCR stands as a tribute to his more than 60 years of contributions to entomology, education, science, and the University of California.

(updated August, 2011)