Thomas Labs

Photographer – Mason B. Thomas

All but our most recent alumni are familiar with Waugh Hall and Thomas Labs, removed to build the new Hays Hall of Science. While memories of Waugh and Thomas linger, I thought it would be fun to share this image of the original Thomas Labs. This picture taken by Mason B. Thomas shows us a working laboratory at the turn of the last century. It is here that Mason B. Thomas worked and mentored his students. Professor Thomas is referred to in our history as “the Maker of Men” for the large number of talented students he sent from Wabash to success in graduate schools across the nation.

Much as current student researchers are working away this summer in labs under their professors, students of a hundred years ago and more were studying and working with Professor Thomas. Studying with Thomas was a rigorous proposition and, from what I understand, a great honor. Sometimes the work was in his lab, but often teacher and student would go out and do fieldwork as well.

It seems his passion for botany and zoology was boundless. He had the newest equipment as we learn from the Wabash Magazine of October 1895 which has a note that Professor Thomas has just received his “new bacteria oven made by Bausch and Lomb.”

Mason B. Thomas’ influence was not limited to the students in his classroom. His lab manuals and syllabi were highly regarded by teachers across the nation. There is another entry in the Wabash magazine of the time which says that his lab manual, Laboratory Manual of Plant Histology was used by the biggest research institutions of that time. In the Archives we also have other publications such as, Directions for Laboratory Work in Botany, Syllabus for Course in Elementary Botany and his Syllabus of Lectures in Fungi.

Over the course of his 21 years on the faculty Mason B. Thomas made a lasting and permanent mark on the men of Wabash. It was his former students, the Thomas men, who contributed a great deal of the money to build the Thomas Labs which were connected to Waugh Hall. It was an entirely fitting tribute to their beloved teacher. It was said at his funeral in 1912 that Thomas was just coming into the high point of his teaching and scholarship. A colleague described Thomas in this way, “By nature, his interest in them was such that he warmed their hearts, gave them new hopes, and increased their zeal.” Sounds to me like what we now call student engagement. Clearly Thomas engaged his students and inspired them to share his passion for biology which, by any measure, is the hallmark of a great teacher.

Beth Swift
Wabash College