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Obituary: Daniel Howard Kohl, 87, a leftist, a scientist and a family man for all seasons

Danny Kohl
From Washington University website

For many who have died, the “good family man” description is draped upon them like an embroidered pall, often as much in the interest of being nice and polite than in descriptive accuracy.

Because Daniel Kohl, who died Saturday, March 12, at 87, was generous, he might agree that this person or that one was a good family woman or a good family man.

But as scientist, a biologist, an eminent one at that — he would want proof also.

When asked if Mr. Kohl really were truly a good family man, his former neighbor and longtime friend Agnes Wilcox exclaimed, “A good family man? Was he ever! He was the one who cooked! Greater love has no man,” she said.

His daughter, Martha Kohl, offered more evidence. In 1964, when his wife, Seena, needed to go to Saskatchewan to do research in the field for her Ph.D. in anthropology, Mr. Kohl stayed home in St. Louis with their children. His support, Martha Kohl said, was the difference between her mother's having a career and not.” 

St. Louis lawyer Mary Anne Sedey met Seena Kohl when both were at Webster College in the 1960s. Seena Kohl was teaching anthropology. “I did not know one married woman who worked in a professional job," Sedey said. "Seena was my adviser, but the big thing was learning about her and Danny’s marriage."

I didn’t know Danny in those days,” Sedey continued, “but I knew Seena was an academic anthropologist and that they had four children and that he 195 percent supported her. It was eye opening, learning about an egalitarian marriage."

Mr. Kohl made as many people angry as those he inspired and set to marching in the streets. His politics were leftist without equivocation; no middle-of-the-road fellow he.

As Sedey indicated, Mr. Kohl was a committed practical feminist, but the convictions generated by cooking and caring for children were as political as domestic.

Kohl was a professor in the Washington University Department of Biology.
Credit Provided by the family
Kohl was a professor in the Washington University Department of Biology.

He was fierce in his allegiance to social justice not only for women but also for all. He participated in protests against the war in Southeast Asia, against racial discrimination, for the nuclear freeze and for aggressive environmental protection legislation.

Mr. Kohl taught in the department of biology in the College of Arts & Sciences at Washington University for 38 years. He graduated with honors in physics from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1960, and received his Ph.D. in molecular biology from Washington U. in 1965.

His colleague Garland Allen, professor emeritus in the department of biology at Washington University, explained how Mr. Kohl wove together his social conscience and scientific acumen.

“Danny was always concerned with issues of social justice,” Allen wrote, “which occupied him both socially and politically as well as scientifically. In the latter capacity, he was particularly involved in the environmental movement through his work on nitrogen pollution brought about industrialized agriculture, and his concern about theories of a supposed genetic relationship between race and differences in IQ.

“In the early 1970s, when educational theorists were claiming that the persistent 15-point difference between I.Q. scores of Caucasians and African Americans was due to genetics, Danny joined many other biologists and social scientists in exposing the errors involved in these claims.

For his work with Prison Performing Arts, Kohl was honored by the Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement.
Credit Provided by the family
For his work with Prison Performing Arts, Kohl was honored by the Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement.

“He published an influential article on this topic --"The I.Q. Game: Bait and Switch -- A Review Essay" -- in "School Review 84" (No. 4, August 1976). The article is a review of all the previous studies that provide a point-by-point refutation of the genetic research (by educational psychologists) that attempted to establish the relationship between IQ scores and race.

“The article got a lot of citations and Danny was particularly pleased that he was still receiving communications about it in the 21st century.”

Here is another example of his enduring influence. Lori Tuck, a geologist for the U.S. Geological Survey in Helena, Mont., wrote Martha Kohl: “I still remember sitting at your kitchen table with your dad, stunned to hear he helped pioneer the methods to prove the connection between nitrate concentrations in drinking water and human land-use activity.”

“They still use his method.”

Mr. Kohl was co-founder of Freedom of Residence, an organization that fought racially discriminatory red-lining all the way to the Supreme Court -- and won. The efforts of Freedom of Residence and its allies brought about a 1968 decision stating that discrimination in all housing sales and rentals was illegal.

Mr. Kohl was an active member of the board of Prison Performing Arts and an enthusiastic supporter of its work. He also was founder of the Washington University Prison Education Project. In a related activity, he has worked for years tenaciously to gain clemency for Patty Pruitt, who has been incarcerated for almost 30 years, having been convicted of murdering her husband. Numerous appeals have been made to Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon for her release.

Besides his wife, Seena, and his daughter, Martha, of Helena, Mont., Mr. Kohl is survived by two sons, George Kohl, of Washington, D.C., and Paul Kohl, Seattle; 11 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. Another son, Benjamin, died in 2013.

Instead of flowers, memorial donations in his memory may be made to Prison Performing Arts, 3547 Olive Street, Suite 250, St. Louis, MO 63103, prisonartsstl.org, or a charity of one’s choice.

A memorial service will be Saturday, April 9, in the Lakeview Room of The Gatesworth, 1 McKnight Place, a 1 p.m.

Robert W. Duffy reported on arts and culture for St. Louis Public Radio. He had a 32-year career at the Post-Dispatch, then helped to found the St. Louis Beacon, which merged in January with St. Louis Public Radio. He has written about the visual arts, music, architecture and urban design throughout his career.

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