MVZ Biographies

Annie Montague Alexander (1867-1950)

Founder of both the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology (MVZ) and the University of California Museum of Paleontology (UCMP), she was the benefactress of those museums for more than 40 years. She and her partner, Louise Kellogg, personally obtained thousands of specimens on field expeditions for both museums. Read more about Annie in celebration of the 150 Years of Women at Berkeley.

Seth Bertram Benson (1905-2005)

Curator of mammals from 1932 until his retirement in 1969, Seth Benson received his Ph.D under Joseph Grinnell in 1933, and led many expeditions to Mexico beginning in 1936. Annie Alexander urged Grinnell to hire Benson, and funded many of his trips. During his 40 years at the MVZ, Benson collected over 13,000 specimens. (In Memoriam)

Harold Child Bryant (1886-1961)

Associated with the Museum from 1910-1927, first as a Field Assistant and then as Assistant Curator of Birds and Economic Ornithologist. Harold Bryant also worked for the California Department of Fish and Game while at MVZ. Bryant left the Museum for a permanent position with the National Park Service, and was named as the first Director of the Yosemite School of Field Natural History. He eventually served as Superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park. (NPS vignette)

Charles Lewis Camp (1893-1975)

Charles Camp met Grinnell in the Sierra Madre in 1908, and collected specimens for the Museum between 1913-1915 before receiving his Ph.D from Columbia University in 1923 in paleontology. He eventually became the third Director of the UCMP.

Barbara Blanchard DeWolfe (1912-2008)

Barbara Blanchard gained distinction as Grinnell’s last graduate student and only the second woman to be accepted into the Museum’s graduate program. Her work on White-crowned Sparrows was one of the first studies to demonstrate important natural history differences between races of a given species. Read more about Barbara Blanchard DeWolfe in her biography in celebration of 150 Years of Women at Berkeley.

Joseph Scatterwood Dixon (1884-1952)

While still an undergraduate at Throop Institute, Joseph Dixon accompanied Alexander to Alaska in 1907 and 1908, primarily to collect birds. Grinnell hired him in 1908 as a field collector, and in 1915 he became Assistant Curator of Mammals. Dixon also held the post of Economic Mammalogist in the Museum from 1920-1931, before leaving to work for the National Park Service. He took 3000 of the photographs in the MVZ archives.

Mary Marilla Erickson (1905-1983)

In 1931, Mary Erickson became the first female graduate student in the Museum. During the winter of 1933-1934 she accompanied Alexander and Kellogg on a collecting expedition through the deserts of Southern California, Arizona, and New Mexico. Erickson had the distinction of being the first woman Teaching Fellow under Grinnell, and upon completion of her degree in 1934, he declared that she was “…the best teaching assistant I ever had, men included.” Erickson later moved to UC Santa Barbara where she taught human anatomy, native plants, and vertebrate natural history.

Edna Fisher (1897-1954)

After receiving a BS from Berkeley in 1921, Edna Fisher was hired as Assistant in Osteology to prepare, label, arrange, and pack skeletal material. She was promoted to Assistant Curator in Osteology in 1923, and was cleaning skulls by hand before Ward Russell arrived in 1923. Fisher’s office became the “lounging room” for women on the MVZ staff, until she was asked by Grinnell to vacate in 1936 (though he allowed her table space to work on sea otter anatomy).

Henry Sheldon Fitch (1909-2009)

Fitch went on collecting trips to Victorville in 1927, and to Nevada several times with E. R. Hall. He entered the Ph.D program under Grinnell in 1931, and served as field assistant to Linsdale at the Hastings Natural History Reservation before being hired by the Bureau of Biological Survey (which later became the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service). He joined the faculty at the University of Kansas in 1948, where he stayed until retirement in 1980.

Joseph Grinnell (1877-1939)

Grinnell taught at Throop Polytechnic Institute (California Polytechnic) from 1897-1898 and 1903-1908, before coming to the MVZ. He served as the Museum’s first Director from 1908-1939, and was a driven field biologist, consummate curator, meticulous editor, and incomparable authority on the birds and mammals of the West Coast. He also promoted the study of natural history and recreation in national parks, and made many management recommendations.
Grinnell, H. W. 1940. “Joseph Grinnell: 1877-1939 (PDF).” The Condor. Berkeley, California, 27 cm. vol. XLII, no. 1, p. 1-38.

