Born 1859, Died 1943
Known for decades as the friendly little man with the bright red bow tie, Henry W. Harper was a famous figure on the UT campus for half a century. An eminent scientist, teacher, and administrator, Harper was the eldest of the "Three Pals" who forged UT's Chemistry Department into a leading research unit.
Harper was born in Booneville, Missouri, in 1859, of Old Virginia stock. He served as an apprentice in a large dispensing pharmacy, which kindled his interest in chemistry and medicine from an early age. He earned a degree in pharmacy, then came to Texas in 1881 to manage a large retail drug store in Clarksville. Both his health and business fortunes sagged initially, and he eventually wound up in Mexico doing metallurgical work for the Colorado and Refugio Mining and Smelting Co. in Nuevo Leon. He returned to Fort Worth to work as a chemist with Beall and Adams in 1886. He went back to school in 1891, at the age of 32, and shortly took a medical degree at the University of Virginia. After practicing medicine for two years, he was hired by the University of Texas to succeed Edgar Everhart in 1894 as Adjunct Professor of Chemistry. (Harper spent the summer of 1894 studying with Mallet at Virginia.)
Typical of 19th century chemists, Harper's research interests were wide-ranging. He established expertise in many fields, including pharmacy, mineral chemistry, geology, physiology, natural products, industrial, analytical and metallurgical chemistry. He joined with his colleagues Schoch and Bailey in demanding adequate time for research and publication, and enjoyed a reputation as an excellent and popular teacher. He served as chairman of the Chemistry Dept. from 1910 to 1912. He was named Dean of the newly formed Graduate School in 1913 and served in that capacity for the rest of his career. When he came to UT in 1894, only 455 total students were enrolled in the university; when he retired in 1936, over 2,400 students were enrolled in chemistry courses. Throughout his tenure as Dean, Harper continued to teach chemistry courses and advise graduate students.
Henry Henze once related an anecdote about Harper's course on the history of chemistry: Harper liked to start at the beginning, and he would begin his survey with the Creation. But his lectures were detailed, and he rarely got beyond the major geological ages before the end of the term. He nevertheless earned many honors and awards during his long career, and his somewhat eccentric professorial habits made him a favorite of students and local journalists alike. His traditional red bow ties, he said, were the color of oxyhemoglobin, and he went to great lengths to secure fabric of the proper color for them.
He died in 1943, at the age of 83.