Dr. Joseph Amasa Munk was born on November 9, 1847 in North Georgetown, Ohio. He joined up with the Union Army from 1864-1865 and fought in the Civil War. When the war was over, he attended Mt. Union College in Ohio from 1865-1866 and then the Eclectic Medical Institute of Cincinnati, graduating in 1869. While attending Mt. Union College, he met Emma S. Beazell, and they married in 1873. While in school, Munk also enjoyed learning to read and sing music, a hobby he continued on into the 1870s. By the time he published a book of his own compositions, he was the organist and choir leader of his church.
Munk was living in Topeka, Kansas in 1884 when he made his first trip to Arizona to visit his brothers Edward and William on their cattle ranch. He came away from the trip so fascinated by Arizona that he set out to collect every publication he could find on the subject. He wrote articles about Arizona and the Southwest which were published in the same medical journals as his writings on medical topics. In 1892, Munk and his family moved to Los Angeles, where Munk was dean of the California Eclectic Medical College from 1907-1915 and president of the National Eclectic Medical Association in 1910.
About ten years after reaching Los Angeles, Munk decided to open his collection of books to the public and began to seek out a fitting repository. While Arizona was the obvious choice, it was still just finding its footing as a state. Munk’s concerns of access, custodianship, and the lack of a fireproof building led him to decide not to donate the collection to the state of Arizona. Munk kept searching for the proper home for his collection and discussed this with his friend Charles Fletcher Lummis. They shared a concern for the fragility of the Southwestern lifestyle and the desire to preserve its culture.
In 1903, Munk joined Lummis’s newly established local branch of the Archaeological Institute of America, whose ultimate goal was to create the Southwest Museum. In 1907, the Southwest Museum was incorporated into being, and Munk was elected to the Board of Trustees. In 1910, Munk donated his collection, which Lummis named the Munk Library of Arizoniana, to the Southwest Museum. After the University of Arizona built its own fireproof library in 1923, a bid was made to obtain the Munk Library of Arizoniana from the Southwest Museum. The request was denied, so Munk sent all of his collection's duplicates to the university instead. Munk continued to visit his library housed at the Southwest Museum up until his death on December 3, 1927.
From the guide to the J. A. (Joseph Amasa) Munk Papers, Bulk, 1851-1928, 1834-1928, undated, (Autry National Center, Braun Research Library)