In December of 1885, George Richard Minot was born in his parent’s house on Marlborough Street in the newly created Back Bay section of Boston. He was the first of, eventually, three boys. His father, James Minot, was a physician and on staff at one of Boston’s finest hospitals, Massachusetts General Hospital. James Minot had married Elizabeth Whitney in 1884, seven years before George was born.
When they married, George’s maternal grandfather, Henry Austin Whitney, built the newlyweds a house, the house in which George was born. Henry Whitney was a wealthy man. He had graduated from Harvard in 1846 and entered banking. Then he invested in the Boston & Providence Railroad at an early stage and made a fortune. He eventually became the president of the railroad. Although he wasn’t a physician, he served as a trustee for the Massachusetts General Hospital.
The Minot family were Boston Brahmins, prominent Bostonians. An ancestor, George Minott—who spelled his last name with an extra t—had emigrated from England in 1630 starting the clan. Minott was one of the leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and had served on the Great and General Court in 1636, when the Court voted to establish a college. The institution took its name two years later when John Harvard, a local minister, died and bequeathed his library to the unnamed college.
George Minot’s great-great grandfather was also named George Richard Minot. This George Minot, born in 1758, was a graduate of Harvard and served as both as a Judge and on the Massachusetts Constitutional convention committee, alongside John Hancock and Samuel Adams.
Later Minots had become scholars and professors. Judge George Minot’s grandson, and George Minot’s great uncle, Francis Minot, was a graduate of Harvard and a physician, who became Professor of Medicine at Harvard. George Minot’s cousin, Charles Segwick Minot was the James Sillman Professor of Comparative Anatomy at Harvard Medical School from 1880 until his death in 1914. In 1901, Charles Segwick Minot served as the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the leading scientific society in the United States.
George Minot grew up as a privileged child. His schooling began at the age of six at a private neighborhood school called, Miss Fiske’s School, which was for boys only. George was often sick as a child, and his poor health caused him to fall one year behind at Miss Fiske’s School. At the age of twelve, he finished with his primary school and moved on to the Volkmann School in 1896.
Growing up, George lived the life of a wealthy child. His mother and most everyone in his neighborhood had servants to help them with house work, usually young women from Ireland or Nova Scotia. Like most families in the neighborhood, the Minot’s spent the summer outside the city. They had a second home in Milton, about 20 miles southwest of Boston. They built this home on land that George’s mother inherited from her father. They usually spent August with his father’s family (his father had five sisters) in Bar Harbor, on the coast of Maine. His paternal grandfather and his grandfather’s close friend and distant relative, Christopher Minot Weld, owned adjacent vacation homes on the waterfront. In the summer, the two houses would fill with all the grandchildren, who would have a great time playing with each other. One of Christopher Weld’s grandchildren would become George’s wife. George’s family spent the winter of 1900-1901 in Santa Barbara, California, because George’s father was concerned about George’s health. He also would spend a few weeks each winter in Palm Beach, Florida.
The Volkmann School, which George attended from 1896-1904, was initially located a short walk from George’s home, next to the towering Trinity Church. In 1901, the school moved to a new building about a mile further from his home into a building designed by Arthur Volkmann specifically for the school. The school was run by a graduate of Cornell, Arthur Volkmann, who had first taught at another elite private school, Hopkinton’s, before opening his own. Most of the boys who graduated from the Volkmann School went on to Harvard College, and George followed that path.
At the Volkmann School, George was not the athletic type. His father was always concerned with George’s health and would not let him play on the football team or participate in track. He did play right field on the school’s baseball team, but mostly his outside activities involved hiking, sailing, fishing, and golf. He also loved to collect things.
He had an extensive collection of butterflies. His father, and his uncle Charles Sedgwick Minot, a professor at Harvard Medical School, stoked his interest in butterflies with books, advice, and attention. As a 15 year old, when he was in Santa Barbara, George made some observations of a butterfly that was native to southern California. He wrote the observations up and published his first scientific paper, “The Chrysalis of Melitaea Gabbi,” in the May 1902 issue of Entomological News.