The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
- You can now download hi-res images of Vincent Van Gogh's paintings, sketches, and letters. [via Open Culture and Vincent Van Gogh Museum]
- Speaking of Van Gogh, the Art Institute of Chicago has recreated the bedroom in his famous painting and it is now for rent on Air BnB. [via Colossal]
- More enjoyable art browsing brought to you by technology! Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. [via Colossal]
- What better way to celebrate the day of love than Shakespeare valentines? [via Folger Shakespeare Library]
- Smithsonian's own Transcription Center gets a spotlight on Atlas Obscura! Join the nearly 6,000 volunteers to transcribe our primary source documents and scientific records.
- Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum's Design Triennial kicked off yesterday examining beauty. [via NY Times]
- For your listening pleasure; Europeana's Music portal.
- A 3D scan of Freer Sackler's Cosmic Buddha has led to new scholarship. [via Smithsonian.com]
- Finally, 3D printing sound.
For many scientists working with the Smithsonian (both from the Institution’s earliest days and today), their studies took them all over the world—through the mountains and valleys of the United States, across the continent of Africa, on the shores of Caribbean Islands, and everywhere in between. This meant that many of the Smithsonian’s best scientists were actually part of a scientific couple—inquisitive husbands and wives exploring the world together and making important scientific breakthroughs along the way. In celebration of Valentine’s Day, we’re taking a look at some intrepid scientific couples from the Archives.
Vernon and Florence Bailey
In the Wild Animals of Glacier National Park, published in 1918, the text is split in two, the mammals and the birds, written by two different scientists. It was a merging of focus areas for two remarkable scientists with something important in common beyond their work—a marriage. Vernon Orlando Bailey, a naturalist and mammologist, married ornithologist Florence Augusta Merriam Bailey in 1899. Before they took to the field together, both Bailey’s had successful and established careers in science.
Florence, an avid bird conservationist, became interested in studying birds in the field (as opposed to the taxidermy study popular in her era) during college. At just 26, she had published her first field guide, Birds Through an Opera-Glass. Several others, from field guides to travel books, followed. Florence later became both the first woman associate member of the American Ornithologist’s Union and its first woman fellow.
When Vernon and Florence married in 1899, Vernon was working as the Chief Field Naturalist for the United States Bureau of Biological Survey. He began his relationship with the Bureau, however, when he was just a boy, growing up on the Minnesota frontier. Vernon had often sent specimens he found to the Bureau of Biological Survey, and at 23 became a field agent with the department.
After their marriage, the Bailey’s continued excelling in their respective fields. Vernon became President of the American Society of Mammologists in 1933. Florence published what became a defining text in the ornithology field, Handbook of Birds in the Western United States, in 1902. They conducted field work both independently and together, collaborating on scientific articles and texts, including their study of Glacier National Park. The Bailey name is also attached to something else—a mountain. Mount Bailey, in Oregon, was named after Florence and Vernon.
William and Lucile Mann
In the 1950s, a pair of rhinoceroses named Bill and Lucy came to the United States, traveling in crates with their names printed on the side, to live in the Smithsonian National Zoological Park—a place that was like home for another couple named Bill and Lucy.
William M. Mann, an entomologist and the Zoo director from 1925-1956, spent decades traveling the world with his wife, Lucile Quarry Mann. The traveled across the African continent, through Europe and South America, doing everything from conducting field expeditions, to collecting animals, to meeting with other prominent zoologists abroad—working together as a team on behalf of the Zoo.
When William and Lucile met, Lucile was working as an editor for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Entomology. One day, Lucile had to fact check a manuscript at the library in the National Museum of Natural History, and she worked at a desk right near her future husband. It wasn’t until several years later, when Lucile was working as an editor for Ladies Home Companion in New York and Mann was the newly named Zoo director, that they reconnected. William proposed to Lucile before he set sail on an expedition to East Africa in 1925. The Mann’s spent the next several decades on expedition together, each of them writing books about their work and experiences.
“Being married to a general, all-around naturalist is a better education than passing A in Zoology I,” Lucile wrote in her book, From Jungle to Zoo: Adventures of a Naturalist’s Wife, which she dedicated to Bill. She said that her husband genuinely loved his work, and “liked [it] with an enthusiasm that swept me past the initial difficulties of scientific terminology,” and her early aversion to reptiles. She reflects that, thanks to years of adventures and research with her husband, she was “grateful all over again for life on the edge of the Zoo” (and even conceded that “Snakes make good pets—once you get accustomed to the idea.”).
