Winfrid Alden Stearns Papers

Mss.SMs.Coll.1

Date: 1871-1906 | Size: 0.5 Linear feet, 95 items

Abstract

Winfrid Alden Stearns (1852-1909) was an amateur naturalist, ornithologist, and ethnologist who corresponded with several prominent experts in the natural sciences. Among his works were a collaboration with surgeon and naturalist Elliot Coues, New England Bird Life (1881-1883) and the self-published A Manual of Ornithology (1895) that was heavily criticized by university-trained naturalists.

The collection consists of original letters with details about Stearns' publications, specimen donations, and ornithological work from 1871 to 1906. There are letters concerning his editorial collaboration with Coues and others, Stearn's works, and Stearns' travels to Newfoundland. Of particular interest are two letters from Charles Bendire accusing Stearns of inaccurate classification of specimens and poor proofreading of his manuscripts. (Both Stearns and Bendire worked with Coues.) The collection contains a picture of the museum Stearns curated in the 1880's.

Background note

Winfrid Alden Stearns (1852-1909) was an amateur naturalist, ornithologist, and ethnologist who corresponded with several prominent experts in the natural sciences. Among his works were a collaboration with surgeon and naturalist Elliot Coues, New England Bird Life (1881-1883) and the self-published A Manual of Ornithology (1895) that was heavily criticized by university-trained naturalists.

Stearns was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts to William Augustus Stearns and Rebecca Alden Frazar Stearns. Stearn's father (1805 - 1876) was the fourth president of Amherst College, serving from 1854 to 1876. A graduate of Andover Theological Seminary in 1831, William Stearns also had a law degree, received in 1862. He was a descendant of Isaac Stearns, who arrived in America with Governor Winthrop in 1630, and a member of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Winfrid Stearns's mother died when he was a young boy, shortly after the family's move to Amherst. Stearns was one of six children; he had two brothers and three sisters. His sisters married in their father's faith to other ministers, but Winfrid and his brothers eschewed the religion of their parents.

The oldest brother, William French Stearns (1834-1874), became a business owner, trader, and traveler. Among William French's friends and acquaintances was the African explorer and humanitarian Dr. David Livingstone. William French delivered mail from Livingstone to the New York Herald, and appeared in the reporting of the Livingstone - Stanley controversy.

Winfred's other brother; Frazar Augustus Stearns (1840-1862), was killed in battle at New Bern, March 14th, 1862 in the Civil War.

Winfrid Stearns graduated from Amherst College in 1876, the year of his father's death. Stearns was cited by his college fraternity as having been variously a manager of The Salem Press, an author, connected for three years with the scientific department of Massachusetts State Agriculture College (also in Amherst) and as curator of its Agricultural Museum. Stearns was employed as a compositor (typesetter) by the F. W. Putnam & Co. publishing in 1879. He later was a compositor at Riverside Press in Cambridge, continuing to work there after obtaining the position of curator at Massachusetts Agricultural College in Cambridge in 1886.

Stearns was fascinated with natural science from a young age. Noted as a boy for having several collections of birds eggs and a printing press, Stearns published a juvenile newspaper entitled The Young American in the attic of the family house during the 1860's. During his college years, he collected specimens of local fauna. He also began to correspond with noted professionals such as Spencer Fullerton Baird, then the Assistant Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. Stearns supplemented his income following college by collecting and shipping specimens to museums and other institutions, including the Smithsonian.

Stearn's career following college was a long search for professional acceptance. Stearns planned to begin publishing his works before graduation from Amherst, but lack of funds and of support from the academic community delayed the publication of his first book, New England Bird Life, until 1881. Stearns belonged to some of the first ornithological organizations in America, such as the Nuttall Ornithological Club and the American Ornithologists' Union. Much of the correspondence in the collection relates in some way to these two organizations. Stearns was essentially a gifted amateur. Althouh his work was often heavily criticized for its lack of authenticity, veracity, and professionalism, at least one title Labrador; A Sketch of its Peoples, Its Industries and Its Natural History, was deemed sufficiently acceptable to be reviewed by leading popular periodicals of the time, including The Nation and The Saturday Evening Post.