Eugene Raymond Hall (1902-1986)

One of Grinnell’s first graduate students, Hall went on to become Curator of Mammals and Acting Director when Grinnell took his first sabbatical in 1938. Hall left the University in 1941 to assume a position at the University of Kansas as Professor of Zoology, Curator of Mammals, and Director of the Museum of Natural History. While at Berkeley, he taught the vertebrate natural history class and led many expeditions of graduate students to Nevada, publishing Mammals of Nevada in 1946.

Edmund Heller (1875-1939)

Heller and Swarth were both hired from the Field Museum in Chicago in 1908. After accompanying Alexander to Alaska that summer, Heller took a leave of absence from the Museum to accompany Teddy Roosevelt to Africa. He and the former President co-authored Life-histories of African Game Mammals, and he never returned to MVZ.

Milton Hildebrand (1918-2020)

After earning his bachelor’s degree at Berkeley, Milton Hildebrand served in World War 2 in Europe, earning a Bronze Star, and returned to Berkeley to receive his Ph.D under Benson in 1951. He then went on to UC Davis to teach vertebrate morphology, embryology, and human sexuality. Hildebrand was known for his studies of tetrapod gaits and biomechanics. Many of these specially prepared vertebrate specimens were donated to the MVZ. He often prepared materials using a freeze-dry method to preserve delicately dissected muscles in situ which he sometimes further enhanced by painting or labeling anatomic features. These specimens are invaluable in comparative anatomy and evolution courses.
Obituary-Davis Enterprise
Honoring WW2 Veteran Milton Hildebrand, UC (2020)

Ned K. Johnson (1932-2003)

Johnson received his Ph.D under the mentorship of Alden H. Miller in 1961, and immediately assumed the position of Assistant Professor and Curator of Birds at Berkeley. When Johnson was still an undergraduate at the University of Nevada-Reno, he impressed Miller with his knowledge of western North American birds and by his extensive experience with collecting and preparing bird specimens. In addition to being a renowned ornithologist, Johnson taught the famous Vertebrate Natural History course at Berkeley for over 40 years.

UC Berkeley News Press Release (2003)
In Memoriam, The Auk 121:600-602 (2004)
In Memoriam, UC Berkeley Academic Senate (2005)

Louise Kellogg (1879-1967)

An intrepid naturalist who, in conjunction with Annie M. Alexander, explored the West from Alaska to the tip of Baja California for more than half a century. These two women contributed more than 25,000 fossil, plant, and animal specimens to the University’s natural history museums. In 1910, Kellogg published the second paper in mammalogy in the U.S. known to be authored by a woman. Read more about Louise in celebration of 150 Years of Women at Berkeley.

Junea Kelly (1886-1969)

Junea W. Kelly was an ornithologist and botanist, who taught courses through the UC Berkeley Extension program for decades. She is particularly well known for her “Six Trips Afield” class. Much like the MVZ’s vertebrate natural history course, Kelly’s class was built around field trips in the Bay Area, but with a focus on engaging members of the public rather than Berkeley students. Kelly taught this course for the last time at the age of 79; it is estimated that during her career, she interacted with more than 10,000 students sparking and inspiring a love of natural history. Kelly was also an ardent conservationist who opposed destruction of marshland habitats in the Sacramento delta. She was an Honorary Member of the Cooper Ornithological Society and a section of the Golden Gate Park Botanical Garden is named in her honor. MVZ Director Pearson named a fellowship award in her honor.

Carl B. Koford (1915-1979)

Naturalist, rugged outdoorsman, conservationist, and explorer, Carl Koford was an authority on the California Condor and on the biota of South America. Koford was one of Joseph Grinnell’s last students (PhD, 1950) whose dissertation focused on the natural history of the California Condor. His extensive field work established the baseline for the population estimates of the condor and led to his monograph, The California Condor, published in 1953, which influenced conservation policy for decades. His work was critical to establishing the Sespe Condor Sanctuary in Ventura County, California in 1947. He was also a Research Associate and Associate Research Ecologist at the MVZ working in the US and Central and South America.

Chester Converse Lamb (1882-1965)

Employed by the Museum from 1925-1932, Chester Lamb started as a field assistant and rose to become Assistant Curator of Mammals. He spent much of his life collecting in Lower California and the Western United States. Sometime after 1932, Lamb collected extensively in Mexico for the Moore Lab of Zoology, Occidental College, Los Angeles.

Aldo Starker Leopold (1913-1983)

Aldo Leopold received his Ph.D under Miller in 1944, working on wild turkeys in Missouri. He was appointed Assistant Curator of Mammals in 1939, and served as the Museum’s conservationist from 1946-1967 and as Acting Director from 1965-1967. His primary interest was game birds and mammals, especially of Mexico. As a conservationist and wildlife ecologist, he served as a wildlife consultant for the National Park Service from 1962 until his death.

