Walter Sutton's first class in histology in the fall of 1987 was also the first class that instructor C. E. McClung taught histology. Since the time for class had arrived Walter offered to help McClung finish some charts. From this time on a close partnership ensued, and a crucial one for Sutton's chromosome hypothesis. As McClung later related the episode, "...but I recall as though it were but yesterday his statements that the drawing was easy for him since he had just entered the college from the engineering school, and that his purpose was to study medicine later. For that reason he desired to undertake the work in histology which I was offering for the first time. The gentle dignity and quiet voice of the boy at once attracted me to him and when the ordeal of the lecture was over and the students gone the memory of him remained with me. Soon we were friends and, since I was myself a beginner, fellow-workers." (McClung in the Family memorial). Sutton later became a helper in the department as well as student and friend of McClung.
Clarence E. McClung, 1847 - 1946, with his wife. Sutton started his master's degree under McClung in 1900. During this period, McClung discovered that the accessory chromosome (later Wilson called this the X-chromosome) was the sex determinant. McClung was born in California but grew up, was educated and established his professional career in Kansas. (Courtesy of Clendening History of Medicine Library, Univ. of Kansas Medical Center.)
McClung became interested in zoology through Samuel W. Williston who introduced him to histology and paleontology. McClung did graduate work with E. B. Wilson at Columbia University one summer and W. M. Wheeler at the university of Chicago another summer. Wheeler suggested he work on the spermatogenesis of the "long-horned" grasshopper, which he was doing when Sutton joined him (Wenrich 1946). In this way, Sutton became familiar with cellular characteristics of insect testes and later recognized a better species for study in harvest fields. This occurred in 1898 when Sutton returned to the family farm, now run by brothers Charles and James, to help with the harvest. Harvesting equipment included a header, pulled by horses that cut the heads from the grain stalks and elevated them on moving canvass into a header box. When filled, the box was taken to a threshing machine that removed grain kernels from the heads. Large numbers of grasshoppers were transferred with grain heads into the header box where Walter could easily separate the large "lubber" grasshoppers from the rest. After dissecting some of the large insects, he found that the germ-cells in the testes were very large and easily studied. He sent a specimen to McClung who agreed they were well suited for cytological studies and he asked Sutton to collect as many as possible. From this beginning, the use of Brachystola magna ("Lubber" grasshopper) for cytological studies spread to laboratories throughout the world. Sutton's mentor, E. B. Wilson of Columbia University, later stated, the "lubber grasshopper" was "one of the finest objects thus far discovered for the investigation of the minutest details of cell-structure...." (Wilson in the Family memorial ).
Sutton received the Bachelor of Arts degree in June 1900 and in September he entered Graduate School with a teaching assistanceship in Zoology. He was McClung's first graduate student and his germ-cell studies resulted in the paper, "The spermatogonial divisions in Brachystola magna." (Sutton, 1900). This paper also served as the thesis for the M. A. degree he received June 1901. Referring to the "lubber" grasshopper, this paper begins, "The material for this paper was collected in the summer of 1898, in Russell County, Kansas,...."
It is in this 1900 paper that Sutton states that during maturation germ-cells retain the individuality of their chromosomes. This differed from much of the thinking of the time, that all chromosomes were equivalent. Sutton noted that an unusual chromosome, first described as a nucleolus but called the "accessory chromosome" by McClung in 1899, was consistently identified by a longitudinal split present at a stage later than that of other chromosomes. At the conclusion of this paper Sutton states: "I would conclude, therefore, that the changes of the nucleus of the secondary spermatagonia are purely metabolic in their nature, and that the individuality of the chromosomes is maintained." The following year (1901) Sutton's mentor, McClung, reported that the accessory chromosome was the sex determinant. This demonstrated that a phenotype (sex determinant) is associated with a particular chromosome (Mayr. 1982).
These papers cited by Sutton and McClure are single author papers, but they worked closely together in overlapping areas for at least three years, 1898-1901. McClure recalled that during a location change for the Department of Zoology, "...Walter and I carried the entire material assets of the department in two trays. In these quarters we remained during the rest of his stay at Lawrence and here we shared one small room, which was dignified by the name of "office." Two windows opened into the room and through one light was shed upon problems of Brachystola and through the other upon the conditions in Hippiscus and its kind." (McClure in the Family memorial). It was here that Sutton manufactured (in the engineering shops he left after his first year) his first invention: a paraffin-melting system using an incandescent lamp. It was used by McClung for years after Sutton left the laboratory.
There was much work but Sutton and McClung also played sports and the game they enjoyed was basketball, then being introduced to the University of Kansas by its originator, Dr. Naismith. James Naismith invented basketball in 1891 at the Springfield Y.M.C.A. College as part of its research program in developing new games. The positions were forward, center and back. Naismith was hired for $1300 per year in 1898 as Associate Professor of Physical Training, Chapel Director and basketball coach. The game was immediately popular with the organization of eight teams of students and faculty. The gym was in the basement of Snow Hall but games and practice were often played in a rented skating rink in downtown Lawrence. Naismith selected his first varsity team in 1899 that included Walter Sutton and his brother Will, team captain. They lost their first game to a Kansas City YMCA team 16 to 5. In their first home game they beat the Topeka YMCA team 31 to 6 with about 50 in attendance (Taft 1941).
First basketball team at the University of Kansas, 1899. Walter is 3rd from the left, back row and Naismith is on the far right. Walter's brother, William, and team captain, is 3rd from the left, middle row (Taft, 1941). (Courtesy of Clendening History of Medicine Library, University of Kansas Medical Center).