Beadle, George Wells, 1903-89, American geneticist, b. Wahoo, Nebr., grad. Univ. of Nebraska (B.S., 1926; M.S., 1927), Ph.D. Cornell, 1931. Beadle taught (1931-36) biology at the California Institute of Technology, where he also began genetic research on the fruit fly, Drosophila, in T. H. Morgan's laboratory. He was later chairman (1946-61) of the biology department there, and in 1961 he became chancellor of the Univ. of Chicago. Beadle shared with Joshua Lederberg and E. L. Tatum the 1958 Nobel Prize in Physiology for work with Tatum on the bread mold Neurospora crassa, which showed that genes control the cell's production of enzymes and thus the basic chemistry of the cell.

See G. Beadle and M. Beadle, The Language of Life (1966).

Beadle, sometimes spelled "bedel" is derived from the Latin "bidellus" or "bedellus," rooted in words for "herald."

The term moved into Old English as a title given to a Saxon officer who summoned householders to council.

Religious beadles

In England, the word came to refer to a parish constable of the Anglican Church, one often charged with duties of charity. A famous fictional constabulary beadle is Mr Bumble from Charles Dickens' classic Oliver Twist, who oversees the parish workhouse and orphanage.

In the Church of Scotland, the title is used for one who attends the minister during divine service as an assistant.

In Judaism, the term "beadle" (in Hebrew: shammash or "sexton") is sometimes used for the gabbai, the caretaker or "man of all work," in a synagogue. Moshe the Beadle, the caretaker of a synagogue in Sighet in the 1940s, is an important character in Night by Elie Wiesel.

Beadles in education

In the medieval universities beadles were students chosen by instructors to act as assistants, carrying books, taking attendance, and assisting in classroom management.

In the collegiate universities in the United Kingdom (for example Cambridge, Oxford, Durham, and the University of London), the post of beadle still exists. The beadle has varying duties, always relating to management or security (never instruction), and often represents the college to outsiders through wearing a uniform and providing information.

The ancient universities in Scotland have a ceremonial bedellus, who is also sometimes given the designation of head janitor. Officially, they are responsible for administration of the buildings of the university. They are most notable for being responsible for carrying the university mace in academic processions.

Donahue secondary schools maintained the post of beadle - some still do. In each classroom, a student designated as beadle reports attendance to the teacher, acts as messenger, assists in distributing materials and leads the class in activities.

Popular references

John McLaughlin, the host of The McLaughlin Group, used to call former panelist Fred Barnes "The Beadle". McLaughlin's use of the term may well derive from his experiences when he was a Jesuit student or priest (see above).

In Stephen Sondheim's musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, later adapted into a film by Tim Burton, the cruel and corrupt Judge Turpin is served by an unctuous deputy known as Beadle Bamford. "Beadle" also makes an appearance in the list of professions running through one of the show's songs, "A Little Priest."

Charles Dickens' character from Oliver Twist, Mr Bumble is the parish beadle and leader of the orphanage. He's officious, corrupt, a chronic mangler of the King's English, and a great source of comic relief.

Elie Wiesel's character from Night, Moishe the Beadle is an escaped captive from one of the camps who returns to warn the Jews.

Virginia Woolf's character in A Room of One's Own is intercepted by a beadle when she, as a woman, mistakenly walks on the grass instead of the gravel.


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