When I came in to the Woodson the morning after discovering the existence of the unknown (to me) early scrapbook of Rice student George Wheeler, I struggled a little bit to figure out exactly where it was on the shelves. In retrospect, I totally understand why I had missed it. Most of the scrapbooks in our collection are housed in the same place because, after all, they are all the same thing: scrapbooks. This one was different, though, as the small collection consisted of a scrapbook PLUS a group of letters. And because the scrapbook itself was physically fairly small, it easily fit inside a standard manuscript collection box. So it was shelved, reasonably enough, with the other manuscript collections. There are a lot of these, by the way, and most of them aren’t Rice-related. Although I do poke around in them from time to time just for fun, I’d simply never opened this particular box.
It turned out to be a particularly beautiful collection. Wheeler arrived at Rice in the fall of 1915, after spending his freshman year at TCU, and immediately fell in with the biologists. When he sent this collection to the Woodson in 1975, it was accompanied by a wonderful letter. Of his early days he noted: “In the spring of 1916 the student assistant in biology (there was only one) got so far behind with his dishwashing that I was appointed to help him. That can be called starting at the very bottom of the ladder as subassistant. In my junior and senior years I was a teaching assistant in the beginning course and was under Davies’ supervision. He was not, however, yet a faculty member. I suppose nowadays he would be called maintenance superintendent. It would be an appropriate term, for that’s what he did–maintain: he kept the department running.”
The scrapbook is full of interesting photographs. Unlike most student scrapbooks, this one is focused on the academic life rather than on the social aspects of college. Many of them show the Rice biologists and their students on collecting trips around the campus and out on the San Jacinto River. I was utterly unsurprised to discover that Wheeler became a biology professor himself. He had a pretty remarkable career as an entomologist, specializing in the taxonomy and morphology of ants and serving as chairman of the Department of Biology at the University of North Dakota from 1926 to 1963. Here is a link to an oral history interview in the Smithsonian. The interview itself is restricted, but there’s an excellent biography of him attached. And here’s another interesting piece, this one from a group dedicated to the preservation of prairie grasslands in North Dakota.
Tomorrow I’ll post some of the more interesting pictures of the collecting trips.