Jean M. Linsdale (1902-1969)

Jean Linsdale met Grinnell when Grinnell visited the Natural History Museum at the University of Kansas in 1924. He was hired as a Teaching Fellow in 1925, received his Ph.D under Grinnell in 1927,  appointed as a Research Associate at the MVZ from 1928-1937, and served as resident Director of the Hastings Natural History Reservation from 1938-1960. He was a major contributor to the Fur Bearing Mammals of California, published in 1937.

Alden Holmes Miller (1906-1965)

Alden Miller received his Ph.D under Grinnell in 1930, and was one of the first individuals to hold a joint appointment in the Department of Zoology and the MVZ. He first served as Assistant Curator of Birds, and assumed the directorship of the Museum upon Grinnell’s death in 1939. Miller remained as the Museum’s Director and leading ornithologist from the end of the Grinnell era until his death in 1965. Miller’s father was the prominent paleontologist and ornithologist Loye H. Miller.

Oliver Paynie Pearson (1915-2003)

Oliver Pearson came to Berkeley as a student in zoology in 1946, and was appointed Curator of Mammalogy in 1948. He became Director of the MVZ in 1966 and retired in 1977. After his retirement, he remained active in research and continued to do field work in Argentina until shortly before his death. Read more in this memorial.

In Memoriam (2009) – PDF courtesy of author
Biography (2006) – PDF courtesy of author

Frank Pitelka (1916-2003)

Frank Pitelka became a graduate student at Berkeley in 1939, and received his Ph.D under Miller in 1946. He served as Curator of Birds in the MVZ from 1946-1963, and in 1982 was appointed Associate Director in charge of the Hastings Natural History Reservation. Pitelka conducted extensive field work in Alaska and led the Naval Arctic Research Laboratory in Barrow from 1951-1980. Read more in this memorial.

Charles Howard Richardson (1887-1977)

Charles Richardson was one of two young men who were hired as collectors when the Museum opened its doors in 1908; Grinnell and Alexander believed that it was best to hire individuals with their accomplishments still ahead of them. A receipt shows that he was paid $3.00 a day. Later, Richardson received his Ph.D at Stanford in entomology in 1913, and then went to Iowa State College. (Pubmed)

Ward Russell (1907-2000)

Hired in 1929, Ward Russell served as the Museum’s preparator and collector for 40 years. As a skilled collector and field naturalist, focusing on birds and mammals in the western United States and Mexico, he had an opportunity to go into the field with virtually all students and faculty of the MVZ. His recollections of these trips provide a vivid picture of those personalities and an invaluable record of field life. He was originally hired  by Edna Fisher who gave him the job of cleaning bear skulls; he later developed the dermestid beetle method of cleaning bones, which revolutionized the preparation of skeletal specimens.
Listen to Ward Russell’s narrative of doing field work with Grinnell:

(From an interview with Ward Russell, the MVZ’s preparator for 40 years; conducted at his home in Berkeley, California, March 4, 1992 by Oliver P. Pearson, Professor Emeritus and former MVZ Director)

Charles G. Sibley (1917-1998)

Charles Sibley came to Berkeley in 1937 as an undergraduate, and received his Ph.D under Miller in 1948. During World War II, he was stationed in the southwestern Pacific where he made extensive bird collections. Sibley moved to Yale University in 1965 and retired in 1986. He was a pioneer in applying biochemical methods to studies of evolutionary relationships, which resulted in a revised taxonomy of birds. (Wikipedia)

Robert C. Stebbins (1915-2013)

Robert Stebbins came to the MVZ in 1945, and became the first Curator of Herpetology in 1948; he retired as Emeritus Professor in 1978. He is the author of more than a dozen books on herpetology, the best known being the Peterson Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. He has also written a book on teaching science and ecology in grade schools. His extensive work on reptiles in the southern California desert led to his working with state and federal officials for the creation of the Mojave Scenic Preserve, which in 1994 became the Mojave National Preserve. In an effort to protect the desert tortoise, he has worked hard to limit the destructive impacts of off-road vehicles in the desert. Stebbins was an accomplished artist, having drawn and painted all of the illustrations for his Field Guide. After retirement he expanded his subject to include landscapes; his paintings and prints are prized by collectors.
A clip from his oral history can be viewed here.