Stearns continually sought employment compatible with his scientific pursuits and strove to have his work published. In 1882, he sought work at Ward's Natural Science Establishment, a major supply house for scientific institutions, but declined an offer because of the low salary and fears the position would impinge on his writing. He sought employment with Wards again in 1883, but was not considered. In continual search of employment, he volunteered to give his collections of hard-won specimens to the Massachusetts College of Agriculture (now the University of Massachusetts), as well as his services, in order to promote himself as a curator of a proposed museum at the college in 1884-1885. In his attempts to bolster his credit in order to finance his publishing career, he cited the pending appointment as one he already had. Word of this resulted in his summary dismissal from consideration for the position. Stearns also attempted to publish his own journal, "The Massachusetts Bulletin of Natural History," for which he solicited subscriptions, and which was roundly criticized by C. Hart Merriam (former president of the Nuttall Ornithological Club) of the American Ornithological Union, for the use of unverified opinion cited as fact. Stearns also travled around Newfoundland at least three times to collect specimens, observe the inhabitants, and gather material for later books.

Stearns' last known residence and place of possible employment was Atlanta, Georgia. A version of one of his last works, A Manual of Ornithology (1895) was published by Atlanta University Press.

Scope and content

The Winfrid Alden Stearns Papers are comprised primarily of correspondence between Stearns and several noted early experts in the natural sciences, zoology, and ornithology.

Most of the letters describe his attempts to forward his ornithological findings, respond to queries regarding collecting birds eggs, discuss searches for employment, or concern publishing endeavors. Some correspondence from the 1870s is with Spencer Fullerton Baird and with Elliott Coues, who often served as Stearns' volunteer editor. Two letters from the 1890's include Charles Bendire's editorial commentary on Stearn's Bird Life in Labrador.

Of the 95 items in the collection, over eleven are to Elliott Coues, and four relate to Spencer Fullerton Baird. Most correspondents appear only once. There are a handful of letters to and from the Nuttall Ornithological Club or the American Ornithological Union. There are a few encouraging letters from Baird in the early years of Stearns'and a few acrimonious letters from reviewers in the later half of the collection. Of interest are letters from 1874 in which Stearns accuses Professor Wilder of stealing a specimen of a new fish species from him, as well as Bendire's scathing criticism from 1896 of Stearn's writing abilities

Among the correspondents other than Coues and Baird are Charles Bendire, William Brewster, James Hall, Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden, William Temple Hornaday, Robert Ridgway, George Dexter Robinson, and Henry Augustus Ward.

Collection Information

Provenance

This collection was purchased in 1990.

Preferred citation

Cite as: Winfrid Alden Stearns Papers, American Philosophical Society.

Processing information

Catalogued by Mark Harwell, 2007.

Related material

Related manuscript collections: The William Augustus Stearns Papers at the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections. Amherst, Massachusetts and the Elliott Coues Papers (Record Unit 7344) at the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Bibliography

Bennet, Norman R., Livingstone's Letters to William F. Stearns in African Historical Studies. v. 1, no.2, (1968), 243-254.

Cushing, Christopher, ed.The Congregational Quarterly, v. XIX (1877) 523.

Around a Village Green: Sketches of Life in Amherst [database on-line]. Provo, UT: The Generations Network, Inc., 2005. Original publication: Mary Adele Allen. Around a Village Green: Sketches of Life in Amherst. Northampton, Mass.: Kraushar Press, 1939.

Massachusetts City Directories[database on-line] (Provo, UT, The Generations Network, Inc., 2001; 2005)

The Sixth Decennial Catalogue of The CHI PSI Fraternity, 1902 (1902), 413-414.

Indexing Terms


Personal Name(s)

  • Baird, Spencer Fullerton, 1823-1887
  • Bendire, Charles, 1836-1897
  • Brewster, William, 1851-1919
  • Coues, Elliott, 1842-1899
  • Hall, James
  • Hayden, F. V. (Ferdinand Vandeveer), 1829-1887
  • Hornaday, William T. (William Temple), 1854-1937
  • Ridgway, Robert, 1850-1929
  • Robinson, George D. (George Dexter), 1834-1896
  • Stearns, Winfrid Alden, 1852-1909
  • Ward, Henry A. (Henry Augustus), 1834-1906

Subject(s)

  • Birds -- North America
  • Natural history -- North America
  • Naturalist
  • Ornithologist
  • Ornithology -- North America


Detailed Inventory

Winfrid Alden Stearns Papers
1871-1906.5 linear ft.box 1
Stearns, Winfrid Alden, 1852-1909.
ALS to Spencer Fullerton Baird
1871 June 62 p.

