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On Her Own Terms

On Her Own Terms: Annie Montague Alexander and the Rise of Science in the American West

Barbara R. Stein
Copyright Date: 2001
Edition: 1
Pages: 397
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1ppmch
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    On Her Own Terms
    Book Description:

    At a time when women could not vote and very few were involved in the world outside the home, Annie Montague Alexander (1867–1950) was an intrepid explorer, amateur naturalist, skilled markswoman, philanthropist, farmer, and founder and patron of two natural history museums at the University of California, Berkeley. Barbara R. Stein presents a luminous portrait of this remarkable woman, a pioneer who helped shape the world of science in California, yet whose name has been little known until now. Alexander's father founded a Hawaiian sugar empire, and his great wealth afforded his adventurous daughter the opportunity to pursue her many interests. Stein portrays Alexander as a complex, intelligent, woman who--despite her frail appearance--was determined to achieve something with her life. Along with Louise Kellogg, her partner of forty years, Alexander collected thousands of animal, plant, and fossil specimens throughout western North America. Their collections serve as an invaluable record of the flora and fauna that were beginning to disappear as the West succumbed to spiraling population growth, urbanization, and agricultural development. Today at least seventeen taxa are named for Alexander, and several others honor Kellogg, who continued to make field trips after Alexander's death. Alexander's dealings with scientists and her encouragement--and funding--of women to do field research earned her much admiration, even from those with whom she clashed. Stein's extensive use of archival material, including excerpts from correspondence and diaries, allows us to see Annie Alexander as a keen observer of human nature who loved women and believed in their capabilities. Her legacy endures in the fields of zoology and paleontology and also in the lives of women who seek to follow their own star to the fullest degree possible.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92638-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-2)

    Among the many accomplished women during the last century and a half—adventurous Victorian ladies, pioneering women scientists who are finally being given the recognition they deserve, wealthy and often flamboyant patrons of the arts—few excelled in more than one category. Annie Montague Alexander did. She was an intrepid explorer, world traveler, amateur naturalist, farmer, philanthropist, and founder and patron of two natural history museums on the University of California’s Berkeley campus, all at a time when women did not have the right to vote and few had any involvement in the world outside their homes. Alexander took part...

  6. 1 Samuel Alexander and Henry Baldwin
    (pp. 3-12)

    The death of her father in Africa in 1904 served as the catalyst for Annie Montague Alexander to found the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology on the Berkeley campus. At the age of thirty-seven, she felt the need to give meaning to her life and the idea of creating a natural history museum gradually took shape in her mind.

    More than any other of Samuel Alexander’s children, his second daughter, Annie, embodied her father’s striking characteristics—his intensity and entrepreneurial spirit, as well as his generosity and an unshakable commitment to the causes in which he believed. Her life emulated his...

  7. 2 Life in Oakland
    (pp. 13-21)

    In the 1880s Oakland was a fashionable place to live, a city reminiscent of the towns and villages on the East Coast from which its early settlers had come.¹ Its name reflected the groves of gigantic oak trees that lined its shore. Majestic redwoods still topped the gentle hills that rose to the east of town, and every spring wildflowers carpeted the fields surrounding the city as far as the eye could see. The city offered its residents paved roads, police and fire services, gasoline street lamps, regular hourly ferry service to San Francisco, and a steam railroad that connected...

  8. 3 A Passion for Paleontology
    (pp. 22-34)

    Before the trip through northern California, Alexander had never verbalized an academic interest in natural science; her curriculum at Lasell was lacking in this arena. But her thrill at learning the names of the plants and animals that summer, and her obvious pleasure in being outdoors, may have prompted the choice. Study of earth’s origins and the history of its flora and fauna was a logical prerequisite to full understanding of its more recent forms.

    The course that Alexander chose to audit in the fall of 1900 was given by John C. Merriam, a faculty member in the Department of...

