Dickey, Donald R. (Donald Ryder), 1887-1932

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Biographical History

Donald Ryder Dickey (1887-1932) was an adventurous, pioneer wildlife photographer as well as an ornithologist and mammalogist. He was well known in his time for: his photographs (both still and moving) of birds and mammals; his lectures on wildlife; and eventually, for his substantial specimen collection of birds and mammals. Drawn to outdoor life in his childhood and youth, he considered this nothing more than a hobby until he experienced a serious heart attack in his senior year at Yale and was sentenced to immediate and complete bed rest. Allowed to graduate with his class because of his high academic standing, he returned after graduation to his parents' home in Pasadena for two years of inactivity. He visited a friend's ranch in the Ojai Valley after about a year, and there, from his steamer chair, he began to observe, and after a time to photograph, local birds and their nests. As Dickey became stronger he also became more active, taking longer and longer photographic jaunts and starting to collect small mammals in an amateur way. When he had finally regained full strength, in about 1916, he found that he was "too interested by that time in what started as a hobby, to forego it for a conventional business life." Eventually he determined to establish a research center for vertebrate zoology in Southern California, consisting of a study collection of specimens with photographs and books to support it. In 1926 the California Institute of Technology provided housing for the by then sizeable collection and named Dickey "Research Associate in Vertebrate Zoology"; in 1940 the collection was moved to UCLA. The collection covers North and Central America, but focuses mainly on southwestern fauna including the Pacific slopes of Mexico and Central America, with important pictorial records also of the birds of Laysan Island, Hawaii, and the large mammals of New Brunswick, Canada. In June, 1921, Dickey married Florence Van Vechten Murphy and they had one son, Donald Jr. They built a home in Pasadena, California.


Online Archive of California. (2009). Finding Aid for the Donald R. Dickey Personal Photo Album ca. 1921-1926. Retrieved from http://cdn.calisphere.org/data/13030/72/kt5779r872/files/kt5779r872.pdf

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  • Photographers
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  • Mammalogists
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  • Photographers
  • Ornithologists
  • Mammalogists