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COLLECTION Identifier: 999-24

Frederic Ward Putnam papers


This collection of Putnam papers were formerly part of the Ralph Dexter Papers at Kent State University Archives. They include FW Putnam family correspondence, professional papers and ephemera.


  • Creation: 1807-1971, bulk 1855-1935


Conditions Governing Access

Restrictions on access: none

Conditions Governing Use

Restrictions on use: none


4 linear feet

This collection contains family and professional papers and ephemera and includes correspondence, scrapbook, biographical printed materials and notes, essays, 70th birthday photographs and correspondence. Also included are institutional clippings, lecture notes, curatorial correspondence, financial records, writings, reports. There are records pertaining to the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, professional associations, mound exploration and the World Columbian Exposition, Chicago. The collection includes one oversize item, a broadside for the Putnam lecture on mound builders, 1866.

Biographical Sketch

Frederic Ward Putnam (1839-1915) was one of the earliest anthropologists in the United States. He founded anthropology programs, and worked to establish museum collections in anthropology. He directed some of the first field expeditions in the Americas, including sites in Maine, Massachusetts, Ohio, Wisconsin, Kentucky, New Jersey, and California.

Putnam was born April 16, 1839 in Salem, Massachusetts to Mr. and Mrs. Ebenezer Putnam III. In 1864, Putnam married Adelaide Martha Edmands; they had three children: Eben Putnam, Alice Edmands Putnam, and Ethel Appleton Fiske Lewis. On March 10, 1879, Mrs. Adelaide Putnam passed away; in 1882, Putnam remarried Esther Orne Clark. Putnam's early education consisted of home and private schooling, and it was at this time that he expressed an interest in studying nature. Putnam, along with his father, cultivated plants and later began observing the birds in the area. Later, he trained under Henry Wheatland as an intern at the Essex Institute in Salem, Massachusetts. In 1856, at the age of sixteen, he successfully published List of the Birds of Essex County. In that same year, he entered Harvard College where he studied under the tutelage of Professor Louis Agassiz at the Lawrence Scientific School, serving as his assistant from 1857-1864.

From 1859 to 1878, Putnam worked for several museums as a zoologist, including the Boston Society of Natural History, Museum of the East Indian Marine Society, Essex Institute and the Museum of Comparative Zoology of Harvard University. From 1869 to 1872 he was the Superintendent of the Museum of the Peabody Academy of Sciences. During this time, Putnam became interested in archaeology, and he published a paper on “An Indian Grave and its Contents, on Winter Island, Salem, Massachusetts” in 1865.

In 1875, Putnam was appointed Curator of Harvard's Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology. With Putnam at the helm, the focus of the Peabody Museum shifted from archaeology to physical anthropology and ethnology. He was responsible for a variety of museum functions which included not only administrative duties but field collecting, curation of collections, fund raising, and teaching in the Harvard College Department of Anthropology. In 1876, Putnam directed the first major construction of the Peabody Museum building that currently sits on Divinity Avenue in Cambridge. Putnam was appointed professor of anthropology in 1885 (the position was authorized in 1887). He retained that post until 1909 and was then Professor Emeritus and Honorary Director.

He also co-founded the anthropology programs at the American Museum of Natural History, Columbia University, and the University of California, Berkeley. At the age of sixty-four, he became the University of California's first Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Anthropological Museum. In 1909, Putnam retired from the University of California and was later appointed Professor Emeritus there. In 1894 he began devoting half his time to the curatorship in anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History, New York City, and was influential in dispatching the productive Jesup North Pacific Expedition to northeastern Asia and northwestern North America.

Putnam was active in professional associations. In 1873, Putnam was elected to the post of permanent secretary of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a position he held until 1898, at which time he was bestowed with the presidency of the Association. He helped establish the journals American Naturalist, Science, American Anthropologist, and founded organizations, such as Anthropology of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences, the Archaeological Institute of America, and the American Anthropological Association.

Putnam was appointed the lead curator and head of the anthropology department in 1891 for the World's Columbian Exposition, to be held in Chicago in 1893. Putnam's publications number more than 400, and cover the subjects of natural history, archaeology, anthropology, and scientific administration.


  1. Browman, David L. "The Peabody Museum, Frederic W. Putnam, and the Rise of U.S. Anthropology, 1866-1903." AmericanAnthropologist vol. 104, no. 2 (June 2002): 508-19.
  2. Kroeber, A.L."Frederic Ward Putnam." New Series, American Anthropologist vol. 17, no. 4(October-December 1915): 712-18.
  3. Ninth Annual Report of the Trustees of the Peabodoy Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology 1876, President and Fellows of Harvard College, 1876: 6.


  1. Series I: Family Papers, 1807-1949
  2. ___1. Incoming Correspondence,1857-1906, undated
  3. ___2. Outgoing, F.W. Putnam, 1858-1903, undated
  4. ___3. Reciprocal, 1890-1910, undated
  5. ___4. General Correspondence, Writings & Notes,1824-1949
  6. ___5. Ephemera, 1860
  7. Series II:Professional Papers, 1857-1971
  8. ___1. Biographical Materials, 1861-1917
  9. ___2. Institutional Correspondence and Clippings, 1857-1971
  10. ___3. Subject Files, 1857-1935
  11. ___4. World Columbian Exposition Records, 1891-1913
  12. Series III: Oversize, 1886

Physical Location

Peabody Museum Archives

Immediate Source of Acquisition


The papers were transferred to the Peabody Museum Archives by the Kent State University Archives in 1999. At Kent State, the papers were part of the Ralph Dexter Papers. They were probably loaned from Harvard to Ralph Dexter for his research for a biography of Putnam.

Related Peabody Museum Collections:

  1. Putnam, F.W. (Frederic Ward), (1839-1915).Collection of Negatives, 1887-1888
  2. Putnam, Frederic W. Putnam, PeabodyMuseum Director Records
  3. 2019.13.3*, Letter from Juan Drummond to Frederic Putnam enclosed with original newspaper obituary for John Gundy Owens in El Imparcial

General note

Collections records may contain language, reflecting past collecting practices and methods of analysis, that is no longer acceptable. The Peabody Museum is committed to addressing the problem of offensive and discriminatory language present in its database. Our museum staff are continually updating these records, adding to and improving content. We welcome your feedback and any questions or concerns you may want to share.

Putnam, Frederic Ward (1839-1915), Papers, bulk 1855-1935 : A Finding Aid
Peabody Museum Archives
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Peabody Museum Archives Repository

Papers in the Peabody Museum Archives consist of primary source materials that document the Museum’s archaeological and ethnographic research and fieldwork since its founding in 1866. More than 2,800 feet of archival paper collections contain documents, papers, manuscripts, correspondence, data, field notes, maps, plans, and other historical records that represent diverse peoples from around the world, and which were created or collected by the Museum, its individual affiliates, or related entities. The collections also document the history or provenience, as well as the creation of, many of the Museum’s archaeological and ethnographic collections.

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