Records, 1879-1908

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This record unit consists mainly of bound letterpress copy books used for the outgoing correspondence of administrative personnel. The material varies considerably in content. Much of it concerns housekeeping functions, the distribution of publications, and inquiries received from the public. It also includes copies of outgoing letters that reflect the BAE's wide contact in the world of anthropology and science in general. Considerable amounts of it contain reports on general developments within the BAE and among its staff, but this is extremely uneven. Some private correspondence is included, particularly in the letterbooks of W. J. McGee. Since both Powell and McGee were at times in their careers connected with the United States Geological Survey and retained active interests in geology throughout their lives, material relating to the Survey and to geological studies and organizations is included. NOTE: These papers are located in the National Anthroplogical Archives.


  • Holmes, William Henry 1846-1933
  • Cushing, Frank Hamilton 1857-1900
  • Powell, John Wesley 1834-1902
  • McGee, W. J. 1853-1912
  • Barnett, Frank M
  • American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • International Archeological Commission
  • British Association for the Advancement of Science
  • Geological Survey (U.S.)


  • The Bureau of Ethnology was founded in 1879 after Congress appropriated funds for the continuation of research among North American Indians that had been begun by the Geographical and Geological Survey of the Rocky Mountain Region. The name was changed in 1897 to the Bureau of American Ethnology (BAE) to emphasize the geographic limit of its interests. Under John Wesley Powell, its Director from 1879 to 1902, the BAE became a major force in the growth of the nascent science of anthropology by undertaking several broad and basic anthropological research projects, sponsoring extensive and intensive field research by its staff and collaborators, initiating several series of anthropological publications, and joining both professional and amateur anthropologists throughout the country in unofficial efforts to promote the growth of the discipline. In addition, the BAE prepared exhibits for several large expositions of the later 19th and early 20th centuries and, on instruction from the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, made collections of anthropological specimens for deposit in the United States National Museum. In addition to its research and publications program, it developed a manuscript repository, an illustrative section that included photographic work, and a library.
  • In overseeing these many efforts, Powell was able to rely heavily on capable lieutenants, particularly William John McGee, who joined the staff with the title Ethnologist-in-Charge in 1893. Powell also enjoyed a marked degree of independence from the central Smithsonian administration; and, while he was Director of the United States Geological Survey from 1880 to 1894, the BAE had considerable support from the Survey. Following Powell's death, dissatisfaction with these arrangements on the part of the Institution, irregularities in the administration of the BAE, and considerable criticism within Congress combined to lead the Smithsonian to investigate the BAE's activities. This resulted in tighter control by the Secretary of the Institution. Although its purposes and functions remained basically similar to those developed under Powell, greater emphasis was placed upon research and publication under his successors: William Henry Holmes, Chief, 1902-1909; Frederick Webb Hodge, Ethnologist-in-Charge, 1910-1918; Jesse Walter Fewkes, Chief, 1918-1928; Matthew William Stirling, Chief, 1928-1954, Director, 1954-1957; Frank H. H. Roberts, Jr., Director, 1957-1964; and Henry B. Collins, Acting Director, 1964-1965.
  • The BAE had three significant but temporary sub-units under its administration. The Mounds Survey, which concentrated on the eastern part of the United States, was undertaken on instructions from Congress. From 1882 to 1895 it was led by Cyrus Thomas assisted by a number of specially appointed field workers. The Institute for Social Anthropology was in operation from 1943 to 1952 and the River Basin Surveys from 1946 to 1969. See record units NAA 4 and NAA 6 below for descriptions of these last two projects.
  • The extant records of the BAE include not only the material described in this and record unit NAA 2, but are also found in a collection of numbered manuscripts located in the National Anthropological Archives. Earlier archivists separated many letters, reports, fiscal records, and other material from their series and cataloged them as individual items. For a description of the series of numbered manuscripts, see Catalog to the Manuscripts at the National Anthropological Archives, G. K. Hall, Boston, 1975.
  • (1) Most volumes indexed by correspondent; (2) separate index arranged by year and correspondent for 1878-1883.
  • For a history of the creating unit, refer to "Forms part of" above.


(1) General outgoing correspondence, 1879-1907; (2) outgoing transmittal correspondence, 1893-1903; (3) outgoing correspondence relating to the BAE library, 1896-1897; (4) outgoing correspondence regarding editorial work, 1894-1903; (5) requisitions for printing and binding, 1896-1903; (6) outgoing correspondence of William Henry Holmes, 1890-1893, 1903-1905; (7) outgoing correspondence of W. J. McGee, 1893-1903; (8) outgoing correspondence of Frank Hamilton Cushing, 1896-1899; (9) outgoing correspondence of Chief Clerk Frank M. Barnett, April 13 and 21, 1903; (10) accounts, 1897-1907; (11) BAE annual reports, 1898-1903; (12) records regarding the International Archeological Commission, 1902-1903; (13) outgoing correspondence regarding the joint meeting of the American and British Associations for the Advancement of Science, 1897

Repository Loc.

National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Museum Support Center, Suitland, Maryland


  • 1879
  • 1879-1908

Restrictions & Rights

These records are located in the Smithsonian's National Anthropological Archives



  • Letterpress copybooks
  • Collection descriptions

Local number


Physical description

8.2 linear meters

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