Scientist and educator Joseph LeConte was born in Liberty County, Georgia on February 26, 1823. Raised on a successful plantation, LeConte had the means to pursue his love of science and literature. He graduated third in his class at the University of Georgia and earned his M.D. in New York. But it was the study of science - not medicine - that attracted him. When Harvard opened its Lawrence Scientific School, LeConte was easily persuaded to enroll. He was among the first four students to graduate. Upon returning to Georgia, LeConte held a teaching position at his original alma mater for six years before moving to the College (later University) of South Carolina.
Joseph and his brother John lost most of their possessions when Sherman destroyed Columbia. Radical Reconstruction in the South forced the LeConte brothers to seek employment outside the region. They were both rewarded with positions at the newly opened University of California in 1869. Here LeConte found his niche and earned an international reputation for his writings on science and religion. Altogether LeConte published 190 articles and nine books. An avid outdoorsman, he helped found the Sierra Club - and wrote treatises on the formation of the mountains he loved to climb. His writings on race and education, and attempts to reconcile Christian beliefs with the notion of evolution, earned him acclaim as one of the nation’s leading intellectuals. LeConte died in the Yosemite Valley of California on July 6, 1901. Later, he was remembered with the naming of LeConte Hall on the University of Georgia campus.