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James Stoller, 1880s
Union College Schaffer Library,
Special Collections Picture File
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James Stoller, date unknown
Union College Schaffer Library,
Special Collections Picture File
James Hough Stoller
(December 11, 1857 – June 5, 1955)
Union College Class of 1884;
Professor of Biology and Geology, 1884-1925

James Hough Stoller was born in Johnstown, New York, and educated at Cazenovia Seminary and Syracuse University before transferring to Union in 1881.  He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1884 and was immediately hired by the College as an instructor of natural history, but soon left to pursue further studies at Johns Hopkins University. After briefly returning to Union, he left again to travel through Europe, visiting great art museums and eventually studying biology in Munich. In 1888, upon his return to the United States, he married Mary Norris Montgomery of Schenectady, with whom he would eventually have three children. In 1897, he once again travelled to Germany to further his education and earned a PhD from Leipzig University in 1898.

As a professor at Union, Stoller initially only taught biology, but from the beginning he was an imaginative scholar with wide-ranging interests, developing and teaching the College’s first course in bacteriology in 1894. Over the next two decades the Biology and Geology departments at Union were sometimes combined and sometimes split, and Stoller’s responsibilities were similarly combined and split in various ways.  His professional research gradually focused on the glacial geology of New York’s Capital District, however, and he would spend the last five years of his career as chair of Union’s Geology department.  When he retired in 1924 — a fellow of the Geological Society of America, the American Geographical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Society of Naturalists — Stoller received a ScD degree from Union in honor of his forty years on the faculty. 

Mrs. Perkins rarely mentions Professor Stoller in her letters, implying that she found him dull despite his fine traits. Most of her interactions were with other members of the family (see below).  But Stoller’s life was anything but dull, and he did a great deal of work beyond his primary responsibilities at Union. From 1891 to 1894, he worked on water pollution issues for the New York State health department, and he also was a consultant for the city of St. Louis for its water supply system. In addition, he sometimes worked as bacteriologist and sanitary agent of the New York State agricultural department. More broadly, during the First World War, he conducted a course of lectures at Union on “war issues” prescribed by the war department for the student army training corps at Union; he also had a great appreciation for art and served as an elder at the First Reformed Church of Schenectady Although he traveled widely after his retirement, he did not forget about Union and for many years continued attending Commencement. He also established a memorial scholarship at Union in honor of his son Hugh, who had predeceased him, and his class endowed a library book fund for the purchase of geology books in his honor. Professor Stoller died in Bamberg, South Carolina at the age of 97 and was buried in the College plot in Vale Cemetery.



Mary Norris Montgomery Stoller and Children

Mary Norris Montgomery Stoller was the daughter of Harriett Anna Yates, whose family was prominent in the political and religious life of the local community. The Stollers and their three children — Hugh (born 1891), Karl (1893), and Helen (1900) — lived in the north faculty house of South College from 1893 to 1925, sharing a wall with the house occupied by the Perkins/Hale family. Mrs. Perkins generally referred to Mrs. Stoller as “Molly” and mentioned that she would host parties at her home. During the First World War, Mrs. Stoller and her daughter also worked with the Red Cross and were members of the Woman’s Land Army.

The Stoller family’s close proximity to the Perkins/Hale family undoubtedly led to occasional tension between them. In her letters, Mrs. Perkins often made negative remarks about the Stoller boys in particular. Although she initially wanted her grandson Maurice to get along with them, she soon changed her mind, seeing them as ill-behaved children who had a bad influence on the young Maurice. Once she reported that they hit the Benedict family’s cow and blamed Maurice for it; other transgressions that she attributed to the Stoller boys included throwing bricks at a recitation room door and cutting down her cherished grape vine. Whatever campus pranks they may have been involved in, both boys eventually attended and graduated from Union College and did well later in life, Hugh distinguishing himself in electrical engineering and Karl in the military sphere.