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Finding Aids to Oral Histories in the Smithsonian Institution Archives

Record Unit 9555

Clarke, J. F. Gates (John Frederick Gates), 1905-1990 interviewee

Oral history interviews with John Frederick Gates Clarke, 1986

Repository: Smithsonian Institution Archives, Washington, D.C. Contact us at osiaref@si.edu.
Creator: Clarke, J. F. Gates (John Frederick Gates), 1905-1990 interviewee
Title: Oral history interviews with John Frederick Gates Clarke
Dates: 1986
Quantity: 16 audiotapes (Reference copies). 25 digital .mp3 files (Reference copies).
Collection: Record Unit 9555
Language of Materials: English
Summary:

These interviews of Clarke by Pamela M. Henson cover his youth and education, career as an entomologist and administrator at the USDA and NMNH, and reminiscences of field work, life in the National Museum, and colleagues, notably August Busck, Carl Heinrich and Carl Frederick William Muesebeck.

Historical Note

John Frederick Gates Clarke (1905-1990) was curator of Lepidoptera in the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) from 1936-1990. He was born on February 22, 1905, in Victoria, British Columbia, the son of Robert Wilson Clarke and Ida Charlotte Gates Clarke. His early interest in entomology was encouraged by a neighbor, Francis Kermonde, who directed the nearby Provincial Museum. In 1916, his family moved from Canada to Bellingham, Washington. Clarke began his college studies at the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle from 1923 to 1924. He then transferred to Washington State University (WSU) in Pullman and received the Ph.C. in pharmacy in 1926. He returned to WSU in 1929, receiving the B.S. in zoology in 1930 and the M.S. in entomology in 1931. He married Thelma Miesen (Clarke), a teacher, in 1929, and they had two children, John Frederick Gates Clarke, Jr., born in 1934, and Carol C. Clarke, born in 1938.

After graduation, Clarke worked as an instructor at WSU until 1935 when he began doctoral studies at Cornell University. He left graduate school in 1936, however, when he was offered a position as Entomologist for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) with responsibility for the Lepidoptera collection in the United States National Museum (USNM). During his career at the USDA, Clarke was stationed in the Natural History Building (NHB) where he worked on the systematics of Macrolepidoptera and, later, Microlepidoptera. He served in the U.S. Army in Europe during World War II. After the war, he was detailed to the British Museum (Natural History) to describe the Edward Meyrick Collection of Lepidoptera. While in England, he received the Ph.D. in entomology from the University of London in 1949.

In 1954, Clarke transferred from the USDA to the Smithsonian, and was appointed Head Curator of the Division of Insects, Department of Zoology, NMNH. At his urging, a separate Department of Entomology was created in 1963 and he was appointed its first Chairman. During his tenure as an administrator, he oversaw the growth of staff, collections, and field work. He developed plans for a National Institute for Systematics and arranged for the move of the department to an off-Mall location.

Clarke oversaw the growth of the national collection of Lepidoptera through the acquisition of other collections and an expanded program of field collecting. He was instrumental in acquiring, among others, the Ernest H. Blackmore, Frank Morton Jones, J. Douglas Hood, Adrian Hardy Haworth and Brighton Museum collections. Clarke began collecting insects in his youth and continued an active field program throughout his life, ranging from British Columbia to the Caribbean and Latin America to the South Pacific. Major expeditions included the Smithsonian-Bredin Caribbean Exploration of Dominica in 1958, expeditions to Rapa in 1961 and 1963, a seventeen country trip in 1966, and an expedition to the Marquesas in 1968.

When Clarke retired from administration in 1965, he continued his research on the systematics of Microlepidoptera as Senior Entomologist in the Department of Entomology. After his retirement in 1975, he was appointed Curator Emeritus of Lepidoptera and Research Associate of the department. During the 1970s and 1980s, his field work was concentrated in the Pacific Northwest, Caribbean, and South Pacific, accompanied by Thelma Miesen Clarke until her death in 1988. In 1989, he married Nancy du Pre (Clarke). He continued his active field and research career until his death in 1990.

