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Thomas Barbour (1884-1946) Papers

Thomas Barbour (1884-1946) Papers

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THOMAS BARBOUR (1884-1946) PAPERS, 1886, 1911-1945

Collection Summary

Repository:The Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum 132 Essex Street Salem, MA 01970 Phone: 978-745-9500 Fax: 978-531-1516
Creator:Barbour, Thomas, 1884-1946
Title:Thomas Barbour (1884-1946) Papers
Dates:1886, 1911/1945
Quantity:0.5 linear feet (1 box)
Abstract:The Thomas Barbour papers contain materials relating to the Peabody Museum of Salem and its collections, operations, and renovations in the 1930s and 1940s.
Collection Number:MH 33

Series List

SERIES I. Correspondence
SERIES II. Other Peabody Museum of Salem Papers

Scope and Content Note

The Thomas Barbour papers contain materials relating to the Peabody Museum of Salem and its collections, operations, and renovations in the 1930s and 1940s. The majority of the collection consists of Barbour's correspondence with trustees, directors, and curators of the Peabody Museum of Salem, before and during his tenure as trustee of the museum. This collection is a good resource for learning about the revitalization of the Peabody Museum in the 1940s and the holdings/exhibits of the museum. The collection has been divided into two series.

Series I. Correspondence consists of correspondence between Peabody Museum of Salem trustees, directors, and curators, both before and during Barbour's time as a trustee. All of the correspondence relates to the business of the Peabody Museum of Salem, its collections, operations, publications, and fellow trustees. There are occasional personal notes in the correspondence, but these are fleeting. Within the correspondence with Ernest S. Dodge, Curator of Natural History and Assistant Curator of Ethnology are photographs of East India Marine Hall after its renovations and a report about children's education at the Peabody Museum. In the correspondence with Lawrence Jenkins, the Director of the Peabody Museum, are a number of photographs of tortoise shells from the Museum's collections. Located within the correspondence with Water M. Whitehill, the Assistant Director and Assistant Curator of the Marine Rooms, is a copy of the manuscript "The Peabody Academy of Science: Its Inception, A Bit of Private History."

Series II. Other Peabody Museum Papers contains materials relating to the Peabody Museum of Salem and Barbour's role within it. Trustees' material includes a letter to Barbour informing him that he had been chosen as a trustee, meeting minutes, and trustees' by-laws. There is material about the renovations to the museum including a page from an 1886 annual report detailing the preservation of specimens in alcohol, estimates and plans for work to be done in 1941, and photographs and news clippings about the work that was completed in 1941. Museum reports include an annual report and a financial audit from 1941. Also included in this series are photographs of portraits, possibly from the museum's collection, and photostats of manuscripts of poems by John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Biographical Sketch

Thomas Barbour, zoologist and museum director, was born on August 19, 1884 to William and Adelaide (Sprague) Barbour, on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. William Barbour was a director of the linen mill of William Barbour and Sons in Northern Ireland, and often took his family with him abroad on business trips. Because of this Thomas had visited most of the large natural history museums in Europe by the time he was eight years old. Barbour prepared for college at the Brownings School in New York City, and through private tutors. He graduated from Harvard University in 1906 with an A.B. and received his doctorate in 1910 (Bigelow 13). That same year he represented the Association of American Universities at the reopening of the University of Mexico and was appointed Associate Curator of Reptile and Amphibians in the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard.

During World War I, Barbour did intelligence work in Cuba, where his fluency in Spanish and wide circle of acquaintances suited him well. He returned to the Museum after the war, where in 1925 he was appointed Curator of the Herpetological Department. In 1926 he was appointed Professor of Zoology, in 1927 he was chosen as Director of the Museum, and in 1944 Barbour was appointed the Alexander Agassiz Professor (Bigelow 15).

He played a very active part in the establishment and maintenance of the Barro Colorado Laboratory in Panama until it was made part of the Canal Zone Biological Area (Bigelow 17). He played a key role in the development of the Atkins Institute of the Arnold Arboretum at Soledad, near Cienfuegos, Cuba, serving as a custodian for several years, beginning in 1927. Barbour's long list of accolades includes: serving as President of the Boston Society of Natural History from 1925 to 1927, and its offspring, the New England Museum of Natural History from 1940 to 1945; serving as a trustee of the Peabody Museum of Salem and leading the rejuvenation of the museum in the 1940s; and serving as a trustee of Radcliff College, the Carnegie Institution of Washington, and of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. He was a member of the Advisory Board of the Guggenheim Foundation and a Director of the Fairchild Tropical Garden in Florida. Barbour was also largely responsible for developments that led to the manufacture of antivenin for snake bites in North America (Bigelow 17). Barbour was a world authority on reptiles and amphibians and wrote extensively on fish, and the birds of Cuba (Bigelow 18).

He married Rosamond Pierce of Brookline, Massachusetts in 1906 and they had four daughters and one son together. Barbour died on January 8, 1946.

Index Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in Philcat. Researchers desiring materials about related topics, persons, or places should search the catalog using these headings.

Dodge, Ernest Stanley
Drouet, Francis L.
Emilio, Shepard Gilbert
Gloyd, Howard K. (Howard Kay), 1902-1978
Jenkins, Lawrence Waters, 1872-1961
Loring, Augustus Peabody, 1885-1951
Robinson, John, 1846-1925
Whitehill, Walter Muir, 1905-1978
Peabody Museum of Salem
Museum trustees


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Administrative Information


Requests for permission to publish material from the collection must be submitted in writing to the Manuscript Librarian in the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum.

Preferred Citation

Thomas Barbour (1884-1946) Papers, MH 33, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


This material was found in the collection.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Hilary Streifer, March 2015.

Related Material

Barbour, Thomas. Allison Armour and the Utowana: An Appreciation of Allison Vincent Armour and of the Services Which He Rendered to the Sciences of Archaeology, Botany, and Zoology. Privately printed, 1945.

Barbour, Thomas. A Naturalist in Cuba. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1945.

Barbour, Thomas. A Naturalist's Scrapbook. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1946.

Barbour, Thomas. "John Charles Phillips (1876-1938)." American Academy of Arts and Sciences Proceedings. 74, no. 6 (1940): 155-157.

Barbour, Thomas. The Birds of Cuba. Cambridge, MA: The Club, 1923.

Barbour, Thomas. John Charles Phillips. Wenham, MA: 1976.

Barbour, Thomas. Naturalist at Large. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1943.

Barbour, Thomas. Reptiles and Amphibian: Their Habits and Adaptations. Illustrated by George Nelson. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1926.

Barbour, Thomas. That Vanishing Eden: a Naturalist's Florida. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1944.

Bigelow, Henry B. Thomas Barbour 1884-1946: A Biographical Memoir. Washington D.C.: National Academy of Sciences, 1952.

Leonhard and Thomas Barbour. A Check List of North American Amphibians and Reptiles. 4th ed. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1939.

Matthew, William Diller. Climate and Evolution. 2nd ed. NY: New York Academy of Sciences, 1939.

Popenoe, Dorothy H. Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1933.

Winsor, Mary P. Reading the Shape of Nature: Comparative Zoology at the Agassiz Museum. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991.

Wheeler, William Morton and Thomas Barbour, eds. The Lamarck manuscripts at Harvard. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1933.

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