Darwin Day, which falls on 12 February, is a observed to commemorate the birthday of Charles Darwin. This day is used to highlight Darwin’s contributions to science and also to promote science in general. Charles Darwin was an English naturalist whose scientific theory of evolution by natural selection became the foundation of modern evolutionary studies. Darwin’s theory of evolution stated that species change over time, give rise to new species, and share a common ancestor. He proposed that organisms with the strongest and most desirable characteristics are best able to survive and reproduce.
Life of Charles Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, on 12 February 1809, at his family’s home, The Mount. He was the fifth of six children of doctor and financier Robert Darwin and Susannah Darwin. Right from a young age, Charles had a taste for natural history and started collecting when he joined the day school. At the age of 16, Darwin spent the summer as an apprentice doctor, helping his father treat the poor of Shropshire. He then joined the University of Edinburgh Medical School but was bored of it’s dull lectures and distressing surgeries and eventually dropped out after two years. While at Edinburgh, he met Robert Edmond Grant, a biologist and early evolutionist, who became a mentor to him. His father was unhappy with the way things were going and sent him to Christ’s College, Cambridge, to study for a Bachelor of Arts degree as the first step towards becoming an Anglican country parson. He completed his degree in 1831. It was Grant who encouraged Darwin to study invertebrate zoology.
On 27 December 1831 at the age of 22, Darwin set out on a voyage in HMS Beagle with Reverend Adam Sedgwick, which lasted for almost five years. He sailed as a self-financed companion to the 26-year old ship’s captain, Robert Fitzroy, who planned to survey coastal Patagonia. During this period he spent most of his time on land investigating geology and making natural history collections opportunities in the Brazilian jungles and the Andes Mountains and while on board the ship he wrote copious notes. He spent only 18 months on the ship. While on land, he used to travel on his own, to collect specimens and discover fossils of extinct animals. He also made several geological observations documenting the rise and fall of land masses. By the end of his journey, Darwin completed his 770 page diary, organized his notes of 1750 pages and compiled 12 catalogs of his 5,436 specimens which included skins, bones, and carcasses. After coming back home Darwin was in frequent discussion with other scientists regarding his theory of evolution.
In 1839, he married Emma Ridgewood, and settled into a comfortable life. He become a successful scientist and published many volumes of work, except for the most important one, “On the Origin of Species“. This was because he feared the condemnation that he would have to face if he contradicted the church. Although he finished writing the book in 1839, it was not published until 1859. And just as he feared, he was mocked after the book was published. But his work spoke for him as the first edition was sold out on the first day. He died on 19 April 1882, at the age of 73.
Some interesting and less known facts about Darwin:
- Darwin suffered from chronic illnesses.
- He dined on exotic animals.
- Darwin appeared on the 10-pound note for 18 years.
- He waited more than 20 years to publish his groundbreaking theory on evolution.
Darwin Day History
Since his death in 1882, there used to be isolated celebrations of Darwin’s work. In 1909, more than 400 scientists and dignitaries from 167 countries met in Cambridge to honor Darwin’s contributions and to discuss the recent discoveries and theories. This was a widely reported event of public interest. On 12 February in the same year, Darwin’s hundredth birth anniversary was celebrated by the New York Academy of Sciences at the American Museum of Natural History. Scientists and academics sometimes celebrated 12 February with “Phylum Feast” events. In the United States, Salem State College in Massachusetts has held a “Darwin Festival” annually since 1980, and in 2005, registered “Darwin Festival” as a service mark with the US Patent and Trademark Office. By late 1993, the Humanist Community of Palo Alto, California, was motivated by Dr. Robert Stephens to begin planning for an annual Darwin Day celebration. Its first public Darwin Day event was a lecture by Dr. Donald Johanson. The Humanist Community still continues its annual celebration. In 1997, Professor Massimo Pigliucci initiated an annual Darwin Day event at the University of Tennessee which included public lectures and activities. On 9 February 2011, California Representative Pete Stark introduced H. Res 81 to Congress designating 12 February 2011 as Darwin Day and finally on 22 January 2013, New Jersey Representative Rush D. Holt, Jr., a Quaker Christian and nuclear physicist, introduced a resolution to the United States Congress designating 12 February 2013 as “Darwin Day” to recognize “the importance of sciences in the betterment of humanity”. 2009 was a special year as it marked the 200th birth anniversary of Darwin and 150th anniversary of the publication of “On the Origin of Species“.
How to Celebrate Darwin Day
Several events are conducted worldwide on Darwin Day. Shrewsbury, the birth place of Darwin, began ‘Darwin Festival’ in 2003 which now lasts the full month of February. Universities around the world conduct seminars and lectures an science and discoveries.
- Visit a natural history museum
- Attend exhibitions or exhibits on evolution
- Read ‘The Origin of Species’, Darwin’s book on his famous invention or theory.
- Share posts on social media to celebrated and honor Charles Darwin.