The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Category: Smithsonian History
In May of 1954, Barry B. Hampton, a scientific aide in the United States National Museum's Division of Reptiles and Amphibians, retired after 42 years at the Smithsonian. His journey from mail clerk to scientific aide was not an easy one, but he enjoyed his work and made significant contributions to the collection and the museum. At his retirement party, attended by 200 people, he recalled how fascinated he was by the work he observed as he delivered mail to the various museum departments.
He had joined the museum’s staff in 1912 as a mail clerk, but in 1926 was able to move to the Division of Reptiles and Bachtrachians (later Reptiles) assisting the curator, Doris M. Cochran. However, he was classified as a laborer, not a museum aide, as was typical for African American employees of the era. His 1926 annual salary was $1020, rose to $1080 in 1928, and to $1380 in 1929, but then the stock market crashed, the Great Depression ensued, and like most Smithsonian employees, his salary remained at $1380 until 1940 when it increased by $60 a year to $1440.
But Hampton (pictured with Cochran, left) enjoyed his work and had a great working relationship with Cochran, the only two employees in the Division. Hampton was in charge of preservation of the collection, checking every specimen annually, refilling the storage jars with preservative, carefully checking in each new specimen, preparing skins, labeling them, and putting them in the collection. It could get lively--one day he opened an incoming package to find himself face-to-face with a very unhappy live Oklahoma rattlesnake. He managed to stay out of striking distance but later recalled it was his “closest brush with danger.” He carefully packed specimens for shipment to experts for research and exchange, prepared specimens for exhibits, and assisted visiting researchers who were using the collection. He was a self-motivated employee who loved his work, although he was often frustrated at the lack of needed supplies, such as shelving, bottles, and formalin.
By the late 1940s, he wanted a promotion from laborer to a museum aide or SP (sub-professonal) position, but it proved difficult to secure. Cochran did her best to justify it, based on the quality of his work and a comparison with job titles of similar employees. Memos to her supervisors make clear the high esteem in which she held him and her belief that he deserved to be promoted. But this was the 1940s, and, interestingly, she made her argument by comparing his work with that of other African American employees in the museum. She noted that George F. McBryde (pictured above) in the Ethnology Division performed very similar duties, but he was in the SP series.
Cochran also compared Hampton’s work with that of Harry C. Harden (pictured kneeling, right), a taxidermist and exhibits preparator, who was at the SP-4 level. She even argued that Hampton’s work was more demanding. She noted that if Hampton was not promoted, he intended to file an appeal, so it would be better to respond to this before formal proceedings. McBryde and Harden were newer hires which may explain why they were not confined to the laborer job series. There is no evidence that a promotion went through, so in November of 1949, Hampton did file an “Appeal from Classification Allocation.” His job title was subsequently changed to “scientific aide,” so Hampton’s insistence on recognition of the level of work he performed was effective. This scientific aide retired from the museum in 1954, devoting his time to serving as Grand Master of the Prince Hall Lodge of the Masons and deacon in the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church, until his death in 1961.
- African American Contributions to the Smithsonian: Challenges and Achievements, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Women in Science Wednesday: Doris Mabel Cochran and Doris Holmes Blake, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
You may not think to look to archives for love stories, but there is indeed romance found amongst the diaries, letters, and other assorted collections. Whether it's an anonymous poem sent to the Smithsonian's first Secretary's daughter, Mary Henry (rumored to be from this handsome crew), or the tale of botanist Dr. Florence E. Meier (1902-1978) who worked in the Radiation Biology Laboratory. The day she came to work at the Smithsonian's Castle in 1937 promised to be like any other day, except it wasn't. I won't reveal the ending, but encourage you to listen to the Smithsonian Historian, Pam Henson, describe Meier's fateful day.
Solomon Brown—who became, at just 23 years old, the Smithsonian’s first African American employee—had a long career that spanned the early days of the Smithsonian and the development of the U.S. National Museum. A true Renaissance man, Brown was also a gifted naturalist, illustrator, community leader, and poet. One of his most powerful pieces of verse was written in 1891, called “He Is a Negro Still.”
Learn more about Brown’s life and work with the Smithsonian, and read the poem in full, in our web exhibit “African American Contributions to the Smithsonian: Challenges and Achievements.”
The Poetry of Solomon Brown, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Solomon G. Brown, Renaissance Man, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Another season of the National Football League has wrapped up with the New England Patriots beating the Atlanta Falcons in a record-breaking, first ever overtime game in Super Bowl history. With last Sunday's game fresh on my mind, I was curious to see what materials we may have in our collections that pertain to football. I thought the obvious place to start my research was to peruse the finding aids of exhibition records from the National Museum of American History. However, after a simple keyword search of our collections, what I found was better than I imagined and served as a simple reminder of the goal of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.
The Smithsonian Institution Archives’ mission is to capture, preserve and make available the records of the history of the Smithsonian Institution. In addition to the records that can be expected from the world's largest museum and research complex--scientific research data, curatorial records, exhibition materials, etc.--our collection also includes the history of the Smithsonian staff and its numerous offices, divisions, and departments. One such office was the Office of Employee Welfare and Recreation.
The Office of Employee Welfare and Recreation was created in the mid-1960s and offered employees a host of extracurricular activities to increase morale and comradery amongst Smithsonian staff. One activity proposed was the establishment of a Smithsonian Institution flag football team. In 1965, the Office of Employee Welfare and Recreation paid $40.00 for a “football franchise” and $14.37 for a football, which kicked off a multi-year run of Smithsonian staff competing in numerous D.C. Recreational Football Leagues. While this is the first instance of material directly related to the Smithsonian football team, additional materials were found within our collection of the Smithsonian staff newspaper, the Torch.
In the September 1967 issue of the Torch, a call to all Smithsonian staff to join the football team was conveyed. The article states: “The otherwise healthy-looking young men hobbling around the Institution have probably been to the opening practices for the SI touch football team. Oliver Grant of duplicating, the team coach, invites all would-be-athletes to attend work-outs on Saturdays at 11 a.m.” The team’s 1967 record was 4-2, which was good enough for a second place finish in the federal league.
Bobby Garrison, of the Smithsonian’s Computer Services Division, coached the staff football team, known throughout its history as “The Smithsonian Seven,” “The Fossils,” and “The Smithsonians,” through the late 1970s. Before the season, Garrison put out a call for “a kicker who is capable of punting at least 80 yards” and frustrated by standing on the sidelines, Garrison rejoined the team stating: “he needed a bigger piece of the action.” While official records do not say whether the team was able to find a kicker capable of punting the ball 80 yards, the Smithsonian football team did capture its first league championship in 1977.
The 1980s saw the Smithsonian's own Tommy Brown, Wide Receiver, emerge as one the D.C. Recreation League's most valuable players. Brown was voted the most valuable player by opposing teams in four out of seven contests. However, the Smithsonian squad ended the 1980 season 3-4, with wins coming against Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, and arch-rivals Howard University Hospital.
Aside from the excerpts on the Smithsonian football team listed above, I could not find any mention of the team for the rest of the 1980s and beyond. However, evidence of activities such as ice-skating, jogging, softball, dancing, and even curling can be found in later issues of the Torch.
Accession 11-008, Photographic Collection, 1960-1970, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Accession 11-009, Photographic Collection, 1971-2006, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Record Unit 371, Smithsonian Institution Office of Public Affairs, The Torch, 1955-1960, 1965-1988, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- 1 of 79
- next ›