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Ludlow Griscom (1890-1959) Papers

Ludlow Griscom (1890-1959) Papers

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LUDLOW GRISCOM (1890-1959) PAPERS, 1896-1969

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:Griscom, Ludlow, 1890-1959
Title:Ludlow Griscom (1890-1959) Papers
Quantity:3 linear feet (7 boxes)
Abstract:The Ludlow Griscom papers consist primarily of daily field journals, notebooks of bird sightings, and a small portion of his personal and professional writings.
Collection Number:NH 1

Series List

SERIES I. Field Journals
SERIES II. Notebooks
SERIES III. Writings

Scope and Content Note

The Ludlow Griscom papers consist primarily of daily field journals, notebooks of bird sightings, and a small portion of his personal and professional writings. The papers have been divided into three series.

Series I. Field Journals includes 19 volumes of almost daily bird sightings beginning in May 1907 and ending in May 1959. Journal entries usually include the date, time of day, temperature, weather conditions, and a list of birds and sometimes plants seen that day. Griscom often included notes of varying length about unusual bird sightings or behavior. Rare birds and accidentals are underlined two and three times in both the journals and the notebooks.

In early journals the names of birding companions are given only by initials or by one name. In later volumes he identifies companions such as W. deW. Miller, M. S. Crosby, John T. Nichols, Joseph Hickey, S. Gilbert Emilio, and Roger Tory Peterson. Griscom lists his Cape Cod birding companion in the "Notes of proposed Cape Cod bird book."

Most journal entries concern brief birding trips out to sea and to areas near his homes in New York City, and from 1927, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and his summer home at Chatham on Cape Cod. The journals cover his many professional expeditions and leisure travels throughout North America, Central America, and Europe. Griscom kept a separate expedition journal for his Central American trips from 1924 to 1930. However, the daily notebooks from his 1917 Nicaraguan expedition are not in the collection. The 19th journal, a small notebook, covers Griscom's last trip to Florida in 1957 and a cruise to Africa and South America in 1958.

Census reports and checklists found in the journals has been removed and placed in a separate folder. The Mexican bird check list, also in a separate folder, may have been used by Griscom on his last trip to Mexico in 1956 according to the note by Dorothy E Snyder included with the list.

Series II. Notebooks originally consisted of eight loose-leaf binders numbered I to VIII, containing sheets of bird sightings by bird. The original order of the notebooks and of the sheets in the notebooks has been retained in the folders. Each sheet contains the name of a particular bird with the date, place, and number of Griscom's sighting of that bird in chronological order, generally from 1907 to 1955, although a few earlier sightings are listed.

Volumes I through IV of the notebooks contain North American birds listed in A.O.U. check list order (circa 1955). Volumes VI though VIII contains birds not found or not commonly found in the Northeast. There are deviations from systematic order in these three volumes (for a list of birds in the notebooks, see Appendix II.)

Series III. Writings includes: a copy of the bibliography of Griscom's own publications compiled by him – the original is at Cornell University; the corrected manuscript and typescript of Field Identification of Massachusetts Gulls which was published in the Bulletin of the Essex County Ornithological Club in 1929; fifty pages of notes for a proposed book about the birds of Cape Cod with a note from Griscom's widow, Edith; and printed matter related to Griscom's life and work.

Biographical Sketch

Ludlow Griscom was born in New York City on June 17, 1890, the son of Clement Acton Griscom and Genevieve Sprigg Ludlow. Much of Griscom's early education was obtained at home from private tutors and at the Syms School. He often travelled to Europe with his parents, and he eventually spoke fluently or read several languages. Griscom received an A.B. from Columbia University in 1912 and a Master's degree in 1915 from Cornell University where he was the first graduate student of Arthur A. Allen, America's first professor of ornithology.

In 1916 Griscom joined the staff of the American Museum of Natural History as an assistant in the ichthyology department. The next year he transferred to the department of ornithology where he remained until 1927. During World War I he served as a second lieutenant in Army intelligence.

While a member of the museum staff, Griscom participated in several ornithological and botanical expeditions: Nicaragua (1917), Panama (1924, 1927), Yucatan (1926), Gaspe Peninsula (1923), and Newfoundland (1925). On the latter expedition, he met Edith Sumner Sloan, whom he married on September 14, 1926.

In 1927 Griscom accepted the position of research curator of zoology at Harvard University's Museum of Comparative Zoology and moved his family to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he lived for the rest of his life. In 1948 he was made research ornithologist at the museum, a position he held until his retirement in 1955. Griscom continued to travel extensively: (Guatemala (1930; numerous trips to Florida, Virginia, the Caribbean, Honduras (1951), and nearly every other state in the United States. (See Appendix I for a list of major trips.)

Griscom was a respected botanist as well as an ornithologist, and he went on trips to Newfoundland and Labrador to collect plants for the Gray Herbarium at Harvard. His specialties, however, were the field identification of North American birds and the distribution of birds in Mexico and Central America. Griscom made a significant contribution to the field of ornithology by demonstrating that birds had distinctive field marks which could be used to identify them reliably with binoculars and without shooting them. However, Griscom himself often collected bird specimens, and he donated several to the Peabody Museum of Salem.

Griscom was the author or co-author of several books and a frequent contributor to ornithological and botanical journals. He was a member of numerous clubs and organizations in the Boston and New York City areas and a fellow of the New York Academy of Sciences, the Linnaean Society of New York, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was an active participant in and often an executive or director of several professional organizations including the American Ornithologists' Union, the Iconological Society of America, the Massachusetts Audubon Society, and the National Audubon Society. In 1956 Griscom was a recipient of the National Audubon Society's Conservation medal.

During the last decade of his life, Griscom suffered partial paralysis from strokes. He continued his field trips, however, with the aid of friends and his wife. Journal entries were dictated to nurses and secretaries from May 1956 until his death. Griscom died in Cambridge on May 28, 1959, and is buried in Mt. Auburn Cemetery.

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.

Griscom, Ludlow, 1890-1959
Snyder, Dorothy E. (Dorothy Eastman), 1894-1984
Essex County Ornithological Club of Massachusetts
Bird watching
Birds--Central America
Birds--New York
Natural history


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

Ludlow Griscom (1890-1959) Papers, NH 1, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


Some of this material was donated by Mrs. Ludlow Griscom in 1964 and 1966 (acc #16,543 and 17,151). A manuscript of Field Identification of Massachusetts Gulls (B7 F8) was donated by Ralph Lawson on February 24, 1961 (acc #15,387). Dorothy E. Snyder correspondence and notes have been removed to NH 2.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Linda L. Doll, March 1987. Updated by Tamara Gaydos, April 2016.

Related Material

Baker, John H. "Ludlow Griscom - The Man." Audubon Magazine 61 No. 5 Sept.-Oct. 1959: 200- 201, 213, 238-239.

Hill, Norman P. The Birds of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. New York: Morrow, 1965.

Peterson, Roger T. "In Memoriam: Ludlow Griscom." The Auk Oct. 1965: 598-605.

Dorothy E. Snyder Papers, 1854, 1921-1979, NH 2

Several lectures by Griscom are noted in the minutes of the Essex County Ornithological Club of Massachusetts Records, 1883-1950, NH 4

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