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Introduction

The Smithsonian Institution Archives began its Oral History Program in 1973. The purpose of the program is to supplement the written documentation of the Archives' record and manuscript collections with an Oral History Collection, focusing on the history of the Institution, research by its scholars, and contributions of its staff. Program staff conduct interviews with current and retired Smithsonian staff and others who have made significant contributions to the Institution. There are also interviews conducted by researchers or students on topics related to the history of the Smithsonian or the holdings of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Clarke was interviewed for the Oral History Collection because of his distinguished scientific career, contributions as a Smithsonian administrator, and long tenure at the National Museum of Natural History. Additional information about Clarke can be found in the Records of the Department of Entomology, National Museum of Natural History, and John Frederick Gates Clarke Papers, which are also housed in Smithsonian Archives.

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Descriptive Entry

The John Frederick Gates Clarke Interviews were conducted by Smithsonian Archives Historian, Pamela M. Henson, during eleven sessions from February through June 1986. They discuss his youth, education and early interest in natural history; work as a pharmacist; career as an entomologist for the USDA and NMNH; recollections of colleagues and life in the museum; program to develop the national collection of insects; reminiscences of field work; and achievements as an administrator. Box 1 contains transcripts of the interviews. Box 2 contains cassette and digital copies of the original reel-to-reel and digital preservation recordings, which are in security storage.

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Preferred Citation

Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 9555, Clarke, J. F. Gates (John Frederick Gates), 1905-1990 interviewee, Oral history interviews with John Frederick Gates Clarke

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Container List

Box 1

Transcripts of Interviews

Interview 1: 26 February 1986

Box 1 of 2
Covers his family background, early interests in natural history, education, and early career, c. 1864-1931, including:
family background;
childhood in Victoria, British Columbia;
early interest in natural history, especially influence of his neighbor, Francis Kermode, Director of Provincial Museum in Victoria;
donation of his first specimen to the Provincial Museum in 1914;
move to Bellingham, Washington, in 1916;
job as delivery boy for pharmacy;
studies at University of Washington (UW) in Seattle in chemical engineering;
transfer to WSU in Pullman for Ph.C. in pharmacy;
return to WSU in 1929 to pursue B.S. in zoology.
Transcript, pp. 1-15, of audiotape recording, 0.5 hour.
Covers his graduate education in entomology and early career at USDA, especially research and experiences at USNM, c. 1922-1937, including:
studies with Trevor Kincaid using UW collections;
wildlife research by Elizabeth Halpin;
graduate work in entomology at WSU;
teaching ornithology and eugenics classes at WSU;
M.S. in entomology, 1931, from WSU with thesis on Microlepidoptera of Washington State;
observations by Axel Leonard Melander and Francis Marion Webster of insect resistance to pesticides;
early contacts with August Busck and Carl Heinrich at the USNM;
revision of North American Oecophoridae, 1941;
part-time work as a pharmacist;
courtship and marriage of Thelma Miesen Clarke and her assistance in his work;
early publications and effects of work on family life;
birth of first child in 1934, second in 1938;
receipt of National Research Council grants;
development of personal library;
graduate work at Cornell University in 1936;
financial straits as graduate student and support from William T. M. Forbes;
trip to USNM to visit collections, subsequent death of Foster H. Benjamin, and in 1936 offer to Clarke of position as lepidopterist at USDA;
reminiscences of other graduate students and professors at Cornell;
offer of directorship of Provincial Museum and refusal in order to become a United States citizen;
appointment to USDA staff at USNM in 1936;
reminiscences of early years at USDA, including department, colleagues, and collecting;
visit to George P. Engelhardt and Bundt meeting;
USDA job duties, such as determinations, research, and curation;
reflections on his supervisor, Carl F. W. Meusebeck.
Transcript, pp. 16-59, of audiotape recording, 1.5 hours.
Continues discussion of his early years at the USDA and his associations with the USNM, with reminiscences of colleagues and early collecting trips, c. 1936-1941, including:
early years at the USNM;
USDA-USNM relations;
support for entomologists by the Librarian, Mathilde H. Carpenter, preparators, cataloguers, and Works Progress Administration workers;
building the Lepidoptera collection;
reminiscences of August Busck, especially his use of genitalia in classification;
reminiscences of Carl Heinrich, including his larval research;
relationship of Busck and Heinrich;
daily work routine in the museum;
review of publications;
travel to other museums to study types and major collections;
collecting trips to Washington and Oregon;
acquisition of Ernest H. Blackmore Collection;
retirement of Edward A. Chapin as USNM curator and Clarke's appointment to that vacancy;
donation of his collection of ten thousand specimens of Lepidoptera to the USNM;
contributions of William Schaus to USNM, such as acquisition of Paul Dognin Collection.
Transcript, pp. 60-94, of audiotape recording, 1.0 hour.

