Frank G. Speck

By: Elisabeth Tooker

Originally Published in 1987

View PDF

Frank G. Speck

In 1951, A. Irving Hallowell wrote an obituary of Frank Speck in Amer­ican Anthropologist. Following are excerpts from that piece.

“Speck not only studied American Indians, but was deeply attached to them. They were as much a part of his personal as his professional life . . . In fact, the abiding interest he had in their languages and all other aspects of their mode of life and thought long antedated his en­trance into anthropology as a schol­arly discipline . . . .

“. . . He became an Assistant in the University Museum and an In­structor in Anthropology at the Uni­versity [of Pennsylvania] in 1908 . . . . Although a meager offering of courses in anthropology had been available prior to Speck’s arrival, it was he who must be considered the real founder of a Department of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. He was made Profes­sor in 1925, was the senior member of the Department for the rest of his life and Chairman for almost the entire period.. . .

“In connection with Speck’s early association with the University Mu­seum as well as the fact that, at the time of his death, he was one of its Research Fellows, it should be noted that one of his most continuous ethnographic interests was in mate­rial culture, although he never viewed technology apart from its wider cultural context. Collecting, however, became an integral part of his field work. In the course of his career he must have collected thou­sands of objects which, in addition to the University Museum, are housed in many other museums . . . .” These include such institu­tions as the American Museum of Natural History (New York), Read­ing Public Museum and Art Gallery (Pennsylvania), Cranbrook Institute of Science (Michigan), Royal Onta­rio Museum (Canada), Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford (England), and Danish National Museum (Denmark).

“If there is an art of collecting, Speck had mastered it. He loved to handle ‘specimens,’ to surround him­self with them, to discuss them in detail, to trade them or to sell them. He often visited antique shops where he might, on occasion, buy an Afri­can figurine or an Australian boom­erang, besides American Indian things. Many of the objects in his possession were to be found on the walls, on tables or on the floor of his office, to which they gave a distinc­tive atmosphere. Some he kept at home, others might be found in the handbag he often carried, or even in his pocket. . . .

. . [A]nyone who ever tramped the Jersey Pine Barrens, the tide­water swamps or the Canadian for­ests with him knows that besides his keen eye for snakes, birds, rare ferns or other plants, and his love of being outdoors, he never missed an opportunity to pick up an arrowhead or some other stone artifact that he often spotted before any of his companions . . . .

“Frank Speck will not only be missed from the ranks of anthropol­ogists; the many Indians who knew him even more intimately some­times, will have lost one of their most welcome visitors and devoted friends.”

(1951:67, 69-71, 75)

The Life and Times of Frank G. Speck, edited by Roy Blankenship, will be published by the Department of Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania, in 1988 as No. 4 in their Publications in Anthropology series.

Cite This Article

Tooker, Elisabeth. "Frank G. Speck." Expedition Magazine 29, no. 1 (March, 1987): -. Accessed February 24, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

Report problems and issues to