Southeastern Section - 62nd Annual Meeting (20-21 March 2013)

Paper No. 8
Presentation Time: 10:45 AM




Herbert H. Smith (1851-1919) is credited with collecting over a quarter of a million natural history items, including fossils as well as modern plants, insects, birds, mammals, and freshwater mollusks from tropical Latin America and the Southeastern United States. These objects included many type specimens; they were in demand among private collectors as well as public museums and are of continuing value to researchers. Unpublished notes and correspondence have also been preserved. Unfortunately, Smith’s Brazilian field notes are lost, but his travel book about the Amazon is still consulted for its insights on local culture. Weekly letters posted from Alabama to two shell collectors (George Clapp and Bryant Walker) still exist, as well as other materials from Smith’s years as the Alabama Museum of Natural History’s Curator (effectively, its head). These illuminate not only Smith’s progress as a scientist, but also the environmental conditions along Alabama’s rivers before they were irrevocably changed by the erection of dams in the twentieth century. The Smiths’ collections of now-extinct freshwater mollusks and fossil mollusks from now-submerged outcrops along Alabama’s rivers are irreplaceable.

The role of Herbert Smith’s wife, Amelia “Daisy” W. Smith, in collecting and processing the collections was downplayed at the time, though Herbert made it clear to his employers that they were really getting two collectors for the price of one. She accompanied him as a working partner on collecting trips as well as in the museum. Daisy’s contribution became clear after his untimely death in 1919; she was employed for several years as the head (“Assistant Curator”) of the museum to continue his unfinished work. She ensured that their collections were studied and published by others such as Calvin Goodrich and Bryant Walker. The importance of Herbert and Daisy Smith’s contributions to science is becoming apparent as unpublished materials resurface.