The work of founding Belmont Hill effectively brought to an end Dr. Howe’s work as a scientist and leading authority on dragonflies. Nonetheless, nearly a hundred years later, a controversy involving him as a principal over the naming of a dragonfly resurfaced: H. White et al., “Naming an Undescribed Dragonfly: Williamson’s Williamsonia and the Travails of R. Heber Howe Jr.,” Northeastern Naturalist, Vol. 24, Monograph 14, 2017.
One of the authors, Hal White, a professor at the University of Delaware, also became interested in Dr. Howe, the person, and wrote a shorter article focusing on him. He has graciously given permission for its republication here. The illustration preceding it is from the cover of the longer article.
While the details of the controversy as elaborated in that article are probably beyond the general interest of the Belmont Hill community, some passages have a certain relevance:
To be again frank the whole matter seems to me to be “small potatoes”. Friendships, problems of distribution, generosity of point of view, advancement of science no matter by whom, all interest me more than the credit of reviving a name…. Letter Howe to Williamson, p. 21, (emphasis in original).
While at Belmont Hill School, Howe did, however, publish on educational issues, particularly on those related to sports. He was committed to the beneficial role of athletics in education and had prescient concerns about troubling trends in sports (Howe 1925). He clearly had a strong sense of honesty and fairness and an interest in developing character in all participants. Given these views, one can understand why Howe found the dispute with Williamson so distasteful. Authors, p. 30.
Williamson’s sudden animosity toward Howe seems uncharacteristic, as Williamson was a well-liked and generous person (Gaige 1933). Kennedy, on the other hand, frequently seems mean-spirited and caustic in letters. In contrast, throughout the episode, Howe was gracious even when attacked or criticized. Authors, p. 33.
Perhaps Howe’s role as a school science teacher directed his efforts more toward making knowledge of the natural world accessible to the interested public, as evidenced by his several guides to birds and lichens. The fact that he quickly turned his interest in dragonflies into writing a manual on New England Odonata reflected his desire to take a body of knowledge and make it available to non-experts; making science accessible to a broader audience was not something that interested the professional odonatologists at that time. Today, someone with Howe’s approach would be lauded as bridging the gap between the academic and citizen-science worlds. Authors, p. 36.