H. Newell Wardle, 1875-1964

By: J. Alden Mason

Originally Published in 1964

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With the death of Harriet Newell Wardle in the Taylor Hospital, Ridley Park, on May 20th, at the age of eighty-nine, one of the links with the past was broken. She is affectionately remembered by the older members of the Museum staff, but was only slightly known to the newer ones, for she retired on age from her position as Assistant Curator in the American Section sixteen years ago, in 1948. For some years after her retirement she continued to come in to work in her old office, but had been seen little in the past decade. She passed her declining years quietly in her old home in Sharon Hill, enjoying and tending her garden, but reading little because of her failing eyesight. Most of her old friends and colleagues and many of her neighbors attended a memorial service at her home on May 25th.

Miss Wardle was renowned in the anthropological world as the last surviving Founder Member of the American Anthropological Association, in whose inauguration she participated in 1902 as a young lady of twenty-seven. In those days, women scientists were looked upon a little askance, so she always wrote her scientific publications under the name of H. Newell Wardle. The Association paid her a signal honor in 1960 by dedicating to her and the revered dean of anthropology in this country, the late Dr. A.L. Kroeber of the University of California, a book, Selected PApers from the American Anthropologist, 1888-1920.

Miss Wardle’s scientific career was about equally divided between the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia and the University Museum. Born in this city and educated at Friends Central School and Mount Vernon Seminary, she was appointed a Jessup student (Moore Branch) at the Academy in 1889, and from 1905 until 1920 was Assistant to the Curators. From her earliest days, however, her interests were in anthropology and archaeology, and in 1920 she was made Assistant Curator in charge of the Department of Archaeology, her special care and pride being the famous Clarence B. Moore collection of “Mound Builder” objects, excavated by Mr. Moore on many expeditions. She probably catalogues most of the specimens in the Academy’s anthropological collections–many thousands.

In 1929, the Academy decided to cease its interest in anthropology, to dispose of its collections in that field, and to devote its activities to the non-human phases of natural history. Most of its anthropological objects, including the Moore collection, were sold to the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, in New York. After vigorous protests to the Academy officials at the great loss to Philadelphia, and letters to the public press and to scientific journals, Miss Wardle resigned. She came to this Museum as a volunteer helper, “just to keep her hand in” for a year or two, proved her competence and value, and in 1931 was made Assistant Curator in the American Section. Here she helped in the care of the specimens, especially those in storage. Most of the remainder of the Academy’s anthropological collections, mainly archaeological, eventually came here on permanent loan, and naturally she began the recataloguing of these.

Like all museum “men” of her generation–and mine– she was primarily interested in material culture and technology and in the objects illustrating those phases of anthropology. Alas, few technologies remain today! The cultures of unlettered aborigines, especially the American Indian, past and present, were her especial interests. Her recent research centered around two projects, Peruvian double-cloth technique and Peruvian square pile hats, both of them archaeological. She spent much of her free time drawing diagrams of these techniques. Who will finish these monographs now? She also had long planned a full report on the remarkable masks and other wooden objects from Key Marco, Florida, some of the most unusual and finest American aboriginal art objects in the Museum.

Miss Wardle was a member of most of the national anthropological scientific bodies, and had been president of the Philadelphia Anthropological Society. She is listed in American Men of Science. She was also a long-time member of the Geographical Society of Philadelphia, and attended its meetings and lectures regularly and for a long time after she had ceased going anywhere else. She was also a member of the Philadelphia Ethical Society. Her fifty-odd scientific writings were published in many different journals; the largest number, however, in the old Bulletin of this Museum. Her first contribution bears the date of 1900. The majority of her articles are on unusual American Indian objects, ethnological or archaeological, but a few treat of folklore, physical anthropology, and of even more erudite subjects.

Harriet Newell Wardle was a quiet, lovable, efficient, independent, conscientious woman of high ideals and a good sense of humor, who will ever have an affectionate place in the memories of her erstwhile colleagues.

Cite This Article

Mason, J. Alden. "H. Newell Wardle, 1875-1964." Expedition Magazine 6, no. 4 (July, 1964): -. Accessed February 24, 2024. https://www.penn.museum/sites/expedition/h-newell-wardle-1875-1964/

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