Richard and Ruth Blackwelder
Biologist and entomologist Richard E. Blackwelder married his wife, Ruth, in January 1935 and by June the new Mr. and Mrs. Blackwelder had set sail for Jamaica—though not for a honeymoon. Blackwelder had been appointed as a Travelling Scholar for the Smithsonian, a position which kept the new couple in the West Indies for another three years.
Not much is known about Ruth Blackwelder, but both her and Richard’s diaries from their time abroad hint at the difficulties of the couple’s abrupt upheaval to Jamaica. Ruth writes about needing to get “over the sea legs we had acquired” after a long journey on the ship, and the cultural differences she encounters, like missing out on Fourth of July celebrations, or not knowing how to best give a cab driver an address. At the beginning of her diary, she notes that “It seems difficult to realize that a [local] family which has as many modern things as an all wave radio (newest style), gas range, and automobile would be without the convenience of hot running water.”
Ruth was an avid stamp collector, and her time abroad helped expand her collection. Richard also writes about Ruth collecting shells, and helping him find specimens. Later, Ruth would go on to collaborate on books and articles with her husband, including the Directory of Zoological Taxonomists of the World in 1961. By then, the Blackwelders were stationed back in the United States—Richard went on to have a curatorial career at the now National Museum of Natural History before becoming a Professor of Zoology at Southern Illinois University until his retirement in 1977.
Who Was Ruth MacCoy Blackwelder?, The Bigger Picture Blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
A Life on the Wild Side: Lucile Quarry Mann, The Bigger Picture Blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
A Beaver Corral, Fried Owl, and Pueblos: Adventures with Vernon Orlando Bailey, The Bigger Picture Blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Outstanding Women in Ornithology: Florence Merriam Bailey, The Bigger Picture Blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
In the 1989 Smithsonian Year, Secretary Robert McCormick Adams expressed that he was "determined to make the whole staff of the Smithsonian, and in particular its professional ranks and senior administration, more representative of the multiracial, multiethnic society from which it is drawn."
That same year the Smithsonian African American Association (SAAA) was organized on May 10, 1989 and was officially recognized on February 21, 1990 by memorandum of Secretary Adams.
The SAAA was formed to be:
an assembly of the Institution's employees who have organized to project a united voice, to have an impact upon pan-institutional policies that affect African Americans, and to convey these concerns to the Smithsonian Administration. (SAAA Constitution, 2004)
And whose purpose was:
To discover and convey to the Smithsonian administration the concerns and needs of African American employees on all levels; to share information related to Smithsonian Institution issues among SI staff and members of the SAAA; to provide a united voice representing SAAA viewpoints on issues, and to achieve liveable solutions when addressing African American concerns; to establish an African American network within SI, including all the corollary benefits of mentorship; to play an educational role in clarifying SI policies and procedures; to assure that the African American Community, local and national, is informed about resources and activities at the Smithsonian; to advise and assist the Smithsonian Institution in the implementation of its policy of providing equality of opportunity in all its official actions. (SAAA Constitution, 2004)
A 1989 Smithsonian employment profile stated that out of approximately 6200 employees, 2096 were of African descent (in comparison, in 2015, out of 6511 employees, there are 1850 African American employees). However the majority of those employees were in lower level jobs. SAAA was organized in part to support the Smithsonian's commitment and objective to end discrimination and to support and provide for the better use of human resources to ensure equal opportunity for African Americans. In 1992 membership stood at 650 from the museums and offices in the Washington, D.C. area and New York City.
In addition to monthly meetings, the activities of the SAAA included:
- Providing training programs
- Publication of a newsletter, The Prophet, which among other things highlighted the achievements of members of the Association
- Organizing social events
Another important role the SAAA played was to provide support and advocacy for increased African American representation in exhibitions and programs, not to mention being a champion for a National Museum of African American History and Culture. Indeed, on November 21, 1989, Co-chair of SAAA, Phyllis Cunningham, provided a statement before the Subcommittee on Libraries and Memorials, Committee on House Administration, U. S. House of Representatives in support of the creation of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, opening September 24, 2016.
- Accession 99-016: Smithsonian African American Association, Records, 1989-1996, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- The Prophet, Volume 1, Number 1, Accession 99-016, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- The Prophet, Volume 1, Number 2, Accession 99-016, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- The Prophet, Volume 1, Number 3, Accession 99-016, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- The Prophet, Volume 1, Number 4, Accession 99-016, Smithsonian Institution Archives
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