Lucile Quarry Mann
Smithsonian Institution Archives Oral History Collection, 009624
Lucile Quarry Mann (1897-1986), who preferred to be called Lucy, moved to Washington, D.C., during the First World War and created a life and career full of adventure and dedicated to the Smithsonian. As an editor, she worked in the Bureau of Entomology and the National Zoological Park. She also researched and authored her own books, including the popular volume Tropical Fish. Like many other women in the Smithsonian’s early history, Mann’s initial connection to the Institution was through her marriage. After meeting in a library, Mann married entomologist William Mann, director of the National Zoological Park, in 1926. Witty and unafraid, Lucy Mann represents a chapter of history at the Smithsonian in which women devoted their lives to the Institution, but were often defined by their relationships to the men who worked here.
Mann was not simply the wife of the director, she was an active contributor to the zoo. Not only did she work as an assistant and editor (without the title) for two directors over twenty years, she and Dr. Mann journeyed across the world collecting animals for the zoo. Mann cared for animals in her home, herded uncaged flamingos on a cargo ship, and even hid a bag of live snakes under her skirt on a train in South America! Listen along to Mann’s 1977 interview where she shares her commitment to the National Zoo and details her incredible adventures from Washington, DC, to expeditions in the jungles of Sumatra.
“Well, there were still horses and carriages.”
Session 1-1a 00:21:59-00:24:22
Henson: What was D.C. like during the war? Was it much different?
Mann: World War I?
Mann: Well, there were still horses and carriages. It was a small town. There were various boarding houses and cafeterias where we ate, and there was always a long line outside. There was a place with very nice food called Allies Inn, and if you wanted to stand in line for an hour, you could get in there for a meal. [Laughter] The place was crowded of course; when I first arrived, I had trouble finding a place to stay.
Henson: Where did you live?
Mann: I stayed the first week or two with a friend who had gotten me this job on account of my fluent Italian. [Laughter] She had been a school teacher, and she knew Miss [Lucy] Madeira at Miss Madeira's school. So until the school opened, I had a room at Miss Madeira's school, which in those days was just off Dupont Circle. I met another girl there who had been a pupil at Miss Madeira's school, and she and I became friends. Eventually, when we had to move out of school when the students were coming back, we found an apartment...no, first we had a room in a boarding house. That was quite an experience. We went through that famous 1918 flu epidemic. She was quite ill, and then two of her friends moved into the same boarding house and had a room there, and they came down with the flu. I managed to escape it, so I was always the one who had to call the doctor, and go out and get prescriptions filled, and that sort of thing. The boarding house was really pretty grim. It was a rooming house really, we got no meals there. So we found an apartment for ourselves and for two of our friends on Seventeenth Street not far from U [Street]. So you can see Washington has changed quite a bit since that time.
“They didn’t pay a salary that you could live on.”
Session 1-1a 00:30:13-00:31:26
MANN: It didn't occur to me to try for a job on the National Geographic , probably couldn't have gotten it, and the Smithsonian Magazine , of course, wasn't founded in those days. I had letters of introduction to various publishing houses in New York; the trouble was that to somebody just starting out they didn't pay a salary that you could live on. I said that to one man, I don't know, one of the big editors, and he said, "We know that, but there's so many girls who live here that will work for practically nothing just to say that they've had experience." They lived with their families, and they could work for ten dollars a week. I was offered twenty-five dollars a week. It's a little difficult to live in New York on twenty-five dollars a week.
HENSON: Even back then it would still be difficult, yes.
MANN: When I left, after two years at the Woman's Home Companion , I was getting all of forty-five dollars a week, and I lived very well--got to the theatre, bought my trousseau at Bergdorf Goodman's. [Laughter]
“Leisure League, I haven’t got any leisure.”
Session 1-1b 00:03:33-00:05:15
MANN: So then we graduated to tropical fish. And there was something I could really go for.
HENSON: Yes, you got very involved in aquaria and aquarium fish, right?
MANN: Yes. One time when I was up in New York, I went to see my friends on the Woman's Home Companion. They showed me an article they were working on keeping goldfish. So I said, "Oh, goldfish. Why don't you have an article on tropical fish, they're much more interesting." They said, "You write us one." which I did. I wrote an article on tropical fish. It was illustrated by Stephen Haweis, who was an artist friend of ours--he did several of the pictures that I have here in the apartment--and illustrated it beautifully. A few weeks later, shortly after the article was published in the Companion, I got a letter from an outfit called Leisure League. I said, "Leisure League, I haven't got any leisure." But I opened it and they wanted me to do a book on tropical fish. When Bill came home I said, "Look at this, isn't this the silliest thing you ever saw, they want me to do a book on tropical fish. I don't know enough to write a book." Bill said, "The best way to learn about something is to write a book about it." So he persuaded me to write the book on tropical fish. That was back in the 1930's, and it's just gone out of print in the last year or two. It ran for about forty years, one revision after another.
“I didn’t have to handle a snake at the initiation.”
Session 1-1b 00:21:38-00:24:15
Mann: Bill founded the Vivarium Society.
