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Parshley, Howard Madison

Howard Madison Parshley

Howard Madison Parshley was a professor at Smith from 1917 until 1952, and the chairman of the Zoology Department for many years. His early specialization in entomology broadened to include studies of genetics, reproduction and human sexuality.

At Smith he taught classes in general zoology, genetics/reproduction and entomology. His publications included books, reviews and more than 300 articles in scientific as well as nonscientific journals. His books include Science and Good Behavior, The Science of Human Reproduction, and A Survey of Biology. Parshley was recognized as an international authority on the Hemiptera-Heteroptera and was editor of the General Catalogue of the Hemiptera. Parshley wrote the screenplay and co-starred with Clarence Darrow, the well-known evolutionist of the Scopes trial, in the documentary film, “The Mystery of Life,” which was filmed and released in 1931. His fellow faculty called him a “pioneer in the application of the scientific outlook to the behavior of man.” A talented musician and music-lover, for decades he played the double bass in the Smith College Orchestra, in the Pioneer Valley Symphony and in the professional Springfield Symphony Orchestra.

Born to a pianist and a Baptist minister in Hallowell, Maine in 1884, Parshley grew up in eastern New York. With a strong classical education from the Boston Latin School (1901-1905) he went on to study at Harvard University, achieving an A.B. (1909), an A.M. (1910) and an Sc.D (1917). Concurrent with these studies Parshley also attended the New England Conservatory of Music. He married Nancy Fredricson in 1910. They had one son and one daughter, a member of the Class of 1935.

Between 1911 and 1914 Parshley taught at the University of Maine, Orono. In 1917, Parshley accepted a position at Smith as assistant professor of zoology. He soon became professor and later chairman of the Department. He began translating into English what is now called “The Feminist Bible,” Simone de Beauvoir’s groundbreaking and controversial Le Deuxieme Sexe, (The Second Sex) in November 1949. During his work, he suffered a minor heart attack in 1952. Shortly after the publication of his translation of The Second Sex, and the completion of his translation of a French zoology book on mammals, Parshley died of a second heart attack on May 19, 1953. Parshley’s translation of de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex is still in print and widely used by Women’s Studies programs throughout the English-speaking world.

[Biographical note prepared in cooperation with Elsa Parshley Brown]

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