All text is excerpted from the Cushman Memorial Volume.
Birth and Family
Joseph Augustine Cushman was born January 31, 1881, at Bridgewater, Massachusetts, the son of Darius and Jane Frances (Fuller) (Pratt) Cushman. His family, on both his mother's and his father's side, was of English origin and his ancestry was traceable to ten of the Pilgrims who came to New England in the Mayflower. He was a late child of this union which for both his parents was a second marriage. His father had a store facing the green where he sold and repaired shoes in Bridgewater, a college town. The town itself was founded very early in American history, having been one of the first to be settled by the Pilgrims as they moved inland from Plymouth
Besides his parents, his immediate family consisted of a much-older half-brother (son of Darius) who soon left the family home, an elder brother who died when Joseph was 3, and his grandfather, Thomas Cushman, with whom the family lived from 1883 to 1889. Before her marriage to Darius, his mother had lost her daughter and her husband. Of this, Dr. Cushman learned quite by accident after his mother's death, such is the ability of New England women to close the door firmly on the past.
Neither his father nor his mother were well physically, and his father was lame and walked with increasing difficulty. In spite of this, however, he loved the out-of-doors and sometimes took Joseph into the nearby woods and fields to sit watching and listening to the birds and the myriads of other creatures that reveal themselves to interested eyes and listening ears. Joseph's love of nature and keen powers of observation, learned in his boyhood, persisted to the end of his life.
Joseph's early schooling was in the town where he was born, starting public school in 1885 at the age of 4½. He entered Bridgewater High School at 12 and graduated at 16 in 1897. His plans were for a medical education, with the intention of becoming a surgeon, but the death of his father just after his graduation from High School, made it imperative for him to abandon these plans. Then followed years in which Joseph and his mother were in rather difficult financial circumstances, necessitating him to help in the family support by a variety of before-and after-school jobs, and his mother took Normal School students to board.
Although under age, he was allowed to enter Bridgewater Normal School, provided a four-year course were taken. During these years his interest in science as a profession was aroused and his first leanings were toward botany. His first geology course was from Professor Charles P. Sinnott. At Normal School he was active in athletics and became captain of the School baseball team in his senior year. Skating, also, was a favorite sport. He was a charter member and first president of Kappa Delta Phi, professional educational fraternity which was first organized at Bridgewater Normal School in 1900.
Full as his days must have been, they were not too full to allow occasional rowboat explorations on Carver's Pond at the edge of Bridgewater, where, in his budding enthusiasm for all branches of natural science, he went to study and collect almost all manner of things. The desmids collected there formed the subject of one of his earliest publications. Carver's Pond was in a way symbolic of the beginning of his career and seemed to hold a special charm for him throughout his life. He often drove by it in later years, seeing a part of it in the distance, and at one time spoke of renting a boat and going out on it once more; but then he said, "No, it wouldn't be the same now. I'll remember it as it used to be."