Finding Aids to Oral Histories in the Smithsonian Institution Archives
Record Unit 9555
Clarke, J. F. Gates (John Frederick Gates), 1905-1990, interviewee
J. F. Gates Clarke Oral History Interviews, 1986
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 Kermode, 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.
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.
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.
This collection is indexed under the following access terms. These are links to collections with related topics, persons or places.
- Clarke, J. F. Gates (John Frederick Gates), 1905-1990
- Busck, August, 1870-1944
- Heinrich, Carl
- Muesebeck, Carl F. W. (Carl Frederick William), 1894-
- Henson, Pamela M., interviewer
- National Museum of Natural History (U.S.). Department of Entomology
- National Museum of Natural History (U.S.). Division of Insects
- Washington State University
- Cornell University
- United States National Museum. Department of Entomology
- United States National Museum. Department of Insects
- United States. Bureau of Entomology
- Museum curators
- Oral history
- Vancouver (B.C.)
- Bellingham (Wash.)
Physical Characteristics of Materials in the Collection
Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 9555, J. F. Gates Clarke Oral History Interviews