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At CU Boulder: 1931-1940

by Karen Lloyd

Gordon and Marion's home on 14th street

Gordon and Marion's Home on 14th Street
Photo taken by Gordon Alexander

On arrival at Boulder in 1931, Gordon and Marion moved into the area around the University of Colorado known as "The Hill" where they were to remain until their deaths in 1973. Their first home, within walking distance of the university, was a rental property, but during 1937, a year after the birth of their son Douglas, they built their own home at 765 14th Street, Boulder. Their new home became a gathering place for many of Professor Alexander's students.

Their new house became a "home from home" and gathering center for many of Professor Alexander's students, including exchange students from Thailand, who invariably were family members of the students and faculty of Chulalongkorn University where Gordon had taught in the late 1920s. Marion would often help the exchange students with their English as well as provide meals for Gordon's other students who were unable to go home to their own families.

The Science Research Lodge (now the Mountain Research Station), located just west of Nederland CO., researches high elevation ecology, and it was here that Gordon taught classes in ecology as well as conducted his own research on high altitudinal ecology.

The Lodge, some 25 miles west of the University, was located at an elevation several thousand feet higher and represented a different environment than that of Boulder and the surrounding plains. The two sites, in close proximity and at drastically different elevations, provided Professor Alexander with an opportunity to study and compare the biodiversity of the two sites.

Hale Science Building

Hale Science Building. Biology Department During Gordon's Time as Chair of the Department

As there is today, there was a requirement of all untenured and tenured university professors to continue with and publish their research as well as perform teaching duties. In his first years at CU Professor Alexander published a variety of papers on diverse topics which included the natural history of Thailand, ornithology, general biology, Orthoptera (grasshoppers), fireflies and the relation between nature and art.

On arriving in Colorado Professor Alexander was immediately interested in the effect of elevation on grasshoppers. His first publication in 1933 was titled Some Relations between Altitude and the Distribution of Acrididae in Colorado (publications link). This investigated the distribution of Acrididae at different elevations. The grasshoppers (490 in total), which were collected and studied from a variety of locations at 5,500 and 6,700 feet, were found either in short grass or open forest. The paper concluded with Professor Alexander stating that further investigation over a greater altitudinal distribution was being carried out.

Old Main.  The Biology Department was located in this building

Old Main. The Biology Department was located in this building in 1889

In 1935, Dr. Alexander published his first text on biology, An Outline of General Biology (publications link). Alexander believed that a strong introduction into general biology was needed by all students of biology, whether they were botanists, zoologists or ecologists, and in 1939. When he took over as Chairman of the Department of Biology, Dr. Alexander campaigned for a strong general biology introductory class.

During those first years at CU, Professor Alexander's publications demonstrated his diverse interests in natural history and ecology. In 1940, An Outline of General Zoology was also published. His passion for ornithology was as strong as it was when he was a young man growing up in Missouri and he taught a beginning ornithology class and one titled "Birds of the World." Living in Boulder gave him a unique opportunity to study ecology at different elevations in the nearby Rocky Mountains. Grasshoppers provided excellent "tools" to study the impact of elevation on living systems.

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