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RG 30/276 - Laurence H. (1888-1986) and Frances C. MacDaniels (1891-1986)
Biography

An eminent horticulturist, scholar, teacher, community activist, a loyal and active participant in Oberlin College's alumni affairs, Laurence Howland MacDaniels (1888-1986, A.B. 1912) and his wife, Frances Cochran MacDaniels (1891-1986, A.B. 1912), were people of diverse interests and abilities. Strongly influenced by their education at Oberlin, Laurence and Frances MacDaniels effectively and willingly served their family, local community, and world in substantive ways.

Laurence, son of Heman Nye MacDaniels (d. 1921) and Ellen Woodbury Fay (d. 1940), was born in Fremont, Ohio, on October 21, 1888*. Laurence was only two years old, when his father moved the family to Oberlin, Ohio, for better educational opportunities. To support a family that included five children, Heman built and repaired houses, maintained several properties the family owned, and received a Civil War disability pension. In addition, Ellen operated a boarding house for female students and later, for young unmarried faculty. Growing up in Oberlin, young Laurence enjoyed the natural beauty of the unspoiled area of the Arboretum south of the campus and the woods and swamps beyond the town. His interest in nature and the environment followed.

As a teenager, Laurence attended Oberlin High School and proved to hold tremendous academic promise. Laurence also showed himself to be a friendly, well-rounded individual that held many interests. He served as the 1907 president of the high school debating club and as a member of the Board of Editors of the Oberlin High School newsletter The O-High. Laurence's athletic abilities also began to blossom, playing guard on the high school football team.

After working for one year after graduating from Oberlin High School in 1907, Laurence began classes at Oberlin College in 1908, and would finish his studies in 1912. An outstanding student (Phi Beta Kappa) with a major in Economics, he was elected Class President in his first year, served as President of the Student Council, chaired the Honor Court, and served as secretary and then vice-president of Sigma Gamma. In his senior year, Laurence was named captain of the Oberlin College football team. He was also the starting center on squads that won the Ohio State championships in 1909, 1910, and 1911, as well as being named to the all Ohio Football Team by the Ohio College Press Association. Besides being starting center on the football team, Laurence was also a class tennis champion during his freshman and sophomore years. Laurence also enjoyed music. He studied piano and voice at the Conservatory, sang in the College Glee Club, and was a member of the First Congregational Church Choir in Oberlin. In addition, Laurence held a student assistantship in Dendrology in the Botany Department, under the direction of Professor Frederick O. Grover.

Laurence's future wife, Francis Ermina Cochran, daughter of William C. Cochran (d. 1936, A.B. 1869) and Rosa Dale Allen (d. 1926), was one of his Oberlin classmates. Frances, born in Cincinnati on January 12, 1891, attended Woodward High School in Cincinnati before enrolling at Oberlin College in 1908. She was Vice-President of her class (1909-1910) and a member of Sigma Gamma, as well as a student player and director in the Oberlin Dramatic Association. Frances, who studied piano for four years at the Conservatory, was also active in natural dancing and student recitals, served on Honor Court and Women's Senate for three years, sang in First Congregational Church Choir, and was twice class tennis champion. After graduation in 1912, Frances worked for the Young Women's League in Dayton, Ohio, then as a field worker and, later, as a director (1912-1916) of a Juvenile Protection Association in Cincinnati, Ohio. Frances and Laurence would marry in 1916 in Cincinnati.

In the fall of 1912, Laurence began his forty-five year association with Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Here, he would make his academic mark in teaching, scholarship, and service to Cornell. While earning a Ph.D. (he finished in 1917) in Plant Anatomy and Plant Pathology, he also served as a part-time instructor in Botany. After graduation (and World War I), Laurence would return to Cornell to teach: Assistant Professor of Pomology (1921-1923), Professor of Pomology (1923-1940), and Head of the Department of Floriculture and Ornamental Horticulture (1940-1956). Laurence retired in 1956, but was named Visiting Professor, Emeritus, an appointment he served from 1957 to 1960.

Laurence was one of the giants who changed horticulture from a backyard garden activity into a highly respected agricultural science. His research projects were in plant anatomy related to fruit plants, on fruit varieties, tropical fruits, and pollination. Laurence wrote several articles for journals and periodicals, as well as co-authoring a popular 1925 textbook, Introduction to Plant Anatomy. Laurence was recognized in American Men of Science (4th edition) for his expertise, research, teaching in plant histology and anatomy, fruit pollination, plant propagation, ornamental horticulture, and floriculture, receiving several awards for his work with food-producing trees, garden lilies, and nuts. As an early dedicated conservationist, Laurence gave particular attention to plantings and horticultural maintenance as Chairman of The Cornell Plantations Committee, a group actively engaged in supporting an area nature preserve. He was also active in the Cornell chapter of the American Association of University Professors (A.A.U.P.). In addition to his teaching, Laurence was recognized as a leader and a first class scholar at Cornell. Students and colleagues knew Dr. "Mac" as a concerned, committed teacher and scientist.