  9. 4 Africa, 1904
    (pp. 35-47)

    It came as no surprise to Samuel’s family and friends when he announced plans to embark on an African safari in the summer of 1904. Neither did the inclusion of Annie. If the invitation surprised her, she gave no hint of it. She readily assented, unable to forego the expedition’s lure of adventure. Her purpose would be to collect wildlife, both on film and as trophies. “[T]he opportunity is one of a lifetime,” she confided to Martha.¹

    Although the thought of reducing now scarce populations of game mammals for sport alone offends modern sensibilities, in 1904 the African landscape was...

  10. 5 Meeting C. Hart Merriam
    (pp. 48-57)

    Alexander quickly realized that simply collecting fossils would not “absorb her interest.” By 1904 the focus of her study had broadened to include Recent animals¹ as well as fossil forms, and during the next year she began to contemplate how she might make a more significant contribution to research in paleontology. In 1905 she also met two biologists, William Bryan of the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum in Honolulu and C. Hart Merriam of the Biological Survey in Washington, D.C. Both men influenced the development of an idea that had already begun to germinate in her head, but Merriam’s encouragement and...

  11. 6 Alaska, 1906
    (pp. 58-62)

    While Alexander labored to extract fossils from the limestone beds of northern Nevada in the summer of 1905, her father’s sister Mary and several friends spent the summer in Alaska, traveling as far north as Dawson in the heart of the Yukon Territory. True, she had not felt up to the journey earlier in the year but, finding herself back in Oakland once again, Annie wrote to Martha, “I should have gone with them! but my heart is set on Kodiak Island and the Alaskan Peninsula where I can combine bear hunting with fossil hunting.”¹

    Rethinking this proposition after meeting...

  12. 7 Meeting Joseph Grinnell
    (pp. 63-75)

    As 1906 drew to a close, Alexander traveled east rather than west for the New Year, visiting Mary Beckwith in New England and attending the theater in New York. Then in mid-January she took the train to Washington, D.C., to confer with C. Hart Merriam about her plans for a second expedition to Alaska the following summer. This trip’s scientific scope would be more extensive than her previous venture and she again asked the survey chief for suggestions as to collectors who might accompany her. She also needed to find a female companion. Annie had been pleased with Edna’s company...

  13. 8 Founding a Museum of Vertebrate Zoology
    (pp. 76-87)

    Teaching at Throop offered Grinnell the opportunity to make brief collecting trips in and around the Los Angeles area or more extensive excursions into the California desert, but his wish was to devote himself exclusively to research. His desire to see a museum of vertebrate zoology established on the West Coast stemmed from his need for a large, comparative specimen collection for his work, studies that focused on elucidating an evolutionary theory in which speciation was viewed as a function of an organism’s geographic locality, influenced not only by latitude and ambient temperature at a given locale but, more complexly,...

  14. 9 An Unusual Collaboration
    (pp. 88-96)

    From the outset, an unusual synergy characterized the relationship between Alexander and Grinnell. Their shared goals and complementary strengths allowed each to concede areas of expertise each to the other.¹ In some arenas the two collaborated as equals, for example, fieldwork. In other spheres, growth and development of the museum’s program was left to the individual better qualified to carry out that portion of their plan: fiscal management of the museum versus research. In this sense, the relationship between Alexander and Grinnell closely paralleled that between Samuel Alexander and Henry Baldwin.

    Alexander’s desire to create a museum of vertebrate zoology...

  15. 10 Louise and Prince William Sound
    (pp. 97-106)

    Alexander’s discovery of a companion who could share both the physical labor and the joy of fieldwork assured her success as a field biologist. A collecting companion with physical staminaandaesthetic sensibilities was Alexander’s ideal; the companions thus far had satisfied her need for propriety but only Edna Wemple had come close to filling that role. As planning for the 1908 expedition to Alaska proceeded, it was by sheer coincidence that Annie met Louise Kellogg.

