Grinnell, Joseph, 1877-1939

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Joseph Grinnell was born on February 27, 1877 near Fort Sill, Oklahoma Territory at the Kiowa, Comanche and Wichita Indian Agency, where his father served as government physician. After living for a short time in Tennessee and in the Dakota Territory, the family settled in Pasadena, California in 1885. Grinnell attended school in Pasadena and received his B.A. from Throop Polytechnic Institute (now Caltech) in 1897.

Grinnell made two trips to Alaska in 1896-97 and 1898-99, where he conducted field studies and collected avian specimens. In 1900 he published a paper on these findings entitled "Birds of the Kotzebue Sound Region, Alaska." Some of the letters and notebooks from the second trip were published by his mother, ornithologist Elizabeth Grinnell as Gold Hunting in Alaska .

In 1901, after earning his M.A. from Stanford, he began teaching in the biology department at Throop. In 1906 he married Hilda Wood, a former student. While teaching at Throop Grinnell met Annie Montague Alexander, who was about to embark on a collecting trip to Alaska. Miss Alexander had been preparing to found a museum at the University of California for the collection and study of vertebrates. This goal was realized in 1908 with the opening of the California Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. Grinnell was appointed the museum's first director, a position he held until his death. During his tenure at the Museum, Grinnell donated his collection of 8,000 birds and 2,000 mammals to the University.

After receiving a Ph.D. from Stanford in 1913, Grinnell was appointed as assistant professor in the Department of Zoology at Berkeley, and as full professor in 1920. He published more than 500 papers in his lifetime, primarily on California birds and other wildlife. Much of Dr. Grinnell's focus in his later years was on the protection of California's native plant and animal species. He helped to formulate the California Fish and Game Code and his conservation studies were instrumental in the effort to form the Point Lobos State Reserve and the Frances S. Hastings Natural History Reservation.

He served as president of the American Ornithologists' Union from 1929-1932 and of the American Society of Mammalogists from 1937-1938. Dr. Grinnell was editor of The Condor, the publication of the Cooper Ornithological Society from 1906 until his death in Berkeley on May 29, 1939.

Hilda Wood was born in Tombstone, Arizona Territory on May 29, 1883. She grew up in Glendora, California and received a B.S. from Throop in 1906. After her husband became director of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology in 1908, the couple moved to Berkeley where they raised three sons and a daughter. In 1913 she earned an M.S. from the University of California, Berkeley.

Mrs. Grinnell assisted her husband in his work, accompanying him on countless field trips as well as helping to prepare his manuscripts for publication. After his death, she carried on his efforts to promote the study and conservation of wildlife, especially of the native flora and fauna of California. For over twenty years she served as secretary of the Northern Division of the Cooper Ornithological Club and was head of the Nature Department at Camp Sugar Pine (San Francisco Girl Scout Council).

In 1940 Mrs. Grinnell was appointed Bibliographer at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. She published a bibliography of the writings of C. Hart Merriam in 1943 and helped to edit Joseph Grinnell's A Bibliography of California Ornithology, published after his death. Other publications of Mrs. Grinnell's include A Synopsis of the Bats of California, and a biography of Annie Montague Alexander published by the Grinnell Naturalists Society. She also contributed articles to The Condor and The Gull (Audubon Society of the Pacific). She was a member of the American Ornithologists' Union, the American Society of Mammalogists and the California Academy of Sciences.

Hilda Wood Grinnell died on June 7, 1963.

From the guide to the Joseph and Hilda Wood Grinnell Papers, 1886-1967, (The Bancroft Library.)


Joseph Grinnell, noted ornithologist and first director of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology of the University of California, the son of author and naturalist Elizabeth Grinnell and of Dr. Fordyce Grinnell, a government physician to the Plains' Indians, was born at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, on February 27, 1877. Grinnell grew up in Pasadena, attended Throop Polytechnic Institute, and obtained his doctorate from Stanford, He later taught at both of these institutions.