Interview 4: 19 March 1986

Box 1 of 2
Continues discussion of his work at the USDA, and covers his military service in World War II, the effects of the war on European museums, and his doctoral work in London, c. 1936-1948, including:
completion of revision of the Oecophoridae;
retirement of Busck in 1940 and Clarke's assumption of responsibility for Microlepidoptera;
acquisition of Frank Morton Jones Collection;
effects of the war on British Museum (Natural History);
communication between museum departments and with Smithsonian administration;
reminiscences of Austin Hobart Clark and his wife, Leila Gay Forbes Clark, especially his office and work habits;
Clarke's service in ROTC and U.S. Army in Europe during World War II;
effects of war on USNM, including segregating type specimens;
visits to European museums at war's end;
post-war work at the British Museum (Natural History) describing Edward Meyrick collection of Lepidoptera;
doctoral work at University of London.
Transcript, pp. 95-124, of audiotape recording, 1.0 hour.
Covers his experiences at the British Museum, transfer from USDA to USNM, administration of the new Department of Entomology, relations with Waldo LaSalle Schmitt, plans for a National Institute of Entomology, and relations with SI administration, c. 1945-1965, including:
tenure at British Museum (Natural History) describing the Edward Meyrick Collection with assistance from John D. Bradley and others;
acquisitions from England, especially Adrian Hardy Haworth Collection of English Torticidae Moths, Brighton Museum Collection of Microlepidoptera, and duplicates from Meyrick Collection;
quality of NMNH collection of European Lepidoptera, including the Hoffman, B. Hamfelt, and Jackh collections;
Eighth International Entomological Congress in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1948;
confusion over invitation to 150th anniversary of the Royal Institution;
improving USNM-British Museum relations and comparison of library services;
1948 USDA budget crisis;
reminiscences of museum staff and administration;
appointment as head curator of Division of Insects in 1954 and opposition by Waldo LaSalle Schmitt;
Smithsonian-Bredin Caribbean Expedition to the West Indies in 1956;
subsequent friendship with Schmitt;
creation of separate Department of Entomology in 1963;
reflections on staff reorganization and expansion;
creation of Arachnologist position filled by Ralph E. Crabill, Jr.;
changes in SI administration in the 1960s;
problems with secretary, Kathleen T. Perkins, and subsequent falling out with Crabill;
appointment as Senior Scientist, 1965.
Appendix A: Proposed Program for the Division of Insects, Smithsonian Institution, 1954-1955.
Transcript, pp. 125-166, of audiotape recording, 1.5 hours.
Covers his role as Chairman of the Department of Entomology, temporary move of the department to Lamont Street, and collecting trips to Micronesia, the Caribbean, and South America, c. 1956-1965, including:
role as Chairman of Department of Entomology;
expansion from division to Department of Entomology and consequent increase in staff;
support for entomology from SI Secretaries;
temporary move to Lamont Street, 1962;
move of Robert Traub's flea project and Southeast Asia Mosquito Project to Lamont Street;
return to NMNH and subsequent loss of space;
rejection of plans to establish National Institute of Entomology or move off-Mall permanently;
administrative relations and changes;
1952 field trip to Micronesia under sponsorship of Pacific Science Board and Office of Naval Research;
description of Kusaie natives and field collecting;
Smithsonian-Bredin Caribbean expeditions in 1956 and 1958 with Schmitt;
collecting on Dominica and Redonda;
South America collecting trip, 1958, with stops in Colombia, Chile, Peru, and Bolivia.
Appendix B: Field Work Performed by John Frederick Gates Clarke.
Transcript, pp. 167-206, of audiotape recording, 1.5 hours.

