A pioneer in the chemistries of air and water pollution control, John Pearce Mitchell studied, taught and conducted research at Stanford University throughout his life. In his nearly 75-year association with the university, he became known for his generosity and rigor in teaching inorganic chemistry, and his service to the community both on campus and off. Among many substantial leadership roles, he served the Red Cross and local schools, as well as Stanford’s undergraduate admissions, support and programming; Stanford athletics; and Associated Students organizations.
Born the son of a physician in Providence, Rhode Island in 1880, Mitchell first came to Stanford as a freshman in the fall of 1899. Hearing loss due to scarlet fever had made his first aim, a medical career, impractical. Undeterred, he turned to the related field of chemistry, maintaining an interest in medicine and healthcare throughout his career. He completed undergraduate and master’s study, then took a year’s study at the University of Leipzig before returning for doctoral work at Stanford (AB, AM, PhD). He took a position as instructor in 1905 – before Leipzig – assisting Chemistry Professor Robert Eckles Swain. Over his years as instructor, then assistant (1908), associate (1916) and full professor of chemistry (1920), Professor Mitchell taught 35 years of freshmen inorganic chemistry at Stanford. He retired officially in 1945, but remained a member of the university’s Academic Council, a role he held from the time of founding Stanford President David Starr Jordan, until his death in 1973.