    Alexander’s choice of Kellogg to accompany her to Alaska seems as spontaneous and fortuitous as her decision had been to appoint Grinnell as museum...

  16. 11 Support for Paleontology
    (pp. 107-113)

    At the end of October 1905 the success of Alexander’s most recent fossilhunting expedition to Humboldt County, Nevada, was still fresh in her mind when she wrote to President Wheeler: “In view of the possibilities for the advancement of science through the research work of the Department of Paleontology . . . I have decided to make the Board of Regents . . . the following proposition.”¹

    What Alexander proposed was to donate $100 per month to the university for a period of five years, beginning January 1, 1906. The money was to constitute a special research fund “under the...

  17. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  18. 12 Hearst, Sather, Flood
    (pp. 114-119)

    From the issuance of her first formal check in support of paleontological research in 1903, to the scholarships that she created in 1948 for graduate students in the museums of vertebrate zoology and paleontology, Alexander’s benefaction to the university was directed exclusively to programmatic concerns rather than to edifices bearing her name. Of the four women who were the university’s great benefactors during this half-century—Phoebe Hearst, Jane Sather, Cora Flood, and Annie Alexander—Alexander is the only one whose name does not appear on a single structure on the Berkeley campus.

    The size and shape of gifts from Hearst,...

  19. 13 Innisfail Ranch
    (pp. 120-137)

    Following their return from Nevada in 1909, Alexander and Kellogg did not confine their lives solely to the interests of the museum or to the unrelenting machinations of university politics. In the fall of 1911 Annie purchased 525 acres of undeveloped land on Grizzly Island in Suisun Bay, approximately 40 miles northeast of Oakland, intending that she and Louise would create a viable farm from its wet tangle of tule rushes and salt grass wilderness. A cousin had pronounced the land the “richest soil in the state,” a mixture of peat and sediment that had been deposited over millennia by...

  20. 14 Vancouver Island and the Trinity Alps
    (pp. 138-147)

    Before their purchase of the property on Grizzly Island confined Alexander and Kellogg to the farm for several years, the women had conducted surveys of two regions in the Pacific Northwest—Vancouver Island, British Columbia in 1910 and the Trinity Alps in northern California in 1911. The specimens they collected not only increased the museum’s holdings but also provided important material for Grinnell and his staff to study and interpret. Because Vancouver lies adjacent to the Canadian mainland, the origin and affinities of its vertebrate fauna presented an interesting evolutionary problem. Alexander and Kellogg hoped that intensive sampling of the...

  21. 15 The Team of Alexander and Kellogg
    (pp. 148-154)

    Rarely a year passed in which Alexander and Kellogg did not conduct fieldwork for extended periods of time. Collecting gave purpose to Alexander’s life. Without it, the freedom and pleasure that she experienced in the outdoors and found vital to her mental and physical well-being would have been little more than self-indulgence.

    In letters to Beckwith, Alexander frequently alluded to the societal pressures from which she felt she was escaping through fieldwork. Limited further by the strain that close work placed upon her eyes, she also experienced a feeling of uselessness at home that ran counter to her temperament. In...

  22. 16 From “a Friend of the University”
    (pp. 155-164)

    As early as 1913 Alexander had begun contemplating an endowment for the museum, prompted by the steady growth of its collections and its increasing prominence as a research institution. Her pleasure in its success is apparent in her comment to Grinnell, “It is certainly gratifying that the Museum is more and more establishing itself a reputation as a center of learning for vertebrate zoology.”¹

    Grinnell was largely responsible for the intellectual standing that the museum had attained, but he was quick to acknowledge that Alexander’s financial support made such achievement possible. On many occasions, and in a variety of contexts,...