Interview 7: 30 April 1986

Box 1 of 2
Covers the growth of entomological collections under his leadership, general discussion of the work of lepidopterists, and expeditions to the Yucatan and Pacific, c. 1958-1986, including:
acquisition of new collections;
comparison of support for entomology by various SI administrators;
trip to Vienna in 1960 to acquire to F. F. Tippmann Collection;
trips to Argentina in 1958 for F.A. Munros Collection and Panama in 1985 for Gordon B. Small Collection;
reminiscences of Doris H. Blake;
procedures for collecting Lepidoptera;
increase in field work by curators in the 1960s;
collection acquisitions, such as J. Douglas Hood collection of Thrips;
competition for collections with other museums, such as Florida State Museum;
acquisitions from the National Museum of Nairobi, Kenya;
Smithsonian-Bredin Expedition to the Yucatan Peninsula, 1960;
aborted field trip to the island of Rapa in the South Pacific, 1961.
Transcript, pp. 207-246, of audiotape recording, 1.5 hours.
Covers his 1963 expedition to Rapa and other trips to the South Pacific and Caribbean, c. 1963-1976, including:
successful field trip to Rapa with Thelma in 1963;
descriptions of the island including people, customs, accommodations, geography, weather, exports, and food;
collecting insects and plants on Rapa;
interests in zoogeographic distribution of Lepidoptera in the South Pacific;
field trip to the Marquesas with Thelma, 1968;
Porter M. Kier's practical joke cockroach study;
field trip to the Carolines with Thelma, 1976;
Archbold-Bredin-Smithsonian Biological Survey of Dominica in 1965;
description of a typical collecting day;
field photography;
plans for seventeen country trip in 1966.
Transcript, pp. 247-290, of audiotape recording, 1.5 hours.

Interview 9: 4 June 1986

Box 1 of 2
Returns to reminiscences of Rapa, and covers his 1966 trip to seventeen countries and development of the Southeast Asia Mosquito Project at NMNH, c. 1963-1966, including:
additional reminiscences of Rapa natives and customs;
seventeen country trip with Thelma, 1966, including Eleventh Pacific Science Congress in Japan and post-war relations with Japanese;
visits to collections in Japan, Malaysia, Australia, Thailand, Ceylon, Egypt, and Kenya;
acquisitions from National Museum of Nairobi through efforts of Robert H. Carcasson;
visits to South Africa, Israel, Greece, England, and Ireland;
reflections on his travel experiences during his career;
browses through a Lepidoptera collection with interviewer;
development of the Southeast Asia Mosquito Project at the NMNH, with help from Col. Harold D. Newson of the U.S. Army.
Transcript, pp. 291-318, of audiotape recording, 1.0 hour.