It was during field trips to Alaska that Grinnell met Annie Alexander. From this association grew the idea of building a museum to house specimens collected. When the plans materialized, Grinnell was appointed director of the Museum, and began his teaching career at the University of California in Berkeley.

Always interested in birds, Grinnell was very active in the Cooper Ornithological Club, and for many years was editor of its publication, The Condor.

From the guide to the Joseph Grinnell Papers, 1884-1938, (The Bancroft Library.)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Grinnell, Hilda W. (Hilda Wood), 1883-. Annie Montague Alexander / by Hilda W. Grinnell, Grinnell Naturalists Society, 1958. UC Berkeley Libraries
creatorOf Tyler, John G. (John Gripper), b. 1883. John G. Tyler correspondence pertaining to ornithological research, circa 1905-1937. California Digital Library
referencedIn Barlow, Chester , 1873?-1902. Chester Barlow papers, 1897-1899. UC Berkeley Libraries
referencedIn Martens, Wilhelm Ludwig Ferdinand, d. 1931. Wilhelm Ludwig Ferdinand Martens papers, 1868-1926. UC Berkeley Libraries
referencedIn Cooper Ornithological Society. Cooper Ornithological Society records, 1874-1994. UC Berkeley Libraries
referencedIn Meinecke, E. P. (Emilio Pepe), b. 1869. Comments on: Olmsted brothers, Master plan report on Point Lobos; Grinnell and Linsdale, Report on vertebrate animals of Point Lobos reserve; and Edward Lee, Guide to vegetation map--Point Lobos State Park, by Dr. E.P. Meinecke ... University of California, Bancroft Library, ARL
referencedIn Harry C. OberholserPapers, 1883-1960, (bulk 1920-1945) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn Cooper Ornithological Society records, 1874-1994 Bancroft Library
creatorOf University of California (1868-1952). Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. Records of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, 1908-1949. UC Berkeley Libraries
creatorOf Hasselborg, Allen E., 1876-1956. Papers of Allen E. Hasselborg, 1899-1955. Alaska State Library
referencedIn George Bird Grinnell papers, 1859-1939 Yale University. Department of Manuscripts and Archives
referencedIn William Frederic Badè papers, 1871-1936 Bancroft Library
referencedIn Oberholser, Harry C. (Harry Church), 1870-1963. Papers of Harry C. Oberholser, 1883-1960 (bulk 1920-1945). Library of Congress
referencedIn Grinnell, George Bird, 1849-1938. George Bird Grinnell papers, 1859-1939 (inclusive), 1886-1929 (bulk). Yale University Library
referencedIn Sumner family. Papers, 1875-1960, bulk 1894-1945. University of California, San Diego, UC San Diego Library; UCSD Library
referencedIn Alexander, Annie Montague, 1867-1950. Annie Montague Alexander papers, 1904-1949. UC Berkeley Libraries
creatorOf Monterey Public Library. California History Room. Birds clippings 1859-2008. Monterey Public Library
creatorOf Grinnell, Joseph, 1877-1939. Joseph Grinnell papers, 1884-1938. UC Berkeley Libraries
creatorOf Joseph and Hilda Wood Grinnell Papers, 1886-1967 Bancroft Library
referencedIn Ethnological documents of the Department and Museum of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley, 1875-1958 Bancroft Library
referencedIn Annie Montague Alexander papers, 1904-1949 Bancroft Library
creatorOf Joseph Grinnell Papers, 1884-1938 Bancroft Library
referencedIn Grinnell, George Bird, 1849-1938. George Bird Grinnell papers, 1859-1939 (inclusive), 1886-1929 (bulk). Yale University Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Place Name Admin Code Country
Zoological specimens--Collection and preservation


Birth 1877-02-22

Death 1939-05-29



Ark ID: w66d60p2

SNAC ID: 38885915