John Frederick Gates Clarke (1905-1990) was curator of Lepidoptera in the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) from 1936-1990. He was born on February 22, 1905, in Victoria, British Columbia, the son of Robert Wilson Clarke and Ida Charlotte Gates Clarke. His early interest in entomology was encouraged by a neighbor, Francis Kermonde, who directed the nearby Provincial Museum. In 1916, his family moved from Canada to Bellingham, Washington. Clarke began his college studies at the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle from 1923 to 1924. He then transferred to Washington State University (WSU) in Pullman and received the Ph.C. in pharmacy in 1926. He returned to WSU in 1929, receiving the B.S. in zoology in 1930 and the M.S. in entomology in 1931. He married Thelma Miesen (Clarke), a teacher, in 1929, and they had two children, John Frederick Gates Clarke, Jr., born in 1934, and Carol C. Clarke, born in 1938.
After graduation, Clarke worked as an instructor at WSU until 1935 when he began doctoral studies at Cornell University. He left graduate school in 1936, however, when he was offered a position as Entomologist for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) with responsibility for the Lepidoptera collection in the United States National Museum (USNM). During his career at the USDA, Clarke was stationed in the Natural History Building (NHB) where he worked on the systematics of Macrolepidoptera and, later, Microlepidoptera. He served in the U.S. Army in Europe during World War II. After the war, he was detailed to the British Museum (Natural History) to describe the Edward Meyrick Collection of Lepidoptera. While in England, he received the Ph.D. in entomology from the University of London in 1949.
In 1954, Clarke transferred from the USDA to the Smithsonian, and was appointed Head Curator of the Division of Insects, Department of Zoology, NMNH. At his urging, a separate Department of Entomology was created in 1963 and he was appointed its first Chairman. During his tenure as an administrator, he oversaw the growth of staff, collections, and field work. He developed plans for a National Institute for Systematics and arranged for the move of the department to an off-Mall location.
Clarke oversaw the growth of the national collection of Lepidoptera through the acquisition of other collections and an expanded program of field collecting. He was instrumental in acquiring, among others, the Ernest H. Blackmore, Frank Morton Jones, J. Douglas Hood, Adrian Hardy Haworth and Brighton Museum collections. Clarke began collecting insects in his youth and continued an active field program throughout his life, ranging from British Columbia to the Caribbean and Latin America to the South Pacific. Major expeditions included the Smithsonian-Bredin Caribbean Exploration of Dominica in 1958, expeditions to Rapa in 1961 and 1963, a seventeen country trip in 1966, and an expedition to the Marquesas in 1968.
When Clarke retired from administration in 1965, he continued his research on the systematics of Microlepidoptera as Senior Entomologist in the Department of Entomology. After his retirement in 1975, he was appointed Curator Emeritus of Lepidoptera and Research Associate of the department. During the 1970s and 1980s, his field work was concentrated in the Pacific Northwest, Caribbean, and South Pacific, accompanied by Thelma Miesen Clarke until her death in 1988. In 1989, he married Nancy du Pre (Clarke). He continued his active field and research career until his death in 1990.