Letterbook copy

Stearns, Winfrid Alden, 1852-1909.
ALS to Spencer Fullerton Baird
1871 June 211 p.

Letterbook copy

Hudson, A. J.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1871 August 101 p.
Stearns, Winfrid Alden, 1852-1909.
ALS to Spencer Fullerton Baird
1871 August 213 p.

Letterbook copy

Stearns, Winfrid Alden, 1852-1909.
ALS to Elliott Ladd Coues
1871 December 303 p.

Letterbook copy

Stearns, Winfrid Alden, 1852-1909.
ALS to Elliott Ladd Coues
1872 January 112 p.

Letterbook copy

Stearns, Winfrid Alden, 1852-1909.
ALS to Spencer Fullerton Baird
1872 January 192 p.

Letterbook copy

Stearns, Winfrid Alden, 1852-1909.
ALS to Elliott Ladd Coues
1872 January 204 p.

Letterbook copy

Stearns, Winfrid Alden, 1852-1909.
ALS to Elliott Ladd Coues
1872 January 312 p.

Letterbook copy

Brickmore, Albert S., 1839-1914.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1872 February 73 p.
Stearns, Winfrid Alden, 1852-1909.
ALS to Elliott Ladd Coues
1872 February 92 p.

Letterbook copy

Brewster, William, 1851-1919.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1872 February 114 p.
Stearns, Winfrid Alden, 1852-1909.
ALS to My Dear Sir
1872 February 241 p.

Letterbook copy

Suffert, E.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1872 March 22 p.
Lewis, James.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1872 April 151 p.
Stearns, Winfrid Alden, 1852-1909.
ALS to Elliott Ladd Coues
1872 June 134 p.
Brickmore, Albert S., 1839-1914.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1873 March 311 p.
Pourtales, L. F. de (Louis Francois de), 1824-1880.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1873 December 161 p.
Stearns, Winfrid Alden, 1852-1909.
ALS to David Starr Jordan
1874 April 252 p.

Letterbook copy

Stearns, Winfrid Alden, 1852-1909.
ALS to Burt Green Wilder
1874 April 282 p.
Wilder, Burt Green.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1874 May 82 p.
Wilder, Burt Green.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1874 May 8 

On back of WAS to Burt Green Wilder, 1874 April 28. Responds to Stearns' accusation that he stole a specimen (and accompanying credit) for a new species of fish Stearns had found and named.

Jordan, David Starr.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1874 May 83 p.
Wilder, Burt Green.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1874 May 183 p.
Pomeroy, W. M.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1874 June 271 p.
Stearns, Winfrid Alden, 1852-1909.
ALS to Elliott Ladd Coues
1875 May 74 p.

Letterbook copy

Stearns, Winfrid Alden, 1852-1909.
ALS to Elliot Ladd Coues
1875 May 221 p.
Stearns, Winfrid Alden, 1852-1909.
ALS to Elliott Ladd Coues
1875 June 103 p.
Stearns, Winfrid Alden, 1852-1909.
ALS to Elliott Ladd Coues
1875 June 106 p.
Brewster, William, 1851-1919.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1875 October 42 p.
Jones, J. Mathew.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1875 October 71 p.
Williams, Henry Shaler.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1876 May 171 p.
Hayden, F. V. (Ferdinand Vandeveer), 1829-1887.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1876 June 22 p.
Lee & Shepard [Publishers and Booksellers].
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1880 February 101 p.
Willard, S. L.
ALS to "Friend Wade" [Winfrid Alden Stearns]
1881 January 222 p.
Stearns, Winfrid Alden, 1852-1909.
ALS to Elliot Ladd Coues
1881 October 65 p.

