Harley Ellsworth French was born in Delphi, Indiana, on December 7, 1873. He was one of eight children born to David (also known as Charles) and Mina (Fischer) French. He was educated in the public schools of Kearney, Nebraska, and Palouse, Washington. After graduation from Palouse High School, he attended Spokane College, as well as the University of Idaho. During this time, he passed a qualifying examination and began teaching in rural schools in Washington and Idaho.
He graduated from Washington State College in Pullman, Washington, in 1902, with a Bachelor of Arts degree. During his time at the College, he was initiated into Phi Beta Kappa, was editor- in-chief of the student newspaper, a member of the debate team, and student body president. He earned his Doctor of Medicine degree from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, in 1907. While at Northwestern, he pledged for Nu Sigma Nu, a medical fraternity. He was also a member of Alpha Omega Alpha, an honorary medical fraternity.
He next joined the faculty at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion as a professor of anatomy and physiology. He attended four summer sessions at the University of Chicago, and graduated with a Master of Science degree in 1911. In 1910, he married Mable Townsley of Vermillion on September 3, 1910. The couple had two children: Mary Margaret and Burton Townsley.
In 1911, Dr. French left Vermillion to become the Dean of the Medical School at the University of North Dakota. Faced with scant funds, resources, and equipment, French narrowed the Medical School's scope to emphasize sound teaching and public health work. He led the school through difficult times during the Great Depression, when state appropriations dropped to such a level to threaten closure of the school. Dr. French retired in 1947, and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree from the University in 1948. In 1949, the newly constructed Medical School Library was named in his honor.
Dr. French served as Secretary for the North Dakota State Board of Health, 1921-1923. He was also a member of the North Dakota Medical Association, serving as President from 1921 to 1922. Other medical organizations with which he was involved included the American Medical Association, the North Dakota Tuberculosis Society, the North Dakota Society for Crippled Children, and the American Red Cross. Locally, he was involved with the Masons, the Franklin Club, the Fortnightly Club, and the Lions.
Dr. Harley E. French died February 4, 1961, in Grand Forks. He is buried at Memorial Park Cemetery.
Additional material was donated by:
Mary Margaret Frank, Grand Forks, North Dakota: March 1, 1979 (79-578); July 5, 1979 (81-729); May 1988 (88-1587); November 2006 (2006-2872)
Transferred from University Archives in July 1987 (87-1542)
Judy Rieke, UND Medical School, June 3, 1997 (97-2123)