Besides teaching, Laurence was able to serve his country in non-military capacities during two World Wars, as well as participate in research trips throughout his career. At the outbreak of World War I, Laurence became an investigator for the Botanical Raw Products Committee in Boston (1917) and an inspector of propeller woods in Baltimore and Boston (1918-1919). He then worked on relief and reconstruction projects in Lebanon and Turkey (1919-1920). During World War II, Laurence sought ways to use plant materials for camouflage and helped develop Victory Gardens in New York state. In 1943-1945, he was director of agriculture for the Near East Foundation in Syria and Lebanon and for the U.N.R.R.A in Italy. Research trips took Laurence to Hawaii, Samoa, New Zealand, and Tahiti in 1926-1927. He continued botanical collecting in 1949-1950 in New Caledonia, New Hebrides, and Canton Island in the Pacific.

Laurence was also very active in many professional and civic groups, including many in Ithaca. He was a President of the American Society for Horticultural Science, the North American Lily Society (founder), the Northern Nut Association, the Academy for the Advancement of Science, and the Royal Horticulture Society of London. In Ithaca (where the MacDaniels would stay and raise their family), Laurence was active with the Rotary Club, Boy Scouts, Council of Social Agencies, First Unitarian Church, and the early hospice movement. He also helped found a Senior Citizens Center with his wife Frances, and served as chair of the Cayuga Lake Preservation Association group credited with preventing construction of a nuclear power plant on the lake. On his 85th birthday in 1974, a 90-acre tract near Cornell was dedicated as the Laurence H. MacDaniels Botanical Sanctuary (and added to The Cornell Plantations) to be kept wild, managed only with suitable scientific practices.

Laurence and Frances both nurtured a life-long interest in Oberlin College. The Oberlin Alumni Board benefited from Laurence's participation, and he was active in Oberlin alumni groups in Ithaca. Laurence served as class president in 1912 and from 1957-1982. As class president, he corresponded often with classmates and college officials to communicate reactions, support, and dissent to changes on campus and contribute expertise when appropriate. Laurence represented Oberlin at numerous inaugurals of College presidents and served as Honorary Marshal at the 129th Commencement in 1962. In 1986, Laurence was inducted as a charter member of the Heisman Club Hall of Fame in recognition of his play on the Oberlin College football team.

Frances and Laurence raised two daughters, Ellen Woodbury (Mrs. Peter C. Speers, b. 1921, B.A. '42) and Carolyn Rudd (Mrs. Robert S. Miller, b. 1926, d. 1994, B.A. '47). As a housewife raising their children, Frances was active in the Ithaca community and social work. Frances chaired both the Ithaca Council of Church Women and the Council of Social Agencies, and served as Superintendent of the Unitarian Sunday School 1931-1932. During World War II, she was head of the Office of Civil Defense Volunteers. In 1945 (and later elected in 1948), Frances was appointed as the first female member of the Ithaca Common Council. (Subsequently, Laurence donated two (2) acres of land to Ithaca to create a small city park to honor Frances as the first woman to hold that office.) In addition, Frances was active with the PTA between 1928 and 1934 and also Girl Scouts, as well as a co-founder of the Ithaca chapter of the United Nations Society. Highly interested in culture, Frances was an accomplished pianist who pursued art and dramatic interests at the Ithaca Women's Club, and for a time lead the Federation of Women's Clubs.

Frances often accompanied Laurence on his overseas assignments. She contributed to relief work in Turkey (1919-1920), supervised a clinic in Lebanon (1944), worked as a mess sergeant in Italy (1945), and served as his secretary when on assignment in the Philippines (1957-1959), in Mexico (1960), and in Yugoslavia (1963-1964).

Laurence died at home in Ithaca, New York, at the age of 97, on June 18, 1986, weeks after Frances, who preceded him in death on May 15, 1986.

*Heman spelled his last name "McDaniels" (with umlauts under the c) to denote the Scottish derivation of the name. Yet Heman's children spelled their last name "MacDaniels."

Sources Consulted

"Crusader at 79." Cornell Alumni News (February 1968): 16-17.

Isabell, Joan. "Dr. Mac, an Activist, Scientist and a Friend to All Who Knew Him." The Cornell Plantations 42 (1986): 47-68.

Ithaca Journal (May 16, 1986).

Ithaca Journal (June 19, 1986).

Oberlin College Archives. Record Group 0. Class Files.

Oberlin College Archives. Record Group 28. Alumni Record Files for Laurence H. MacDaniels and Frances MacDaniels.

 
 
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