Interview 10: 11 June 1986

Box 1 of 2
Covers vacation/collecting trips to South America and Caribbean, c. 1974-1986, including:
trip to Monte Desert in Argentina, 1974, to study bees;
vacation/collecting trips with Thelma to Caribbean from 1979-1986, especially Cayman Islands, St. Eustatius, Grenada, and Margarita.
Transcript, pp. 319-322, of audiotape recording, 0.5 hour.
Discusses entomology exhibits; SI administration and staff; and involvement with Senate of Scientists, Washington Biologists' Field Club, Cosmos Club, and Lepidopterists' Society, c. 1955-1986, including:
entomology exhibits in the NMNH;
establishment of Senate of Scientists in 1960s and their relations with SI administration;
his relations with SI administrators during tenure of S. Dillon Ripley as Secretary;
growth and changes in Department of Entomology since 1960, including outside review committees;
planning for the Museum Support Center, including the role of lepidopterist W. Donald Duckworth;
membership in Washington Biologists' Field Club, including his work on committees, reminiscences of Plummers Island and his invention of bourbon-fried potatoes;
membership in the Cosmos Club, including his role in the house committee and his views on SI Women's Council's support of admission of women into the club;
origins and role of Lepidopterists' Society, and his association with it;
reminiscences of Robert Evans Snodgrass.
Transcript, pp. 333-366, of audiotape recording, 1.0 hour.

Box 2

Audio Recordings of Interviews

Interview 1: 26 February 1986

Box 2 of 2
Total Recording Time: 0.5 hours
Original Masters: 1 5" reel-to-reel analog audiotape
Preservation Masters: 1 digital .wav file
Reference Copies: 1 cassette audiotape; 1 digital .mp3 file

Interview 2: 5 March 1986

Box 2 of 2
Total Recording Time: 1.5 hours
Original Masters: 2 5" reel-to-reel analog audiotapes
Preservation Masters: 3 digital .wav files
Reference Copies: 2 cassette audiotape; 3 digital .mp3 files

Interview 3: 12 March 1986

Box 2 of 2
Total Recording Time: 1.0 hours
Original Masters: 1 5" reel-to-reel analog audiotape
Preservation Masters: 2 digital .wav files
Reference Copies: 1 cassette audiotape; 2 digital .mp3 files

Interview 4: 19 March 1986

Box 2 of 2
Total Recording Time: 1.0 hours
Original Masters: 1 5" reel-to-reel analog audiotape
Preservation Masters: 2 digital .wav files
Reference Copies: 1 cassette audiotape; 2 digital .mp3 files

Interview 5: 26 March 1986

Box 2 of 2
Total Recording Time: 1.5 hours
Original Masters: 2 5" reel-to-reel analog audiotapes
Preservation Masters: 3 digital .wav files
Reference Copies: 2 cassette audiotapes; 3 digital .mp3 files

Interview 6: 9 April 1986

Box 2 of 2
Total Recording Time: 1.5 hours
Original Masters: 2 5" reel-to-reel analog audiotapes
Preservation Masters: 3 digital .wav files
Reference Copies: 2 cassette audiotapes; 3 digital .mp3 files

Interview 7: 30 April 1986

Box 2 of 2
Total Recording Time: 1.5 hours
Original Masters: 2 5" reel-to-reel analog audiotapes
Preservation Masters: 3 digital .wav files
Reference Copies: 2 cassette audiotapes; 3 digital .mp3 files

Interview 8: 7 May 1986

Box 2 of 2
Total Recording Time: 1.5 hours
Original Masters: 2 5" reel-to-reel analog audiotapes
Preservation Masters: 3 digital .wav files
Reference Copies: 2 cassette audiotapes; 3 digital .mp3 files

Interview 9: 4 June 1986

Box 2 of 2
Total Recording Time: 1.0 hours
Original Masters: 1 5" reel-to-reel analog audiotape
Preservation Masters: 2 digital .wav files
Reference Copies: 1 cassette audiotape; 2 digital .mp3 files

Interview 10: 11 June 1986

Box 2 of 2
Total Recording Time: 0.5 hours
Original Masters: 1 5" reel-to-reel analog audiotape
Preservation Masters: 1 digital .wav file
Reference Copies: 1 cassette audiotape; 1 digital .mp3 file

Interview 11: 25 June 1986

Box 2 of 2
Total Recording Time: 1.0 hours
Original Masters: 1 5" reel-to-reel analog audiotape
Preservation Masters: 2 digital .wav files
Reference Copies: 1 cassette audiotape; 2 digital .mp3 files