  23. 17 Founding a Museum of Paleontology
    (pp. 165-180)

    Alexander’s collaboration with Grinnell was in striking contrast to her relationship with John C. Merriam. While the MVZ continued to grow steadily and its reputation to blossom, the program in paleontology at Cal proceeded by fits and starts. Alexander’s championship of vertebrate paleontology in 1910 had led to the creation of a separate Department of Paleontology and held out promise of a bright and successful future for research in that discipline on the Berkeley campus. The specimens that she and Kellogg contributed to the collection were coupled with generous funding on her part for fieldwork. The moneys that she proffered...

  24. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  25. 18 A Restless Decade
    (pp. 181-189)

    For several years following their purchase of the farm on Grizzly Island, its unrelenting demands had severely curtailed Alexander and Kellogg’s ability to conduct fieldwork. World War I had further interrupted their collecting schedule and created within Alexander an almost intolerable feeling of confinement. During this period, she began to conceive of new projects into which she could invest her seemingly boundless energy and her money. Merriam’s decision to accept the presidency of the Carnegie Institute in 1920 coincided with her restlessness and may have precipitated the brief flurry of paleontological activity that followed.

    In February 1917 Alexander had written...

  26. 19 Europe, 1923
    (pp. 190-202)

    Alexander’s restlessness continued throughout most of the 1920s. After leasing their herd of milking shorthorns to John Rowe, she and Kellogg were at liberty to travel as they had not done since buying the farm almost a decade earlier. “This will leave us free for fossil land or the wilds of British Columbia, or the still more remote Siwalik Hills of India, where the early ancestor of man once trod the jungles and left his bones in the wash of the rivers,” Annie wrote exuberantly from Suisun to her cousin Mary Charlotte. “At all events a career of adventure is...

  27. 20 The Temple Tour
    (pp. 203-213)

    As the women traveled east in 1923 to begin their European excursion, Alexander was already contemplating a trip to Egypt and Palestine the following winter. Aside from restlessness, her interest in human history and her desire to add new specimens and taxa to her museum collections may have been enough to justify the trip. Keeping research in mind as she cruised gently down the Nile, Alexander wrote to UC paleontologist Chester Stock, “Excavations of ruins in Egypt are being carried on by several organizations, including Americans and it is a pity no effort is being made to salvage the mummies...

  28. 21 The “Amoeba Treatment”
    (pp. 214-223)

    It took nearly a month for Annie and Louise to reach Oakland from Cairo. Following their return, both women began treatments for “endoamoebic dysenterine.” When they saw no immediate improvement in their conditions, they checked themselves into a local sanatorium for several weeks. During this relative confinement and inactivity, Alexander battled the familiar feelings of alienation and restlessness that surfaced when she was in the city. Once again, she and Louise contemplated the desirability of maintaining an apartment in the Bay Area. Annie vacillated. It was not just the question of whether or not they should take an apartment, but...

  29. 22 Fieldwork–The Later Years
    (pp. 224-243)

    Alexander and Kellogg’s trip to central Nevada in the winter of 1926–27 was the first in a series of extended collecting expeditions that continued until Grinnell’s death in 1939. The trips varied in length from one to six months and in the types of specimens that the women sought to collect. At Grinnell’s suggestion Alexander and Kellogg now focused on building up the museum’s collection of topotypes—specimens from localities from which new taxa had been previously described—based on the belief that such material contributed to the MVZ’s independence and resourcefulness as a research institution. Those trips were...

  30. 23 Saline Valley
    (pp. 244-252)

    The trip through San Bernardino and Inyo counties in February and March 1935 had been the women’s first to the eastern side of the Sierra in California. John Muir had awakened a national consciousness to the beauty and natural diversity of the Sierra Nevada, yet this equally remarkable biotic region had received significantly less attention. The author and activist Mary Austin was one of the few who had written feelingly of the eastern Sierra and its native inhabitants, who struggled to eke out an existence from its parched soil. Alexander once mentioned a desire to visit Austin but nothing further...