Henson: Oh, did he?
Mann: Yes, it was for youngsters who like to keep cold-blooded pets. That was one of my introductions to snakes. I went to a meeting of this Vivarium Society--they met in the zoo office--and these young people, mostly boys, would bring in whatever their current pet was, and it was nearly always a snake. At one of my first meetings, one man proudly produced two black snakes that were all coiled around each other, made a big ball--you could hardly make out where was the head and where was the tail on either one. That was passed around the circle from hand to hand. Well, I hadn't been married very long, I didn't want to be foolish, so I didn't scream, but I just said, "Oh, how nice," and took it and passed it on very quickly! [Laughter] But I had to get used to snakes, and I did finally.
This is jumping quite a distance, but I was talking about it the other day. I met some people who had spent two and a half years in Liberia with AID [Agency for International Development], and I told them that I had been in Liberia when we were collecting animals out there, and that I had joined the secret snake society. I actually was given a title, I was a Yangwak, and the symbol of my power was an antelope horn which was decorated with cowry shells and dudu feathers--I never found out what dudu feathers were. My special power was to cut a palaver, which means to end an argument, of course. So when we came back, Bill and I showed our pictures at the White House to Franklin [Delano] Roosevelt. When we came to that part, Roosevelt turned to me, because there was a filibuster going on in the Senate, and he said, "Mrs. Mann, may I appoint you to the Senate next week?" [Laughter]
HENSON: That's incredible.
MANN: But I didn't have to handle a snake at the initiation into the society. Bill did, it was a horrible looking rhinoceros viper. It didn't bite him fortunately.
“Instead of six weeks, I stayed for twenty years!”
Session 5-2 00:20:36-00:25:46
HENSON: Also around this time, you started working for the zoo? When did you first start?
MANN: Yes, about 1951 or '52, I think. . .'50 or '51, somewhere along there. It was because Dr. Mann, who'd had the same secretary for years, lost his secretary. she left because her husband was being transferred out of town. Her replacement had also been a zoo secretary. The two of them were friends and became friends because they were both working in the zoo. One, I think, was Dr. Mann's secretary and one Mr. [Ernest Pillsbury] Walker's officially, but they both worked for whoever needed them. One left because her husband was being transferred, and the other one left because she was getting married. Bill got a new secretary through the personnel office. She wasn't satisfactory. . .got another one and she didn't stay very long. He was just having too much of a turnover in secretaries. I had very often, when his secretary was on vacation, helped out, not necessarily going over to the zoo, but he would dictate letters at home and I typed them at home. I had a typewriter, and supplies, and stationary at home. Or perhaps I would go over to the zoo for a while. Bill asked me if I would be willing to come in every day for just half day--I never worked anything but part-time--so I said, "Yes, of course," thinking it would be maybe six weeks time before he got a secretary that he liked and properly broken in. Then he said he didn't see why I shouldn't get paid. I never had been for doing the zoo letters. But he thought I ought to get paid, called the Smithsonian--was there any problem because of being his wife? They wanted to know if I would take a civil service examination, I said, "Certainly, not why? I've nothing to lose." So I went down, took the civil service examination, passed, got a job as clerk-typist. Time went on, and instead of six weeks I stayed there twenty years. After Bill retired I went on working for Dr. Reed. I liked it. It got me out of the house for half the day. By the time Bill retired he wasn't very well. I was much happier--we both were--having me go over to the zoo in the morning. He slept most of the mornings. When he became more incapacitated, I'd have a practical nurse come and spend the morning with him, to make sure he was all right. Then I'd come home and I'd have something to talk to him about. Otherwise I would have just sat there while he slept most of the morning. So it worked out very well, and I enjoyed the work.
HENSON: Well, you'd been so closely tied to the zoo for so long, and I imagine, in a sense, kept him in touch with the zoo, much closer to it.
MANN: When Dr. Reed kept me on, he gave me more responsibility, for instance with the Annual Report . I did the Annual Report for several years. I'd have to write part of it myself, and I'd have to get the rest of it out of various other people. Ted always called me his editorial secretary. There wasn't enough editorial work to have a full-time editor in those days. It was something that I liked doing.
Want to explore the full transcript of Lucile Qaurry Mann's oral history interview?
- Lucile Quarry Mann Oral History Interviews, 1977, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 9513
And you can learn even more about Mann in our collections and on our website.
- William M. Mann and Lucile Quarry Mann Papers, circa 1885-1981, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7293
- William M. Mann and Lucile Quarry Mann Papers, 1930, 1935-1938, 1954, 1962, and undated, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Acc. 03-024
- William M. Mann and Lucile Quarry Mann Papers, circa 1984-1986, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Acc. 05-250
- "A Life on the Wild Side," by Pamela M. Henson, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- William M. Mann and Lucile Quarry Mann - 1940 Smithsonian-Firestone Expedition to Liberia, YouTube, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- National Geographic Society-Smithsonian Institution Expedition to the Dutch East Indies, 1937, Biodiversity Heritage Library