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Olmsted, Denison

Born in East Hartford, CT, Denison Olmsted (1791-1859) was the fourth son of Nathaniel and Eunice Kingsbury Olmsted. His father died when Denison was only a year old, and his mother, who remarried in 1800, strongly influenced his interest in religion and education. After a preparatory education, Olmsted entered Yale in 1809 and graduated with Elisha Mitchell in 1813. Mitchell and Olmsted taught in a girls' school in New London, CT, where both men met their future wives. Olmsted returned to Yale in 1815 to prepare for the ministry. He received his MA in 1816, and in 1818 married Eliza Allyn. Though he had been appointed to the University's newly created professorship of chemistry in November 1817, he received a year's leave to prepare for the position by studying with Benjamin Silliman at Yale. Olmsted began teaching at Chapel Hill in January 1818. In 1820 and 1822 he published two papers on North Carolina geology, and in 1823 he began an extensive geologic and mineralogical survey of the state, a project funded through the NC Board of Agriculture. In 1825 Olmsted accepted the chair of natural philosophy at Yale, and in 1835 he became Yale's professor of natural history and astronomy, a position he held for twenty-five years. Olmsted published several widely used textbooks and many scientific papers on natural philosophy and astronomy. His first wife died in 1829, leaving five sons and two daughters. In 1831 Olmsted married Julia Mason, by whom he had a daughter (Dictionary of North Carolina Biography 4:395-96).