Biographical / Historical
Ales Hrdlicka (1869-1943) was born in Bohemia in and came to America when he was thirteen. As a young man, he was trained in medicine at New York's Eclectic Medical College and the New York Homeopathic Medical College, receiving degrees from each. His first professional work was as a private practitioner, but he gave that up in 1894 when he joined the staff of the New York State Hospital for the Insane at Middletown. There, in addition to other duties, he began studies of the physical characteristics of inmates. In 1896, in preparation for a research appointment with the Department of Anthropology in the Pathological Institute of the New York State hospitals, Hrdlicka went to Paris and studied with Leon Manouvrier. After his return to America, he worked for a short period with the Pathological Institute and came into contact with G.S. Huntington, of the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York. Hrdlicka arranged and studied Huntington's large collection of skeletal material, thus gaining knowledge of a well-documented collection representing largely normal persons of European ancestry. He furthermore came to the attention of Frederic Ward Putnam, of the American Museum of Natural History, who arranged for his first anthropological field studies.
Hrdlicka became a member of the Hyde Expeditions to the American Southwest and northern Mexico. In 1898, he traveled to Mexico with Carl Lumholtz to study the Tarahumaras, Huichols, and neighboring tribes. In subsequent years, he returned to Mexico and the Southwest alone and studied physical characteristics and medical conditions of several American Indian tribes. Following this experience and examinations of the Trenton and Lansing skeletal material for Putnam, Hrdlicka was appointed head of the newly formed Division of Physical Anthropology in the United States National Museum in 1903.
In 1905, Hrdlicka returned to the Southwest for studies of Pima and Apache children and, in the following year, traveled to Florida to examine allegedly ancient remains of man. In 1908, he worked among a number of Native American tribes, including the Menominee, Oglala Dakota, Quinailt, Hupa, and Mohave, in a study of tuberculosis among them. In 1909, he traveled to Egypt with an expedition of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in order to study living Egyptians and to examine remains of Egypt's past population. The following year took him to Argentina, Peru, and Mexico. In the first of these, he again examined allegedly ancient remains of man. In Peru, he made a large collection of skeletal material near Trujillo, at Pachamac, and in the Chicama Valley.
Between 1912-1914, Hrdlicka undertook a physical anthropological exhibit for the Panama-California Exposition in San Diego and, for this, traveled to eastern Siberia, Mongolia, Peru, and Florida. He also examined fossil remains of man in Europe and directed field work of other anthropologists in South and East Africa, St. Lawrence Island in Alaska, the Philippines, eastern Siberia, and the Ukraine. In 1915, for the Department of Justice, he assessed the racial makeup of Chippewas on the Leech Lake and White Earth reservations in Minnesota and also studied Dakota Indians. In 1917, his field work was directed toward white American families with longtime residence in the United States. In 1918, he carried out a survey of ancient sites in eastern Florida for the Bureau of American Ethnology. In 1920, he traveled to Hawaii, Japan, Korea, and Manchuria in connection with an appointment to lecture at the Peking Union Medical College. As director of the American School for Prehistoric Studies in France, he again studied fossil remains of man in Europe in 1922 and 1923. In 1925, he carried out work in India, Ceylon, Java, Australia, South Africa, and Europe. In 1927, he was again in Europe to deliver the Huxley Memorial Lecture before the Royal Anthropological Society in Great Britain. Between 1929 and 1938, he traveled frequently to Alaska to carry on an anthropological survey. In 1939, he traveled to Russia and Siberia.
Beginning with much of the skeletal collection of the Army Medical Museum, which had been transferred to the Smithsonian in 1898 before he was appointed there, Hrdlicka amassed a bone collection that included, among many other specimens, the Huntington collection, casts of fossil remains of man, and a large and diverse North American collection. He also gathered a large collection of human brains. Over three hundred publications resulted from his study of this material, his field work, and his study of specimens in other museums. In addition, he was involved in many other activities. For United States government agencies, he provided services ranging from examinations of human remains for law enforcement officials to providing information and opinions concerning national origins and traits that were needed to interpret laws and form foreign policy. During World War II, he also advised government officials on policies to be pursued with certain national groups following the war.
In 1918, Hrdlicka founded the American Journal of Physical Anthropology and remained its editor until 1942. In 1928, he was the major force behind the organization of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists and served as its president in 1928-1932. He was also president of the Anthropological Society of Washington in 1907, the American Anthroplogical Association in 1925-1927, and the Washington Academy of Sciences in 1928-1929. He was chairman of Section H of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1918 and secretary of the Committee on Anthropology of the National Research Council in 1917. In addition, Hrdlicka was a member of the American Philosophical Society and the National Academy of Sciences. He represented the Smithsonian at several international gatherings of scholars, including meetings of the International Congress of Americanists.
Biographical note courtesy of the National Anthropological Archives, National Museum of Natural History. See Ales Hrdlicka Papers
. Edited by Rachel Menyuk, Processing Archivist at the National Museum of the American Indian.