Malthus Ward was the first professor of natural history at the University of Georgia, as well as a founding member of the Horticultural Society of Georgia.
Malthus Augustus Whitworth Ward was born in Haverhill, New Hampshire, on February 11, 1794, to Elizabeth Whitworth and Joshua Ward. As a young man, Ward apprenticed to a local doctor and attended a course of lectures at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire before striking out on his own in 1815. After working for a time in Pennsylvania and Indiana, Ward returned to the Northeast in 1823 to pursue a degree from the Medical School of Maine at Bowdoin.
Upon graduation, Ward moved to Salem, Massachusetts. There, with the assistance of old family ties and the writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, who was a college friend, he set up a medical practice. In addition to medical work, Ward participated in a number of social and scholarly associations. He lectured on botany, horticulture, and chemistry and was a founding member of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society.
In 1825 Ward became superintendent of the East India Marine Society, which later became the prestigious Peabody Essex Museum. While there, he supervised an update of the museum’s catalog of artifacts and organized the opening of a new hall to house the society’s extensive natural history specimens.
The University of Georgia elected Ward to fill its chair of natural history in 1831. He settled in Athens with his family and taught mineralogy, geology, and botany. As part of his duties, Ward created a university botanical garden adjacent to his residence. Though the garden disappeared long ago, Ward’s home on Dearing Street, including some of the trees he planted, is now part of a district listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1842 the university experienced economic problems, resulting in Ward’s dismissal. His zeal for the natural world undiminished, he operated a commercial garden in Athens and helped found the Horticultural Society of Georgia and the Pomological Society.
Ward died on May 7, 1863. He and his wife, Eliza Cheever Ward, had three daughters. His grave in Oconee Hill Cemetery remained unmarked until 1987, when the Athens Garden Club restored the grave site and installed a stone recognizing his significant contributions to Georgia horticulture.