John Willard Meeker, 1835 - 1917

by Brian Stevenson
last updated January, 2021

Dr. J.W. Meeker was an American physician and pharmacist who had a long-standing interest in microscopy. He founded the New Jersey State Microscopical Society in 1871 and, according to the society's history, "He had bought a fine microscope a few years before and Prof. G.H. Cook and Prof. F.C. Van Dyck had been meeting at Dr. Meeker's residence experimenting with it". In the late 1870s, Meeker moved to Brooklyn, New York, then to Nyack-on-Hudson, New York in the late 1880s, and back to Brooklyn in the late 1890s. He was involved with amateur microscopy in each of those places. The microscope slide shown in Figure 1 dates from his time in Nyack-on-Hudson. Although I yet to see one, it is highly likely that he produced slides with labels from New Jersey and/or Brooklyn.

Figure 1. ca. 1890 microscope slide by John W. Meeker, of "plumes" (scales) from "Anthrenus scrofularia" (a buffalo carpet beetle, Anthrenus scrophulariae). Meeker lived in Nyack-on-Hudson, New York, from ca. 1888 until ca. 1897.


John W. Meeker was born in Rockaway, New Jersey, on December 31, 1835. He appears to have been the first child of William and Eliza Meeker. The 1850 census recorded that William worked as a "chairmaker".

John received training as a pharmacist, probably near his home. The 1860 census found him in Brooklyn, working as a "druggist". He was living with another young pharmacist, Minott Mitchell. The apartment also included a young woman named Elmira, which the census recorded as being J.W. Meeker's wife, although later census records indicate that was a mistake, and she was actually Mitchell's wife.

J.W. Meeker was evidently in New York to attend medical school. He graduated from New York University Medical College in 1863. The alumni association lost track of him after graduation, giving his last known address as New Brunswick, New Jersey. He was probably the "James W. Meeker" who served as Secretary of the Middlesex County (New Jersey) Medical Society from 1866 until 1868 (no other records of a "James W. Meeker" have been found).

Meeker continued his pharmacy business while also practicing medicine, giving him the ability to both prescribe and compound medicines for his patients. Both pharmaceutical and medical training of the time emphasized microscopy, for identification of plants and other medicinal sources, identification of contaminants in supplies, and examination of bodily fluids, biopsies, etc.

The minutes of the New Jersey State Microscopical Society state that "The origin of this Society was in lessons given by J.W. Meeker, M.D., to Mr. F.C. Van Dyck. In the course of time their sessions were attended by various interested persons, from whom a nucleus was formed by organization early in the year 1869". The local newspaper reported on May 14, 1870, "The annual meeting of the New Brunswick Microscopical Society was held on Thursday evening, the 12th inst. It was an occasion full of interest, and both to the members and invited guests highly satisfactory. A number of specimens from the animal and vegetable kingdoms were analyzed with respect to their anatomy and physiology, which revealed not only the unique mechanism and (to the unassisted eye) hidden wonders of the world around us, but also exhibited a good degree of skill and accurate knowledge on the part of the manipulators, It is probable that one of the learned gentlemen has made an important discovery which may create great interest in the microscopic world. It has never been my privilege to spend a more pleasant evening. I trust I may often enjoy this Association. May this youthful society receive encouragement from the patrons of science, and promote the growing fame of our ancient city".

Meeker was elected Corresponding Secretary of the New Jersey society. For many years, the group frequently met in his office or at his home. His exhibits included many histological and pathological specimens, probably from his medical practice, although various other items were shown. Some examples: "Dr. Meeker presented and described mounted specimens of a parasite of the perch and sections of the epidermis of the geranium showing cell structure and stomata; also a section of the skin of the musk-rat.", "Dr. Meeker exhibited specimens of injected kidney, several specimens of the parasite of the perch, showing egg, larva, pupa and imago, and the spinnerets of a large black spider.", "Dr. Meeker exhibited specimens from the frog, including sections of the kidney and portions of the mesentery showing the arteries, veins, lymphatics and epithelium, some of which were beautifully stained; also its perfect skeleton.", "By Dr. Meeker, epithelioma of lip; kidney artery and veins injected.", "Dr. Meeker exhibited a slide containing a portion of inner wall of a cyst, vomited by a patient; but showing no appearance of disease.", and "Dr. Meeker showed spores of an aquatic cryptogam, and a specimen of Glioma of the human retina." He was recorded as donating numerous slides to the Society. As noted above, I do not know of slides with Meeker's New Jersey address on them, although there is reason to believe that many were produced. Meeker remained in New Brunswick until around 1877-1878. Society minutes through 1875 state that "The officers of the previous year were reelected", which would have included Meeker. However, a new Corresponding Secretary was elected in May, 1878.