Letterbook copy

Stearns, Winfrid Alden, 1852-1909.
ALS to Elliott Ladd Coues
1881 October 81 p.

Letterbook copy

American Field Publishing Company.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1881 December 31 p.
Stockbridge, Levi.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1881 December 221 p.
Jessup, H. G.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1882 March 153 p.
Gerard, W. R.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1882 March 291 p.
Wheatland, Henry.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1882 April 13 p.
Riley, Charles V. (Charles Valentine), 1843-1895.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1882 May 91 p.
Austin, E. P..
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1882 May 113 p.
Mann, B. Pickman (Benjamin Pickman), 1848-1926.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1882 June 161 p.
Gold, Theodore Sedgwick.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1882 July 21 p.
Hall, James.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1882 December 222 p.
Ward, Henry A. (Henry Augustus), 1834-1906.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1882 December 312 p.
Grinnell, James S.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1883 January 42 p.
Ward, Henry A. (Henry Augustus), 1834-1906.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1883 January 145 p.
Farnham, C. H.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1883 January 181 p.
Verrill, Addison Emory.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1883 February 283 p.
Wilder, Marshall P.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1883 March 232 p.
Ridgway, Robert, 1850-1929.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1883 September 172 p.
Allen, J. Antisell (Joseph Antisell), 1814-1900.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1883 September 222 p.
Russell, John G.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1883 October 32 p.
Allen, J. Antisell (Joseph Antisell), 1814-1900.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1883 October 142 p.
Mann, B. Pickman (Benjamin Pickman), 1848-1926.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1883 October 153 p.
Editor, New England Homestead.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1883 November 101 p.
Gray, Arthur F..
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1883 November 111 p.
Hall, James.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1883 December 31 p.
Bean, Tarleton H. (Tarleton Hoffman), 1846-1916.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1883 December 221 p.
Hall, James.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1884 January 151 p.
Sage, John H.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1884 February 62 p.
Grinnell, James S.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1884 February 281 p.
Robinson, George D. (George Dexter), 1834-1896.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1884 March 262 p.
Merriam, C. Hart (Clinton Hart), 1855-1942.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1884 April 72 p.
Sanborn, Francis Gegory.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1884 April 261 p.
Colburn, W. W.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1884 April 291 p.
Lintner, J. A.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1884 May 81 p.

Postcard

Stoddard, John T.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1884 June 71 p.
Hornaday, William T. (William Temple), 1854-1937.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1884 October 271 p.
Shaler, Nathaniel Southgate , 1841-1906.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1884 January 282 p.
Hall, James.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1885 May 141 p.
Garrison, Wendell Phillips.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1885 July 311 p.
Jackson, James.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1885 July 312 p.
Ward, Henry A. (Henry Augustus), 1834-1906.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1885 December 121 p.
Stearns, Winfrid Alden, 1852-1909.
ALS to George Noyes
1885 December 191 p.
Noyes, George.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1885 December 221 p.
Russell, John Edwards.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1885 December 221 p.
Ware, Benjamin P.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1885 December 222 p.
Grinnell, James S.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1885 December 231 p.
Coan, T. Munson.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1886 March 131 p.
Pillsbury, J. H.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1886 March 292 p.
Lintner, J. A.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1886 April 141 p.
Fernald, Charles Henry.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1886 June 141 p.
Nickerson, George Y.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1887 June 141 p.
Allen, J. A..
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1887 September 252 p.
Grinnell, James S.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1888 January 251 p.
Bendire, Charles, 1836-1897.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1894 January 291 p.
Bendire, Charles, 1836-1897.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
1896 January 74 p.
Young, C. J.
ALS to Charles F. Jeruiey?
1906 January 172 p.

Possibly unrelated or extraneous to collection.

Coues, Elliott, 1842-1899.
ALS to Winfrid Alden Stearns
d.d.1 p.

Fragment.

Stearns, Winfrid Alden, 1852-1909.
ALS to unknown
n.d.1 p.

Letterbook copy. Fragment.

Museum interior, reproduction silver print nineteenth century photograph.
n.d.1 photo print

Photograph of interior of purported Stearns museum.