Jeffries Wyman’s research in comparative anatomy, physiology, zoology, and embryology revealed much about the relationship between form and function in living creatures—plants, insects, marine creatures, amphibians, and mammals—while his later work as an archaeologist preserved records of early human civilizations from around the world.
As a young person, Wyman was known for taking long walks in the woods to collect bullfrogs and other treasures, some of which he would dissect and sketch with remarkable detail. He graduated from Harvard College in 1833 and completed his medical degree in 1837. After medical school, Wyman worked briefly as a demonstrator of comparative anatomy and as a member of the Boston Fire Department, until he was invited by Mr. John A. Lowell to curate the Lowell Institute, an educational foundation that provided free public lectures in science. At this point, Wyman turned his full attention to a career in science.
Wyman assumed the position of Hersey professor of anatomy and physiology at Harvard College in 1847. He gave lectures, taught advanced students, and curated a museum of archaeological and ethnological specimens, including the skeleton of a mastodon, that was later incorporated with the collection of the Boston Society of Natural History, of which he was a member for most of his career. The final chapter of Wyman’s life was spent as the lead curator of the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard, which he helped establish.
Wyman was a fellow of several honorary scientific societies, including the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Association of American Geologists and Naturalists, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.