  31. 24 The End of an Era
    (pp. 253-260)

    Grinnell’s sudden death in the spring of 1939 from a heart attack was perhaps the biggest blow in Alexander’s life since the death of her father. After suffering a first attack the previous fall, Grinnell had gradually been regaining his strength. Ironically, at the time of the attack he was on sabbatical, his first since assuming the directorship of the museum. When Alexander stopped by his home for a brief visit before leaving for the field “he seemed like his old self so full of interest and enthusiasm in the subject so dear to him.”¹ The pocket gopher specimens that...

  32. 25 Hawaii—“My Only Real Home”
    (pp. 261-273)

    Grinnell’s death was not the only factor affecting the museum’s research program during 1939. Even before the United States’ official involvement in World War II, the war impinged on activities at Berkeley and elsewhere across the country in a variety of ways. With the inauguration of conscription and draft registration, student enrollment and class sizes decreased. When the university demanded that a 10-percent increase in lower-end salaries come from within each department, Miller took the money from his supply and equipment budget, as the war prevented him from purchasing many of the usual items involved in the day-to-day curatorial operation....

  33. 26 The Switch to Botany
    (pp. 274-289)

    By 1939 Alexander and Kellogg had collected birds and small mammals for more than thirty years when—with characteristic zeal—they redirected their energies toward collecting plants, an activity they had already begun to pursue to a limited extent. Alexander did not abandon her museums; she merely stopped collecting large series of specimens for them. Financially the museums were now secure, their reputations established, and she shifted from actively building their programs and collections to more passively managing their growth and continuing to structure their relationship with the university.

    Whereas Alexander’s unusual collaboration with Grinnell had clearly motivated her and...

  34. 27 Baja California—Tres mujeres sin miedo
    (pp. 290-298)

    Stretching south from Tijuana, Baja (Lower) California extends like a long, contorted finger into the Pacific. For many species of California and Arizona desert plants, the peninsula encompasses their southernmost distribution. For many Latin American species, Baja California represents the northernmost extent of their range, and a great many desert plants are found nowhere else in the world. Having spent forty years collecting almost exclusively in California and western Nevada, Alexander would have been the first to admit that a great deal of unfinished fieldwork remained in those states. However, at the age of seventy-nine, she decided that the time...

  35. 28 Investing in the Future
    (pp. 299-307)

    At almost the same time that Alexander began funding MVZ fieldwork in Baja California, she expanded her patronage to encompass graduate student research. She had long ago dropped her objections to Grinnell’s involvement in undergraduate teaching and had come to view the museum’s graduate students as its future. Evidence of this was her establishment of a two-year research assistantship in 1926 to provide support for an exceptionally promising individual. Her contributions to the university from this time forth were directed almost exclusively toward research and she began to insist that the institution assume a greater measure of responsibility for all...

  36. 29 An Enduring Legacy
    (pp. 308-314)

    Through the winter and early spring of 1949 Alexander and Kellogg divided their time between the farm and their apartment in Oakland. Though she was now eighty-two, Alexander had barely altered her annual cycle of activity. Her only concession to age was to give up foreign travel. A year earlier, she and Kellogg had contemplated a trip to Costa Rica after receiving letters from E.R. Hall about his fieldwork there but did not pursue the idea. Similarly, their plans to join Alexander’s nephew Jack on a trip to South America in 1947 had fallen apart and he had gone on...

  37. Epilogue
    (pp. 315-316)

    The friendship between Annetta Carter and Louise Kellogg that began during the 1947 trip to Baja California lasted many years. Early in the spring of 1950, while Alexander lay in a coma, Herbert Mason followed up on a comment made by Carter and wrote to Kellogg about her expressed interest in working at the herbarium.¹ Mason suggested that she might first like to prepare her own recently collected specimens, that is, laying the material out onto herbarium sheets and affixing the printed or typed data labels to them, an offer she happily accepted. The work was cathartic and it allowed...

  38. Appendix
    (pp. 317-320)
  39. Notes
    (pp. 321-358)
  40. Index
    (pp. 359-380)
  41. Back Matter
    (pp. 381-381)