MVZ and Stanford

I just finished listening to the podcast, “Who Killed Jane Stanford,” which was produced last year by a history course at Stanford University. It is a fascinating investigation of the events surrounding the death of Jane Stanford, early Stanford culture, and the power struggles between Jane Stanford and David Starr Jordan. David Starr Jordan, Stanford’s first president, plays a leading role. Knowing that Jordan was influential to Joseph Grinnell’s formal education, it got me thinking about the connections between the MVZ, Stanford University, and David Starr Jordan. And for fans of the podcasts – Joseph Grinnell was earning his Master’s degree at Stanford during the time of the Gilbert affair. Coincidentally, Grinnell was a Ph.D. student of Charles Gilbert several years later. The connections are boundless!

In the early planning of the MVZ, Joseph Grinnell and Annie M. Alexander had differing ideas as to where their West Coast zoology museum should be. On October 29, 1907, Grinnell writes to Alexander detailing a trip he made to Stanford. He makes a strong case to build the museum in Palo Alto, concluding, “You see, I now feel strongly in favor of Stanford, from the work’s standpoint, tho I will admit also that I like the men at Stanford and the surroundings best.”  Alexander rejects this idea outright and firmly stays with the University of California in Berkeley as the home for her new museum.

Given that Grinnell received his Master’s degree from Stanford and Jordan was his major professor, his preference for Stanford isn’t surprising. But their relationship is somewhat of a mystery. We have a modest folder of correspondence between them. The Bancroft Library has 14 letters between the two. And their correspondence is not of the “Dear Joe,” style. They are formal and to the point as expected for the time period and their status. Interestingly, the earliest letter the MVZ has from Jordan is dated January 16, 1911. It contains only two sentences:

Please accept my thanks for your sympathetic letter. Some the things I said, sadly need saying.

From the date, I suspect he is referring to his letter to Science, “The Making of a Darwin.” which was published December 30th, 1910. Make of this what you will. Their correspondence goes on for two decades with the last letter written by Jordan in April of 1930.

There are so many questions I have about what Joseph Grinnell and Annie Alexander thought about David Starr Jordan and Jane Stanford. What did Grinnell think of Jordan’s, The Blood of the Nation? And what did Alexander think about Jane Stanford’s working relationship with Jordan? What did she think of the scandalous headlines surrounding Jane Stanford’s death? Surely, she must have read them. What did Alexander think of the other philanthropic women of UC (e.g. Jane Sather and Phoebe Hearst)? I have a feeling these were all just distractions from the work at hand. And yet, I expect that Alexander must have been interested in these philanthropic exercises. How does a woman in 1907 plan a museum, maintain control and influence, and dispense significant sums of money while developing respectful and productive relationships with male administrations? While Alexander’s efforts were on a smaller scale than Jane Stanford’s, their efforts can be studied in parallel. Sadly for Jane Stanford, her efforts had a much more tragic outcome.

Written by Christina Velazquez Fidler, MVZ Archivist

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