Post Classifieds

Behind the Name: Benjamin Franklin Koons

By Sten Spinella
On April 1, 2014

The Department of Allied Health Sciences can be found in Koons Hall, which is named after one of three founding professors and the first President of the Storrs Agricultural College, Benjamin Franklin Koons.
Koons, born in 1844 in Sulphur Springs, Ohio, was one of twelve children. He fought for the duration of the Civil War beginning at age 17 before he left for college. During the war he was considered a distinguished soldier. Fighting for the Union, he learned the fundamentals of order, duty and communication, qualities he displayed throughout his life. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant praised Koons personally, and Koons even stood guard over President Abraham Lincoln's casket at his funeral.
After his service, Koons attended Oberlin College, where he graduated in 1874 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. Koons's time at Oberlin - a coed institution - was instrumental in relation to his belief in gender equality, which is evidenced by his actions during his tenure at UConn. Koons moved on to Yale University following his time at Oberlin, attaining his Ph.D. in 1881.
Hired in 1881 along with two other professors, Koons taught natural history for the newly implemented Storrs Agricultural College, which would later become the University of Connecticut.
His lectures were interesting and popular, while also containing much of practical value. Koons's main course was economic entomology, and for a large portion of his life, Koons was the Entomologist of the Connecticut State Board of Agriculture. He also acted as the curator of, and a main contributor to the Storrs Natural History Museum, which was torn down in 1929. To this end, academic James Barnett wrote that Koons, "devoted considerable energy and attention to acquiring, preserving, and exhibiting specimens in the Museum of Natural History which grew to a substantial collection."
In 1883 Koons became principal of the agricultural school and continued to teach. It was after this promotion that Koons became the "exclusive purchasing agent for all things at the institution," according to the school. Ten years later, Koons was named President of Storrs Agricultural College and immediately allowed women to study at the college. Apparently, three years earlier, Koons came into contact with "several young ladies in the vicinity" of the college who wanted to be admitted. In 1891 they began taking courses. Koons justified his actions by explaining that the spirit of the law was the force behind the change. In 1894, the first three female students of Storrs Agricultural College graduated.
In 1898 Koons stepped down from the college's presidency. While there is no documentation saying exactly why, certain historical accounts stipulate that the Board of Trustees were displeased with the level of freedom Koons afforded to the faculty of the college. But Koons did not part ways with the school - he stayed on as a professor of political economy and natural history.
Five years later, Koons died of throat cancer in Storrs.
An article written by a friend of Koons in an entomological book edited by Philip P. Calvert, Ph.D. and Henry Skinner, M.D., had this to say after his death: "Professor Koons was a man of a quiet nature, but firm in his convictions. He was respected by all the students, and his death is mourned by many friends."
Accounts of friends say that Koons never wasted time, and maintained that sense of duty originally developed in the armed forces throughout his life. Forever optimistic, Koons never stopped trying to teach and progress.


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