Percy Childs Madeira, Jr.

February 8, 1889 - January 29, 1967

By: Alfred Kidder, II

Originally Published in 1967

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Percy Childs Madeira was a member of the Board of Managers of the University Museum for thirty-six years and served as its President and Chairman for twenty-one years. Mr. Madeira’s interest in anthropology and archaeology began prior to his becoming a member of the Board of Managers. After nearly twenty years of active legal and business life, he enrolled in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences of the University of Pennsylvania in October 1929. He was particularly interested in the ancient civilizations of Central America and Southeast Asia. His Master’s thesis, submitted in 1933, was devoted to a comparative study of these cultures. At the same time, in 1930, he organized and led an aerial expedition to Yucatan and northern Guatemala. The expedition discovered four new Maya sites and returned with magnificent photographs of many others, as well as a great deal of geographical data. Volume XXII, No. 2  of the Museum Journal (1931) contains his most interesting account of the expedition.

In the same year, 1930, Mr. Madeira was elected to the Board of Managers, following the death of his uncle, Louis C. Madeira, who had served on the Board since 1911.

During the mid-1930’s the Museum was hard pressed financially and found its autonomous position with reference to the University impossible to maintain. Mr. Madeira, assisted by Mr. Brandon Barringer, worked out with the University administration a new Constitution of the Museum and established the relationship with the University under which the Museum is still administered.

Upon resignation of John Story Jenks in 1941, Mr. Madeira was elected President in June of that year. He was soon faced with the difficulties of the war years, with the absence of the Director and a depleted staff. Having ably guided the Museum through this trying period, during which the Director died, he headed the Committee that appointed the present Director and with him began a period of growth and activity that still continues. At home, modernization of exhibition galleries has gone on since 1946. The Lucy Wharton Drexel Medal, which had not been awarded since 1913, was revive3d and has been awarded by Mr. Madeira to five distinguished archaeologists. Membership in the Museum has more than doubled under his leadership. He also led in the establishment of the Fellows Fund and in planning fr a new wing of the Museum building.

Under the new financial arrangements with the University and with the accumulation of endowment income during the war, field research on a large scale was made possible. During the last fifteen years of Mr. Madeira’s Presidency and Chairmanship, the Museum conducted far more archaeological field work than any other comparable institution in the world, including such large scale undertakings as the excavation of Nippur, Gordion, Hasanlu, and Tikal.

In 1962, the Seventy-fifth Anniversary Year of the Museum, Mr. Madeira worked out a second Constitution with the University. This document, as did the former one, retains in the Board’s power the right to select staff members and form policy upon research and the use of endowment income for research. He also completed a history of the Museum, Men in Search of Man–The First Seventy-Five Years of the University Museum, University of Pennsylvania, which was published in 1964. It was entirely fitting that on January 20, 1962, at a University Convocation in observance of the Museum’s Seventy-fifth Anniversary, he was made an Honorary Doctor of Laws. In the citation for this degree, President Harnwell stated: “Today we wish to note our special appreciation of the devotion and leadership with which you serve the University through its Museum.”

The members of the Board of Managers and the Women’s Committee as well as those of the Museum staff who worked with him, deeply mourn his death and extend their sympathy to his family.

Cite This Article

II, Alfred Kidder,. "Percy Childs Madeira, Jr.." Expedition Magazine 9, no. 2 (January, 1967): -. Accessed June 16, 2024.

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

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