Foundations of Anthropology at the University of California   Seal of The University of California
The Six Founders (composite image) from left: Boaz, Hearst, Nuttall, Wheeler, Fletcher, Putnam

The Six Founders (composite image)
from left: Boaz, Hearst, Nuttall, Wheeler, Fletcher, Putnam

Founders and Their Visions: 1901
You know that in California we have an enormous mass of Indian tribes and languages about which we know practically nothing... . And that it is only a question of a few years when [they] will have disappeared... .”
Franz Boas, 11 April 1901

t the turn of the twentieth century, American academic programs in anthropology were flourishing in Cambridge, Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia. There was intense interest in the extraordinary anthropological riches of California, but no academic program dedicated to the growing field that existed here.

Six individuals played the role of founders of the department destined to achieve worldwide stature within a few decades. Phoebe Apperson Hearst, Regent and principal patron of the University, had made it known that she wished to give the University the antiquities she had gathered in Europe, Egypt, Peru, and California. In 1901, this idea came to fruition through the actions of three persons with strong ties to East Coast centers of anthropology, and deep commitments to the West. They were, in addition to Hearst, Franz Boas, professor of anthropology at Columbia and curator at the American Museum of Natural History eager to document the ethnology of the American West, and Zelia M. Nuttall, archaeologist and scholar in Mexico with strong social and intellectual connections to Hearst.

Each had a vision: Hearst wanted a museum. Boas wanted to record and publish the ethnology and languages of the California native peoples. Nuttall wanted to make it happen.

In April 1901, Nuttall asked Boas to put his ideas in writing and she forwarded his proposal to Hearst. According to the records in Bancroft, this was the critical connection. The proposal was shared with President Wheeler, who had been encouraging Hearst, and a plan for the new department quickly materialized.

A meeting was called in September at Hearst’s Pleasanton “hacienda,” and three members were added to the founders’ group. These were Benjamin Ide Wheeler, president of the University, Alice Fletcher, ethnologist at the Peabody Museum whom Hearst and Nuttall had known through their affiliation with the Museum at the University of Pennsylvania, and Frederic W. Putnam, professor of anthropology and director of the Peabody Museum at Harvard. Putnam’s presence was particularly significant. He was Fletcher’s – and Boas’s – mentor and, probably, had been involved with Hearst longer than Boas had been. The Bancroft archives shed no light on his role before the Pleasanton meeting. But from this point forward he clearly supplanted Boas as the Department’s academic and intellectual leader.

Boas was not included in the Pleasanton meeting and, thereafter, was involved only peripherally in the Department. He did make one more critical contribution to the nascent program. He recommended the first Ph. D. to graduate from his Columbia program to Hearst, and this individual became the Department’s first employee: Alfred L. Kroeber.

Hacienda del Pozo de Verona exterior Hacienda del Pozo de Verona interior

Hacienda del Pozo de Verona

Pleasanton, California

G. E. Gould, ca. 1900

Exterior and interior views of the Hearst "hacienda," a 50-room, 2,000 acre estate 30 miles east of San Francisco designed by the architect Julia Hunt Morgan. The lavish scale of Hearst's life, and her own interest in collecting are evident in these views. Reincarnated as Castlewood Country Club, the Hacienda was destroyed by fire in the 1960s

BANC PIC 1994.002--B