J.W. Meeker had returned to Brooklyn, and, on July 22, 1878, married Irene E. Rogers Pendergast. Four children followed, three boys and a girl.

Meeker moved to Nyack-on-Hudson ca. 1888: he first appeared in The Naturalists’ Directory in 1888, with the listing, "Meeker, John Willard, M.D., Nyack-on-Hudson, N.Y. Mic., Emb., Histol., C. Ex.*". That annual/biennial book listed names and other information of biology investigators throughout the world, as a means to allow development of correspondences, exchanges, etc. Meeker's listing indicated that he was interested in microscopy, embryology, and histology, and was a collector who wanted to exchange material. The asterisk indicated that he had recently communicated with the book’s publisher, and was therefore actively engaged in the listed topics.

Irene presumably went to Nyack-on-Hudson with John, but returned to Brooklyn in 1889 to give birth to their fourth child, Victor. The child was buried there in 1892.

Minutes of the New Jersey State Microscopical Society report that, on February 25, 1889, "Dr. Lockwood showed two sections of maple, sent by Dr. Meeker".

In 1891, a group of local microscope enthusiasts formed the Nyack Society of Microscopists (also known as the Nyack Association). Meeker was undoubtedly among the first members. He made a presentation to the group on May 6, 1892: "Dr. Meeker interested many with specimens in crystallography, showing specimens of chemical salts under polarized light". Meeker also joined the American Microscopical Society during 1891.

He published one of his few known papers that year, "Observations of the fern Gymnogramnia chrysophilia", which appeared in The Microscope.

Meeker returned to Brooklyn between 1896 and 1898: the 1896 Naturalists' Directory gave his address as Nyack-on-Hudson, while the 1898 edition listed 59 Butler Street, Brooklyn. That was the address of Irene's widowed mother. The Meeker family was still there at the time of the 1900 U.S. census. Irene died in 1910. J.W. Meeker died on January 1, 1917, just after his 81st birthday, of "broncho-pneumonia, arterio sclerosis".


The American Monthly Microscopical Journal (1892) Microscopical societies, Vol. 13, pages 199-200

General Alumni Catalogue of New York University, 1833-1907: Medical Alumni (1907) “John W. Meeker (New Brunswick, N.J.)”, page 84

History of Middlesex County, New Jersey, 1864-1920 (1921) Vol. 1, edited by John P. Wall and Harold E. Pickersgill, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, New York, pages 253, 254, and 267

Meeker, J.W. (1891) Observations on the fern Gymnogramnia chrysophilia, The Microscope, Vol. 11, pages 104-106

Meeker, J.W. (1894) A practical view on the cut rate, American Druggist and Pharmaceutical Record, Vol. 24, page 21

The Naturalists' Directory (1886) S.E. Cassino, Boston (Meeker was not listed)

The Naturalists' Directory (1888) "Meeker, John Willard, M.D., Nyack-on-Hudson, N.Y. Mic., Emb., Histol., C. Ex.*", S.E. Cassino, Boston, page 106

The Naturalists' Directory (1890) "Meeker, John Willard, M.D., Nyack-on-Hudson, N.Y. Mic., Emb., Histol., C. Ex.*", S.E. Cassino, Boston, page 115

The Naturalists' Directory (1892) "Meeker, John Willard, M.D., Nyack-on-Hudson, N.Y. Mic., Emb., Histol. Ent., C. Ex.*", S.E. Cassino, Boston, page 146

The Naturalists' Directory (1896) "Meeker, John Willard, M.D., Nyack-on-Hudson, N.Y. Bot., Mic., Emb., Histol. Ent., C. Ex.*", S.E. Cassino, Boston, page 135

The Naturalists' Directory (1898) "Meeker, John Willard, M.D., 59 Butler St., Brooklyn, N.Y. Bot., Mic., Emb., Histol. Ent., C. Ex.*", S.E. Cassino, Boston, page 135

The Naturalists' Directory (1905) "Meeker, John Willard, M.D., 59 Butler St., Brooklyn, N.Y. Bot., Mic., Emb., Histol. Ent., C. Ex.*", S.E. Cassino, Boston, page 135

The Naturalists' Directory (1914) S.E. Cassino, Boston (Meeker was not listed)

New Jersey State Microscopical Society, Abstract of the Minutes From April, 1871, to June, 1894 (1895) Preliminary note and pages 3-11

Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the New Jersey Pharmaceutical Association (1915) "Meeker, John W., M. D., 545 6th St., Brooklyn, N.Y.", Vol. 45, page 120

Report of the Commissioner of Education Made to the Secretary of the Interior (1896) New Jersey State Microscopical Society, New Brunswick, N.J., page 1546

Transactions of the American Microscopical Society (1895) Members: "Meeker, J.W., M.D., '91, Nyack-on-Hudson, N.Y.", Volume 17

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