Frank Stephens (1849-1937)

In 1906, Frank Stephens published a volume entitled California Mammals which won the acclaim of North American biologists. Alexander then hired him to accompany her to Alaska in 1907 to collect small mammals. Although never a full-time member of the Museum staff, Alexander continued to pay Stephens to collect for the Museum for many years thereafter. In 1916, he became Director of the San Diego Zoo.

Lois Taylor Stone (1912-??)

Lois Stone was the daughter of W. Lee Chambers, an early member of the Cooper Ornithological Club. Although her first love was botany, she switched to zoology because she said that there was more money in that field. Stone was hired as a scientific illustrator for the MVZ in 1943, and did prep work that fall when male staff left for the war effort at the dockyards. She left briefly before returning in 1946 to do both bird curatorial work and scientific illustration for Benson and Miller. After resigning in 1956 to care for her family, she published a biography of Andrew Jackson Grayson and worked on a history of the Cooper Club.

Tracy Irwin Storer (1889-1973)

Tracy Storer earned his BA and MS from Berkeley and started working at the Museum in 1914. As a Field Assistant, and later as Assistant Curator of Birds, Storer co-authored several well-known volumes with other members of the Museum staff, such as, Game Birds of California (1918), Animal in the Yosemite (1924), and California Grizzly (1955). In 1923, he moved to the College of Agriculture at U.C. Davis, where he helped found the zoology department and retired as a prominent zoologist.

Harry Schelwald Swarth (1878-1935)

As a young man growing up in Chicago, Harry Swarth had an early interest in birds. He was working at the Field Museum of Natural History in 1908 when Grinnell asked him to join the MVZ staff as Assistant Curator. In 1910, he was promoted to Curator of Birds; that same year, he married Grinnell’s sister-in-law, Hilda Grinnell’s younger sister. In 1927, Swarth left the MVZ and accepted a position as Curator at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.

Walter Penn Taylor (1888-1972)

Walter Taylor was an undergraduate at Throop Institute under Grinnell from 1906-1908, after which he and Richardson were hired at the MVZ after Grinnell’s appointment as Director. Taylor served as Assistant Curator and later Curator of Mammals from 1909-1916, before going to work for the Bureau of Biological Survey (later became the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service). He moved to Oklahoma A&M College in 1948.

David Burton Wake (1936 – 2021)

David Wake started his career at UC Berkeley in 1968 as a professor in Zoology and Curator of Herpetology, while nearing tenure at the University of Chicago. Once at Berkeley, in short order, he became the Director of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, a position he held for 27 years (1971-1998). He oversaw many pivotal changes including the reorganization of the biological sciences on campus, the rise of molecular analytic techniques and modern biodiversity informatics in the MVZ, the renovation of the Valley Life Sciences building and the move of the MVZ into a brand new facility. He was instrumental in raising the alarm about global amphibian declines including founding AmphibiaWeb. David was a towering figure in evolutionary biology and herpetology and trained generations of students, including many leaders in the field. He served as President of the Society for the Study of Evolution, the American Society of Naturalists, and the American Society of Zoologists. David was internationally recognized by many awards, including elections to the US National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Memorials and tributes in his honor are ongoing in 2021. Read more on his website.
Academic Senate In Memoriam David Burton Wake

Biography (Staub and Mueller 2017) PDF
Wake Lab Tributes
Video of the Emeriti Legacy Project interview with Jim Patton, November 2019

George M. Wright (1904-1936)

A student of Joseph Grinnell, George Wright started working at the Yosemite National Park after he graduated from UC Berkeley. In 1929, Wright, Joseph Dixon and Ansell Hall conducted wildlife surveys for the National Park Service and wrote publications and initiated policies which focused on ecological science as the foundation for recommendations and new procedures. He helped developed policies for acquiring new protected areas for the NPS. His life was cut short in an automobile accident in 1936. His work continues with the George Wright Society founded in 1980.

Biography, George Wright Society

Margaret Wilhelmina Wythe (1880-1958)

Margaret Wythe began her MVZ career in 1912 as Grinnell’s assistant, earning $0.35 per hour. She received a Master’s degree in ornithology in 1923, and had become so valuable to Grinnell that she was promoted to Assistant Curator of Birds in 1925. Most of the base maps and range maps used in Grinnell and Miller’s 1944 publication, Distribution of the Birds of California, were prepared by Wythe. She was renowned for her skill in identifying birds by ear and her discipline in field work. Read more about Margaret Wythe in her biography for the 150 Years of Women celebration.