What the Smithsonian Institution Is Doing for Public Education

Usage Conditions Apply
The Smithsonian Institution Archives welcomes personal and educational use of its collections unless otherwise noted. For commercial uses, please contact photos@si.edu.


  • Jesse Walter Fewkes, Chief of the Smithsonian's Bureau of American Ethnology, delivered this speech on the subject of what role the Smithsonian Institution plays in furthering the government's public education efforts. He states that although the Smithsonian is not an educational institution in the traditional sense, the Smithsonian is preeminent in the service it has rendered to public education by creating knowledge through research and exploration, and diffusing it through publications distributed to institutions, colleges, and universities, which can adapt the information for educational purposes.
  • The speaker comments that no federal institution has done more than the Smithsonian to encourage research. He mentions anthropology, geology, biology and astrophysics as areas of science that have been enhanced by the Institution's work, and comments on scientific opportunities brought about by America's westward expansion, singling out the Bureau of Ethnology for its research and work in preserving the record of the American Indian.
  • Fewkes comments that from its earliest history, the Smithsonian held itself to high standards, an ideal that carried over to its role in scientific education. He retraces how the Institution came into being in 1846 through a bequest from James Smithson, an English scientist who was elected to the Royal Society of London, an action which brought him into contact with the most talented scientific minds of the time. Fewkes states that Smithson was greatly influenced by them, and notes that he received high praise from them for his scientific accomplishments.
  • In Fewkes' view, the ideals of the Royal Society lived in Smithson, making it possible to give a higher direction to science and education in America through the Smithsonian Institution. He states that first Smithsonian Secretary Joseph Henry brought great leadership by following Smithson's high ideals, and that Henry's successors, Spencer Fullerton Baird, Samuel P. Langley, and Charles D. Walcott, continued those policies.
  • Fewkes states that the Smithsonian's establishment led to rapid development of scientific research in America, and its commitment to diffusion of knowledge gained was accomplished as the Institution took great steps to widely distribute publications on all phases of science to libraries, museums and educational institutions. Fewkes states that the Smithsonian holds a prominent place in the International Catalog of Scientific Literature by virtue of its leadership in the international publication exchange program it pioneered.
  • In his speech, Fewkes notes that the Smithsonian's establishment was made possible through a bequest, and its work continues with governmental support, but concludes with the warning that since endowments are not adequate to meet current needs, new funds must be requested.


  • Baird, Spencer Fullerton 1823-1887
  • Fewkes, Jesse Walter 1850-1930
  • Henry, Joseph 1797-1878
  • Langley, S. P (Samuel Pierpont) 1834-1906
  • Smithson, James 1765-1829
  • Walcott, Charles D (Charles Doolittle) 1850-1927
  • United States National Museum
  • Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology
  • Smithsonian Institution General History
  • International Catalogue of Scientific Literature
  • Smithsonian Institution Establishment of
  • Royal Society of London


Smithsonian History Bibliography


Article is a Smithsonian Institution reprint of a speech presented at the meeting of the Educational Press Association of America on July 2, 1924. That association was founded in 1895 and renamed the Association of Educational Publishers in 1995.

Contained within

School and Society Vol. XX, No. 507 (Journal)

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20024-2520, SIHistory@si.edu


September 13, 1924


  • Discovery and exploration
  • Communication in science
  • Secretaries
  • SI, Early History
  • Science
  • Ethnology
  • Museums
  • Societies
  • Exchanges, Literary and scientific
  • Education
  • Historians
  • Science publishing
  • Learned institutions and societies
  • Indians of North America
  • Museums--Educational aspects
  • Science--Societies, etc
  • Education--Museums


  • West (U.S.)
  • North America
  • Washington (D.C.)

Physical description

Number of pages : 3; Page numbers : 1-3

Full Record

View Full Record