200 Years. 200 Stories. Story 74: “Darwin's Chair ”

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photo of Darwin's chair
This chair, donated by Cecily Darwin Littleton, was once owned by her great-grandfather Charles Darwin.

Darwin's Chair

Did you know the Academy has a chair that used to belong to Charles Darwin? Darwin, author of On the Origin of Species and originator of the theory of natural selection, was born and died in England. His great-granddaughter, the Philadelphia x-ray crystallographer Cecily Darwin Littleton, inherited this chair through her family. On November 2, 1989, she presented it to the Academy on the occasion of Darwin Day, sponsored by the Academy’s Friends of the Library.

The dark wooden chair, with woven seat and orange-yellow cushion, came from Down House, Darwin’s home in Kent, England. Today it resides in the Academy’s Rare Book Room, a subset of the Academy Library’s exquisite holdings dating back to the 16th century. The chair appears in an illustration from Period Piece, a book of reminiscences of life in the Darwin family published in 1952 by Gwen Raverat, granddaughter of Charles Darwin and mother of Cecily Darwin Littleton.

The Academy’s past president, accomplished scientist Joseph Leidy, met Darwin only once, when English scientist Richard Owen introduced them during Leidy’s first visit to Europe in 1848. The two corresponded in 1860, when Darwin thanked Leidy for his personal support of the theory of natural selection. This letter is in the Academy Archives (Coll. 1).

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