Obituary: Garland Allen, professor emeritus of biology, 86

Garland Allen

Garland (“Gar”) Edward Allen III, professor emeritus of biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, died peacefully in Palm Springs, Calif., on Friday, Feb. 10, 2023. He was 86.

Allen was born Feb. 13, 1936, in Louisville, Ky. He earned his bachelor’s degree in English at the University of Kentucky in 1957. He earned a master’s degree in arts and teaching and a PhD in the history of biology from Harvard University in 1958 and 1966, respectively.

Allen joined the Washington University faculty in 1967 and remained until his retirement in 2017. He was widely known for his work in the history of genetics and was an international leader on the history of eugenics.

His primary interest was in the history and philosophy of biology — particularly genetics, embryology and evolution — and their interrelationships between 1880 and 1950. Through his scholarship, Allen broadened the study of biology to include its philosophical and ideological dimensions, and particularly to illuminate the historical and political-social context within the practice of science.

At Washington University, Allen taught introductory biology to thousands of undergraduate students and mentored dozens of graduate scholars, inspiring many to begin or deepen their study of science. Driven by a deep passion for politics and political philosophy, Allen also was active in the U.S. civil rights movement. He later spent time in Cuba and with progressive groups that advocated for social and racial justice.

From 2005-07, Allen was president of the International Society for the History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Biology. He wrote multiple books, and he co-edited the Journal of the History of Biology from 1996-2005. For many years, Allen co-organized an annual History of Biology Seminar at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass. He was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 2017, Allen received the George Sarton Medal for Lifetime Achievement from the History of Science Society.

Allen is survived by his husband, Larry Bennett; his daughters, Carin Allen and Tania Allen; and four grandchildren. His family is in the process of establishing the Gar Allen Memorial Scholarship at Washington University, and the biology department is setting up a new prize for a graduating senior in his name.

Read more about Allen on his memorial webpage.

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