Faculty Profile

Leigh Hoadley

The Captain announced to the boys of the Ambulance Corps who were on board ship that evening in 1917 that there would be little point in having boat drills during that voyage across the Channel. "This ship is cradling eight-five thousand gallons of gasoline in her hold," he explained, "and the Boche channel subs may not want to play cricket with us." That was in Halifax, just before she left dock. One hour and a half before she was to reach Liverpool the man on the bridge spotted a red flare thrown from a fishing sloop. All hands rushed on deck to see what was up. It happened inside of three minutes: a submarine, taking its cue from the flare, dropped its torpedo in a direct line for the British transport.

"We stood on the deck and watched the whole show," mused Leigh Hoadley, one of the men in that ambulance corps. "There wasn't much we could do about it. The torpedo nicked our bow . . . but do you know, we were very fortunate. It didn't go off."

If that torpedo had not turned out to be a dud, Leigh Hoadley would not today be a professor of Biology, expert in the development of frog, fish and chicken eggs, and Master of Leverett House.

Son of a Northampton doctor, Hoadley "came toward" biology as early as 1908, while he was still in grammar school. His father died at that time and the boy became very good friends with his back door neighbor, H. H. Wilder, who was Professor of Zoology at Smith College. During these years, while other boys were playing marbles, young Leigh would prepare skeletons for the professor, who was doing some special work on the physiognomy of the American Indian. Later, in high school, he worked on brain sections. Then on his elderly friend's advice, Hoadley went to the University of Michigan, where he became a laboratory assistant in his Sophomore year. When America entered the war, the young student spent his next two years partly in the ambulance corps and partly as assistant to the Pathologist in an Evacuation Hospital laboratory. After the Armistice he returned to Michigan, graduated in 1921, then did more intense laboratory work at the University of Chicago in the winter and at Woods Hole in the summer, for his Ph.D.

It was biology as a curious youngster, and it remained biology through high school, college, graduate work, as National Research Fellow, International Education Board Fellow at Brussels, Freiburg, and the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin--Dahlem, as assistant professor at Brown University in 1926-27, as assistant professor at Harvard in 1927, and as Master of Leverett House in 1941.


"Eggs," explains the quiet-toned, even-tempered, lab-loving Housemaster, "start out as relatively simple and, to the eye, homogeneous masses. But actually they exhibit vast chemical diversity and as they divide again and again produce systems which become increasingly complex." And when he speaks of eggs Hoadley is referring to the lower vertebrates and the invertebrates--not mammals. "Why," for instance, he challenges, "when many different kinds of eggs and sperms are all present in the same sea, do the sperms of one species of starfish happen to find and fertilize the eggs of that species?"

And sooner or later, though he claims there is no connection between the two interests, Hoadley gets to talking about fishing--honest-to-goodness fly fishing, "as a sporting proposition and not a laboratory experiment." But even here, he is always the scientific naturalist. He would never be found telling "whoppers" over the bridge table, polishing his fishing pole in the living room, or mounting his prize catch for that revered space above the mantelpiece. He loves being alone in the woods, getting up at the crack of dawn, taking long walks over the mountain paths--all the atmosphere and environment of fishing, fully as much as he does the game end of it. "Sharks are very good fun," he admits, "but I'd rather catch a five inch trout with a two ounce pole, than anything in deep water."

Detached and observant, he would prefer to spend all out-of-lab days at his farm in Chocorua, New Hampshire, with his wife, six year old son, five year old daughter, and fishing pole, than at any amusement which the city can offer. There he can putter around in his garden, fix the stone wall, or experiment in transplanting some esoteric kind of flower. As an old friend remarked, "He certainly can make an old azalia bloom."

Professor Hoadley is a scientist first, last and always--even to insisting on keeping in step with whomever he is walking down the street. As for excitement, he says he is "nothing on night life," though he admits that "the complex species of mammal found in such an environment is definitely an interesting problem. But then, that's not my field."